Monthly Archives: October 2015

Do you trust me?

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this; He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

(Ps 37. 1-6)

What does it mean to say that we trust someone? Sometimes it is that we respect their advice and wisdom, and would be strongly influenced by their counsel in time of decision-making. Other times it reflects a belief that a person can keep our troubles to themselves, providing us with a safe place to share our burdens.

On a deeper level, when I married, I entrusted myself to my husband, giving him access to my life and great power to affect me for good or ill. Why was I willing to do this? Because I believed then, and still do, that he loved me as well as his human frailty permitted, that he desired the best for me, and that he would be good for me. He has given me similar power in his life, and my desire always is to be good for him. I know that I have failed, and will do so again. I have been selfish, short-tempered, and unreasonable, at times unwilling to see things from his point of view because I know that he is right and I am wrong! By God’s grace, we have grown together, and will go on relying on his help to love and be faithful to one another – continuing to be open and vulnerable because we made a covenant together to trust one another in love.

It seems to me that over and over the bible reveals God asking this very same question of us, his children, “Do you trust me?….Do you trust me enough to do as I ask?” And ultimately, our answer to that question depends, as in human relationships, on whether we believe that the one asking for our trust really loves and wants the best for us. Consider Adam and Eve, stewards of paradise, with one single prohibition (given for their protection) that they refrain from eating the fruit of a certain tree. When Eve stole the fruit and persuaded Adam to eat with her, they were effectively saying that they did not trust God to be good for them, that He was unfair and unreasonable! How wrong they were…..

Consider Abraham, who was asked to trust God first of all for a new land which he had never seen; then for safe keeping in Egypt – which Abraham tried to arrange for himself by cunning, and ended up causing all sorts of trouble(Genesis 12). When God asked Abraham and Sarah to trust him for descendants, they showed that they had not learnt their lesson, and again tried to arrange it for themselves causing more trouble (Genesis 16). The hero of that sorry tale was God, who patiently and faithfully kept his promises to Abraham, allowing him more than one fresh start!

Consider David, who was anointed the future king of Israel many years before he was actually crowned, and who endured many trials along the way, when he might well have given up on God’s promise or else – like Abraham – have taken matters into his own hands. There were two occasions when David could have assassinated Saul most conveniently, but he insisted on trusting God to arrange matters, and held back.

Am I willing to trust God with my life, my children, my work and my church family? Do I really believe that God wants the best for us and that, unlike human promise-makers, He is able to deliver it?

What does this kind of trust look like in daily life? When changes come, do I fret and worry over things I cannot control, or do I strive to act and think in ways which reflect my belief that God’s ways for my life will always be the best – even though at times they may be painful and difficult? Am I willing not to interfere with God’s timing, not to grab the things I think He has promised but wait until they are poured into my lap?

If I truly believe that God has and will always keep faith with me, fulfilling His promises, then I must walk in daily obedience, not fretting over what I do not know and cannot control. I must do the present task, even when I see no clear path ahead.

It is my faithful obedience in all the small things, and my calm, joyful acceptance of God’s directing of my life which will speak most loudly of the love which I receive from Him, and demonstrate most clearly His trustworthiness. May I be given daily strength and courage to glorify Him in this way!

Glimpsing the big picture

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Psalm 1. 1-3)

Do you ever stop to think who the Bible is about? We are perhaps too familiar with it, too at home with the stories and teaching, and may miss this crucial point quite easily until someone points it out. At which point, if you are like me, you become astonished at your own foolishness!

At a recent midweek church meeting, we created a visual representation of the story of the bible – the whole big  picture, starting at creation and ending with judgement and the new heavens and earth. Along the way, we fitted in each book of the bible, and some of the principal characters who feature – such as Abraham, David, and of course, Jesus. And it was at this  point that our minister pointed out that the whole story is actually about God himself, and his dealings with people. He is the principal character, and it is the purpose of the entire book to teach us about Him, exalt and lift Him up – not any of the all too flawed human beings who feature.

