Monthly Archives: April 2015

Just say “Thank you”…

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…..Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

(Luke 12. 22,23,27,28)

Spring in Scotland can involve every kind of weather – sometimes all in the same day – so we cherish the sunny and warm days when we get them. This April has been  particularly spectacular, and I am full of thankfulness for the season. There has been an explosion of colour, with bulbs flowering and primroses opening carpets of yellow faces to the sunshine. This part of my city is full of great trees, putting forth new leaves like a green lace, each one a different shade as the sunlight pours through their delicate transparency. There are streets and parks where cherry trees are weighed down under great handfuls of pink and white blossom, which turns into drifts of colour along the pavements as the wind carries it off. So much beauty, there for the seeing, for the savouring. One of the things I deeply appreciate about knowing Jesus as my Saviour, is knowing also to whom I can offer thanks for so much beauty poured out day after day for my blessing. And the very act of thanksgiving increases my pleasure, deepens the sense of being nourished deep in my soul by this gift of beauty. It is like storing up light against times of darkness, investing in warmth against the coming chill.

I know that in this world I will have troubles – although at the moment I am humbly aware of how blest I am to live in health and peace under a democratic government, where freedom and life are valued and my children can grow to their full potential. Only a few days ago, our brothers and sisters in Nepal were visited by the destructive power of an earthquake, and so many lives have been destroyed and disrupted – I know nothing of such grief, loss and fear. I am not proud to have been spared, but rather humbled, and challenged, to think what I can do out of the riches which I have, to meet even a few of the needs of those who are suffering so much. This is another result of thanking God for all I have and receive – it reminds me that none of it is mine in the first place, but only ever a gift to be held in readiness, to share with those who need. I have nothing by right, but all by gift, and I have it that I might serve God, love his children and share his glory with the world that needs to see it so badly.

In the passage I quoted above, Jesus is encouraging and teaching his disciples to have the right priorities in their lives as they await his return in glory. The incredible extravagance with which God creates and sustains beauty and fruitfulness all around us is given as an illustration of his power and care for his creation – even the most short-lived and ephemeral parts of it, like the wild flowers. Since our God is like this, should we not trust him to know what we need – we whom the psalmist describes as being made ” a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour?” (Ps 8.5)

Jesus goes on to exhort us, his followers, to “seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12.31). God is not in the business of withholding good things from his children, but rather desires our ultimate and greatest good – that we might live and rejoice with him in his kindgom for ever. We may not understand why our idea of good things is not the same as his, nor why at times we receive good through suffering, pain, frustration and dreadful difficulties. But we have the example of Jesus, who trusted his Father would provide for him, and focused all his energies on obedience and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom. Now he is seated in glory, king over all, reigning and coming again to claim all his own to share in his joy.

As I walk through pleasant places, and pray for those in deep darkness and sorrow, may I be trusting the God who gives good gifts to his children, and thanking him for being faithful. May the beauty around me be a constant reminder that I need not worry about myself, but commit myself to God for his purposes and his glory, saying with the psalmist:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(PS 8.9)

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On the winning side!

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God

(1 John 5.3-5)

The idea of loving by obeying is not appealing to many folk in our contemporary society, but we cannot rewrite the bible for our own social convenience, deleting or re-phrasing the parts that make us feel awkward. I believe that every part of the bible as we have it today is intended to be a blessing to the church, a source of understanding and above all a revelation of God’s love to the world in Jesus Christ. So I must grapple with obedience as love in action, joyful and persevering obedience in the face of opposition, personal suffering, ignorance, mockery, and indifference.

My love for God – feeble though I know it to be – is first and overwhelmingly a response to his love for me, demonstrated through the death of Jesus for my sins. To be loved like that is irresistible, and I want to hold nothing back in my response. I know that I will fail at times, through human weakness and the pressures upon me, but my desire is to love, more and more. I want to make my God glad, to bring joy – if it is not inappropriate to put it this way – to the fount of gladness! He is not mysterious about how I can do this, and tells me clearly that if I love him then I will obey his commands.

