Thank you letters…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil.4.6&7)

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live…Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you…How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people…I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. 

(Ps 116.1,2,7,12-14,17)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever..It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man…I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation…Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord…This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it…The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.1,8,13&14,19,24,27-29)

Young children find the business of writing thank you letters a dreadful blot on a special day like Christmas, but as an adult, receiving written thanks from friends, and family after birthdays, or special occasions, I understand why we were trained in this discipline. We give the gift – our time, our money, our thoughtful present – and hope that it will be noticed, be acceptable, hope that we have been a blessing! And then the letter arrives, and we KNOW that we did a good thing, and can enjoy the pleasure that we gave all over again! The good things will not be wasted or undervalued.

Now, I am not suggesting that our eternal, all-knowing and mighty God is in need of our thanks in order to make him feel better. We can do nothing to change how God feels about us, the children for whom his son died. We can however glorify him and be blessed ourselves in so doing when we take time to explicitly recognise and thank him for the good things we have. Thanking God and enjoying his good gifts in his company – using them for the purpose he designed, and giving him all the credit for the results – are things we are commanded to do for our own good and as the only sensible response to his incredible generosity.

When I take time to recognise the miracles which go into providing each thing that appears on my plate at breakfast time, I find myself praising the God who ordained seasons, who gives the power of germination to seeds, who presides over the rain and sun and is Lord of creation – in all its glorious complexity and beauty.

When I take time to acknowledge the miracle which is my own continuing existence – I woke up today; I can breathe and walk, I can think and see; I have a secure place to live and a land where the rule of law keeps me safe – then I find myself praising the God who rules over all power and authority, and who has ordained already all the days of my life. I am reminded that I can trust in him, and in nothing else, since I cannot control any of these things.

When I take time to see what God is doing in my life and those around me – people who encourage and help me; daily opportunities to love and serve and witness; evidence of growing faith, strengthening love, earnest persevering obedience – then I find myself praising and leaning on the God who has promised never to leave or abandon his children, and also to bring to glorious completion the work he has begun in their lives.

Perhaps most significantly, when I take time to acknowledge the difference which Jesus Christ makes in my life – my Lord and Saviour, the one who created a new heart in me and who died that I might be free from guilt and the power of sin, that I might look forward to a life without death in a new earth and new heaven – then I find myself prostrate, flat out in worship of God who for sheer love, made me his child and called me home to his arms.

When my daily life consists in spoken and unspoken thank-you letters to God, then I will live humbly, obediently, trusting and at peace.. May God have mercy and stir up in me the habit of thankfulness.

 

 

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Seeing straight, seeing true?

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God…show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare….Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.

(Ps 25. 1,4,15&18)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

(Ps 27.4)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be give to you as well. 

(Matt 6.31-33)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it…’

(Matt 16.24&25)

Dearest Lord, forgive my poor vision, and restore my sight. It seems that every day is passing in a fog; I see only my own poor self, with all the weaknesses and scars of past failures and hurts. I cannot get past the blinkers of selfishness, and am blinded by self-pity and despair. I know that out there, somewhere, there is great light and freedom, a picture of glory and beauty which can transform my life and make it shine for you…and yet I cannot seem to see it. Oh Lord, mighty God, have mercy on your child and help me to fix my eyes upon you, each and every day; seeing ever more clearly your power and will to save, and the beauty of your love and forgiveness. Only that vision has power to burn away all shameful self-preoccupation, and only you can give it!

Heavenly Father, forgive my narrow vision and restore my sight. I live in a community of people whom you love, and for whom your son, my saviour, died. I live among people who have known great trouble and sorrow; people who have rejected what they think is the truth about you because of the pain they see in the world; and also people who never give you a thought, living only for the moment and the things of this world. I know that I fail to see these people as your precious and beloved children, as those trapped in a darkness of which they are almost unaware, and in desperate need of a saving hope. O Lord, loving and gracious, merciful and forgiving, I pray that I might see as you see, so that I might love as you love and serve in your name. Shift my gaze from my own burdens to see those of others;  displace my love for myself with your holy and pure love for others.

I praise you, my God and King, that you have paid the price for my sins and broken the power of sin and guilt and death over my life. I thank you that you have put your life into my heart; that by your spirit, I am a new creation and not bound by my past. Let me see ever more clearly what that means, and live as if I believed it! Let the truths of forgiveness bring healing and transformation, so that the shadows cast by the past are driven away, and I see more clearly that I am accepted, loved, filled with a new purpose and power for living – the best purpose there is, to worship and serve the one true God.

