The gift of light…

“Here is my servant, who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight: I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations…. I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

(Isa 42.1,6&7)

In the beginning was the word…. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it…. John.. came as a witness to that light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

(Jn 1.1,4&5,7&9)

Then Jesus told them, “…the one who walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become children of light…… I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

(Jn 12.35&36, 46)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Cor 4.6)

Lord, how can we proclaim your light to those around us who don’t see the darkness? To those for whom human wisdom and sophistication, material prosperity, cultural maturity and the security of law and order provide all the illumination they desire?

Is it nothing to them that our society harbours more personal trauma, self-destruction, hatred, division, isolation and sheer human misery than every before? Is this not darkness?

Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness around them.

Is it nothing to them that our global community is facing catastrophic changes in climate which will threaten our existence, and are already causing devastation to millions who are starving, flooded, impoverished, oppressed – all because of the way in which human nature works when societies become powerful? Is this not darkness?

Lord, open their eyes, tear them from dreams of human achievement to waken to the reality of human brokenness.

Is it nothing to them that their own lives are marked by loss, failure, shortcomings and addictions, long-buried and cherished grudges, shame, unresolved griefs and deep uncertainties, and that one day they will die?

Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness within them.

Thank you Lord, for your light is eternal, is life itself, is glory overflowing and abundant: it is You. In Jesus, you give us yourself, and in you, we are made alive not only now but forever.

Thank you Lord, for your light is crack-making, prison-breaking, dream-banishing, life-kindling. Your light is sin-burning, shame-destroying, forgiveness-flooding, hope-filling. Your light is powerful.

Thank you Lord, for your light is joy-infusing, courage-building, immortal-making, heaven-fitting.

Your light is transformative.

This Christmas, as we remember the gift of the Light of the World, we pray for our world. Heavenly Father, open the blinded eyes and break down the defended minds and hearts, to see that without you, they walk in darkness. Their ‘lights’, are impotent against the real darkness, and only in Jesus will they find what is so desperately needed.

Thank you Lord, for your community around the world, living by the light and seeking in all ways and at all times to bring others to see the light.  By your grace, set aside our failures and short-comings, strengthen us in courage and perseverance to bear witness to the light, as John did, and to speak truth about you. May you be glorified even through us, as we bear Christ’s likeness and serve in his name.

The gift of salvation

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

(Isa 52.7&9)

.. an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

(Matt 1.20&21)

Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel

(Lk 2.28-32)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

(Rev 7.9&10)

As we enter the season of Advent – of remembering in advance what the Christmas celebration is all about – we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to what happened in that disturbed season in the Roman Empire, when great movements of people in order to make a census, took a man and his heavily pregnant fiance down the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We look further back to millennia of Jewish expectation that something would be given, would come from their God, something that would make all the difference in the world to their relationship with Him – because it would remove for ever the barrier caused by the stain of sin in every human heart.

It is not easy to assert in our culture that humankind needs to be saved from itself, that every living soul is naturally oriented away from God, and that what is counted a ‘good’ life by our standards is yet in God’s eyes as far from his standards as that of the greatest tyrant. But this is what the bible tells us, and the work of salvation is assigned to the person of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – how wonderful to see the assurance in the angelic message, ‘he will save his people’, not ‘might’ or ‘will try to’! There was no doubt in the realms of glory that victory would be gained..

It is not easy to explain that we believe in judgement for sin – that a price must be paid in order to turn aside the just wrath of a holy God against the rebellion of his creatures, and all the destructive fruits of that rebellion. Once again, the bible is consistent in its message – sacrifice for sin is the only way to restore our relationship with God, and as imperfect, sinful creatures, we cannot provide the perfect sacrifice necessary to deal with sin once and for all. Instead, we have Jesus, recognised by his cousin John the baptiser as the Lamb of the world – why a lamb? Because this was the creature of sacrifice, and as Isaiah had prophesied – all our griefs and sins were laid on him, so that we might be saved and healed.

So we look back to the birth of Jesus as the coming of God’s perfect gift of salvation to the world, the full realisation of all the promises that the Jews had lived by, and on which the eternal establishing of God’s kingdom would rest. Without the work of salvation, without the brutal realities of atonement for your sin and mine, Christmas would be an empty celebration, a pointless party, with gifts of no lasting value.

