You just never know…

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted…We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away…

(Isa 53. 4,6-8)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

(Matt 5.43-45)

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.. [they] were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death..Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?…” But Jesus remained silent. 

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?..What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

(Matt 26. 57-59,62-66)

We are so accustomed to the stories told of the life and death of Jesus that it may never occur to us to wonder just how all this information became available to the gospel writers, but we should! Following through on that question takes us to some interesting places – like the context in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have shared the intimate details of his conception and birth, and all the struggles which she and Joseph faced at that time. Did Jesus learn this as he grew up, or did Mary share it only when he embarked upon his ministry?

This week, I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found myself wondering just who it was in that council of the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who later told the story of that dark night. It can’t have been Peter, whose own sad tale of betrayal took place outside in the yard – and that tale too must have been revealed to later writers, for our blessing and instruction by Peter himself. It must have been one of the council themselves; somewhere in that gathering of hostile and frightened men (and it would have been an entirely masculine gathering), there was a heart which was already tender and open to God’s leading; a heart which would in time confess Jesus as Messiah and embrace the truth of the gospel.

They were all steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, and perhaps for one or two the words from Isaiah that foretold the suffering of the perfect servant would come to mind as they watched this Galilean hold his tongue and refuse to defend himself. Jesus’ demeanor would have spoken so loudly and clearly to those who should have recognised him as their longed for Messiah, and it seems that for at least one of them (then or later), the evidence finally became too much to resist.

When we put this together with Jesus command to love and pray for those who persecute us, we have a powerful encouragement to never give up on those who seem most adamant in their opposition to the gospel.

We cannot tell which strident aetheist, or sceptical humanist; which campaigner for secularism or advocate for universalism might be under the hand of the holy and relentless God, whose love for them took his son to the cross to win their salvation. I think this is a very important lesson for us in these days of increasingly bitter hostility against the Christian faith around the world. Will I obey the command of Jesus to pray for those who hate what I believe and hate me for believing it? Will I follow his example so that my life speaks of the truth of the gospel, of a God whose love for the broken children of this world is so powerful, steadfast and passionate? The offer of salvation is made to all who will confess Jesus as Lord – am I pressing this offer on my ‘enemies’ in prayer?

Perhaps someone was praying for Saul the Pharisee, even as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen…someone loved him well enough to intercede with God for this young man who was consumed with hatred for the Jesus movement..and how God answered that prayer! Lord, let me be faithful in this, that I might love my enemies as you love them.

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Defiant praise!

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord.

(Ps 93)

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.”

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

(Isa 40.6-8 &28-29)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance than can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

(1Pet 1.3-5)

It’s what we do…as Paul and Silas praised God with songs and prayers in the prison, bound with chains, perhaps aching and bleeding from beatings.

It’s what we do….as David praised God in psalm and prayer while he was on the run from Saul; as his hope of kingship was pushed further and further into the future; as his men doubted and supplies ran low.

It’s what we do….as Daniel did, when to do so meant that his life was threatened; as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did while standing beside the furnace into which they would be thrown, with the heat beating on their backs.

It’s what we do…as Habbakuk did even while he contemplated the utter ruin of his land, and the destruction of all good things at the hand of an invading army.

In the face of darkness caused by human sin and rebellion; in face of a threatened planet and anticipated global suffering; in face of war and malice, degradation and naked evil exploitation; in face of so many well-meaning and misdirected people who think it is enough to try one’s best, that being kind is all that matters…God’s people fall on their faces at his feet in praise, adoration and total submission to his will, to every expression of his holiness and in awestruck recognition of the depths of his mercy.

In defiance of all those who mock our supposed bigotry or blindness and narrow-mindedness; in defiance of those who reject any God, and try to confine us to the bleak, limited and merciless ‘now’; in spite of those who condemn and despise Jesus because of the grievous failings of his church down the centuries…still today his followers lift their voices to acclaim their King; to tell the world that He came to die to make all things – even us – new, and that there IS so much more even than what we currently perceive.

Human kingdoms rise and fall, pandemics sweep the planet causing immeasurable harm, the life-sustaining ecosystems strain to survive…BUT our God is on the throne, and nothing is impossible with him. When his people choose to praise, choose to dwell on the truth of his character, his promises, his love and mercy; then their courage rises, their strength is renewed, and their hope brightened.