Set me free from myself, Lord, break the chains and bring me into the light of your love,. In that light, I see others clearly; in that light, I am utterly focused on you and forget myself; in that light, may I live, as one consumed by a single passion –  the glory of Jesus Christ, my Saviour!

Are we nearly there yet?…and other complaints

“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed the Egyptians. In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling….”

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur…the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

(Ex 15. 11-13,22&24)

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron…”If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat…but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”…The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'”

(Ex 16. 2&3, 11&12)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were;…We should not test the Lord, as some of them did….And do not grumble, as some of them did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10. 6-13)

It all started so well, with the people of Israel rejoicing over their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the sheer awesome power of their God, that power which he promised would bring them to their own fruitful and peaceful land. But within a few weeks, there was bitter complaint against the servant leader, and by implication, against their God, for the conditions in which they had to live as pilgrims.

So it would continue off and on for years, resulting in the deaths in the desert of all those who had doubted God, and the exclusion of Moses from the promised land. So much for their joyful song of faith and trust in God – when life got hard, it was just so many empty words.. and I have to recognise this same weakness in myself. As Paul astutely warns the Corinthian church, we are all prone to this lack of trust and to a discontented, complaining spirit, a spirit which grieves God deeply.

I am rescued, redeemed from a spiritual bondage which by my own efforts I could not escape. I am free to live with hope and purpose, looking forward to a promised land, an eternal future which is beyond my wildest imagination. I know, in my mind and sometimes in my heart, that the power which delivered me, and the love which planned that deliverance, are good, and that I can trust God absolutely with my life. But…but….

I am ashamed to see how often I have a grumbling spirit; how often I complain about the length of the journey which lies before me (and I don’t even know how long it will be!); or about the sinfulness of my travelling companions (who have to put up with my sinfulness); or about the arid and hostile land through which I have to travel (when in worldly terms, I live in a prosperous, peaceful and highly desirable situation).

Oh Lord, forgive me. Too often, I have come to you with complaints, instead of with thankfulness for my deliverance, for the many good things which you have already provided and above all for the daily renewal of your love and forgiveness of me.

You have called me to a pilgrimage, you have placed in my heart a hunger for a home which is not of this world, and you have promised to provide for all my needs on the journey. You have promised that all that is permitted to come into my life will be for your glory and my sanctification and blessing. And I have failed time and time again to live as if I believed it. Forgive me for doubting your goodness and love, that is at the root of all my grumbling, and how shameful that I should even entertain such doubts when you have shown your love for me so powerfully in Christ.

When I am tempted to complain, let me rather thank you first for all I have, all you give. Then let me present my needs with a humble submission to your will, recognising that you know best. Let me cultivate the spirit of one who travels in hope, and in patience, and in trust, that her guide will not fail her and she can follow with confidence wherever he may lead!

Just so much fluffiness?

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young…… For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,”declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.   ………………….”Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

(Isa 40.10&11;41.13&14; 42.1-3)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matt 11.28-30)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.

(Eph 4.1-3)

As followers of Jesus, those who have the fruit of his life within them being developed by the power of his spirit, we are all called to gentleness – alongside self-control, patience, joy, peace etc – to the development of a ‘kindly nature or character’ (after the dictionary definition of this quality). But what does that look like for us, in a world where kindness and gentleness are often confused with weakness, and trodden underfoot; where strength lies in might, in noise, in exerting power and status and influence, where looking after number one is paramount? Gentleness is now largely a matter of describing fabric, or the quality of a breeze, and is rarely valued in the personalities which dominate our headlines.

I believe that as we look at Jesus, we see gentleness modelled for us very clearly. Here is no doormat, no timid spirit. Jesus at times was bold, confrontational, assertive and he certainly cannot be accused of conforming to popular opinion in order to avoid uncomfortable situations!! He demonstrated the power of God to overrule the natural world, to defeat the powers of evil, and ultimately, the power of death. And yet he is commended to us as a gentle and humble man.

The prophets foretold these qualities, speaking of the coming judgement and justice which would be fulfilled under the authority of the Messiah, and yet also speaking in the most eloquent, tender words about the gentleness with which he would tend, heal and cherish his own precious ones.