But, because of what Jesus did, we can celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour as the beginning of a new reality, where sin no longer has the upper hand, and death is no longer the end of hope. Because of him, christians can live forgiven, can live hopeful, can live out grace to one another – because we have been saved from ourselves and all the old tyrannies, to love and serve another, in whose service we are fully alive.

Finally, we look ahead, to the great day when all those who have accepted the complete salvation from sin which is found only in Jesus, join together in the new heaven and new earth to celebrate that glorious work, and to praise the amazing love which conceived and carried it out.

I worship you today my God, generous beyond imagining and loving beyond reason. I praise you for the gift of salvation which came to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you that I can live forgiven; can live without guilt; can live with hope. May I know how to value this priceless gift, and seek to share it with all who will receive it. Because of Jesus, I can pray this prayer; praise to his name, Amen!

Translating truth..

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior….Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

(Jdg 6.12,14-16)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “… before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”… “Ah, sovereign Lord, ” I said, “I do not know how to speak;..” But the Lord said to me, “…You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

(Jer 1.4-8)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you… We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.

(Rom 12.3-6)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… If anyone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves, without comparing themselves to somebody else, for each one should carry their own load.

(Gal 5.22&23; 6.3-5)

God has called us to be his children not on the basis of our abilities or lack thereof. We are his family because He loves us, and in Jesus we are made worthy to be sons and daughters of a holy God – we belong there now. There is – as it is said – ‘nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does’, Jesus has achieved everything I need and more than I can imagine by his perfect work. So… how does that translate into the messy business of living in this broken world, among broken people, in a body which remains vulnerable to temptation, illness, and which has a particular and unique combination of strengths and weaknesses? What do I do with the fact that the soundtrack in my head is so relentlessly negative, apologetic, full of regret for letting others – and myself – down? How does that stand up to the searching light of scriptural truth, to what God says about me?

Friends, I believe that God does not call us to be blind to who we are, the unique circumstances and opportunities – and limitations – of our lives. When God called Gideon to be judge and warrior in Israel, He didn’t deny that Gideon was the least in the weakest of clans – rather the response was, “go in the strength you have…. and I will be with you.”

Similarly, when Jeremiah balked at the prospect of being prophet to the rebellious and ultimately doomed people of Judah, God didn’t deny either the challenge of the situation, or Jeremiah’s youth which would put him at a disadvantage. Rather, God reminded Jeremiah that he would not go alone – God would go with him. I think in fact that we see later in Jeremiah’s ministry just how hard it was for this man to obey God, fighting the burden of grief and resenting the message which he was called to give. I doubt very much that Jeremiah had an inflated or unrealistic opinion of himself, and that gives me great comfort! I can identify with this faithful servant who found himself prey to despair and wanting to give up in the face of his own weakness and the magnitude of the task before him.

Some of God’s children find it very hard to think of themselves as able for the life to which they are called. Some of us carry a perpetual apology in our hearts and on our tongues, painfully aware of everything that might be counted failure, and weakness, and sadly less aware of what others may see as strength, gifting, and spiritual fruit. Some strive all their days against comparison with other believers, unable to resist and invariably denigrating their God-given selves – which itself dishonours God and fails to honour him, another failure added to the ever-growing list.

Can I encourage you friends, if you know people like this, to pray for a special mercy from God, by which they may receive the peace of self-acceptance, as the beloved child of a heavenly Father whose strength is sufficient for their weakness, and who delights in all their acts of obedience and faith. If you can encourage them in any way, do so – but be warned, they may be unable to receive the comfort you seek to give because they are so painfully aware of the ‘truth’ as they see it, the inner life which falls so short of their desire.

Loving heavenly Father, by your Spirit dwelling in me, translate this truth into my life. Let me live at peace with the person you have made me, not resenting those things you have withheld, but appreciating and using well the gifts I have received. Silence that internal critic, and let me hear instead the beloved voice saying “Do not be afraid, I will go with you.” May I honour you by gladly living in obedience, using the resources I have to serve your kingdom. In the name of Jesus who speaks for me always at your right hand, Amen.

Drawing breath

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law….. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him..

(Det 29.29; 30.19&20)

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the bear with its cubs?           

           Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

(Job 38.28-33)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.26&27,34)

Be patient.. until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 5.7,8 &11)

My soul, draw breath: turn your inner ear away from the cacophony of voices which are calling you names, reminding you of weakness, folly, errors and failure. 

