Sunday, 21 April 2013

God Save the Queen!

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;  
he turns it wherever he will. 
- Proverbs 21:1

I have lived through many changes in the 41 years of my life. I have lived in 6 different homes in 4 different towns, and have been governed by 8 different Prime Ministers. I don't have any recollection of the Winter of Discontent of 1978/9 or of the election of Britain’s first female prime minister in 1979. I do however have a vivid memory from 1977 – concerning one of the few constants in my life.

The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977. I remember as a 5 year old our whole school getting involved in the events, decorating our classrooms, receiving a memorial Silver Jubilee tea mug, and having a celebratory party. And I will never forget lining up alongside the Coal Road in Leeds with my class, and waving my British flag furiously as the Queen drove past in her cavalcade. As the Royal car passed, we all glimpsed a gloved hand waving at us. That is a memory that has remained firmly etched on my mind.

The Queen provokes a great deal of respect from my heart. She has dutifully served her country ever since being handed the monarchy at the tender age of 25 upon the death of her father, King George VI, himself a reluctant King following the abdication of his elder brother Edward. The Queen has ceaselessly, and tirelessly, served her country and her citizens for 61 years, making her the second-longest reigning British monarch, only 2 years shy of Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign, to date. My whole life has been lived as a subject under her reign. And she has been part of our family tradition – for each Christmas without fail, we would gather around our television sets at 3pm to watch as the Queen addressed the nation in her annual Christmas Day speech. 

As she approaches the twilight of her years on the throne, I am feeling an increasing burden to pray for her. At her coronation on 2nd June 1953, the Queen made an oath before God. She was asked by the Archbishop of the Church of England if she was willing to take the oath, to which she replied she was willing. She was then asked whether she would govern her subjects according to their respective laws and customs. And then she was asked “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?  Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?” She replied “All this I promise to do.” And then laying her hand on the Bible, she said “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.”

As I have reflected upon her reign, and have read the transcripts from each one of those Christmas Day speeches, it has become clear to me that she has found herself caught between two demands placed upon her as Queen – on the one hand to be a dutiful Queen to her subjects and serve them, and on the other hand to discharge the duties under her oath before God. In her very first Christmas Day broadcast in 1952, a few months before her coronation, she said “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day - to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.” Whilst she has without fail spoken of her faith in Jesus Christ at every one of her Christmas Day speeches, she has also said “Of course religion can be divisive, but the Bible, the Koran and the sacred texts of the Jews and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, are all sources of divine inspiration and practical guidance passed down through the generations. To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.” (Christmas Day broadcast, 2000).

The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill is currently being debated in Parliament. This Bill seeks to corrupt the precious symbol of marriage that God has placed in society, whereupon every marriage between a man and a woman points to the love of Christ for the church. By widening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, this precious symbolization will be obfuscated. The Bill has almost finished its passage through the House of Commons, whereupon it will pass to the House of Lords for debate. Assuming it passes through the House of Lords, it must then receive Royal Assent before it becomes an Act of Parliament (law). No sovereign has withheld Royal Assent from any Bill since 1708, so in practice Royal Assent is seen as a formality.

The prayer of my heart, the burden on my soul for my Queen, is that in the twilight of her reign as Queen of England, she will have such an encounter with the King of kings that she will no longer feel the tension between her loyalty to her subjects and her God, but rather will be filled with gratitude that she is being given an opportunity to be faithful to the oath she swore before Almighty God, to maintain the Laws of God in this land. I pray that the revelation she receives from Him will be such that her fear of Almighty God far exceeds any fear of man, and that she will honour the laws of her God over and above the wishes of her people. Above all, I pray that she has such an encounter with the One who sits enthroned on high that she bows her knee before Him and confesses that there is no other Name by which man may be saved other than the Name of Jesus Christ.

May God bless her on this, her birthday. May God save the Queen!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Dear Pilgrim, why are your eyes downcast?

To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Psalm 123:1

Dear Pilgrim, where is your gaze today? Under the heat of conviction of sin, are you unable to lift your eyes to heaven, beating your breast, crying out to God to be merciful to you, a sinner? Be reassured, justification is yours.

Yet at the same time, dear Pilgrim, I want to show you that a great blessing awaits His people who, whilst being bowed low in His presence, have the faith to take hold of His Holy boldness to lift up their eyes before Him.

Let us consider dear Abraham, our father in the faith. The Lord Himself instructed Abraham to lift up his eyes on one occasion – and as he obeyed in faith, he saw with his own eyes the land of Promise that would one day be given to him and his descendants. On another occasion when the Lord appeared to Abraham, it was only when he lifted his eyes that he saw the Lord before him. His response to this was to bow low to the ground. There is no other response to the presence of the Lord. Yet this was not the end of Abraham's response. Filled with faith, he implored the Lord "do not pass by your servant...let a little water be brought...wash your I bring a morsel of bread." Do not pass me by! A cry of faith. A cry from a heart desiring intimacy. A cry from a heart that believes it is possible to fellowship with His Lord, even break bread with Him! What holy boldness! And what a response he received - not only did the Lord condescend to answer Abraham's request, He even confided in Abraham! Oh, can you see with me the greatness of this blessing? How the Lord delighted to answer Abraham’s request – because he had dared to lift his eyes.

As we lift our eyes, He reveals more of Himself to us – the awesome wonder of the work of His hands in creation, and the unchanging, eternal, sure word of the Lord and His attributes. He also uses the lifting of our eyes to reveal our sin to us. Sin…without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin. Thus Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place where he was to offer his sacrifice to the Lord, the sacrifice of his beloved son. But as Abraham lifted his eyes one final time, he set eyes on the greatest blessing of all – the ram caught in the thicket, the Lord’s own provision for the sacrifice. Dear Pilgrim, pause a moment, and consider this – the ram, the Lord’s own sacrifice, also lifted up His eyes. Listen. “He lifted up his eyes…” On whom, dear Pilgrim? On whom did the ram, who would one day be sacrificed to take away the sin of the world, lift up his eyes? “He lifted up his eyes on his disciples…” Oh, dear Pilgrim, listen, take heart, be encouraged, for do you know why He would lift up His eyes on His disciples?

He lifted up His eyes on His disciples to bless them! Blessed are you who are poor! Oh, what love is this? That the One before Whom we can only bow down low, and lower still as we discover the breadth and depth of His love for us, would stoop down to such a level that He would have to lift His eyes to us? Yes, dear Pilgrim, you who began this morning beating your breast with your gaze downcast, feeling the weight of your sin, your unworthiness before Him, He lifts up His eyes to you to bless you, for yours is the kingdom of God, for your trust and hope are in Him alone! The fulfilment of the Aaronic blessing:

Dear Pilgrim, take heart! You have His peace! Now dare to lift up your eyes to His as you bow low before Him, and He will remind you of His promises, reveal more of Himself to you, quicken you to offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Him, and reassure you that He provides all you need. And He will so fill you with Himself that He will enable you to pray and to serve in accordance with the will of the Father as you lift your eyes to heaven, having encountered the Living God. Dear Pilgrim, join with me in echoing Abraham's cry of faith: "Do not pass by your servant".