The Pastures of the Wilderness

Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Psalm 85:6

Good Monday Morning to this week 38 of 2019

Spring 1859

Faith grew. Hope brightened. The power of prayer began to be known, felt and seen. A contemporary account describes the Year of Grace in this way; The winter was passed; the time of the singing of birds had come. Humble, grateful, loving, joyous converts multiplied the great concerns of eternity were realized as they had never been before. Many walked about in deep anxiety about the one thing needful; while others rejoiced in the experience of a present peace and a complete salvation. The community was altogether changed in its outward aspects, and a pervading seriousness prevailed a total transformation has been affected in the hearts and lives of those who were the subjects of the change, and throughout all the neighborhood was heard thanksgiving and the voice of melody. The 1859 Revival in Ireland edited by William E. Allen

Fruit of Revival 1859

Full sanctuaries, full Sabbath schools, full prayer meetings, brotherly love, increased generosity and additions by the hundreds to the communion of the churches. These are the fruits that remain to the summer Revival of 1859 in Coleraine.

Wilderness

Shortly before the “Year of Grace” they had  Joel 1: 19 ringing in their ears:

O LORD, to you will I cry: for the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame has burned all the trees of the field.

The sorrow of the people is turned into repentance and humiliation before God. With all the marks of sorrow and shame, sin must be confessed and bewailed. A day is to be appointed for this purpose; a day in which people must be kept from their common daily in’s and out’s.

The School in Coleraine in Summer 1859 

One boy after another silently slipped out of the classroom and after a while the schoolteacher looked out to see boys on their knees throughout the playground, each one in earnest prayer. He turned to the two boys and asked them; Do you think you can go and pray with these boys? They did so and kneeling down with one after another, they began to implore the Lord to forgive their sins for the sake of Him who had borne them all upon the Cross. Silent grief soon turned into bitter cries.

As these cries reached the girls’ school, they too fell upon their knees and wept in grief over their sins. The cries of the boys and girls at school reached passers-by in the adjoining streets and conviction of sin came upon them and they fell on their knees in the streets pleading to the Lord for mercy.  Pastors and men of prayer were sought and they spent the rest of the day in counseling and praying with these mourners. The sweetest of all toils, when to intercede for those who are brokenhearted by the sight of their sins,  dinner was forgotten, tea was forgotten, and it was not until 11pm at night that the school premises were freed from their unexpected guests.

The Pastures of the Wilderness 

Words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times in the Bible. A formative Hebrew memory is the years of “wandering in the wilderness,” mixing experiences of wild landscape, of searching for a promised land, and of encounters with God. The  wandering takes place in the, uninhabited land where humans are nomads. This common Hebrew word refers often to a wild field where domestic animals may be grazed and wild animals live, in contrast to cultivated land, sometimes “the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:19–20). “The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice” (Isaiah 35:1).

The wilderness is a “given” for intense experiences, of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal, of encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, the revelation of the divine name, Mount Sinai). There is a psychology as well as a geography of wilderness, a theology gained in the wilderness. R. Homes

Turning to the New Testament,  the word most often translated as “wilderness” is “eremos” an isolated place. The wilderness figures at critical junctures in the life of Jesus. Jesus is baptized by John and then is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. The Devil is there, but so is the Spirit. “A great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed”. This records a search for solitude, for self-discovery, for divine presence, but this process, crucially, seems to require the ambiance of the natural environment.

They drop on the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. Psalm 65.12

In those wastes, however, there would be valleys or places watered by springs and streams that would afford pastures for flocks and herds. Such are the “pastures of the wilderness” referred to here. God’s passing along those valleys would seem to “drop,” or distill, fertility and beauty, causing grass and flowers to spring up in abundance, and clothing them with luxuriance. The freshness and beauty of plant life, which suddenly, as by a miracle, clothes the hill-sides, resembles a fair mantle thrown around their shoulders, as if to deck them for some festival.

In conclusion, I summarize: 

Our dwelling place: The wilderness.

Our spiritual provision: Pastures.

Our heavenly refreshment: Thy drop.