My soul, draw breath: turn your eye away from the list of things you ‘should’ be doing, the things that are ‘good and worthy’, the great towering mountain of expectations that you feel obliged to fulfil.

My soul, draw breath: your Lord is near, and while you deafen yourself by telling over the lists, you cannot hear him; while you fix your eyes on the expectations, you cannot see him.

My soul, draw breath: remember just how much has been done for you, in the name of love, and by whom. Remember that your smallness does not require you to work harder than ever to achieve and to succeed. Remember that your riches are inherited, not earned, and that the loving hand which gives so generously is your Father, not your employer. There are no conditions attached, only the invitation to respond in love and adoration.

My soul, draw breath: yes, there is so much that you do not understand and cannot bear to think about. But remember who holds those secret things in his keeping: He holds you too, as his beloved. In the closest places of his heart you are present and precious. Nothing happens to you beyond his knowledge, and the burdens belong to him, who alone is able to bear them in justice and holiness, doing all things well.

Almighty God, the secret things belong to you, and sometimes that great amount of unknown threatens to overwhelm me – both my immediate questions, and the wider ones affecting your people around the world. But one of the things revealed is your power in creation, and so much more than power; brilliance, artistry, wisdom, vastness, and majesty. You are the great artist, the ultimate maker, and I praise you today. Thank you for human artistry which can help me to take time to look, really stop and contemplate the beauty of the details as well as the big pictures. Thank you for those whose gifts of word, hand and tongue cast light on your creative genius and help me to see it afresh – to find rest in contemplation of your handiwork.

Thank you, that when I take time to receive from you the daily bounty of beauty, the love in every detail, I can live in gratitude and in expectation of what you are yet to do. Thank you that this contemplation restores my perspective, and I am reminded that my place is not to uncover every secret, but to live for you on the basis of what is revealed to me. The burden lifts, as I humble myself before my maker and accept my limitations.

Draw breath my soul: look, listen, and remember what is true. And then let your song rise to your Lord, as you rest in him today. 

Chewing it over…and over..

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

(Ps 1.1-3)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour.

(Isa 61.1-3)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Gal 1.3-5)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving; considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

(Jas 3.13,17&18)

It is always good to remind ourselves of what the scriptures say is true about us, to choose to let God’s words be the basis on which we evaluate not only what is going on around us but also what weight to give our own thoughts – those constant companions which colour our actions and words.

When I feel that I am astray in this present evil age, weak and wayward, I recall that Christ has died to rescue me – and that he succeeded! The resurrection proves that my debt is paid, and I am free from the powers which so cruelly dominate our world. As one of his ransomed and precious children, I have total security in my Saviour’s work, and in the place to which God is leading me is called home. 

The work of Jesus is completely sufficient, and not only am I rescued, but also transformed. For the dust and ashes, the rags and tatters of human brokenness, I receive a crown; beauty for brokenness, rich royal robes fitted for a princess. And these are mine not to cover up shameful secrets, to deceive God as if He could be fooled. Rather, these are now my proper possession as His child. I am a new creation, a beloved, beautiful God-delighting daughter, and all that He bestows on me now is simply my birthright – all because of Jesus.

This is wisdom then; to chew over these truths again, and again. Choosing to make them the basis on which I face each fresh challenge and stage of life. Choosing to live as though they were and are and always will be true, so that more and more my thoughts follow God’s thoughts about me, and I have that never failing stream of renewing, nourishing life flowing through me. 

I am planted by the Lord, to bear witness to his glory and power and righteousness as the One who keeps his promises and does all things well. I am not here because of an accident, but by His design and to fulfill his purposes. What keeps me anchored here is the life which is flowing – by the spirit in me – from his grace and inexhaustible love. As I meditate on the truth, his truth, my roots go deeper and hold more strongly, and my surroundings matter less. I can, and must, ground and nourish myself in this heavenly wisdom, trusting that it will bear fruit in my life for God’s glory and the blessing of those around me.  Trees don’t actively decide to bear fruit… it happens because they are healthy trees. May I remember that next time I am fretting over the apparent fruitlessness of my life, and trust that while it may not be obvious to me, yet my heavenly Father will be satisfied that this particular bit of his planting is doing just what he planned it should!

