When I want to look away..

Our Father, who is in heaven

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all life; in whose image all humanity is made, and who desires that all might know and love you, might walk in joyful fellowship with you and with one another, hear our prayer.

As a Father you yearn over your children, from every race, tribe and tongue you call us forth to live together in peace as your family and to glorify you as each brings their own unique part to complete the whole. 

In our rebellion and pride, we long ago rejected your wisdom, your lordship, and chose what we consider right in our own eyes. And see what a price we are paying for our pride and so-called freedom…

The heart of humanity is fatally flawed, and without you, our best and highest aims become the grounds of our corruption, the motivation for the darkest deeds. Almighty God, we confess our sin afresh, and mourn for the grief which has come upon us because of sin, because of our rejection of our God.

Hallowed be your name

We are no longer motivated by your glory, but by our own. We are driven by a desire for power to make ourselves secure; to win vengeance over our neighbour for his wrongs; to be the biggest, the fastest, the wealthiest, the strongest, the most enduring. Our empires(large and small) are fed on exploitation, on corruption, on manipulation and domination, on injustice and dishonesty; they grow fat on the poverty of others, and strong through the killing, intimidating and oppression of others. 

God, we deserve your judgement, we confess the darkness in our hearts and those of our leaders, and cry for the mercy which we do not deserve. Truly, your glory and honour require our condemnation and destruction.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

With trembling hearts, we praise and worship you because the judgement which was rightly ours has been taken by Jesus, by our perfect substitute, and even as he took that punishment on himself, so we by faith receive his perfection and are made acceptable and beloved children in your family. We rejoice to know that this, this astonishing salvation is your will for all your children, and that ultimately we shall dwell together with you in joyous harmony in a new and sinless earth. 

Your kingdom has been  inaugurated through Christ’s life, death and resurrection; and will be fully realised on his return in glory when your appointed time has come. But until then, Lord, how should we work and pray as we consider the bloody battlefield of this world?

As I write, my mind is full of the grievous and intractable situation currently prevailing between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people; images of destruction and violence; images of fear and hatred writ large on human faces; images of hopelessness and despair as the infected wound of a decades long conflict breaks out yet again. The roots of this agony are complicated beyond words, each generation inheriting the consequences of previous decisions and unable to reverse or disentangle them. The decisions taken by my own nation some hundred years ago have their part to play, I must not pretend that our hands are clean..This is not someone else’s problem, it is mine, because these people are my brothers and sisters, and who can say what I might do in their situation, under their provocation?

There are other battlefields to remember – Yemen, Eritrea, South Sudan, Syria,  Guatemala, Colombia, Myanmar, North Korea, Western China, Tibet, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Turkey, Ukraine….you could add to the list those places dearest to your heart. Not all the battles are physical, many are economic, religious and racial state-sponsored oppressions.

How do we – as those who believe that God’s kingdom has come and is coming – pray and work in these situations? We pray for God’s glory to be seen and for justice to be forthcoming; for that lasting peace which allows humanity to flourish and the gospel to be preached. We speak out to our own lawmakers and politicians, to those who can be heard on global stages, urging the respect for human rights which we cherish and which reflects the God-imprint which is in each one of us. We ask God to help us not to look away from conflict, injustice, prolonged suffering, but rather to be motivated through what we see to care enough for our fellow human beings to pray, and to act. We seek those agencies through which we might extend aid to the suffering, and justice to the persecuted, and we commit ourselves to being involved.

Almighty God, I pray today for all those in the land of Israel who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and in his name seek peace in their land. Give them courage to stand against injustice and violence, and help them to hold together – as ethnic Jews, Arabs and Palestinians united in Christ – so that your name might be honoured. May the witness of your people encourage all who work for a lasting and just settlement, and may it strengthen every local effort to end hostility and bring reconciliation.

Sulky exiles, or responsible citizens?

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile..:”Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

(Jer 29.4,5&7)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God…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. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matt 5.9,43-45&48)

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

(1Tim 2.1&2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, 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…..Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the King.

(1Pet 2.13,14,16&17)

As followers of Jesus, redeemed children of God, we often think of ourselves as exiles in this world, of people whose real home is not here, not in this place of darkness, pain and evil. We rightly think with joy on the prospect of a life to come, when we shall be free of sin- in our own lives as well as those of others- and when the new creation will be our glorious dwelling place, all as God intended and designed it for us.

