We must use our words….

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..And God said,”Let there be light, ” and there was light…

(Gen 1.1&3)

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward…..Look up at the heavens and count the starts – if indeed you can count them…so shall your offspring be.”

(Gen 15.1&5)

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I , the Lord your God, am holy.'”

(Lev 19.1)

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

(Ps 119.89&90)

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…

(Luke 1.76&77)

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

(Rom 10.12-14)

 Humankind is driven by communication, the desire and ability which we have, in the image of God, to share and express ourselves. We think in words, and from the earliest age we teach our children to speak so that we can understand them and they can understand us. From the very beginning, God reveals himself as a God who speaks, who desires to know and be known by his creation. He does not leave us at the mercy of dreams and visions with uncertain meanings, but reveals his plans, his character and his commands through his words.

Perhaps we are so used to reading the words ‘And God said’, or ‘The Lord said’, that we no longer notice them, but we should. God speaks..he does not wish to be unknown. In the book of Leviticus, he speaks over and over again, laying out in detail the plans for the unique life and worship-witness of his people as they demonstrate his holiness and love before the world. We can be in no doubt about our God’s plans – although we may not always understand why he chooses to work in certain ways.

I remember saying to my children when they were young and upset about something, “Use your words”, encouraging them to give me the chance to understand what the  problem was. The fact is that we all need to use our words, all our lives, if we are to have healthy relationships and above all, if we are to bear witness to the good news about Jesus and our salvation.

While it is possible to live godly lives, to be generous and hospitable, charitable, forgiving and loving, none of these things in themselves will explain to anyone what our faith rests upon. No one can guess from watching a follower of Jesus serving the poor in their community, or facing extreme adversity with courage and faith, that they are motivated by the life, death and resurrection of a Nazarene carpenter 2000 years ago – we must tell them.

This is the point which first Zechariah, and then Paul make. Zechariah sings to his infant son – the future John the Baptist – of the unique role which he will grow into, the task of being the truth-teller about the coming Messiah. John’s ministry would have been nothing without his words! And Paul states quite categorically that no one can believe in something that they do not know about, that saving faith depends upon hearing the truth-words about Jesus.

This is why people learn the languages of those among whom they serve overseas, why they labour to create written forms of unrecorded languages so that text can be created – in order that the good news about Jesus may be heard in the heart-language of those who listen, so that they might believe and be saved. This is why in illiterate cultures, story-tellers are trained in the gospel narratives, and radio broadcasts and recordings of scripture are created – so that people might hear, believe and be saved…

So much effort is being expended across the world, to enable people to hear and respond, to call upon the one name by which they may be saved….What am I doing? All too often, I am saying nothing. Fearful of giving offence, of saying “the wrong thing”, of being rejected by my listeners; I keep the good news to myself.

Lord God, forgive my stubborn silence, my failure to share the good news. Liberate my speech, and so fill my heart with love for the lost and with the glory of Jesus that I MUST speak…

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a profound simplicity..

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world..I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

(Jn 1.14,29&34)

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry…

(Jn 6.35)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life….I tell you the truth,..before Abraham was born, I am!”

(Jn 8.12&58)

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep..I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

(Jn 10.9,11&14)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord, “she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(Jn 11.25-27)

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me….I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener..I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

(Jn 15.1&5)

“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…Behold, I am coming soon..I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star

(Rev 1.17&18; 22.12&13,16)

There is only one name, given among humankind, by which salvation may be received; only one source of real life, full forgiveness, and hope for eternity. That name is Jesus, the one named because he would save his people from their sins. We need look no further. He alone is qualified to save; and he alone is sufficient to save. It is all very simple, and yet also profoundly magnificent and mysterious beyond our comprehension..

Throughout the account by the apostle John of the life of Jesus, the writer is at pains to draw attention to the uniqueness and sufficiency of this saviour, this Messiah or Christ. As I was reading part of the account, it struck me afresh just how comprehensive those claims are. This is both the offence and the glory of the gospel – that we need look no further; and that all other earnest human endeavours to reach God or to find meaning in life without him, are doomed to failure. While we must be sensitive in sharing the truth about Jesus, we must never suggest that he is “A way, A truth, A path of life”. He has not left us that option, but at every opportunity, claims exclusive status and power.

Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, living under Roman rule over 2000 years ago, claimed that he was THE one and only, and called for a response. Many heard and rejected him, but to those who accepted the staggering idea that this man was God’s anointed redeemer, and was God-made-flesh come to deal forever with all that separated the Creator from his beloved children, to them was given life eternal and in this world an undying hope. Nothing else is asked of those who hear that call to respond – simply believe that what he says is true, and receive it for yourself.