This little passage from John’s letter makes it clear that obedience will not be a burden to me because I have been born of God. What does this mean? I think that Paul put it plainly in his second letter to the church in Corinth:- “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5.17). What God has done in me is give birth to new life, the life of Christ in me, and the commands of God are things I now desire with all my heart to fulfill! The power of this world to deceive me, to weaken my will to obey God, is utterly broken, because the nature which responded to those pressures has been put to death in me for ever.

Our world continues to be the beautiful, ugly, bountiful, dangerous place it always was. Human beings continue to suffer illness and death; to inflict appalling suffering upon one another; to be selfish and cruel, indifferent and neglectful, malicious and evil. In just this last few days I have grieved over a friend’s loss of two out of three triplets, shared the burden of another enduring dreadful experiences at work, and shuddered over news from the Middle East of further mass executions of Christians. In what sense do we have victory here?

We have the victory, because we know that NOTHING, none of these dreadful things, will separate God’s beloved children from his love. We know that in the light of eternity, our greatest sorrows and sufferings will seem nothing. We know that in the darkest places of our lives, our God is not only present but intimately close, understanding our pain and pouring his compassionate love into our hearts.

It is because we have been granted faith to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our saviour, that we can claim in the midst of grievous troubles to have victory, to know peace. The love of God as revealed in Christ is so great, that we can trust him to be working for our ultimate good in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We may strive at times to hold on to our confidence in him, but God’s hold on us never loosens, and in that we rest.

I do not write these words lightly, I do not wish to suggest that the sufferings of our world are trivial and should not cause us grief and sorrow – they should, they are appalling blemishes on what should have been a glorious creation, and we hold on to the hope that one day they will be banished altogether. But our understanding of who we are as God’s children facing these troubles makes so much difference. As I wrote, these words from an old song came to mind, I leave them with you as a prayer for this week:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

(Helen H Lemmel)

He must become greater…

For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.

Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do… It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!

(Galations 6.14&15, The Message)

“..not what you and I do.. It is what God is doing”, and what He is doing is glorious! Over the past few days, people all around the world who believe in Jesus as the son of God and their saviour from the power of sin, have been taking time to celebrate his death and resurrection. It has been a special time for meditating and rejoicing, praising God for his indescribable mercy and love towards us.

We believe that because of Jesus, the brokenness in our world, which goes like a fault line through every human heart, is being healed and will one day be gloriously wiped away for ever. We, who are powerless to save ourselves, crippled by sin and yet so blinded by pride in our own achievements that we think ourselves worthy of God’s approval; even we, are offered a fresh start. As Paul said in his letter to the Galatian church, we are liberated to live as new creatures, under the mercy and love of God.

What joy to know that it is not my own moral life, good deeds, carefully-controlled thoughts and desires which have to earn my place in eternal life – because I know full well that I am weak and wavering, so that even on my best days, I fall far short of perfection. What a relief, that I do not have to pretend to anyone that I am confident in my own worthiness and abilities – because I have no illusions about my strengths and weaknesses, and know how unreliable I am.

Instead, I have the privilege of boasting in and relying on Jesus, whose mercy and love are precious beyond telling, and beautiful beyond describing. His death, for me, is my sole claim to peace with God now and eternal life hereafter. I take a fierce delight in this, because he deserves so much more praise and boasting than I can ever give, I cannot ever overdo it! I can affirm his greatness and worthiness against all opposition, and know that I am on firm ground. Many may not like what I believe, many will dismiss it as foolishness or be offended by it, but I will boast in Jesus Christ and his all-surpassing power to save.

In him, my weaknesses are a vehicle for his strength to be displayed.

In him, my struggles and trials are a window for the world to see his power to comfort and sustain me.

In him, my life of small duties and responsibilities becomes a thing of great beauty, where every act of mercy and service is worthwhile, and no effort is wasted.

In him, my heart finds joy because of his great love, and each day brings so many love-gifts to make me glad.

In him, I know that true justice rests, and I have no need to pursue revenge.

In him, I know the power of forgiveness in my life, and am strengthened to forgive others.