But the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon give a clear instruction for God’s people in that situation – get stuck in, be involved, care about your community, be constructive and positive and be at home there. It may not be your ‘forever’ home, but it is the place of God’s calling for this time, and his plan is that through your presence, it might be blessed. There is no distinction between seeking God’s will for their lives and seeking God’s will for the place where they are living, no need to choose which should be their  focus.

I believe that this is also a word to us in our time, uncomfortable though it is for followers of Jesus as our culture increasingly rejects him and the truth he stands for. God has placed us here for this time, with all the opportunities and abilities chosen and crafted for us by his plan to bless us and through us the communities of which we are part. Will we be enthusiastic in our place of exile? Or will we sulk and withdraw into holy huddles, bemoaning our situation and withholding our gifts and presence from those around us?

Our challenge then is to be fully invested in our communities, supportive and active, without falling into the patterns of thought and behaviour which may characterise that community. To be Jesus followers is to be peacemakers, to be those who refuse to believe the worst; who chose to respect those with whom they disagree; who choose to love, not demean their critics and who will pray for all as those created – like us- in God’s image and precious in his sight.

In this week of elections to the Scottish Parliament, the need for respect, truth-telling, love and humility are obvious. We may not always find these qualities in our politicians, but we must always pray for God to be at work through them to bring the stability of our society, the welfare and compassionate care needed by so many, the equality and protection of dignity for the weakest, and even the freedom which allows people to disagree strongly. We pray in effect, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” in our society, even through our imperfect politicians, and we play our part in supporting and respecting the institutions through which we enjoy the rule of law, the provision of public services, and the freedoms which so many in the world are denied.

I cannot do everything needful for the transformation of society, and indeed that will happen only when Jesus comes to make everything new. But in the meantime, I pray that I might learn to hear his voice and to obey his calling to live for him, and in doing so, to bless the place to which he has called me.

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Whose church is it anyway?..

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace..Keep watch over yourselves..Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood..

(Acts 20.24&28)

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.13-20)

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you form him who is, and who was, and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

(Rev 1.4-6)

It may seem an odd question, but the implications are far-reaching..

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – expressed through all the multi-faceted organisations which now exist across the globe under that single word’church’ – then I need not be too parochial in my concerns, not worried about the fact that another fellowship in my neighbourhood is experiencing a season of growth and deepening faith. Rather, I rejoice with my neighbour that the kingdom of God is growing, and the church of Christ is a living and loving presence in my community. I will resist being bound by denominational boundaries, and see only a place where Jesus is worshipped as Lord, where his people seek his face.

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – albeit expressed through human institutions of varied size and traditions – then I will be at home with my brothers and sisters wherever and however we meet, because in every case we are celebrating our membership of the family of God, and pursuing a deeper and purer relationship with our Lord Jesus. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then it exists to carry out his will, to express his love to the world which needs him so badly, and to care in his name for the people to whom we are sent. As ‘church’, we exist primarily to enable one another to serve in his name, for his glory and for the saving of souls into his kingdom. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – and not a social club which exists to provide comfort and familiar rituals for a small group who like a particular pattern for their meeting together – then the driving force behind our gatherings is to see his face, to hear his voice; to repent together and individually of sin, to rejoice in our forgiveness, and to systematically let go of all the things which hinder us from obedience to his will.

The great voice which summoned the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation gave him words to the seven churches, and in every case said: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Are we listening? What is the Spirit saying to us today? Or are we so used to our own idea of what church is about, and who it  belongs to, that we are deaf to the voice of him who died to redeem to himself a people, to call into being a church?

Am I really saying to the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever, “Lord, I don’t think you are right about this, I like ‘my’ church the way it is”? 

At the very beginning, God’s chosen people decided that they knew, better than God did, just what was good for them, so they took it. What are we, as the church of Christ doing today? Will we humble ourselves, repent of our adherence to tradition, comfort and self-serving; our fondness for status and social acceptability; and ask Jesus to breathe new life into our moribund churches so that we begin to resemble our Lord and Saviour – the fearless one, the one who welcomed all comers, the one who had no time for empty rituals and salvation by merit?

Son of God, whose eyes like blazing fire see all things, uncover my false thinking about your church, and humble me to seek your face. Teach me to follow you, not my tradition; to love you, not my habits of worship; to live for your glory, not my own comfort. Spirit of the Living God, speak, and let me hear…

A too familiar path..

Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple…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.

