Monthly Archives: November 2015

May I come in?

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you….. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

(John 14. 15-17 &23)

Human beings are made in the image of God, made to reflect creativity, strength, compassion, love, to one another and the world. We are made by a God who is three-in-one, a God who is community and endless loving communication. We are made for community, to give and receive, to speak and to listen, to exist in relationships of such trust that we have no need to hide anything of ourselves. That is what lies behind the picture of Adam and Eve walking naked in the Garden of Eden, sharing with God in the cool of the day.

And when we rebelled against God, we broke the image; we all now live with the curse of needing community, but struggling to create it because of the ways our fallen nature has twisted us. We project images of ourselves which we hope will give us a peaceful life, protect us from abuse or ridicule, enable others to accept and like us. But so often these are not the truth, rather a facade behind which we hide – longing to be known utterly, but afraid to be known, full of shame and fearful of rejection.

So we live, even within the closest human relationships, behind closed doors, locked away and unable to enjoy that sweet ease which comes from being with one who accepts and loves us unconditionally. We cannot make and keep the connections which create deep relationships without exposing our secrets, trusting another flawed human being to be gentle with us, willing to forgive them when they hurt us – as those closest to us surely can. How many of us truly manage to do this?

What hope is there then for meeting this deep need within our beings, for finding that soul food of fellowship and acceptance from which we can then give unconditional love and acceptance to others?

Our hope is in our good and gracious God, who knows better than the greatest physician or psychologist just exactly what ails us! When once we have seen and loved Christ, acknowledging his mercy and majesty and accepting his forgiveness, we are made new, made fit for the most intimate fellowship with God. That is what Jesus was telling the apostles in his last conversations with them as recorded by John. We need never feel alone or isolated again, because Father, Son and Spirit are ever present with us. Every aspect of our character and experience is known and accepted in love. As we rest more and more in that heart of God’s love for us, we are able to give love without expectation of return, and no longer depend on the approval of anyone else for our peace of mind and sense of worth.

In this season of Advent, I will be celebrating the coming of Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.

With me – here, today, in my mess and weariness:

With me – tomorrow, in the unknown future:

With me – in joy and triumph, as well as fear and doubt:

With me; loving me; listening to me; sharing his heart with me; taking joy in my joys and feeling my sorrows:

With me from now until the day comes when all things are made new, when all the remaining hindrances that hold my attention away from him are removed, when I shall see him and know even as I am known.

Alleluia, Come Lord, Come!

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It’s all just so… wrong!

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still.

See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. with cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.

(Psalm 83. 1-3)

Do you ever get really desperate with God about the mess that things are in? I do, I find myself full of questions and anger that so much beauty, love, and goodness are being assaulted, wasted and destroyed on a daily basis. I get furious that God’s people across the world are being oppressed, attacked and martyred every month. I despair over the ways that the family of God, the church, the body of Christ, manages to misrepresent the truth about its Lord – we fight and quarrel, we stand over in judgement against one another; we acquire wealth and status, and love to sit in the seats of power, while neglecting to love our needy neighbours and to wear the garment of humility in all our dealings with men.

It is therefore with great relief that I turn to the Psalms, to the book of songs recorded for the people of God to use in worship and in prayer, and from which generations have been blessed. These songs are not like many of those we sing nowadays, which might give the impression that being a Christian is an easy or instantly fulfilling life. Very few of our modern writers manage to accurately mirror the truth about our life of faith, with all its struggles, doubts and darkness – which are not a passing phase, but things we will live with until God takes us home and makes us new.

But the psalmists know real life. Their songs speak to my own situation, and give me words to use in prayer and worship as I come before God, as I live before him in daily life in this broken world. Do you ever think of your lament as a form of worship? I believe that it is, a most profound act of surrendering our questions, doubts, fear and anger to the one who above all has the power to heal, answer and quieten our storms. The throne of the almighty is THE place of justice, of appeal against wrong and evil. We give the Lord of Hosts his rightful place when we call upon him to put right all that is so painfully wrong in his world. It is when we recognise our own pitiful limitations and cast ourselves entirely upon him that we truly worship – give him his full worth. So let us not hold back, but come often to lay down our burdens of grief, discouragement, fear and anger at the ways which our world and particularly our race, are damaged.