Friends, let us choose adoration; choose to put God on the throne of our lives, so that we may face our world and all its challenges with courage because we have an eternal hope for which we are being kept – in every situation, you and I are shielded by the power of God because nothing can cut us off from him and the inheritance which Christ Jesus died to give us.

Halleluia, our God reigns!

Faith and politics…

The Lord enters into judgement against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”

(Isa 3.14-15)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city – and to fear your name is wisdom – “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it…Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false wights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.

(Micah  6.8-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matt 5.3-10)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

(1 Tim 2.1-2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority; whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

(1Pet 2.13-17)

Yes, that’s a lot of direct quotation from the bible, for the good reason that it is here that followers of Jesus find their guide and rule for living out those two great commands – love God, with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. As one living in a nation increasingly divided, recently divorcing itself from long-term allies in Europe, and facing growing calls for independence for Scotland from the rest of the Uk, I live with tension and uncertainty. I live with the consequences of decisions made within a particular political system, decisions I may not be happy with but must accept. As a believer, what is it my duty to think and do in this situation? What does it look like to love God, and my neighbour?

I give thanks that ultimately I belong to a kingdom beyond this imperfect world, where truth, justice and peace flow from the perfect King on the throne. I recognise that no form of government devised and operated by fallen and sinful humanity, to rule other fallen humans, is ever going to be without its troubles, and that in every situation, God’s will is at work in spite of the problems. History relates the rise and fall of innumerable ‘empires’ and powers, some more peaceful than others, but none capable of producing the perfect justice and mercy which God requires.

I do not put my faith in a political system, but in the God who can sweep them all aside whenever He chooses. I do not put my faith in a political party or ideology, but in the gospel of Jesus, which alone is capable of the heart transformation which enables us to love one another. I can campaign for policies which I believe reflect God’s heart for creation, for his children, but until the state forbids me to practise my faith, I will submit to its rule and fulfill my duties as a citizen. I will not worry about these things as though they were the most important, because they are not – my citizenship in heaven, and the salvation of all God’s people matter more.

 I am called to pray for those in authority, so that we might live in peace and witness to our Lord without fear – am I doing that for those whose ideologies I don’t agree with? I must; that is loving my neighbour who represents me in authority. I am called to speak out for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed – am I doing that for people whose cultures and beliefs are alien to me? I must; that is loving my neighbour who lives round the corner, or on the other side of the world.

No human institution or ideology can claim a divine right to rule – that is blasphemy and rebellion against the King of Kings, denying his supreme authority, and utterly failing to acknowledge the depth of human depravity. I give thanks that the kingdoms of this world will not last, but the Kingdom of our God is eternal, and will soon be fully established. Meantime, I will seek with God’s help to show proper respect to everyone, to love my fellow believers, to fear God and honour those appointed to rule over me.

 

 

 

On persevering…

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it..Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Josh 1.8&9)

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

I eagerly expect and hope that  I will be in no way ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body..If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

(Phil 1.20-26)

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints..refresh my heart in Christ.

(Phm 7&20)

Dear Lord, how we long to know that our lives are worthwhile, that the tears and endurance – as well as the joys and celebrations – have purpose and real value..how easy for the enemy to disable and discourage us by counting all the ways in which nothing seems to change; by pointing out our failures and the things that suggest unanswered prayers and wasted petitions. We are so vulnerable here, seeking constant reassurance to drown out the voice of our enemy and help us to go on with confidence.

And so we rejoice and thank you for your promise to Joshua, in his extreme need of reassurance as he took over from Moses. How loudly the doubts must have rung in his ears, but you repeatedly spoke to comfort and assure him, above all that you would go with  him even as you had gone with Moses. You didn’t promise that it would be easy – a smooth path doesn’t require strength and courage! But you promised to go with him, and to fulfill through him the promise to establish your people in this new land. 

So he went; he took courage and obeyed. Lord, make us like Joshua, as we stand on the edge of this new year, this next month, week and day. We do not know what lies before us, but we know you and we have your priceless promise to depend upon as we go. 