(Ps 119.129&130, 131-135)

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..O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

(Ps 130.1-5, 7&8)

When Christ came as high priest…He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free…Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people… 

(Heb 9.11,12,15,27&28)

‘Let no sin rule over me’…surely this is a prayer which we could make every day for the rest of our lives as followers of Jesus, because until we are raised in glory, there will be daily tests and trials which will bring to light the deep-seated and persistent sins which can subtly and irresistibly lead us into trouble and away from the Lord.

I am particularly prone to the sin of despair, or hopelessness, and the enemy of my soul knows it well! So I should not have been surprised when I recently experienced a veritable ‘tsunami’ of thoughts and feelings about the many ways in which I have failed those whom I love best. The darkness of such experiences comes on so quickly, and is so absolute that before I realised it, I was drowning in self-pity and self-condemnation, focussed entirely on myself, on the memories of failure, and the consequences of it. I have been on this path before, far too many times, and I suspect that I will return to it again regularly in the days ahead. But perhaps it is time that I learnt to deal with the experience a little better, so that when the wave hits, I no longer crumble under its weight or get tossed and bruised in its turmoil..

When my thoughts condemn me, listing the shameful and painful memories, the psalmist exhorts me to turn to God’s word. That word which gives light, and brings understanding to the simple – even the persistently foolish and forgetful! In the word I find that with God, there is forgiveness of sin – and this is no glib brushing over, but rather a full, sacrificial payment for everything I have done, and will do yet, which is not His will. I am reminded that the Lord’s love is unfailing – which means it never runs out, nor can my persistent failure exasperate him to the point of giving up on me! This both astonishing and profoundly reassuring, when I recognise my own weakness and tendency to repeat my mistakes..

Since I am forgiven, and will be forgiven again, and again…and again; since I am loved with an unfailing love – which is patient and kind, which keeps no record of wrongs, which protects, and trusts and perseveres – I can hope! Hope for answers to prayers for mercy, for direction in daily living, for deliverance from persistent sin so that I can obey my Lord and bring him gladness.

God’s perfect love keeps no record of my sins – so when I am next accused in this way, I can remember that it is the enemy who is behind it, and can stand against him because of the perfect redemption bought by Jesus. God’s perfect love perseveres – so when I am overwhelmed by the consequences of my failures in the lives of those whom I love best, I can remember that they too are loved by God, and his power in their lives is infinitely greater than all my mistakes! Can the Almighty not accomplish all that he purposes? Who am I, that wounds which I inflict should be beyond his healing?! May God help me to recognise the foolish pride which lies behind such thinking, and to repent of it, even as I pray his mercy on those whom I have hurt.

As I face a new week, walking familiar paths, I pray with the psalmist that the Lord might make his face to shine upon me, and by that light, I will walk more steadily, humbly and obediently…

It does me good to stop..look…and give thanks

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98

The sun is brilliant from behind a veil of silver clouds in the west, and the stiff breeze whips colour into my face. Overhead, the gulls are riding the wind, arrogantly motionless, they soar aloft, their mewing cries joining the voices of sea and wind in exaltation. All the earth around me is indeed singing for joy to the Creator, the Lord of all things. Colours are intensified by the low sunshine, and glory sounds on every hand, from green field, deep yellow gorse, and the white-ruffled blue of the water; from the wisps of cloud scattered across the skies, and the sharp faces of mountain peaks. 

I do not worship creation…but I look, and am healed, comforted, nourished and inspired by the beauty which the Creator has put into this tiniest corner of a mind-boggling universe. I do not worship creation…but I look and wonder as all that is made gives glory to its maker by being itself – reflecting his power and expressing his greatness. I do not worship creation…but I look and am humbled, reminded of just how insignificant we are, and how resolutely we continue to dishonour our maker, to destroy his creation, and reject the very notion of his existence.

Why should the Lord of all this beauty, the power which created and sustained it, be concerned in the lives of human beings who defy, deny and destroy? Why should his right hand and his holy arm work salvation, revealing his righteousness to the nations? Why should the judge of all things choose to act in such a way that sinful humanity might be delivered from the justice which would require our destruction?

Why should God choose to set his love upon humanity, and then go to the Cross in the person of his Son so that we might know and return that love, living with him in hope here, and in fulfilled and perfect immortality? 

He loved us, because he loved us, because he loves us…

This is why my heart sings when I see the beauty all around me, from the tiniest frond of moss, to the stars lavishly scattered across the night sky. Because all these things proclaim the God who loves me..all these things are now mine to cherish as his gift to me, as his provision for me, and because when I rejoice in them, I bring delight to the heart of the giver. 

