Monthly Archives: March 2015

In the quiet places

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

(2 Peter 1.3&4)

In a way, it is so very simple – a walk in the park, as some might say! As believers in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, growing in knowledge of him, we receive from God the power to live godly lives, participating in the very nature of God himself. It sounds so easy, and straightforward, and gloriously complete – we receive ‘everything we need’. So why does my life not speak more clearly of God’s love and glory, why do I fall into despair, doubt, self-pity and resentment so readily? I have been a follower of Jesus for over 3 decades and was raised in a christian home, surely by now I should not be falling into these traps!

There are two things to be wary of here. The first is the temptation to fall into sin by comparing myself to others, or to some imagined standard which I ought by now to have obtained. I believe this is indeed a sin, and the work of the devil in effectively turning my attention firmly back to myself and away from Jesus. I refuse to trust my own assessment of the state of my soul, and when I find myself falling into this trap, I return to such glorious promises as Paul gave the church in Philippi , where he affirms his confidence that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The only important thing to cling to is that one day, God will be finished, and it is His business to know when that is!

The other trap is to be so preoccupied by my shortcomings and sins, that I fail to recognise the sensitivity of my spirit as a healthy sign! It is only as we grow in knowledge of the beauty and perfection of Jesus as God is revealed to us through him, that we become increasingly aware of the blight and poison of sin. So although I am saddened by my sins, yet I can also give thanks to God that I am more aware of them and more than ever dependent on his forgiveness and mercy.

In this sense, it is our knowledge of Jesus which does indeed give us all we need for life and godliness. Through understanding what he accomplished for us on the cross, we learn that sin truly has no more power over us, and we are free from its dominion. It can mar, but not destroy, and while we will strive against it as long as we dwell in these bodies, yet in Christ we are victorious over it. Our knowledge of the riches which we have in Christ, as beloved children of the God of heaven, sets us free from coveting the things of this world and this life, free to give and not count the cost, to spend our lives in loving and serving.

But what does this transforming knowledge look like in the mess and noise of daily life? There is no opportunity in the middle of a crisis, or a manic day at the office, to go and find it, no time to sit and meditate on a psalm to bring about a calm frame of mind! I believe very strongly that we must take the opportunities of the quiet times and places to build up our knowledge of and relationship with Jesus, so that our thoughts and reactions begin to mirror him instinctively. Do I make full use of the ‘means of grace’ as they are sometimes called – of the teaching of the word at my church; of bible study with friends; of prayer (alone and with others); of the sacrament of communion? Do I chose to use my free time for God, putting myself in his presence and meditating on his word? To fail to do so, is like an athlete who enrols for a marathon and then fails to do the training and wonders why she fails to complete the race.

I am certainly not saying that we can ever be sufficiently prepared so that every trial and test finds us unshakeable! But I do need to challenge myself to fully embrace my quiet places and times as opportunities to pursue deeper knowledge of Christ and sweeter fellowship with him. May our gracious God grant me the hunger and the discipline I need!

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Not the best china..

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit…..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. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

(2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.6&7)

Glory and light, brilliance and beauty, purity beyond telling and might unimaginable. These verses take my breath away, and move me to cry to God in prayer for more, ever more transforming power to be at work in my life, that I might reveal this glory to the world I live in.

I am indeed like a clay jar, an everyday household pot. Nondescript and mundane, patched and worn with chipped edges, useful but hardly spectacular. And that is the whole point of Paul’s use of the image here, that no one, not even the great apostle himself, is worthy to receive and show forth this light. It is not we but the God who dwells in us, that is the source of glory and power. In the same way that a flower or a leaf can seem to glow from within when the sun catches it a certain way, so also believers in Christ can shine, illuminated by his love.

As we learn to look more and more steadily into the face of Christ our Lord – by whom God reveals himself to the world – so the glory that we see begins to permeate our being. Our eyes become stronger, and hungry for more light, more beauty; our hearts are increasingly unsatisfied by all that the world offers. The glory that shines from Jesus is purifying, cleansing, healing, transforming power, it acts like a spotlight to illuminate the darkness in our lives and like a laser to burn it away. By that glory, we see clearly and truly, deeper into our own sinfulness and need of Christ, deeper into the need of our neighbour for salvation and the redeeming love of God.

Our growing knowledge of the glory revealed in the face of Christ is the channel through which God transforms our lives, as we see more and more clearly that in Christ alone we have hope, but that in him we also have all that we need. As we learn to depend more and more on his faithful love – giving us security and significance – and to trust his power at work within us – enabling and equipping us – so we are set free to love others as He has loved us.

It is this love, this irresistible force of God at work, which is the treasure we hold in our jars of clay, our chipped mugs and bowls. We are not the focus of attention, He is. Our cracks and flaws simply act to draw attention to the beauty and glory of the love which is being poured out through us.

The following verses beautifully express a prayer to be effective channels of love, utterly surrendered to our beloved Saviour and Lord. May they be a blessing to you this week.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling all I do and say.

May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.

May His beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him. 

(Katie Barclay Wilkinson, 1859-1928)

Love is…. You are!