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Wishing you a very good start to this week

Philemon

 

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Merciful limitations.

Good Monday Morning to this week 37 of 2019

Observing at a distance a fig tree full of leaves, he went up to it to see if he could find any fruit upon it. but when he came to it, he found it had nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for that sort of fig. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again”. And his disciples heard him say it. Mark 11:13+14

Last night I enjoyed an evening tour on the Bielersee with many sightings of the beautiful Church of Ligerz at a distance, far and near, in various shades of the evening light, reminding me of the importance it once and wondering about the relevance to this day.

The pilgrimage church of Ligerz was first mentioned in 1261. It was built in the vineyards above the village. It became a parish church of its own parish in 1434 but was still dependent until being rebuilt in 1526. Until the early 19th century there were no good roads into Ligerz, instead, goods and travelers came by boat. The church amidst the vineyards is visible from a long distance and is, therefore, the landmark to Ligerz and the region.

Back to the parable of the Fig tree being seen from far, covered in nice leaves:

Fig trees around Jerusalem normally begin to get leaves in March or April and do not produce figs until their leaves are all out in June. This tree was an exception that it was full of leaves early.

Jesus, approaches the tree in his hunger, with the expectation of finding fruit. But as he draws near, he realizes the fact that the tree, though full of leaf, is absolutely fruitless, he forgets his natural hunger. As he approached this fig tree full of leaf, but destitute of fruit, it stood before him as a striking or awful image of the Jewish nation, having indeed the leaves of a great profession, but yielding no fruit. The leaves of this fig tree deceived the passer-by, who, from seeing them, would naturally expect the fruit. And so the fig tree was cursed, not for being barren, but for being false.

A  church or community or individual whose religion runs to leaf is useless if it brings forth no fruit or furthermore being false. Do those around care about the ceremonials or the outward appearance, more than it bearing fruit?

These words of Jesus, in their application also have a merciful limitation – a limitation which lies in the original words rendered “forever,” which literally mean for the current age. “No man eat the fruit during the age until the times be fulfilled. A day will doubtless come when those concerned will say, “I am a dry tree,” I shall accept the words of Him and respond, “From me shall thy fruit be found,” and shall be clothed with the richest fruits of all trees.

Here the fig tree was growing by the road; it belonged to no one, and nothing had been done for its improvement;  it was destroyed when its uselessness was made manifest. It was fruitless, because the fruit season had not come, and no old fruit remained on the branches. The destruction of a senseless and worthless thing made known the power of God, the purpose not just to wither, but all the more to restore. To wither was within the power of anyone, but to wither by a word was a supernatural act only possible to one.

Jesus gives his answer or interpretation of the parable with these words:

“Have faith in God.”

In doing. The words “shall say unto this mountain,” are figurative. A magnificent promise! Not only such an act as the withering of the fig tree, but one comparable to the uprooting of the Mount of Olives on which it grew. It is spoken of moral and spiritual difficulties met, within fulfilling the great plan of God along with personal and individual spiritual growth.

In receiving the answer was not to be merely looked forward to a coming age, but of an age being imminent, already fulfilling itself in present experience. A secret of intense and successful devotion.

The story teaches us that the Master looks for fruit in the proper time for fruit. In the case of this tree, “the time was not yet.” Figs come before leaves on that kind of tree. So the appearance of leaves assumed the presence of fruit underneath them, but none was there. For some phenomenal reason, this fig tree was a hypocrite. Jesus caught it for a parable with which to teach His disciples, and warn them of mere profession without performance. God does not, in any case, come hurridly demanding fruit, as soon as trees are planted; He seems to respect the laws of growth and ripening. He never hurries any creature of His hand. But He gives help to the end He proposes. He certainly puts realities before shows; figs previous to leaves.

Not all is lost. When the disciples ask Jesus to explain what just happened, he turns the topic and talks about prayer. Why? Though they do not yet fully understand, they will be the new caretakers of God’s people. They will be instruments of transformation. And, as Jesus teaches here, they will do this by the power of faithful prayer. Thus the fig tree cursing is not just about historical Israel. It’s about us. It’s about all the people of God throughout time.