There is so much that I cannot understand, so much grief and darkness in my own life and in the world around me. But when I take time to look, to remember what creation is telling me every moment of every day, that the Creator is no distant, uncaring or arbitrary deity but a God of bounty, of beauty, of blessing who gave his Son that I might know him, I take courage for the next step of obedience. 

Sin remains, weakness persists, temptation recurs; but the Lord has done marvellous things, and salvation for all who believe, from every nation to the ends of the earth is accomplished. Friends, let us avail ourselves often of this encouragement from the beauty around us – that our Creator God, the holy and righteous judge, has done for us all that we need, so that we stand beloved in his presence, and raise our whole being in praise, in chorus with all his creation, shouting for joy before our King.

and arbitrary

Passive or Active? – I have a choice…

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. what can mortal man do to me?…I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Ps 56.3&4,12&13)

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

(Ps 119.1-8)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….

(Phil 1.27, 2.12-16)

We are a resurrection people; we live in the light of an empty tomb and a risen saviour. Not only do we believe these things, but we live because of them! By faith in this Jesus, we live free from guilt and the burden of shame; free to love generously and expect nothing in return; free to pursue holiness and godly living not as a grim attempt to earn salvation, but a joyous expression of love and gratitude to the God who has saved us and called us to live with him….but sometimes it doesn’t feel easy, sometimes the temptation to indulge the old habits of thought and action are very strong. 

When I am faced with major challenges to my faith and trust in God, it is easy to succumb to the habits and attitudes of the world around me. Self pity, complaining, fearfulness and resentment at God for permitting these trials all come so easily. I am sorely tempted to indulge that weakness which consists of blaming God for making my life harder than I like or feel is reasonable.

The bible has no room for such self-deluded behaviour, but insists I recognise it for what it is – sin; a refusal to live as though I believed what God has revealed about himself and what He has promised to do. I don’t like being exposed as a willful sinner, but that is what I see in the psalmists words and in Paul’s words to his beloved Philippian church.

The gulf between God’s standards and my choices is stark, and I cannot take refuge in the claim that I can’t help myself, because the whole point of our new life in Christ is that I can, and must! I have a will, a conscience, and the common sense which God has given his children. All these things are now under the lordship of Jesus – as a beloved minister of my youth used to say, ‘use your sanctified common sense!’ Each situation that arises is another opportunity to live in ‘a manner worthy of the gospel’, to speak and act and think to God’s glory and the furthering of the kingdom. I have to ask myself, “Am I honouring the price which has been paid for me? Does my conduct here bring the reality of Jesus transforming power to view?” All too often, the answer would have to be ,’No’. When I choose to indulge my complaints, to feed my doubts, to wallow in self-pity, I dishonour the gospel. When I choose instead to exercise my will, and common sense by taking my troubles to Christ and acknowledging my weakness and doubt, and ask for his help to stand for him and walk by his light, then I honour the gospel.  Which is it to be?

Thanks be to God, who is working out in me the salvation to which he has called me; I am not a passive agent in my circumstances, but active. I have the capacity to choose obedience and trust, and as I pursue these things in every area of my life, so I will indeed walk in the ‘light of life’, in the fullness and peace which God promises to those who seek first his kingdom and glory.

The trumpet has sounded…

The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.'” …Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendour, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save..”

(Isa 62.11-63.1)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me..”Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory…

(John 14.1-3)

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where ,O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1Cor 15.53-58)

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet…I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I 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 starts, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance…then he 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! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

(Rev 1.10, 12-18)

Because HE lives….

This is our Lord, our beloved master, our teacher, sacrificial substitute, high priest, bridegroom and friend; closer than breathing, heart of our hearts, his life beats in our veins. It is his voice which broke the mourning silence in the hearts of his faithful disciples, those women who met him in the garden and heard the beloved voice speak with the added power and beauty of resurrection life.

The voice of the Son has sounded, “It is finished”!! The victory is won and nothing can undo it for all, and any, who will put pride to death and enthrone him in their hearts as the only worthy sovereign; their true security and source of hope.

The voice of the Son has announced the absolute defeat of evil, and the dawning of God’s eternal kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace. Nothing has power to divide God’s blood-bought children from his love, or to steal their inheritance in his glory.

The voice of the Son has promised that we have a place at his side, and that we are the companions he desires to share his glory. We, the very ones whose sin and brokenness are the cause of his pain and suffering, are assured of a future where the guilt and shame will be gone and we will stand tall at his side, full of joy and pride in our Lord.