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

(1John 4.9&10)

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me this week to do no more than write out the words of some of the many hymns and songs of praise which have been written over the centuries in an attempt to respond adequately to the love which is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. As I sit, I have line after line running through my head, tunes swelling up in adoration and worship of the God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who loves me. And perhaps that the best place to start. If I can discipline my thoughts long enough at the start of this new week to deliberately focus on the wonderful love poured out through Christ, then I will have the best possible attitude to whatever the week will bring.

What does this love look like? It is the relentless pursuit of the eternal good of the beloved – even us, even rebellious, stubborn and proud humanity! It is the willingness to pay the ultimate cost of redemption – of putting right that which was so badly damaged – and to fulfill justice by dealing with the need for sin to be punished. And not only are we put right, but we are adopted into the family of God, given a birthright, and a guarantee of eternal life.This love pours out daily in grace upon our lives; it is continually working to transform us so that sin loses every foothold, and we become truly the image of God, reflecting his character, and finding fulness of life and joy as we live in him.

The Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford was a man utterly enchanted by his Lord and Saviour. Over and again in his writings, he exhorts his readers to look to Christ, finding there all and more than their heart’s desires. This little extract – although archaic in language – clearly expresses his frustration at his own inability to grasp the fullness of love offered in Jesus, and I am deeply comforted even as I identify with him. “Christ all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness; if I had vessels I might fill them but my old riven, holey, and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away. Nothing but glory will make tight and fast our leaking and rifty vessels… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand; as little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.” Praise God, there will be a day – in glory – when I will no longer feel that I catch but a glimpse, and remember but the tiniest fraction, of the wonderful love so freely given! Then I shall receive in full the answer to the wonderful prayer of Paul for the disciples in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3. 17-19)

This love waits patiently by my side as I dither and wander, as I doubt and rebel, drawing me back over and over in repentance and new dependence on God. This love is overflowing with kindness towards me – expressed  through other people, and through the gifts and signs that only I notice and appreciate as coming from my God. This love is never boastful, but always wooing, never forcing itself upon me. This love restrains anger, and has lost any record of my past failures. This love rejoices in every small indication of my true desire to serve and honour my Lord, and every little effort to be faithful and obedient – forgetting the frequent failures and unfulfilled promises. This love is constant in protecting me, faithful in believing that I will be transformed, relentless in seeking the best for me.

And the truth that I need to remember at all times about this love – the truth which sustains the thousands of our brothers and sisters across the world who are suffering for their faith – is that no one, and nothing, can ever take this love away from me! I am going to finish with words from Paul again – Romans 8 – as found in the Scottish Paraphrases, my heart language, where he celebrates and affirms this wonderful truth. May it bring you comfort, strength and joy this week!

The Saviour died, but rose again triumphant from the grave;

And pleads our cause at God’s right hand, omnipotent to save.

Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love,

Or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heav’n above?

Let troubles rise and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall; 

Through him all dangers we’ll defy, and  more than conquer all.

Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway,

Can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay.

Each future period that will bless as it has bless’d the past;

He lov’d us from the first of time, He loves us to the last.

Love is… am I?

The words of the apostle Paul to the believers in the church in Corinth – in the first letter at chapter 13 – are very familiar to us, often chosen at to be read at weddings. But when we actually put our own name into the list of qualities which characterise love, how many of us remain comfortable with reading this passage? I quote it here in the Message paraphrase, a fresh and modern expression of the text which helps me to hear it clearly.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first”, doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

When I deliberately consider each quality of love in relation to my own life, I am convicted, bowed before a holy God, because I know very well that I do not love like this. My heart swells with protests about the provocation I receive to act in unloving ways, the unfairness of life, the sins of others, the good excuses I have for failure. And the Judge waits in silence, until my words die away and I confess with grief that I have no goodness in me, I cannot, not by my best efforts, love like this, and never will.

Only one man loved like this, the man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to live the life I should have lived, and then – because of my failures – to die the death I deserved to die because of my lack of love. The wonder and the glory is that by faith in Christ, I am considered right with God, in spite of my desperate failure, and not only this, but in believing, I am given a new heart, the heart of God himself, beating with divine love, so that I may live as He would have me live.

While I remain in this mortal body, I will battle against the fallenness of the world, the devil’s activities in it, and my own remnants of sin, but the truth is that I am new. I have the victory over everything that conspires against this life of loving power. With God’s help, each day and year, that victory will  become clearer in my life, as I become more like Christ on the outside even as I have been made like him in my heart.

Paul goes on in the letter to the Corinthians to encourage them to persevere in this world of shifting shadows and uncertain lights, where the glory of God and the lordship of Christ can seem so uncertain to our mortal eyes. I find it enormously encouraging that the great apostle could struggle with this as I do, and express it so clearly. We are indeed all only flesh and blood, and it is foolish and unhelpful to any believer to deny how hard it can be to persevere in faith in the face of so much opposition and suffering.

Ultimately our perseverance is a work of God, and we know that it is not because of our efforts that we are saved, but rather His faithful love and Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We rest in that complete assurance of salvation even as we seek – in response to His love for us – to work with Him in realising our transformation into Christ’s likeness. Our failures do not condemn us, but rather drive us continually back to God in confession that without Him, we are and can do nothing. And every fresh embrace of Christ as our sole ground of hope and salvation is a step along the road to glory.

I will finish this post with some more words from 1 Corinthians 13 in the Message translation; words we can pray for ourselves and others, as we journey together, depending on God and rejoicing in His sufficiency for us.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.