The whole purpose of the collection of books which we call our bible is to reveal the heart of God, his relentless love and will to draw to himself those who will love and delight in him. It is a love story, but one written on such a large scale that sometimes we get too bogged down in the messy details to see it! The point of so many of the stories about folk like Abraham and David, is that they are flawed human beings who make stupid mistakes and refuse to trust the God who has promised to do great things for them. And still God is faithful to them! It is not their deserving that results in good things happening for them, but God’s goodness and persevering love. That is a lesson which I need to learn over and over again.

Jesus did not identify particular parts of the bible story as relevant to him and his ministry, but said that all of it spoke of him – the ultimate revelation of God to man, God made man, living in our messy and broken world. The books of the law spoke of God’s holiness and purity, and desire that his children should share that holiness – because our maker knows that this is the way to fullness of life, we are formed for perfection! Jesus came to live the perfect life, and show us what it could look like. The history books tell of God’s calling of a people to witness to his love and faithfulness, and of their betrayal of him as they turn over and again to other gods, to kings, to anyone at all rather than their God. Jesus witnessed to God’s love and faithfulness, demonstrating at every step of his ministry a profound trust in his Father and belief that God would be faithful to keep every promise made to him.

And running through the whole old testament – the scripture which Jesus knew – is the theme of redemption, of restoration and a final dealing with the rebellion which separates us from God. From the first sacrifices to the final promises by prophetic word of a coming Redeemer; the hope of a real and lasting transformation is demonstrated. In Jesus, it finally came to pass, and as the temple curtain was ripped apart on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, so the barrier which has kept us from God’s intimate presence was destroyed for ever.

While it is good to wrestle with individual passages and knotty theological questions, we must never lose sight of the overall story within which they sit. The details may entrap us into fruitless speculation and unhealthy ways of thinking about God, but the great epic theme restores our perspective, and puts the focus firmly back on God. This is the surest way to keep our souls humbly depending on him, trusting and returning to him over and over as we journey through life. This is the way to ensure that we thrive, like that psalmist’s tree planted by the flowing stream. And perhaps it is this thought which lies behind one of the sweetest, simplest of hymns with which I will close today.

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and  His glory, of Jesus and his love.

Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon!

The early dew of morning has passed away at noon

Tell me the story always if you would really be,

In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.

(A. K. Hankey, 1834-1911)

May we each be willing to carry out this ministry for one another in the days ahead, it is the most loving thing we can do..

Glory and grace…

Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the water; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters….

The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King for ever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

(Ps 29. 1-3, 9-11)

I love feeling small, being dwarfed by beauty, might and power. This may be because I have never been at the mercy of nature as many of our race have – whether hurricane and typhoon, or flood or earthquake. I am awed and inspired by the beauty and power which God has released into creation – through all the laws which govern the air, earth and water. Do we sometimes forget to be in awe of these elements? It is good to remind ourselves that we are not as powerful as we might like, that ultimately we cannot control what happens, and that if we trust in our own strength, we will surely be disappointed.

Either through natural disasters, or man-made destruction, all the things which our race depend upon for life can be taken away. If our security and contentment are founded in those things, then we are looking in the wrong place for our peace of mind and hope for the future. But these great forces in themselves are not ultimately in control either!

This psalm positively reverberates with the sound of God’s voice: its power is proclaimed and celebrated in the most forceful ways to drive home the point that the greatest of natural forces is as nothing beside the Lord, and that He alone is worthy of our worship.

The word “Ascribe” in the psalm can also be translated as “Honour”, in other words we should give full praise to God as his right for his power and holiness. We do not in any way add to God’s greatness by our worship, but do we perhaps rob him in a way when we fail to recognise and exalt it?

Everything in creation apart from humanity brings glory to God simply by being, by fulfilling the purpose for which He created it – manifesting His imaginative power, His creativity and strength, His unfathomable command of physical laws which enabled the creation of universes beyond our comprehension. The flight of the tiniest birds; the obedience of the oceans to the forces which govern their movement; the infinitesimal growth of great trees over hundreds of years; and the haunting beauty of the Aurora Borealis, all bear witness to their creator’s greatness and glory.