How readily we look for ways to earn or deserve such a gift; and how foolish we are in striving. When will we accept that we can NEVER earn it, and that is the wonder and glory of the good news – that we do not need to! All has been done, and in Christ I am at rest, an adored and adopted daughter, with nothing to fear, no need to be troubled by my ongoing failures and sins. All is covered, and by grace all is working together for my blessing and God’s glory.

Let me dwell upon these words until I am full to overflowing with thankfulness for the supreme sufficiency of my Lord, until words fail me to express the wonder and awe which fill my mind when I consider how he meets all my needs, and goes beyond, to show delight in who I am.

Walking not in my own strength..

Now, my brothers and sisters, I want to speak about the gospel which I have previously preached to you, which you accepted, in which you are at present standing, and by which  if you remain faithful to the message I gave you, your salvation is being worked out – unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all. For I passed on to you, as among the first to hear it, the message I had myself received – that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold.

(1Cor 15.1-5: JB Phillips)

So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice – and that not only when I was present to give it – so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility, for it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.

(Phil 2.12&13: JB Phillips)

..but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. ..Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees! “Make level paths for your feet “, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed…May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Heb 12.10,12&13; 13.20&21)

As I look ahead to a new year, with all it’s accompanying unknowns – good or bad – I am aware that I am by nature more pessimistic, than optimistic (I prefer to call it realistic), and am sometimes overwhelmed by the prospect! The past twelve months have yielded too many examples of my weaknesses, of how far I fall short of where I think I should be. The coming months will present new opportunities to mess up, to hurt people, to get things wrong and generally disappoint God – and myself. How can I find the courage to keep going? Perhaps to begin with, I need to recognise the false perspective which I adopt so easily – one centred on my opinion of myself, instead of the truth about me, which is God’s opinion!

Yes, I am a sinner. BUT, I am a redeemed sinner – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about Jesus, the anointed one has changed my identity, my purpose and my future once and forever. His blood has bought my forgiveness, I have a fresh start with God, and the promise of his presence with me every step of the way home. Yes, I do continue to sin. BUT, that too is covered by the blood of Christ, and the increasing sensitivity to sin is a sign of comfort to me that I am – amazing thought – being made more holy, more Christ-like as the years go by.

When I consider the path that lies ahead of me, I do so as one who has the ultimate companion at her side – one who never leaves me, one who cheers every step of the way, one who can give me strength and the desire to continue simply by being with me. He is working in me to achieve those things which he has promised will be done – and my task is to say, “Yes, Lord; let’s keep going, let me tackle this day’s journey cheerfully and confidently because you are here.”

It is a wonderful paradox – that my salvation is to be worked out in my life simultaneously by God and by me. It does not depend upon my efforts, but without my active obedience and earnest endeavour, I may crawl by the wayside as one crippled. That is no witness to the glory of God, no proper response to the wonderful gift of life and hope which he has given me.

The scriptures, and the pages of history reveal so many followers of Jesus who can testify to this mystery, of their labours and of God’s striving within them, as they walk the path of discipleship and service. As they grow in holiness, and see their salvation being worked out – made real and effective in every part of life- all the glory and credit is given to God, and yet we know that they have embraced the work, have given their lives to it in awe and full of the responsibility of bearing their part well.

This, then, is my prayer for 2019, that I might indeed engage more fully with the responsibility of working out my salvation; rejoicing that it is God who is at work in me, and giving thanks that he has provided all the things I need. May my focus be on him, on the complete adequacy of Christ my Saviour,  so that I might rest as I walk, refusing to bear burdens of guilt which are no longer mine and quietly glad to be in company with one who loves me more than all.

 

 

Here..and yet not here

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will grant peace in the land…I will look on you with favour….I will put my dwelling-place among you, and …I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

(Lev 26.3,6,9,11&12)

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

(1Kings 8.27)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth..

(Jn 1.10&14)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me….And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…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 21.1-5)

No one can measure how long – in human years – the separation has lasted; how long the divine heart has yearned over the gulf which divides the creatures from their loving creator. But all down through history, the ache echoes through our cultures and our own hearts. There is truly an emptiness, which nothing can fill but the knowledge that we are at home with God.

All the strategies of humanity to banish God from their thinking are just so much posturing in the face of a brutal truth – because nothing and no one else can actually address the brokenness of our race, can truly bring healing, forgiveness, and hope. And those things are the products of a right relationship with God, of Eden restored, so that we walk with him in the cool of the day and have nothing to hide.