Some of us fear to be useless, to somehow miss your path and waste the gifts and time you give us. So we thank you for the words of Paul, as he spoke of his deep conviction that if God continued to grant him life and liberty, then it was because there was work to be done for the kingdom. As we consider what opportunities 2021 might hold for us, may we be like Paul, eager to use each gift and chapter in our lives for fruitful labour in your name.

We thank you Lord, for Paul’s deep conviction of your sovereignty in all that happens, and pray that we too might learn more and more to live in quiet confidence that EVERYTHING is capable of being used by you to further your glory and build your kingdom. 

Father God, sometimes I am ashamed to see what little I seem to do in your name, forgive me for doubting your wisdom in apportioning gifts and opportunities to me. The fault lies in my failures, not your gifting and providing. Help me to accept the place allotted, and not to envy others their particular calling. Help me, like Joshua, to obey with what I have and to be content that you are at work through it. 

Thank you that encouragement and refreshment of your people is within my power, let it be my passion too. Thank you for those who have refreshed and encouraged me, may they too be refreshed by your Spirit. Help me to trust Lord, that even when I cannot see it, yet you are active to bless and give your people joy, fresh courage and hope, even through me. Thank you that you keep me humble and depending on you by hiding the work from me! Let it be enough that I am privileged to serve you with all that I am and have, and leave the fruits of my labour in your hands. 

In my life Lord, be glorified today…and every day of 2021!

Selective memory!

God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God – beyond our understanding! 

(Job 36.22-26)

“..the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way,..he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

(1 Cor 11.23-25)

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus..our citizenship is in heaven. and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Phil 3.13, 20&21)

Therefore, ..let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Heb 12.1,2&3)

What is in my bag as I face the next year of my journey? Lord, what do you want me to carry onto the next stage of the path?

Should I take the burden of failures, of the ways I have disappointed myself and others this year? No; your love commands that I put these away, with thankfulness for your forgiveness, for your grace in restoring relationships, and your sovereignty which works even my failures and their consequences into your plan to bless us and glorify your name.

Should I take the encumbering cloak of hurts which others have caused me this year? No; your forgiveness of me requires that I extend to others that same mercy. So with thanks for your enabling, I forgive all my debtors – over and over again, every time the memory surfaces, I will do it again – that I may clear my feet of the ensnaring folds of bitterness, resentment and walk the path of love.

Should I take the map of expectations which the world presses into my hands, as a guide to my feet and a lamp to my path? No; your word will be my guide, my light, and I will trust that in compassion and mercy you will always lead me through the dark and hard places. You have promised to go with me, and that is indeed safer than any map or guiding light.

If I strive to look ahead, into the unknown, fear weakens me and tempts me to despair of ever reaching the goal. If I look back at how far you have brought me, through many troubles and in spite of all my weaknesses, then I am humbled in thankfulness and restored for the journey. So this is my ration for the journey – thankful remembrance of all God’s goodness to his people down the centuries; and specifically to me and those I know in our brief lifetimes.

This is no burden to carry. Indeed it is more like wings to my feet and strength to my knees, as I choose to consider Christ and all that he is and did for love of his people.- Christ who dwells within me by his Spirit; who goes before to prepare good works for me to do; who delights to share all of life with me..and who is keeping everything that really matters safe for me to enjoy with him through eternity.

Dear Lord, may I have the blessing of a selective memory! Remembering your goodness and faithfulness but forgetting -so gladly- all my past failures. Fill my mind with the truth of your word and grow my confidence in your promises. Stir up expectation within me, and bless me with daily encouragements and glimpses of your hand and your presence.

Whatever 2021 may hold for the world, Lord, your children await your return with confidence and eagerness. Bless and keep us faithful, cheerful and diligent in service, that we might have the joyful satisfaction of giving you our best.

When it seems like nothing..

..the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai;”..who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong..Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you..this is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

This is what the Lord says:”In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine….the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house..And in this place I will grant peace”

(Hag 2.1-5,6-9)

After Jesus was born..Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star,..and have come to worship him.”..On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts..

(Matt 2.1&2,11)

the Holy City..shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel..The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city..were decorated with every kind of precious stone..The twelve gates were twelve pearls…the great street of the city was of gold..The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will  bring their splendour into it…The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it..

(Rev 21.10-26)

Be strong…work..my Spirit remains among you…Do not fear.