I believe that gentleness speaks of strength under complete control, exercised in love to those who are weak, wounded, frail and desperately needy – which we as sinners are! I find this quality in my Lord utterly irresistible, and it is one which we greatly need to cultivate in our dealings with one another. None of us can see into the heart of another, we cannot know what struggles and wounds are being carried there – through interminable days – as our fellow believers seek to follow Jesus along the path to which he has called them. What we can do, is to handle one another with gentleness, guarding our language and tone of voice, as well as the way we use our physical strength, and fully aware of one another’s vulnerability.

If a person is irritating you so much that you are in danger of losing your temper and being harsh…..what would your gentle Lord do? Consider his manner with the confused and questioning disciples on the night before he died- he was so patient and gentle with them, in spite of his own desperate need for reassurance from his father. Their weakness called forth his own loving gentleness; out of his strength, he gave to them in their need and tempered his words to their confusion.

Let us rejoice in the gentleness of our Saviour, as he carries us in his arms; let us pray that we might have that same gentleness in our dealings with one another, that we might be a means of healing, strengthening, comforting and guiding one another, and always pointing to Christ, the perfect ‘gentle’-man.

Words, words, words!

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth…Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path….I have suffered much, preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word…Your statutes are my heritage for ever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end…You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word…

Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed….Ensure your servant’s well being; let not the arrogant oppress me….Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

(Psalm 119, taken from 103-136)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

(2Tim.3.16&17)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

(Heb.4.12&13)

Do you ever consider how wonderful it is that the words contained in our scriptures – old and new testaments, dating back over thousands of years – continue to be the foundation of living faith and hope in God, for people all around the world? These words, God-breathed as we believe, and coloured with the characters and gifts of the human authors, are as potent in 2018 as they were in 500, or 1050, to transform lives and bring people on their knees before God in repentance and faith. What a wonderful message is contained within them, what incredible power is made available through them, what a marvellous privilege is ours to be able to handle and read them for ourselves!

And they are a personal word; we hear the voices of the authors with such power as they bring their distinctive gifts and situations to bear on their writing. There is no such things as a ‘standard’ book in the bible, and even within broad groupings, there is rich variety – from the eloquence of Isaiah, to the brief and potent message of Micah; from the personal narratives of Ruth and Esther, to the detailed histories of Chronicles and Kings. The psalms themselves contain every human emotion, brought and laid bare before the throne of mercy, the only safe place for us to unveil our deepest thoughts and the only place to unburden ourselves of all desire for revenge, all our depths of despair, all the unfulfilled longings of our hearts..What a great treasure trove; surely as Paul wrote to Timothy, with this we can be fully equipped for the work and walk to which God has called us.

Our God is not constrained by culture, race or historical era, and his words are as powerful now in China and Chile as they were in ancient Colossae, or Corinth. Disciples today are learning from the suffering of Job and the lamentations of Jeremiah on the judgement of his people, just as the early church did when they faced persecution and death.

It is this fact, the “living” quality of God’s word to us, which lies behind the continuing drive to translate the scriptures into languages which may not even yet have their own alphabet, let alone books. It is this which allows missionaries to preach Christ with confidence in every nation, tribe and tongue, trusting scripture to speak as powerfully to new converts in 21st century Chad or Myanmar as it did in Philippi and Rome.

Let us praise God for his infinite wisdom and power in the gift of his word; let us rejoice in all the ways in which we have and continue to benefit from it – not taking the freedom to own, read and share the word for granted! May the example of the author of Psalm 119 inspire us to praise and celebrate the glory of God as revealed in his word. It is surely the foundation for our witness, our wisdom and our worship; it is sweeter than honey to our lips, and more precious than gold; light to our path and joy to our hearts. Let us, with the psalmist, treasure it and seek ever more faithfully to live by it.

From the depths…to the heights

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning…O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

(Ps 130.1-7)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! AMEN!

I turned round …and saw someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said:”Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!

(Rev 1.7,12-18)

When I am drowning in sorrow; when I sing my way through songs of longing at church, with tears streaming down my face and no one notices or comforts me; when I wake each day to pick up the same heavy load of seemingly insoluble difficulty; Lord, let me then preach your word to my spirit. I WILL lift my eyes to you; I WILL fix my gaze upon your face: I WILL put my faith in your love and mercy, and trust that even in this dark pit, you have not abandoned me.