Let this truth ring in my ears every day, as the base line to every other tune which my life plays. I have a Saviour who died for me, a Father who loves me, and an indwelling Spirit who is making me knew.

Let this truth form the foundation of all my thinking about what life holds for me. The darkness may yet look strong, but it has been fatally weakened, and the light is breaking, therefore I need not fear.

Let this truth never cease to have the power to bring me to my knees in adoration, in fresh commitment to the one who gave his all for me, so that I might hold nothing back in serving him.

O sin , thou art vanquished! Thy long reign is o’er; Though still thou dost vex us, We dread thee no more.

O Sing, Hallelujah, O sing Hallelujah, O sing Hallelujah! be joyful and sing, Who now can condemn us? Christ Jesus is King!

Our Lord Christ hath risen! Day breaketh at last; the long night of weeping is now well-nigh past. 

O Sing Hallelujah, O sing Hallelujah, O sing Hallelujah! be joyful and sing, Our foes are all conquered – Christ Jesus is King!

(Wm. C. Plunket 1828-97)

Which way lies wisdom?

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?…”To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name…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.

(Isa 40.13&14,25&26,28)

The message that points to Christ on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

“I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things!- to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle – and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

(1 Cor 1.18-25, in The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson)

There is reasonable evidence in historical sources to verify the existence, some 2000 years ago, of a man who caused a brief stir in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. He made some outrageous, even laughable, claims, alongside some persuasive moral teaching, and generally stirred up the Jewish religious establishment enough to provoke them to contrive an unjust trial and execution, with the connivance of the Roman governor of the day. The subsequent rumours of his resurrection and so-called ‘ascension’ are clearly nonsense, such things don’t happen. Nonetheless, his teachings, and the Jewish scriptures to which they frequently refer, have been preserved, translated and form the basis for a faith movement which continues to grow..Isn’t is all another example of the foolishness of human beings who can’t bring themselves to take full responsibility for their own lives and actions?..How on earth could the life, death and resurrection (if such a thing were even possible) of one man (and he deluded enough to believe himself divine), make any difference to humanity and the problems we face? It makes no sense…

That is one way of looking at the story…is it yours? Does this way give you peace, contentment, hope, ambition for change and the motivation to believe in better? Does this way deal with shame, guilt, all the messiness of living in a broken world? Does it account for what we see day by day unfolding around us as humanity in its pride continues to fail and plumb new depths? 

What if, just maybe, Jesus’ story is true? What if the ‘absurdity’ of a God who claims to reveal himself to the world he made, and the people whom he loves, is actually the absolute reality? What if the life, death and resurrection of the God-made-man, Jesus, is really the means by which our individual, inherent rebellion against God can be undone, and we can be made new, clean and wholesome, with hope for an unimaginable future of joyous life with one who loves us completely? What if those who choose to be considered foolish for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ are actually the wisest? 

They will not be able to give you answers to all your questions – they can’t answer all their own questions! But they will tell you that in believing that Jesus Christ is God, made man, who died to take the blame for all that they have done (and will do) wrong, they have been transformed. They will tell of a friend who walks with them through every storm; of a healer whose love and wisdom has dealt with wounds and scars from years of guilt and pain; of a champion whose strength defeats the enemy of their peace.

The good news about Jesus Christ takes the brokenness of this world, of humanity very seriously, and deals with it head on. Easter is when the church around the world remembers especially the fierce climax of the contest, and celebrates the absolute victory of her Lord over all the powers at work against him. The church affirms that the wisdom of an Almighty Creator cannot be grasped by the puny minds of his creatures, and rejoices in the mystery and majesty of the Eternal.

Is it wisdom, or foolishness? That depends on your perspective..from where I stand, the only way into the peace, joy and hope which I desire, to the healing of this precious world, is from the foot of the cross, where human pride dies, and in total surrender of human wisdom. I am glad to be counted a fool for Jesus, to set aside human wisdom, and to put all my faith in the ‘absurdity’ of Almighty God. What about you?

When the fields seem barren..

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 righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

(Isa 45.22-25)

He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

(Lk 10.16)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last..

(Rom 1.1,16&17)

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed..by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men..

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Pet 3.3-9)

When all that I am is for God, and it seems that he has chosen to put me on the shelf. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I can see that he has gifted me with abilities and character crafted to his work, and he calls me to situations where those abilities are not needed. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I know that he has called me to share the gospel, to speak his word to anyone and everyone, to give the shocking invitation of illuminating grace to those in darkness, and he surrounds me with people who politely, firmly and tolerantly refuse to let me speak..Oh Lord, have mercy!

