A Comfort and a Challenge – Psalm 139 & Jeremiah 18

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Engaging

God knows us everywhere and everywhen – it’s a comfort and a challenge. This great take-home craft can help us think about God throughout the day.

IMG_20190830_095758You will need:
• Two paper plates
• Pencil and ruler
• Scissors
• Black marker pen
• Highlighters in blue, pink, orange and yellow, plus any other pens for decoration
• Gold or silver sticky stars or metallic pens
• Yellow paper
• Glue stick
• Spilt-pin fastener (I could not find one when I took the photos, so please just imagine it)

What to do:

 

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1. Use the pencil and ruler to divide one plate into eight pizza slices.
2. Colour the rim of the plate black one three adjacent sections. This will represent the night.
3. One section on either side of the night will be sunrise and sun set. Use the orange, yellow and pink highlighters to make glorious colours on the rim of those two sections.
4. The remaining three sections will be the day. Use the blue highlighter to colour these rim sections. (OK, I know that the sky is more often grey than blue, but we live in hope.)
5. Draw round a coin on the yellow paper to make four 2-3cm circles and cut them out. Cut one circle in half.
6. Glue the three complete circles in the blue sky sections for the sun. The half-circles show the rising and setting sun. Glue these in the colourful sections, with the straight side on the edge.
7. Use the metallic pens or stickers to decorate the black sections with stars.

 

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8. Now you are ready to add the activities. Read Psalm 139 and list all the times that God knows us. You will need 8 in total. You could have when we: sit, rise, think, speak, go out, lie down (this counts for three sections).
9. Draw something for ‘sleep’ in the three night time sections. Stick figures are fine.
10. Decide when you want the other actions during the day. I chose ‘rise’ for first thing (that’s supposed to be yawning, not screaming, by the way!), thinking in the morning, talking at lunchtime, going out in the afternoon and sitting in the evening. The pictures should all have ‘down’ towards the edge of the plate.
11. Now you need the other plate. Cut out one pizza slice section, but leave a couple of cm in the centre.
12. Write ‘God, you know me when I…‘ in large black letters, with the pizza-slice hole finishing the sentence. You can add the reference in Psalm 139 as well.
13. Use pens and stickers to decorate the rest of the plate.
14. Put the plates on top of each other and use the pencil to make a small hole through the centre of each. Join them with a split-pin fastener.
15. Now you can turn the bottom plate and remember that God sees us and knows us whatever we do and wherever we go.

Reflecting

In these readings we have an intriguing combination of assurance and warning. The beautiful, soothing words of Psalm 139 reassure us that God knows us completely, sees our rising and our sleeping, our goings-out and our comings-in, perceives our thoughts and words before they form.

The same words also warn us that that God knows us completely – Am I ready for that?
He sees our rising and our sleeping, our goings-out and our comings-in – No escape. (See verses 7-12 of this psalm.)
He perceives our thoughts and words before they form – Oo-err! I can explain, God.
It is both a comfort and a challenge.

I recently got a fitness-tracker-thing. The idea is to encourage me to spend less time hunched over a computer writing things like this and more time walking round the fields, letting God’s creation refresh my mind, body and soul. Or summat.

But there is something very pertinent about the steps it counts: each new day, they reset to zero. Yesterday I might have done 10,000 steps, or 5,000 or 500. No matter. It means nothing today. Today I must do today’s work, and not think that I can count yesterday’s good effort towards today. I cannot ‘rest on my laurels’, as they say.

That phrase has an interesting story to it. In the world of ancient Greece and Rome, the victors of games or wars were often given laurel wreaths. Quite a naff prize, you might think (and I’d agree). Would not a lump of gold be worth more and last longer?

But that’s the whole point. A laurel wreath only lasted a day or two before it wilted and was worth nothing at all in monetary terms. Just so success. The modern proverb hits it squarely on the (laurel-crowned) head: “You’re only as good as your last film / game / song / haircut” etc. The counter resets each day.

That’s the message that Jeremiah was trying to get across to God’s people. They were resting on their laurels big time. They were Abraham’s descendants, the chosen people (their reasoning went) so it didn’t matter how they acted, God would not mind.
They’d been pally with God in the past, he’d rescued them from Egypt and stuff, so he’d do the same again this time with the Babylonians. It was almost like having a pet god.

“Not So!” says God, “The counter resets each day. You can’t just slack off and rely on Abraham’s faith and obedience from all those centuries ago. You’re supposed to act like my family right now. So pull your finger out and start living up to what you say you believe.”
Or words to that effect. I paraphrase.

Not that we’re having to earn our salvation by doing lots of good stuff. Not at all. By God’s grace alone we are adopted into his family. But we are supposed to live like we are God’s children; we’re supposed to show some family likeness.

And this is where the fitness tracker comes in, because although I’m supposed to do 10,000 steps a day, I often don’t make it. When it comes to living like a child of my Father, I always don’t make it.
But thanks be to God, the counter resets each day. We confess our failure and our falling-down,  and our merciful father picks us up,  dusts our knees and sets us off on the right path,  again.

Jer 18 4

So if right now, you are feeling like a smushed-up ball of clay, flung this way and that on the potter’s wheel, be comforted. The counter resets each day. Yesterday’s woeful 143 steps do not prevent today from being different.

And if right now you are feeling like a elegantly-shaped vase or a sturdy, useful plant-pot, take note. The counter resets each day. Yesterday’s impressive 14,300 steps do not prevent today from being different.

Let us therefore live today in God’s grace alone, mindful of his hand upon us and endeavouring to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. (Eph 4:1)

Reading

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 New International Version – UK

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

Jeremiah 18:1-11 New International Version – UK

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
‘Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, “This is what the Lord says: look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”

Credits

New International Version – UK
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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