And I? I struggle and pout and fret about getting things my way; I complain when life does not give me the opportunities I desire – for myself or my loved ones. I worry about the future instead of celebrating the present, and accepting that my maker in His wisdom and goodness knows what is best for me. This is our shame as a race, that we refuse to give God the glory which is due to his name, and instead set ourselves up as worthy of honour and all the effort and focus of our lives.

This is the miracle which time and again fills me with wonder and thankfulness, that this God, this Creator, whose glory fills the heavens and stuns me into silence, is the same God who knows and loves me personally. Through faith in Jesus Christ, my rebellion is forgiven and I am transformed into one who seeks to exalt and honour God as she ought – feeble though the effort may be at times… And through Christ, I know the tender and intimate love of God, the promise of a new start in this life, and eternal life to come. This is all grace, all the goodness of God poured out on the undeserving rebel to give her a second chance and set  her free from worshipping herself. I am never so full of life and joy as when I am abandoned in praise of my adorable Saviour; my tender Father; and my strong and powerful Counsellor. I am nothing, God is all!

These words from the great hymn by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) put it so much more briefly and beautifully – may we all receive grace this week to glorify our God as He deserves.

Lord of all being, throned afar, Thy glory flames from sun and star;

Centre and soul of every sphere, Yet to each loving heart how near.

Lord of all life, below, above, Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love;

Before thy ever-blazing throne, We ask no lustre of our own.

The most important question..

When Jesus came to the region of Ceasarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

(Matthew 16.13-17)

I believe that our ultimate destination, our eternal future, is determined by our answer to this fundamental question, posed to us today as it was to Peter all those years ago. Who is Jesus? He himself was quite clear on the answer to the question – taking the names of Messiah or Christ, the Son of Man, the one promised down the years who would break forever the power of sin and death in human lives.

His whole ministry asserted his identity as one with God – power over natural and spiritual powers; authority to forgive sins and cast out demons; speaking with the words of God to woo the people of God. Those who rejected him, he stated quite clearly ‘will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.’ (John 3.36)

What then is our message as followers of Jesus in the world today? We are surrounded by the pain and struggle of mankind, fresh waves of upheaval and suffering arise weekly and our political leaders stagger from one crisis meeting to another. In Britain, our neighbours and colleagues have largely dismissed Christianity from their minds, dismissing it as so much nonsense, and embracing in many cases a rag-bag of ideas picked from many sources, which makes them comfortable with their lives.

I think it is very important that we keep clear in our minds the authority, power and providence of God – over and in ALL that is happening to individuals and our world at large. If we succumb to the temptation to think that our own words and deeds are the only things which can redeem people and transform society, we will sink into despair – either doing nothing because we feel powerless, or doing too many things because we can’t bear inactivity in the face of so much need and injustice.

The reality is that God is never mocked. He may appear inactive, but it is our vision which is faulty here, not His power. He cares more deeply than we can imagine for each and every one of His children, and desires that none should face eternity without Him. I believe that in every turmoil and trouble, God is at work to raise the minds of men and women to consider His claim upon their lives, and to recognise in themselves the ultimate sin, of putting self on the throne of their hearts.

In His grace, God may use those who already know and love Him to be part of the process by which He reveals Himself, but we have no power to force anyone to acknowledge Him as Lord. All we can do is to follow the example of the apostle Andrew, whose first action was to bring his brother Simon to meet the man whom Andrew already believed was the Christ, the promised one(John 1.41)

Since this is the case, as eager servants, it is our responsibility to be like the apostle Paul when he served the church in Corinth :-” For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1Cor 2.2). We have the treasure of forgiveness of sins, a fresh start here on earth and eternal life with Christ to share with people who need it so badly, and the best way we can do this is by pointing them over and over to Jesus. We lift him up, exalting him in our lives and our words, so that people will see and have the chance to consider properly for themselves who they think Jesus is. Their decision is not in our hands, but we can strive to ensure that our witness is faithful, loving, steadfast, and always focussed on Christ, so that God can use us in His work of drawing them to Himself.

May God stir up in us a deeper love for Christ, so that our lives shine for Him, and give us courage to speak of Him whenever the opportunity arises. May we be blessed to be used as the means by which others are brought face to face with Christ, and come to acknowledge him as Lord of their lives.