Ebeneezer - He has bought us safe this far.
One of my favourite things during this time of the year is to watch yearly review programmes on TV, there are probably too many of them if I’m honest – but programmes like Sports Personality of the Year are just fantastic at looking back at the best and funniest parts of the year.
Although, let’s be honest it has been hard to find those great moments this year. Going in and out of worries and fears concerning the global pandemic has been tiresome at best. But while I was a youth worker and now as a Minister (in training) I am encouraged to regularly be reflective and to take time to pick out those golden moments of the day, the month or the term. So, I’ve become quite good at hanging on to the positives that are around while still trying to deal with the challenges that we face.
If you’ve got time, I encourage you to read 1 Samuel chapter 7. It is the story of the Ark of the Covenant returning to Israel. In this time of the history of the Hebrews it was quite common for things to go wrong. In fact it followed a fairly repetitive cycle.
Starting with the people loving God. Then “stuff” often crept in until people loved both God and stuff. And time went on until the Israelites loved stuff and had forgotten about God. But somewhere in the middle there always came a messenger – often ignored, but that messenger always arrived.
And often slowly but surely the nation returns to God and pray for his help and he delivers them.
In this particular case, in 1 Samuel 7, after the Israelites had started to worship other Gods and setting up idols in their worship so the Philistines turned up and invaded Israel. The Philistines won battles and they have taken back to their towns the Ark of the Covenant – the box that carried a number of items including the ten commandments – but it meant so much more than that to the Israelites, it lived in the centre of the tabernacle in the place where man met God and was very much the image of the presence of God. So, to have that out of their land was a disaster it meant God had physically left them.
But it didn’t mean that God was suddenly on the side of the Philistines. In fact, wherever they left the ark the people in that town got sick and died, so they sent it to another town and those people got sick and so they made a plan to send it back to Israel on the back of two cows (so no one even had to touch it) along with some golden guilt offerings (as that was their custom for being made right with God).
And it reminds me that God is always faithful, and that his faithfulness is not dependent on our actions. We see in this story right from the get go the Israelites were surprised that the ark had been returned, that had not gone looking for it, they had not set up camp around the enemy in order to get it back.
But God had still made the plan to return himself to his people, to make a way for their relationship with God to go back to how He wants it to be.
We’ve just celebrated Christmas the most famous time where God repeats the act of returning to his people calling them to come back to him, inviting them back in to the relationship that he desires. It always, always, always starts with Him making the first move to us.
Ephesians 2.4 puts it like this: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
But it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play, in the same way that in all our relationships & friendships it starts with one person starting the conversation or making the first move. But if you don’t respond that’s not a relationship that will last, and if a year, two years, ten years down the line you stop responding the relationship will struggle.
And to fix that relationship, it will take someone making the first step to put it right, and that is God’s role every single time. When Adam and Eve took the bite of the fruit he came and looked for them, when Cain killed Abel, God came looking for him, When Noah was described as the last faithful man on the earth God came looking for him. It’s the same throughout the Old Testament, and it’s the same for us.
The story goes on to demonstrate how the role of humans in this relationship restoration is often,
1. Consecrating an individual (setting someone aside to lead and to hear from God)
2. Listen to God’s message through his messenger.
And that too hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed the way that he works – Although the one who was consecrated for all of us has already come, died and was risen again.
In this story the leader is Samuel, he becomes God’s mouthpiece to the people of Israel, and one of the final things that Samuel does as the leader of God’s people in this passage is to lay down a stone, a commemorative stone. And he says this far God has helped his people. The Israelites at that time said God has been faithful thus far – knowing the past victories but not knowing the ultimate victory of the cross.
We are in a place of great privilege that at the end of the 2021 we can raise our own Ebenezer saying God has brought us safe this far. And we know that not only has he been with us this far but that there are greater things to come.
There is victory in the cross and there is assurance in the empty tomb and he will not stop being God despite the atrocities that occur across the earth. He is still faithful, he is still reaching out to each and every one of us, longing for us to turn to him in repentance.
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:e39ubIn this story the leader is Samuel, he becomes God’s mouthpiece to the people of Israel, and one of the final things that Samuel does as the leader of God’s people in this passage is to lay down a stone, a commemorative stone. And he says this far God has helped his people. The Israelites at that time said God has been faithful thus far – knowing the past victories but not knowing the ultimate victory of the cross.
Now I don’t want to belittle the events of the past two years, and on a global scale they have been two of the worst years for this generation. But I know for me personally and for many people reading this there have been worse years. But those past experiences tell me that there is hope that we will get through to the other side.
And it tells me that God hasn’t stopped being God, he’s not on a break he hasn’t stopped being faithful, but rather something is happening in the world, God is still at work and I look forward to the moment that we can look back on 2021 and say Covid was rubbish but how good was it when God answered those prayers, how good was it that unchurched people engaged with faith, How good was it that God healed people.
And as a church we now move in to celebrating 100 years of being a Baptist Church on this site in North Camp, and we can declare, God has brough us safe this far. Knowing that he will lead us safely onwards in His will.
As you reflect on the year over the next few days, or as we look back over the last 100 years I encourage you to think on these things,
· Go back and find the moments that God has shown his faithfulness to you personally.
· Go back and recall the moments that he showed up in the small
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:2hk2fThere is victory in the cross and there is assurance in the empty tomb and he will not stop being God despite the atrocities that occur across the earth. He is still faithful, he is still reaching out to each and every one of us, longing for us to turn to him in repentance.
And recall the moments that he showed up in a big way.
· And note them down.
· Remind yourself, not of your sin, but of your need to repent daily.
· And remember that God has brought you this far, and he will go with you until the end of this journey.
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:4d1o7And as a church we now move in to celebrating 100 years of being a Baptist Church on this site in North Camp, and we can declare, God has brough us safe this far. Knowing that he will lead us safely onwards in His will.