Watch your feet!

Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers… For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

(Ps 1.1&6)

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek… Teach me your way, O Lord lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.

(Ps 27.7,8 &11)

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

(Lk 1.76-79)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me…. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me…. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you..”

(Jn 14.1,4-6,23 & 27)

I love to walk, on my own or in company, in the city and in the countryside. It just feels good to be moving, to be experiencing my surroundings directly, all the sights, sounds and scents, and the occasional interaction with other people on the way. It is not always wise to simply wander however – especially here where  following one’s nose can lead to a sheer drop, a boggy morass, or a river in flood! I need to keep my wits about me, and to be wary of assuming that I am on safe ground.

The metaphor of life as path along which we walk is frequently used in the psalms, and it was this which prompted my thoughts for today. How often, as a follower of Jesus, do I ‘walk’ in my thoughts to places that attract or intrigue me but which might not be particularly safe or helpful? It is easy to follow our noses, follow the company around us in a conversation, follow the trend of our culture, and find ourselves in new places. We stand and look around, then perhaps we find ourselves settling there, ‘taking a seat’ mentally as we choose to identify with this new place. Or perhaps we don’t agree altogether with it, but the thought of extracting ourselves and walking away again is too daunting, too much effort and even embarrassing for us.  

We need to walk warily my friends. We need to remember that while we are called to live ‘in’ the world, yet we are not to be ‘of’ it, nor to make ourselves at home. Where am I headed each day? What is my daily path of thoughts, occupations, assumptions? I cannot and must not cut myself off from this world, but I must remain vigilant and notice my surroundings as I walk. 

The psalmist prays for the Lord’s leading into a ‘straight’ or safe path, and so may we. We can pray for wisdom to discern dangers on our path and its surroundings, so that we are prepared to keep our minds on the Lord and his word, his promises and faithfulness. We can pray to be delivered from thoughtless wandering into dangerous company where we might be tempted to settle down, because in so many ways it feels good, perhaps even familiar. It is so easy for the enemy of our souls to camouflage wrong thinking, making it attractive and comfortable – less likely to provoke the wrath of our godless world. 

Lord Jesus, you are our only safe way; only by you can we walk in peace into our eternal inheritance and glorious future; only in you do we find perfect wisdom, and through you find our joy in living. Let us so deeply crave crave your peace, wisdom and joy, that we cannot be comfortable anywhere these things are not found. May the wisdom of the world never beguile us into making ourselves at home in it. Watch over our ways, guard us and keep us always in your paths.

Whose headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

(Ps 9.7-10)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(Jn 16.33)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(Rom 5.1-5)

It is some years since I stopped watching news programmes on TV, and I mean stopped altogether, not just the late night bulletin which would upset and depress me just in time to go to bed…. all of them. My preferred radio station has the briefest possible bulletins, and no chat shows or analysis programmes. Our family newspaper is only skimmed by me, and I pay more attention to the articles on rugby union than UK politics!

Why? Because I am fully aware of the impact on my attitude to life and to the world around me that the ‘news’ can have. How often do we hear really good news on the radio or TV? When did a headline in the papers last make you think, ‘How really wonderful!’? The sad reality is that bad news sells, attracts and keeps attention, and so our media news channels focus on that – on disagreement, on the dramas of international disputes, on natural disasters and the threats of more.

I know that some outlets are more reliable than others when it comes to an accurate and unbiased reporting; I know that some sources are more likely to take account of all the facts and avoid pursuing some political agenda of their own. But, I also know that since none can actually take a broad, complete picture, they will inevitably distort and fail to convey the full picture.

And so, as a follower of Jesus, I choose to place little weight in the news as reported. I choose instead to rely on the statements by the one who truly sees and knows all, who holds the nations in his hand and sees into every heart, discerning motives and desires which are hidden from the world. I choose to trust God’s headlines over those of the media, and to find in his viewpoint, my security and my analysis of the situation.

There is so much more going on than we ever hear about. There are so many things which are good, and true and beautiful that never make the news. God’s love is in action, all around me people are caring and giving and celebrating because He is, and has loved them. I believe that only eternity will show the full significance of all the apparently ‘small’ good things that are happening all the time. If I am to hold a balanced view, I need to make sure that the reality of God’s love and goodness, of his beauty and power are at the forefront of my mind, balancing the pain, evil and misery which is also part of our broken world.

