Saturday, 5 January 2019

He knows what is in the Darkness

This year I have been challenged to make a few changes in my life.  If last year taught me anything it taught me that life is fragile and unpredictable. I've already posted about my desire to engage much more seriously with prayer (you can read the post here).  I would love in 2019 for prayer to be my steering wheel rather than my spare tyre (I have enough of those already).  At the start of a New Year it is good to be honest.  I waste far too much time, I lack discipline and too often don't achieve what I claim are the goals of my life: to know God, to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads and to love the people who most people want nothing to do with.  I am too often derailed by circumstances.  Last year I attempted to do less, better.  I'm going to continue that this year.  I want to read more (possibly even finish a book), pray more, say 'no' more often, take care of myself and treasure the relationships that mean most to me.  Being a good brother and son have become really important over the last year, but being a good Dad to 5 boys and a husband remain my full time job.  I am resolved to 'wrestle with Romans' this year and I am really enjoying John Pipers sermon series which is majestic and deeply humbling at the same time.  You can listen to it on Audible or here.  I am reminded of John MacArthur's quote that 'the heart can only go as high in worship as it can go deep into theology.'  I plan to dive deep this year.  

One of the best books I received last year was 'New Morning Mercies' by Paul D Tripp.  I got the book as a gift from Donnie G Macdonald at the end of the Skye Shinty Camp.  I don't use a lot of daily devotional books but there is something different about New Morning Mercies.  Almost every day there is something fresh and different and I come away with a fresh appreciation of God's grace in the gospel.  

The reading for the 4th of January hit me right between the eyes.  Paul Tripp very movingly talks about the day his daughter was hit by a drunk driver.  She had eleven breaks in her pelvis and massive internal bleeding.  When he heard the news he was 6 hours away but when he eventually walked into her hospital room he says 'its as if the whole world went dark.'  I can empathise with his experience over the last 10 months.  Sometimes we experience this darkness for months or even years.  Quite rightly we ask 'where is God?'

Thankfully Paul Tripp's daughter has recovered.  In his devotional he used these interesting words which really stuck me: 'I held on to the thought that our lives were not out of control.  We were comforted again and again with the thought that when it came to Nicole's accident, God was neither surprised nor afraid.  You see, there is no mystery with God.  He is never caught off guard.  He never wonders how he is going to deal with the unexpected thing.'  

Paul Tripp then quotes the verse from Daniel 2 v 22 which I must have read on numerous occasions but this time it just hit me like a train.

20  Daniel answered and said:
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21  He changes times and seasons; 
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22  he reveals deep and hidden things; 
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

Wow!  What comfort.  As we grope around in our circumstances, disappointments and tragedies, God knows exactly what is in front of us.  To us it is darkness, but not to him.  He sees the end from the beginning and is working all this for his glory and our good.  As Paul Tripp says:

'God is with you in your moments of darkness because he will never leave you.  But your darkness isn't dark to him.  Your mysteries aren't mysteries to him.  Your surprises don't surprise him.  He understands all the things that confuse you the most. Not only are your mysteries not mysterious to him, but he is in complete charge of all that is mysterious to you and me.'

None of us know what this year will hold for us.  But we can take incredible comfort by putting our trust in the one who dwells in perfect light and who know exactly what is in the darkness.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Iolaire - A Sore Visitation wrapped in Mystery

Much has been written on the tragedy of the Iolaire.  This article was written by Rev Nigel Anderson, Minister of Livingston Free Church particularly focusing on the churches response to the events of 1st Jan 2019.

On 1st January 1919 a tragedy occurred in Lewis that for generations has cast a dark cloud over the island. HMY Iolaire had left Kyle of Lochalsh late on December 31st to ferry troops back to their homes, their families, their loved ones. The ship never made it to Stornoway harbour. At  1.55am it struck the Beasts of Holm, the dangerous rocks near the shore and entrance of Stornoway harbour. 205 men out of the 283 on board (including 174 Lewis men and 7 Harris men) perished in sight of land, having survived the horrors of war only to lose their lives so close to home.

Much has been written in recent months on the tragedy: the centenary commemoration held in Lewis on 1st January 2019 has, in particular, brought to a wider national attention the tragic personal accounts of the lost and bereaved. Also, there has been a renewed understanding of the devastating social and economic impact on the island which the catastrophic loss of life contributed to. However, there has been little mentioned regarding the attitude of the churches at the time, as local clergy tried to bring comfort to the bereaved and bewildered as they sought to reconcile what had happened with the providence of God.

Indeed, the whole aspect of the mystery of divine providence in relation to the tragedy was, in many ways, highlighted in the response of the Free Church to the Iolaire disaster especially as many of those who lost their lives were from Free Church congregations. In his Sunday sermon, following the tragedy Rev. Kenneth Cameron, minister of Stornoway Free Church, preached from Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. He spoke of the dark and mysterious happenings in the providence of God, mentioning the “sore visitation...wrapped in mystery” which brought a “heavy cup of unlooked for sorrow” but that “out of the darkness is heard the voice of Him whose way is in the sea.” Without denying the catastrophe of the events of 1st January 1919 he pleaded with his hearers to contemplate the majesty of God, to bow before his sovereignty, to believe in his righteousness and have recourse to his mercy.

One might have imagined that the deeply religious island would have turned away from faith in a sovereign God after the tragedy. Instead we find the opposite. Murdo Macleod from the village of Leurbost tells of the traditional New Year’s service held on the morning of 1st January when the villagers attended worship to give thanks for peace after four years of war. It was only later that day that the news was heard of the Iolaire sinking and the great loss of life. Later, that evening, the same villagers visited each of the homes of the bereaved and held services of worship.

The recorded response of the grief stricken people across the island who had lost family in the tragedy is that they “reconciled themselves to God.” Even the non-Christian poet Iain Crichton Smith wrote that “In some places such a tragedy would have destroyed the credibility of a loving God: in Lewis it only strengthened their faith in him.” 

In today’s secular society such a reaction is inexplicable, but to those who trust in a sovereign God whose purposes are beyond human understanding, it is an understandable response. Those who have experienced grievous loss have echoed the words of Job in response to his personal tragedy across the centuries: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”