When my heart burns to see his glory in transformed lives, to see communities healed and individuals blossoming in the light of his love, and he permits me to be smothered by indifference. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I have promised to serve the body of Christ in a particular situation, looking to see his power at work in spite of the weakness of human institutions, and instead am faced with decline, denial, the collapse of vision and hope on every side. Oh Lord of the church, have mercy!

This is the lived experience of so many of God’s faithful under-shepherds today, on their knees before their Lord, begging for some sign that he still has worthwhile work for them to do, wondering why he called and gifted them only to set them aside to waste away in the dying churches of the west. There is only so much that one preacher, pastor or teacher can do, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, there will be no fruit for all their labour.

The prophets and faithful servants of God have known this experience – think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness, of Jeremiah called to preach to a people who WOULD NOT listen – and it is one of the hardest things that he calls his followers to do, to be apparently redundant.

No one wants to see life drifting by without satisfying outcomes for their work, to feel abilities atrophy for lack of use, to sense the springs of life and zest for the task dry up and vanish. The good news burns within them, they feel shame that they cannot reach their communities and give this priceless news of forgiveness and life eternal. And it is very, very hard to find reason to hope. We know in our hearts that God could break into our country, our culture like an earthquake, breaking the thick protective coating of indifference, sending men and women running to find someone who can answer their desperate questions about eternal things. But we also know that – for his own good reasons – it hasn’t happened yet, and we begin to doubt that it will.

Friends, let us pray for our pastors, and teachers, those called to ministry and leadership. Let us intercede for them, praying against despair and for a fresh anointing of courage. Pray that in their sense of futility, God will meet them and teach them that obedience and submission to him in this situation are not wasted. Let us pray for ourselves as their flock, that we might grow in our own faith and hope, believing that God will yet raise up many in our land to call him Lord, and that we might be privileged to serve him and be part of that revival.

Lessons in construction..

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

(Prov 12.18&25)

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building..Each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is…It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

(1 Cor 3.9-13)

..to each one of us grace has been given…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.7,12&13)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

(1Thess 5.9-11)

One body, one people under Christ, one holy temple where God is pleased to dwell and reveal his glory, power and love. This is where I belong, and where in addition to rights as his beloved child, I have responsibilities to exercise for the good of others and the glory of God who has called me here.

In the same way that the constituent parts of the human body work together for the good of the whole, so also God’s people are charged with being good for each other. I am challenged to consider how I behave to others, but also what that behaviour springs from – what is the condition of my heart? Jesus pointed out to his disciples that unclean thoughts and actions spring from an unclean heart – and only he can make that heart clean again. But if I have accepted the forgiveness which he offers, and believe that I am being transformed into his image, then I should not settle for remaining less than holy. While I remain impure, I weaken the body of which I am part, and cannot fulfill my tasks properly. My sanctification is part of God’s work in building up the church – am I happy to settle for being a weak spot? Do I want to know that it is my persisting sins which are undermining the witness of the gospel, or creating divisions and suffering in the body of Christ?

I am thankful to rest on God’s grace as I strive for perfection, knowing that in this life I cannot attain it and that he can overcome all that results from my failures, to fulfill his purposes and reveal his glory – there is no limit to his forgiveness. BUT I do not want to harbour or cherish persistent sins as if they were unimportant. Such an attitude undermines all that Jesus died to do, and devalues his sacrifice. Sin, is Sin, is Sin, no matter how intimate or – in the world’s eyes – unlikely to cause problems.

So I continue to submit to God’s discipline, asking him to reveal and deal with my sins; enabling me to turn away from them and pursue holiness for love of my saviour.

As God continues his work in me, so I am able to perform my task in building up my fellow believers – as my heart is changed, so my words and deeds become more Christ-like, my spirit more responsive to his leading, my desire ever more for his glory. I want to build in material that will last – in love, joy, hope, grace, so that my companions on the road are blessed by what God does through me. All that I am and have is a gift from God, given for use in his plans, and primarily for the encouragement of his people. I may not be an apostle or teacher, but I can always choose kindness over indifference. I can always point others to Christ, to the word of God which feeds their spirit. I can always be honest about my own need for grace, humbly offering my own experience of God’s goodness to encourage others who are struggling.

May God graciously enable us to build wisely, so that his church grows in strength and is built up, not torn down. May we build in the name of God, on the gospel of Christ, in the power of the Spirit.