As we contemplate the global pattern of church growth in the 21st century, these words are so important for us in the lands where the church appears to be dying. They were addressed to a group of discouraged folk, returned from exile and attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But how painful it must have been to compare the fruits of their labours with the memories of what was lost, how easy to mourn that departed glory as if it would never come again.

Does this not ring true for us in Scotland today? We remember fuller churches, an enthusiasm and confidence in ministry, and how christianity was welcomed within institutions like schools, hospitals, and public life. Today, we are marginalised, suspected of all kinds of bigotry, tainted by association with past wrongs, and our attempts to share the good news of Jesus meet largely with indifference, and occasionally with hostility. The glory has departed..

We are tempted to hopelessness by a sense of our own futility, and the apparent lack of fruit in people’s lives and in our communities. And into this, comes God’s word through the prophet to his toiling remnant – be strong, work, do not fear, I am with you!

God promises to be present with them – as he always is with his faithful servants, whether in exile in foreign lands, in prison, under oppressive regimes, prospering or suffering, we are never separated from him. He promises his power will accomplish what he intends – and the vision from Haggai is of all the nations of the world bringing their tributes to God in his glorious temple, it is his might and power – not the efforts of the people – that will fill it with majesty and honour. And God reveals to them his purposes – even though they may not see the fulfilment with their own eyes.

We share in the promise of a glorious future, where peace is established and flourishes according to God’s word. We share this fuel for hope in our own struggles, in our situations of discouragement. The vision of glory is for our encouragement, it is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purposes to usher in a new heaven and earth, where redeemed humanity from every tribe and nation will reign with him in perfection, peace, joy and mutual delight.

Friends, look out at the global church, and behold, the glory of the Lord at work, in the farthest reaches of our planet. Look ahead and depend upon these promises and visions of what God is surely doing even now, and will surely complete. Even as the magi from the east brought treasures to the God-child, so today, people bring their own riches to lay at his feet – silver and gold, but also the priceless treasures of their unique identities, characters, cultures and qualities. Those travellers from the east represented an early trickle of that flood which will finally be realised. 

Let us not lose hope, but work on without fear. Our God is with us by his spirit, and in his strength, we obey, leaving him to put his power to work.

All the glory..

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men….Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them…

(Ps 115.1-4,8)

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(Jn 1.9-14)

Where is our God? Our God is in heaven, he does what pleases him…and his people worship him; from every continent on the planet, praise arises. 

Where is our God? Our God, by his Spirit, dwells in the hearts of his people and thus, in every community where they are found, He IS.

Where is our God? Our God, moving invisibly and inexorably through the lives of billions, is bringing the tale of life on earth to its divinely ordained conclusion. The story of our race and planet is not ours, but his – HIS..STORY, and to him belongs all the glory, recognition and worship.

Where is our God? Two thousand years ago or so, he became flesh, became like us and walked among us for a few years. There, in that animal shelter he lay a helpless and vulnerable baby, and all heaven marvelled at the humility of the Almighty.

Where is our God? There, on the hills of Galilee, on the roads of Judea, the streets of Jerusalem he moved and spoke; healed and prayed; the ultimate self-revelation of the Divine to the children of his love.

Where is our God? On that cross..tormented, agonised, wracked with pain and thirst, utterly bereft of comfort, sustained only and to the bitter end by his all-consuming love for rebellious, helpless and lost humanity.

Where is our God? Risen, clothed in resurrection glory and mystery, yet wonderfully present with his people. Ascended, but not absent. Awaiting the day when his Father will send him returning to us in all his awe-full majesty, authority and power to judge and complete all things in the great plan of salvation.

And so his children are mocked, for believing in a God who died, who cannot be seen, who appears to be defeated by evil at every turn…whose world is dying, whose people so often reject even the idea of his existence.

To this God, to him alone, belongs all the glory because the true, the whole picture is so much greater than the proud, blinkered vision of humanity will admit. This God, who embraced weakness and triumphed over all the power of evil through apparent defeat, is calling a people for himself, a new family of humanity to share forever in his glory and joy.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God..Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?..God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong..It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for you wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.18,20,27&30&31)

Where is our God? He is coming soon, coming to bring us home to dwell with him forever in the inexpressible joy of our true home, where we will belong most surely, and sinlessly.