And what are God’s headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever. He will judge in righteousness. He has overcome this world’s evil, and the victory is given to all who trust in him for forgiveness and eternal life. We are on the winning side! Whenever you are being overwhelmed by the latest tidal wave of bad news, dear friends, take a step back and remember what God says about this world and all that is happening and will take place.

Not only is our Lord reigning already, but he is also present with his people in their journey through this place so painfully compounded of joy and sorrow, light and darkness, beauty and ugliness. This holiness came and lived with our sinfulness. Nothing that we encounter can shock or defeat him. Nothing that the darkness hides goes unseen by him. We never walk alone….

So much good news, from the most trustworthy source imaginable: my friends I pray that we might never lose sight of it, and might indeed discern it every day in the lives of those around us – the faithful love of a spouse for a failing partner; the committed work of missionaries, carers, healthworkers and emergency services; the unselfish generosity of neighbours and the positive community efforts to care for the weakest and least visible in their midst. God’s headlines may not always be the most dramatic, but they will always help me to walk more steadily through our troubled world, and to offer hope to all who will receive it.

Where are my wells?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar.. and he said,..”go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

…God said to Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant… I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink…

(Gen 16.9&10; 21.12-19)

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….the poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

(Isa 41.8-10, 17&18)

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

(Jn 7.37&38)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful..

(Heb 10.23)

Hagar, servant of Sarah, concubine to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, suffered greatly at the hands of those who could and should have known better. Abraham and Sarah, in their abuse of Hagar, did not honour the God whose call they had obeyed and whom they worshipped. God showed grace and compassion to Hagar, as the mother of Abraham’s first son, she entered a relationship with a covenant keeping God and this long story shows that faithfulness of God’s character at work. In all the machinations of Sarah, and complaisance of Abraham, yet God was at work for good for this slave woman and her unwanted child. And when the crisis came, Hagar found that God intended to do for her all that he had promised.

I was greatly moved by this story when it was preached in our church last week, as we were encouraged to recall that we too are those who have received God’s promises. As his chosen ones, called through Jesus to be his children, we are the object of his love and it is his purpose to bring us to glory. While the world may leave us tired and vulnerable, and those close to us may hurt or neglect us, yet God is at work and cannot be thwarted.

Friends, are you, like me, oppressed and feeling as though life is a desert? Can you see only the death of your hopes and no purpose in carrying on? Let me encourage you to be like Hagar, to cry aloud in your distress and to listen for the voice of the Lord who has promised that he will quench your thirst abundantly.

This way is the one in which God is leading and calling you. This, therefore, is the place in which he will sustain and bless you. This way is the one where you will find wells, springs of refreshment. There may only be small springs, rations for each day’s journey – but herein lies the challenge of faith. Will I accept today’s refreshment and trust for tomorrow’s, even though I may not see it yet? Will I choose to follow and rejoice, one day at a time?

What wells lie in your way today? As you cry to your Father who sees all things, what will he give for your thirst? Perhaps a song, or piece of music which brings His faithfulness to mind and allows you to express worship and trust, or to lament and lay your burden before him. Perhaps the companionship of a fellow traveller with whom you can share your situation, and whose own burdens you can lift to God in prayer. Perhaps an opportunity to serve, to use the gifts you have for the blessing of another. Perhaps a fresh awareness of his power and majesty in creation.

May we learn to trust him more fully for our daily needs, and to journey in faith, like Hagar. May we see the wells which God’s goodness has provided, and having drunk deeply, go on.

Out of hope…not fear

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled…You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour.. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

(Ps 65. 1,5,8-13)

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.'”

(Isa 45.18&19,22-24)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…..

(Matt 6.9&10)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…..” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

The debate around climate change, and the very compelling evidence for the scale of the crisis now faced by humankind, is one of the most disturbing things which we face as believers. I am continually overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, and the seemingly inevitable suffering which lies ahead, especially for those already oppressed by poverty, disease and war.. When one adds a degree of realism – or is it undue pessimism? – about the capacity of the major global agencies to actually cooperate and act constructively and decisively, it is hard to find grounds for hope.