When I look around at my community and my country and see congregations growing old and dying; when I see preachers and pastors burning out under loads of unrealistic expectation; when I see church members sitting so lightly to their calling or so weighed down by life that they have no time or energy to invest in growing in their faith and in community with their fellow believers; Lord, let me then preach your word to my spirit. I WILL lift my eyes to your throne; I WILL fix my gaze upon the glory of the risen one: I WILL put my faith in your power and sovereignty, in your plan to bring all things together under the Lordship of my precious Jesus, and in the truth that your love for this broken world – for those who choose to reject you, for those who think that they know you but do not – that love is inextinguishable.

Forgive me Lord, that I fall into despair so easily; my spirit is not strong. Forgive me Lord, that I let my eyes fall down into the darkness around me so easily; my vision is not clear. Forgive me Lord, that I can’t seem to live day by day in the joyful reality of your saving presence with me, and of your inexorable power at work in the world around me; my feet are not strong to stay on the path.

Thank you, that the truth about you does not change, and that when I make the effort to look up, to look towards the throne, there I see not some impersonal, eternally distant being, but my Lord. I see one who in glory bears his scars in a recognisable body, one who speaks my language, and who knows and cares about everything which happens to me.

Restore in me, the hope of your salvation; restore in me, the reality of sin forgiven and guilt removed; restore in me, the wellspring of your love that I might live out that love to those around me.

Restore in your church, a conviction of your love and power to save; restore in your church, a passion to share the transforming truth of sin forgiven and lives restored; restore in your church, a love which transcends denominational boundaries, which sets aside differences in tradition for the sake of serving a glorified and risen Lord.

Have mercy upon us Lord, that we might have the inexpressible joy of seeing men and women across our land coming into the light of your love, and the privilege of serving alongside them in your name. Amen, so let it be!

 

Relentless, single-minded…love?

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

(John 15.12-14)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love….. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1&2; 15&16)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

(Mark 11.25)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?….You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye……If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you…”

(Matt 7.3&5;18.15)

Lord, your love is perfect: mine is so imperfect.

You fear nothing: I fear so many things.

Out of your love, you cause me to face pain and difficulty, that I might become the glorious creature you know that I can be.

Out of my feeble shadow of love, I shy away from inflicting pain or causing others to face difficulty, because I am afraid of what they might do to me.

If I loved you as I ought; if your will truly ruled in my heart; if I truly loved others, then nothing would stop me from speaking the truth in love that they might grow according to your glorious purposes for them.

Oh Lord, forgive me, that I do not love as I ought. Forgive me, that I have failed to love others as I ought, and have let fear of my own pain hold me back from obedience to your will.

Have you ever considered that laying down your life for others might look more like a sentence of hard labour than a death sentence? That sounds a little severe, but let me unpack what I mean..Jesus spoke these words on the night before he died, and so we often associate them with his sacrificial death – and rightly so. But is it not also possible to apply them to the years leading up to this night?

Jesus had given up his life for his disciples, for three years. He had lived and worked with them, walked and eaten with them. He had borne with their foolishness and ignorance, their misplaced ambitions and squabblings, he had even borne with the presence of the one whom he knew would betray him. His life had been a living sacrifice of service to these men, a worked example of divine love in action.

I have been challenged recently to apply this to myself, to see that my life is also poured out in love to others, for their blessing and growth in grace and faith. If I choose to follow my own instincts – which are for peace at any price, and the avoidance of all confrontation – then I will effectively fail in my calling. God asks me to be his agent of love to people – to speak truth in love to them, that they might hear through my loving voice the word of God calling them to repentance and change. This is a huge responsibility, and for one like myself who goes in great fear of doing “the wrong thing”, it is terrifying!

But God gives me no choice; as his child, one in whom Christ dwells by the Spirit, I am called to play my part in building up the individual members of his body and that means helping others to see the truth about themselves. Will I choose to trust that He can and will direct my words; give me wisdom and humility; use what I say for the good of those to whom I speak; and above all, help me to overcome my fear of everything except disobeying him?

Loving Lord, I pray that you will so fill me with your relentless love that I will no longer hold back, but will speak the truth in love; humbly acknowledging my own great sinfulness and need of forgiveness; depending on your grace and power to change us all according to your will and looking forward eagerly to the day when we all stand revealed in the glory that you have in store for us.