From the earliest times of God’s dealings with his people, there was an emphasis on a dwelling place, a promise of intimacy and permanence, embodied for a time in the temple. There was always a distance, a continued separation because no amount of animal sacrifice or ritual observation could permit the sinful people to enter boldly into the presence of an awesome and terrifyingly holy God. But the physical forms and festivals demonstrated God’s commitment to his own, to their welfare and his covenant promises.

And then, in Jesus, we find the first fulfillment of the promise that God will dwell with his people – are we so used to the phrase that we fail to recognise its power? It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, cause for exultant worship and silent adoration. While the world was yet flawed and polluted by sin; while humanity was yet bound in darkness; holiness took on flesh and blood, accepted the indignities of birth and childhood, and dwelt among his people, that they might know him..

Now we await his triumphant second coming, longing for the fullest fulfillment of the old promise, that God will dwell with us and there shall be nothing to separate us – because of the work of Jesus, the God-made-man, in dealing with our bondage and releasing us from the power of sin and death.

He is with us now, by his spirit; and yet how we desire that closer walk, that stronger experience of his presence, his voice, his love, which awaits us on the day when all things shall be made new..We celebrate the gift of God himself to us at Christmas time, and we long for more of him. That is not ungrateful in us, but right and proper, because we are made to enjoy more, made to dwell with him in eternal joy and unimaginable beauty and delight. Let us then be glad for the heavenly homesickness which keeps us looking forward, eager for the completion of Christ’s work and our final homecoming to our Father.

O Come, Thou key of David come, and open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

(12th cent, translated by JM Neale 1818-66)

He has an eye for the details..

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

(Ps 139.1-3,16)

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.”

( Luke 1.46-49)

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1Cor 1.26-31)

While we do well always to bear in mind the great story of redemption which is God’s plan for our world – to be fulfilled when Jesus returns in glory and all things are made new – it is also good sometimes to get lost in the details. To take time to consider the people whom God chose to use; to look at the details of their lives, and how God was actively making ‘all things’ work together for the good of his people and also his purposes.

These people were not chosen by God because of their holiness, their moral purity or status in society. The story of God’s dealings with his chosen people is littered with deeply flawed human beings – sinning and sinned against – who almost in spite of themselves prove suitable instruments in God’s hand. We are not often meant to look at their stories in order to find a pattern for our lives – but rather to learn that God can and does use the most unlikely people. It is their – and our – unworthiness for the task which allows God’s grace and strength and love to shine through most clearly, so that all the glory for salvation’s work might go to him.

That in itself is a great encouragement to us, as we are daily more aware of our persistent sin and all the ways in which we let God down – he knows and provides for all our mistakes, and is the more exalted and glorious because of our inadequacies. We need not be ashamed, but rather embrace a liberating humility, resting entirely upon God’s love for us, and gracious desire to involve us in his work. It matters not at all that we occupy quiet, unremarkable positions; that our talents and resources are small. In God’s providence, we are just what he desires, and in this we may rest and be satisfied.

I think we should also be encouraged to notice that God is intimately interested in all the details of our lives – we are not merely anonymous (though useful) employees, but beloved children, and everything about us matters to him. The psalmists knew this, that is why they were so bold in bringing their concerns before him. Think too of Job, in all his bitterness of spirit, never doubting that God would bear with his complaint. Consider the childless Hannah – pouring out her desire for a son, and not doubting that God heard and understood – and poor Jeremiah, who held nothing back in giving God all the credit for the sufferings he endured.

The wonderful truth is that the details of God’s children’s lives are what makes up the great narrative of redemption, and he is always interested in them. We need never think that we are beneath his notice, or that our concerns are too trivial and nothing to do with God’s purposes in the world – we are his purpose; being worked out, transformed, and being used in turn to transform others. Let us then rejoice with Mary, boasting in our great God, who has been mindful of us in our helplessness, and is still mindful of us in our weakness, but chooses to work in and through us for his good and great purposes..

The Mighty One has done great things for us – holy is his name!

A longing for justice…

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgements. 

(Ps 48.9-11)

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96.10-13)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”…”We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”

(Rev 11.15&16)

The idea of rejoicing in judgement sounds rather peculiar as a subject for advent meditation, but many of the writings which anticipate the coming of Messiah, the promised redeemer of God’s people, attribute ultimate authority to him to judge – and it is clear that for those writers, this was sufficient cause to be joyful!