It is good to be sufficiently alive to the goodness, glory and love of God that we see and feel most keenly the evil, darkness and hatred of this world. I didn’t say it was comfortable! The greater our understanding of God, the more deeply we will mourn over the ways in which his children have rebelled against him and are destroying all the beauty he has given them.

As we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, in the riches which are available to us through faith in Jesus Christ, so we will become more and more tender-hearted toward our fellows in their need to be saved. John tells us in his gospel that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”(Jn 3.19) Do we not see this? People reject the witness of Jesus’ followers, they shut their ears and will not listen to the offer of life, forgiveness and restoration, because they do not want to see the truth about their deeds. They would rather remain in the darkness – and how heart-breaking is that for our Father God?

When we grieve and lament over the broken lives, and corrupted world we inhabit; when we come before the One who made all things to be good and share something of his pain; when we receive a fresh vision of his love and mercy towards the lost, then we find that our witness becomes more urgent, our prayers more fervent, and our rejoicing in daily blessings more whole-hearted.

How right the psalmists were, to bring their grief and anger to God, who can use these experiences to strengthen and equip us to be more faithful servants, and to live even closer to him. Praise the Lord, O my soul!

How long, O Lord?

Not again, please, not again Lord:

Sudden death and destruction coming on ordinary people:

Hate erupting into horror, devotion to a cause driving men to desperate extremes and deliberate evil.

How can we bear it..

How can You bear it?

When You created us in Your image, it was not for this:

When You breathed life into us, made us spiritual beings, it was not for this:

O God, holy and pure, filled with light as we are filled with darkness, have mercy upon us.

We are pulling down catastrophe upon our race;  through hatred, greed, laziness and neglect we dishonour Your image within us, and wreak havoc upon one another and the world You created for us to cherish and enjoy.

O God, mighty and good, utterly just as we are utterly corrupt, have mercy upon us.

We are fully deserving of judgement, there is no goodness in us, except where pale reflections of Your image within us remain, and by their light serve to show how dark are our deeds and thoughts.

O God, faithful and true, steadfastly loving as we are fickle and unreliable as the wind, have mercy upon us.

Although the truth about You has been revealed through creation, and all may know that there is a God in heaven, we have chosen to worship instead the things of this world, becoming enslaved by our own desires and fears; have mercy upon us.

Today we kneel before You, in silence, acknowledging our part in the woes of the world, our own weakness and waywardness, and sharing the grief and pain of those who suffer. Today we cry out for mercy upon those who are in desperate need of comfort – for the body and the spirit. Today we cry out for justice to be seen and done for those who have been desperately wronged. Today we confess that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory which is Your perfect way, and we deserve condemnation just as much as the terrorist, the murderer, the oppressor and abuser.

Only in Christ, only through the sacrifice of the perfect one, do we have hope, and a promise for redemption. So in Him we trust, and out of our desperation we cry to You for this world to know and trust in Him also, that we might see peace, healing and fulness of life as all nations find their true fulfilment in following and worshipping Jesus.

Christ, have mercy;

Lord, have mercy;

For in You alone, our hope rests.

God of the impossible….

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, we have left all we had to follow you!”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, eternal life.”

(Luke 18. 24-30)

Many of us are familiar with the sad story of the rich young man who came to Jesus seeking assurance of eternal life, and who went away downcast, because Jesus challenged the stranglehold which his wealth had on his heart – he could not let it go, it had become his god. That is the point of the hilarious picture of a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle – it is simply impossible, laughable and to be dismisssed. In human terms that is… and that is the point which Jesus made to those who questioned how anyone could be sure of salvation if even a rich and law-abiding person could not. With God in the picture, everything changes!

It is God who can do the impossible. By his power at work in hearts and minds, he transforms people so that they recognise the idols which are dominating their lives, and brings them to a point where they can surrender everything to God as rightful king and lord. The proper names for these things are repentance and faith, and they are not once-in-a-lifetime experiences either. It is true that for many people there will be a particular occasion when they know that a decision has been made, to follow Jesus, to accept forgiveness for past sins, and to trust him for the future. But it is also true that as disciples, we spend the rest of our lives working out in each new situation, what we need to repent of and what it means to exercise faith in God as our trustworthy heavenly Father!