In him, my heart delights, and I know that he is changing me from one degree of glory to another as he transforms me into his own likeness, so that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control become who I am.

In him, my soul finds rest, because it is all his doing, and his goodness and mercy will be my companions all the days of my life.

Let us rejoice in Jesus, let us boast of our wonderful Lord and Saviour, let us praise him and exalt him, and rest completely in his all-encompassing and complete salvation.

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!

(Revelation 5.12)

Blinded..

I thought I had no tears left, that the worst pain had already come upon me on Friday when I held Mary as she watched her son’s blood trickle from his side and the breath leave his body.

We had cried ourselves blind, eyes swollen with grief and hearts wrenched apart.

The man who had delivered me from the blind darkness into freedom, who had loved me and welcomed my company, who had allowed me to love and serve him with all  my heart… this dearest of all, dead.

We watched as Joseph and Nicodemus took his bruised and battered body, anointing and wrapping it for burial in haste so that he might be committed to the tomb in decency before the Sabbath put an end to all labour. It all felt so unreal, as if we were in a nightmare and knew that if we could only wake up it would end.

But the dawn of Saturday brought no waking, even as the night had brought little sleep, only a deep ache and restlessness…

He is dead, he is gone, what shall become of us now?

He gave our lives purpose and direction; his voice calmed our fears, opened our understanding and gave us glimpses of a glory we barely comprehended. What is there to live for now?

I could make no decisions yet, but I could still be close to him, show my love in the only way that remained open to me. What did I care for the guard at the tomb? The soldiers didn’t take a woman seriously as a threat, I am nothing to them, less than nothing, and their scorn is meaningless.

So when the weight of Saturday night shifted into Sunday morning, and I could not bear to pretend to sleep anymore, I went to the garden, to watch for the dawn at his side, just to be there.

I found my way well enough through the dark city, but when I reached the garden I thought my eyes had played tricks with me. There was no guard, and there was no stone across the tomb…

Sick to my very heart, limbs heavy as lead, and weeping again with a bitterness which I had not known before, I fetched Peter and John, I needed someone else to tell me that I was not going mad in my grief, someone to make sense of what I saw.

They came, but could make no more of it than I did, although John was quiet and lost in thought, as if he were searching his memory for words from Jesus which might speak into  this deep mystery. He left for home with a strange light on his face, but no comfort for me.

Tears were my only relief, in utter bewilderment, like a lost and abandoned child pressed in by fears and paralysed by grief, I could do nothing else. Somehow, Jesus was even more lost to me than before, not even a body over which I could lament. Oh my beloved, where have they taken you, why have you gone so far from us?

Finally I too look into the tomb, expecting deepest shadow, and emptiness, final confirmation of my hopelessness. And it is light, glowing bright, my eyes are dazzled through their tears, but two figures sit there, where the body ought to be. Am I dreaming? Is this what grief can do to people? One of the figures asks why I cry, and without thinking just how strange this all is, I tell them that my Lord has been stolen away, lost to me.

I must be dreaming. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion of so much emotion in the last few days and weeks is finally taking its toll and I have fallen into a waking dream, in which bizarre things happen and I take them as perfectly ordinary. What else can this be, but an illusion?

I turn away from the tomb, suddenly aware of the utter weariness which is weighing me down, and another figure looms up through my tears, not bright with light this time. It speaks, asking who I seek, and why I cry.

Perhaps now I am awake again. Perhaps this is the man who looks after this garden and he might know! I ask eagerly if he knows where my Lord has been taken, that I might go and care for his body. In my weakness I barely raise my head to look at him, but my voice is urgent and he hears me.

Then it happens…

He speaks again, one word, my name.

‘Mary’

And I am blinded by light, deafened by the triumph of love in his voice!

He is not dead, He is risen! Oh my beloved, Oh my dearest dear, how shall I bear the brightness!

I do not understand, but I know. I am alive and awake, and the whole world is made new in my eyes. I shall never walk in the dark again, because I know that He is with me for ever, and by the light of his love, I see…