Where does their confidence come from? What is so attractive about this prospect? When we recall the narrative of Genesis, and the fact that humanity is made in the image of God, we begin to understand why as a species we have an inbuilt sense of justice and fair-dealing. We reflect – in a fractured and overshadowed way – the holy and just character of God, who cannot look upon evil and who embodies righteousness. Although we know that so much of the evil in the world arises from our own actions and attitudes, yet we continue to rebel against the resulting injustice and unfairness, insisting that things should be different. And God agrees….

This beautiful world, full of God’s creative genius and expressive of his glory and power, is suffering because of the ways that our sin has opened the door to evil, to powers of chaos, destruction and despair. The rules are being broken all the time, and everyone longs for it to be different. In the coming of Jesus, the Christ who would redeem his people, God undertook to destroy that power, to inflict a fatal wound upon the source of evil and break the bonds that enslave humanity to it.

The promise of Messiah, is the promise of the coming of one who is, firstly, fit to rule – because he is trustworthy, holy and true; and secondly, powerful enough to rule this world; to establish that order and justice which we all long for in our hearts. His reign, begun at Calvary, promises the restoration of right judgement and ordering of all things – for the blessing of not only God’s people, but the whole creation, which will in time be made new, revealed in all the glory that God designed for it.

We rejoice at the prospect of all things being restored and set to rights; we recognise that this must mean our own sinfulness has no place, and we dread being banished by the great and holy one whose rule we welcome. But, when we approach his throne, to praise his justice and righteousness, we hear words of welcome and love, because his judgement on us has already been carried – by Christ himself, the promised one, born of Mary at Bethlehem so long ago.

The promise of Christmas is indeed a source of joy to all those who have accepted the forgiveness and cleansing offered by Christ, and a source of hope to all who will yet hear and accept his offer; we have complete assurance of our place in his kingdom, where all shall be well, for evermore, to his glory and our blessing. Amen, Lord come soon and make it so!

 

Storm….

Hope deferred makes the heart sick…

An anxious heart weighs a man down…

Each heart knows its own bitterness..

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

(Proverbs: 13.12, 12.25, 14.10, 14.13, 15.13, 18.10)

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. …Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?

(Ps 56.3,4,8)

…then Job replied: “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! it would surely outweigh the sand of the seas – no wonder my words have been impetuous….Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One..What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?

(Job 6.1-3,8-10)

 

No one hears your voice when you scream in a storm;

No one sees your tears when you weep in a storm;

Just you, and the storm; wind and rain battering the body, relentlessly demanding your full attention in the moment. Be here, Be now, Be this uprising of the elements..just BE

Those blessed moments of release from impossible tension, when the physical demands absorb every ounce of attention and for a brief minute the agonising load which is crushing the spirit and tormenting the mind is forgotten..

Tonight, I gave thanks for the storm, as I stood on the hill fighting to keep my feet, with the rain driven in stinging, life affirming blows into my face. No one else would be out; no one to see my distress, or hear my cries..just me and the Lord who sent the storm to hide me and bring me out to walk with him in the darkness, under his wild skies.

I do not understand why I am in this pain; no doubt I am partly responsible for it..but Lord, I feel I have been carrying this burden for so long; years of doing what I thought was your will in this situation, and feeling ever more hopeless that there could be a better way. Have I been asking too much? Have I been  missing your ways…or is this really your perfect will for the rest of my time on earth?

Forgive my wild words, and remember that I am but dust, frail and feeble, and full of sin.  Remember your servant Job, Lord, and the psalmists and the prophets, who all brought their overflowing cups of woe to your feet, and poured them out there. Surely this is the only safe thing to do with my lament, the only safe place to pour out the truth of the bitterness in my heart?

At your feet, in your presence, where even through my cries and lamentation, I hear your voice saying words of tender love and know your close presence to comfort me. I want to come home tonight, to be rid of this burden. But I know that it is not time yet, there are things here that I know you would have me do..Where can I find strength to carry on, where find hope?

I am a frightened, lonely, and near-despairing child. Lord have mercy upon me..

You are the Lord of the universe; your love never fails, and all your will for me is good and right – I know this. But right now, I don’t understand.

What is the right thing for me to be doing? Go on as before? Or what….? O Lord, have mercy, have mercy upon me, a sinner; upon me, your daughter; upon this child for whom Christ died, and who longs only to live in a way that glorifies his name.. What does that look like for me today, what is my path in this darkness?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….

(Isa 9.2)

Let your light shine upon me…lead me in your truth…may the life you give me, be lived always and only to your glory…