A challenging text this morning, yet full of promises. Knowing all too well about things withering, areas in our lives with no fruit, of times not being fulfilled. I draw from the thought that Jesus shared, as he turned to the concept of merciful limitation and the importance of prayer.

Wishing merciful limitations, along with transformation and restoration

of areas in your lives that have withered and no longer bring fruit.

Philemon

 

Kirche Ligerz, Bielersee, Saturday 07.09.2019, 19h30
Screenshot 2019-09-08 at 14.21.06

Prayer of Relinquishment

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Jeremiah 18:4

Good Monday Morning to this week 36 of 2019

There seems to lie in all people and times, a certain proportion to the strength of their understanding, a conviction that there is in all human things of real order and purpose, notwithstanding the chaos in which at times they seem to be involved.

Suffering scattered blindly, good and evil distributed with the most absolute disregard of moral merit or demerit, enormous crimes perpetrated with impunity, or vengeance when it comes falling not on the guilty, but the innocent. This phenomena present, generation after generation, the same perplexing and even maddening features; and without an illogical but none the less a positive certainty that things are not as they seem—that, in spite of appearance, there is justice at the heart of them, and that, in the working out of the vast drama, justice will assert somehow and somewhere its sovereign right and power, the better sort of persons would find existence altogether unendurable. This is what the Greeks meant by the Ἀνάγκη or destiny, which at the bottom is no other than moral Providence. Hasting

Back to Jeremiah, this implies the living presence of the Potter in this world which is being molded. It involves the constant, direct impact, if one may so speak, of the Divine fingers. The Israelites thought that God had selected them and wound them up like a clock so that they were to go on and on without further change forever. St. Paul says No. God has not taken His fingers from the work. He never bound Himself to have mercy on you and on no one else. “He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.” And if you do not answer His purpose, He will change matters with you. And so, according to the picture before us, God is ever actively present,  the great Hand at work, touching every individual thing, allowing nothing, whether the law or anything else, to intervene between His living purpose and the world that is being molded by Him.

This week I was occupied with the task of disposal of materials as wood, steel, paper, aluminum.  In German, there is a nice word used as a verb and noun. (entsorgen, Entsorgung). Literally one could translate it as the opposite of worry. To rid of worry. It’s the same word we use to dispose of waste in the practical sense. To relinquish of one’s possession, to let go, to release, to renounce or surrender of even the right possession. I learned that plastic can be recycled 7-9 times, paper 4-6 times, while glass, steel and aluminum lose no quality during recycling and can be recycled endlessly! So translated to modern days Jeremiah might have used aluminum as his metaphor to explain how many times God can remake and mold us.

The potter does not fling away the marred vessel, but he breaks it and puts it on the wheel again and reshapes it. The potters’ skill is not to be baffled. He wants to give his ideal reality. And he will shape and break, shape and break again, till the clay has taken the form he wishes. Jeremiah saw what that meant for the Israelites as a nation. The prophet saw that God would still hold them, and by sterner discipline, by harder blows and hotter fires, would mold them to the use and form He wanted. That was the answer to Jeremiah’s question, What can God do with this nation? Break it and reshape it.

The patience and persistence of God with man is the truth which this sets forth. God will not easily let man go. He stands over mankind and over every individual soul with boundless patience. The gifts and calling of God, says St. Paul, are without repentance, without recall or change.

“So he made it again.”  He can remake us. God persists till His purpose is achieved.

Relinquishment is a kind of dying to self.  This is to trust that God will cause something better to develop from us ‘letting go’. Not that letting go is ever easy, but it does open us up to fresh ways God wants to shape us and mold us for his ways. We see ourselves no longer as the finished product, but rather as clay in the Potter’s Hand.

Thou, Thou art the Potter, and we are the Clay,
And morning and evening, and day after day,
Thou turnest Thy wheel, and our substance is wrought,
Into form of Thy will, into shape of Thy thought.

Wishing you a great week on His “wheel”!

Philemon