Even as the church rejoices each year to remember the astonishing first coming of her Lord; so she also aches with longing for his return and the final revelation of his worth, beauty and kingdom. All the glory then will properly be given to the beloved Son and his long waiting and labour will be fulfilled. Friends, let our longing for that future day not silence our songs of praise and thankfulness now; rather, let us rejoice that our hope is so bright, and so sure. All the glory belongs to our God indeed, because of his love and faithfulness!

A powerful testimony…

Then they [all the people] said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord..sends you to say to us. Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey..so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”

(Jer 42.5)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…The words I say to you are not just my own..the Father, living in me.is doing his work.

(Jn 14.6,7,9&10)

He [Jesus] said to them…”you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

(Acts 1.8)

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. for he received honour and glory from  God the Father when the voice came…, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

(2 Pet 1.16&17)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds,…Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. so be earnest and repent..

(Rev 3.14,15&19)

Do you notice how the words in Jeremiah are mirrored by the words from Revelation? This struck me today as I considered how to write about the wonderful name Jesus takes to himself in Revelation, speaking to his church in sorrow and summoning them to repent and return to the covenant love which once they had known.

The Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) are a sorry tale of disobedience by the covenant people, to which God, by his prophets and by direct revelation bears witness. Time and again, the truth about their rebellion is brought before them, and repeatedly they fail to learn from the consequences of their actions. God calls them to repent and return, but in vain.

In Jesus, this act of witnessing to the truth – about God, about human depravity and helplessness, and about the gift of salvation – is brought to a climax. There is no more accurate revelation about God than that which we see in Jesus. He is the ultimate and utterly reliable word of truth on all these subjects. He is THE faithful witness, the only man who never failed to live and speak in ways which truly reflected God’s character and will. That faithfulness took him to the cross, but the truth to which he testified raised him from the grave again in triumph, and now he stands as eternal witness to the irresistible reality of salvation by grace, to a living hope in a new heaven and earth, a new body and an unimaginably rich future life.

The comfort to me from this wonderful name of Jesus is that I can fully rely on him; the challenge is that he has called me in turn to bear witness to the world. I am now to be one who speaks the truth – about God, about human hopelessness and the gift of salvation. I am called to suffer, as Jesus did, for being faithful to this message; speaking of the holiness of God, the depths of sin, and the wonder of grace. I know that I have failed in faithfulness, but also that by the Spirit at work in me I am being transformed into the likeness of this true and faithful witness, Jesus.

Lord God, may I rejoice in my calling to be in my own place a true and faithful witness – even when this brings me pain or rejection. Renew my trust in your truth, so that I may be steadfast in my testimony. Oh Lord, renew and revive your church, that we may increasingly embrace this calling to witness to you. Turn us from complacency, from mere institutional self-preservation and comfort-seeking, to  courageous witness to your holiness and saving power, and to the compassion and love of Jesus.

when the child strays…

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding…A wise child brings joy to their father, but a foolish one brings grief to their mother.

(Prov 9.10&10.1)

“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations – a people who continually provoke me to my very face…such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.

(Isa 65.2-5)

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me..My people are determined to turn from me…How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west”

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall!…Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously…We will never again say, ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.”

(Hos 11.1,2,7-10; 14.1-4)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing..

(Matt 23.37)

I have shied away from writing this piece for some time, fully aware that in it I will touch upon a most painful topic for many who might be reading – what happens when a child born to a christian family turns away from following Jesus personally in adulthood. I offer no ready answers, and I hope that I also treat the subject with the delicacy which it deserves, and in no way appear to trivialise it.

We believe that each individual is called to a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and that nothing can take the place of this intimate submission and enthronement of Christ. Our salvation does not depend upon the faith of our parents or anyone else close to us – but on our personal acceptance of the gospel.

As christian parents, we know that the highest good for our children is to follow us into such a relationship. But..we cannot make this happen, any more than by giving our child music lessons we can make them a world class performer! Our duty lies in modelling faith, in teaching what we have learnt, and in seeking to commend the gospel to our children at all times….and we know perfectly well that we fail in this, because we are not perfect. Be comforted dear friend, and remember that the perfect Father of all, our great loving God, also watches his children turn away from him all the time – and that not because he has failed in his loving of them, but because of the sin which is our birthright.