BUT, as a believer, I must wrestle with this, and recently in my struggle I have been greatly helped by being reminded that we are not in this alone. There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that God simply set up creation and then abandoned it to the mercies of human beings. Rather, there are multiple indications that God is intimately involved with the ongoing life of our planet; sustaining its laws, caring for its creatures and also celebrating and appreciating his own handiwork. We are also told very plainly, that God is in the business of ‘making all things new’ – of realising his purposes in a perfected creation, where He can live with his redeemed and glorified people, enjoying everything as it was always meant to be. 

So what can I do as I seek to live as God’s child, God’s representative, in this troubled time?

I can be sure that God is still involved in this world; and that as his child, I am called to follow his example of caring for and celebrating the beautiful, abundant creation around me. God’s hands are still on his handiwork, for good.

I can be sure that God will fulfill his purpose for all creation; to deliver it from the effects of sin into a place of abundance and thriving which I cannot even imagine, but which one day I will delight in as my eternal home!

I can pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ and then expect that God will answer, and that I can be part of that answer – even though I may not understand the paths He chooses to take. I can be part of that answer, by looking at my own life and the opportunities I have to do things differently; and also by encouraging other people to see the goodness of this earth and to cherish it. 

I can encourage others to hear how creation shouts aloud of God’s love and generosity; celebrating all his greatness and power, and responding in loving stewardship of those things which it is in our power to influence. I can encourage them to believe that since we are working with our God in a world which is precious to him, for a purpose which is glorifying to him, then our efforts will never be altogether futile, no matter how small. 

God is with us, now and always, therefore we need not fear – though the oceans rise – but can work with him in hope and expectation. May we be strengthened to live in this way in these days, that our hope might cause others to seek Jesus, and find salvation for themselves.

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When it pulls so hard…

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced.. He is the Lord our God; his judgements are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations….. He confirmed in to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

(Ps 105.5,7,8&10)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands….Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

(Ps 63.2-4,7&8)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…”

(Jn 10.27-29)

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that… we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..

(Heb  6. 17-20)

Have you ever watched a boat straining at its anchor rope in high winds and rough waters? The rope is taut, and at times the strain is so strong that the boat appears to being pulled under the crashing waters as it cannot move with them and cut loose from that security. I wonder if at times as believers we feel like that boat?

The old hymn speaks of the ‘anchor that keeps our soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll’, but we perhaps forget that the strain exerted upon the boat by its anchor-rope against those billows is immense! If the anchor were not strong enough to hold firm in the seabed, the boat would certainly move freely again upon the waters, but it would also, and just as certainly, come into danger of destruction as a result. I would like to think about the way that our connection to God, through Jesus, is like that anchor rope, and to ponder what that means when we are in the stormiest waters and like to founder.

Sometimes, I find myself so deeply troubled by pain and suffering – my own and that of others, that I am tempted to wish I did not believe in a God of love who cares for me. The tension between what I am feeling – or seeing others endure – and what the bible tells me is true, is so powerful that I am being torn in two and cannot bear it any more. But consider friends, if God’s loving hold upon me was not so strong, I would not feel that tension at all, I would simply choose to walk away from an inconvenient set of beliefs, and seek another way to make my peace with the realities of life in this broken world (not that I believe there is such a thing).

I believe that we can take comfort from the very intensity of our struggles – they show just how firmly God’s love is grasping us, just how determined he is to fulfil his covenant promise in us, and to what lengths he has gone and will go to glorify his name by saving us in spite of all our faults and failings. It is no credit to believers when – either in the midst of the storm, or in the succeeding calmer days – we testify to our perseverance. Rather, all the glory goes to God who has laid hold upon us, chosen to keep us for his own name’s sake – does a boat take credit for remaining at anchor through a storm? No, it is the one who has set the anchor, chosen and attached the rope to the boat who deserves praise.

What a relief to know, as we endure current trials and submit to what may come in the days ahead, that our anchor is totally secure – because of the one who has attached us to himself so utterly and completely. We can trust him, even when the tension is like to tear our hearts in pieces, to be faithful to his promises and to be glorified in and through what is happening.

Thank you Father that when, like Jesus in Gethsemane, we are in agony and wrestling to accept your will, we can know that it is your love for us that holds us fast, and your love in us which is refusing to let go and surrender us to the darkness of the storm. When we are in pain, may we even there be able to rejoice that you have given us love for you, faith in Jesus, and reason to hope.