I think that I have a bad habit of forgetting what Jesus says in the passage I quoted above – that it is God whose ability and strength is the issue, not mine! How often do I look at a situation and feel overwhelmed, unable to cope with what is being asked of me?! If God is sending me along a particular path, then He is also providing the resources which I will need as I go – and I need to trust Him to be faithful, and to recognise the things which are holding me back.

The disciples pointed out to Jesus how much they had given up to follow him – and his response is a staggering promise, which holds good for all disciples, that no one will be the loser as a result of their obedience to God’s call on their lives! Do I believe him? When I am faced with the loss of something – or someone – precious to me, do I trust God to provide for the gap which will be left in my life?

How often do we ask God to show us in advance how he will replace what is lost, repay what we feel we are sacrificing?! That is not to trust him, that is not faith in the promise, and I need to guard against such an attitude when I am facing up to the prospect of obedience resulting in loss.

I know that God gives good gifts to his children, but also that everything I am and have is a gift from his hand – not deserved but freely given. I hold all things on an open hand, not in a closed fist, and must learn to say with Job -“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1.21)

My God is Lord of the impossible, and in any time of sacrificial obedience, I can and must trust him to do just that, to turn what seems an impossible sacrifice into one which I make gladly for his sake, and one which he will more than abundantly make up for, in the ways which he knows are best for me! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Daily blessings

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…

(Ps 96.11&12)

I have a great delight in trees, and my family and friends are accustomed to my stopping in the middle of a conversation to point out some particular specimen of notable colour, size or shape. Do you ever stop to consider how wonderful it is that God designed one of our primary sources of oxygen, in this way?! These amazing plants can live for hundreds of years, reach high into the sky, weigh hundreds of tons, and as well as being very efficient in recycling carbon dioxide, they are beautiful! God is such a marvellous designer, never sacrificing the form of his creations to their function, and so often leaving us in awe at the multitude of ways he varies the basic form to produce new patterns and structures! In every way, our trees testify to the greatness of their maker, they give glory to him who imagined and realised them, and continually direct our thoughts to worship and give thanks.

Living in a land where there are four distinct seasons is an extra blessing where appreciation of our trees are concerned! In winter, we can rejoice in the forms and patterns created by bare branches and trunks; in spring, the fresh greens take our breath away, and the delicate new leaves enchant us; in summer, the great heavy canopy of green provides welcome shade – from sun or summer showers! – and then comes autumn, like the triumphant conclusion to a great symphony, as the colours riot across the spectrum and the winds scatter the leaves across the streets and parks to create vast carpets of bronze and gold.

I was privileged recently to spend a day on the hills in Deeside with a friend; it was a perfect day, with not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky, and the sun hot on our backs. We rejoiced in the strength we needed to climb the hills, the eyes which enabled us to see the panorama of hills, the ears to hear the stags rutting across the glen, and thanked God for so many gifts poured into our lives all in one short day. And as we returned to our car, there came what felt like a special extra blessing.. We were standing among tall birches, motionless and silent, reluctant to leave this glory, when there was a slight rustling sound, and a few birch leaves fell around us – flakes of golden bronze, fluttering down gently to our feet. It was like a benediction, like the kiss which a fond parent gives a beloved child at the end of a long happy day, and we were overflowing with quiet joy.

I believe in a God of justice; a God who cannot live with the blight of sin and who will one day wipe it out of his creation for ever, making all things new, so that the little taste of heaven which I had that day will blossom into a whole new life, beautiful beyond my imagination.

I believe that I will have a home in that perfect place not because of my own efforts after holy living, but because in Jesus, I have one who has made me clean, and through whom I have a certain hope of deliverance from death.

I believe that this God, who loves me through Jesus, loves me as a beloved child, knows me intimately and has made me to know and delight in him. He has revealed his love through Jesus, but every day in so many ways, he chooses to give me personal assurances of his love. The trees are one of the ways that I often feel my Father’s loving touch and hear his song of love – but for each of us it will be different! He knows your heart, and knows how to nourish your spirit if you will let him. The words of the blessing spoken by Aaron over the people of Israel tell of God’s face shining upon his children – glowing like that of a loving father who is filled with delight simply in the presence of his own. Let this light and warmth bring great comfort and strength to our own spirits, grounding us securely in our faithful God.

The Lord bless  you and keep you;

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.

(Numbers 6.25)