What then? What does our Father do? He calls, he waits, he allows his children to reap the consequences of their rebellions, waiting until they come to their senses and recognise that they are astray in a foreign land, starving, when back home in their father’s house, there is food, security and hope. And when they finally turn and call to him, they find him right there, with his arms wide open in welcome and his love to lavish upon them. God never forces himself upon the unwilling; but the mystery lies in the ways that he creates that willingness – by His spirit working through the very circumstances of the rebellion.

As we wait and love, pray and hope, watching our unbelieving children make their way in the world, we remember and take comfort from God’s understanding of our sorrows. Our own grief gives us a glimpse of the heartbreak which our Father experiences all the time, as his children reject and despise his love,  trying to find compassion and salvation anywhere else but in him.

Our heavenly Father wants our children to trust him, even more than we want it – do we believe this? We must, because the bible makes it very clear. The whole eternal scheme of redemption is designed to draw an unbelieving world into the arms of the One who yearns over them with the tenderness which we read in Hosea. Our own straying offspring matter so much that Jesus died for them, and rose to secure their inheritance, with ours, in eternity.

Let us therefore not lose hope, but cling to our Father in our prayers for the wanderers, knowing that his great heart recognises our grief and takes it up into his own. We are carried by the great Shepherd, who searches diligently, calling for his lost sheep, and does not give up.

In the breakers

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me..do not let me sink; deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up..Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

(Ps 69.13-17)

I cannot keep my footing, the waves come with such force that I am tumbled over and left breathless. I can barely stand, as the churning waters have stripped the sand off the shore and all is stone, bruising my feet and leaving me off balance. The wind sweeps my breath away, and the hailstones sting my skin like bullets. I am vulnerable and nearly in danger, but not quite, as I stumble out of the sea back to my clothes and head for home.

The sea this morning matched what was happening in my heart and mind – wave after wave rolling in, before which I have no defence, leaving me weary from the conflict, and longing for a place of security and peace.

What is the right response of a follower of Jesus in these circumstances? As I scramble to find my footing again, what restores my balance?

I follow the example of the psalmists, and all God’s people down the ages, as they cry out to God. I turn in all my bewilderment to my heavenly father, and like a small child, ask for his comforting presence, for his loving arms to be my shelter. I bring my grieving questions to him, knowing that there may be no direct answers but also that he understands my pain and I do right to speak first to him.

But in the same way that a chilled swimmer cannot feel the rope around their body to bring them to safety, I cannot feel the comfort. I know that God who promises to work through all my trials for my blessing and his glory will do what is right. But when the breakers have been over me, I cannot feel the security that this should give me.  I am chilled by hopelessness, by a sense that these waves will keep coming because I have caused them and cannot make them stop. I am wearied by the prospect which they present, year upon year of this pain and aridity.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves..I am confined and can not escape; my eyes are dim with grief..

(Ps 88.6-9)

Oh Lord, God of heaven, you are just and holy, pure beyond my conceiving and mighty in creation. What am I that you should consider me? Yet, you have laid your hand on me and called me to be your daughter, beloved and delighted in. How ashamed I am to confess the many ways that I have failed you, hurting others, myself, and setting up consequences which I must live with for as long as it may please you to sustain my life.

Lord, you promise not to leave your children in their troubles, but to sustain them and bring them through somehow purified and made more like Jesus. I want to believe this, but am so weary of the turmoil, and of seeing so little change! How long, O Lord, how long, before you say “Enough” and let me come home, away from the battle and the sin, the wearisome burden of years living with my sinfulness and that of other people?

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength..

(Ps 89.9,14-17)

I will praise your name, my God and my Salvation. Eternal hope is mine, regardless of what you permit for my temporal days, and that hope grows ever brighter in the darkness of the here and now. Only give me the ability to live day by day in that hope, and let me know your presence through the chillling cold of weariness, so that I might not disgrace my calling and bring your name into dishonour by despairing of life itself. Lord, have mercy, that I may know how to glorify you in these breakers, how to shout your name in praise over the winds, and to exult in the God who is sovereign and will do all things well – even in me!