Monthly Archives: January 2016

Time only goes one way!

I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

(Philippians 3.12-14)

One of the greatest benefits of the new life which we have as followers of Jesus Christ, is the awareness that our sins and failures, our falling-short of God’s goodness, is completely dealt with. Each new day, is a new start, and we do not carry any baggage with us from the past. There may be consequences, but there is no guilt, no more isolation from God, no threat of judgement to come, to shadow our lives.

We are in a wonderful sense, set free from our past, and rightly we rejoice in that freedom. Paul encourages us to embrace that freedom, to refuse to allow inappropriate guilt to hold us back from fresh commitments to obedience and service of our God. He did not dwell on his early opposition to and persecution of the church, did not allow that to prevent him from becoming not only a great theologian, but also a pioneering evangelist and church-planter. He trusted that God could deal with those who doubted him because of his history, since it did not prevent God from calling him to serve.

How easy do I find it to allow my past failures to prevent my present obedience? I set limits on what I am willing to attempt for God, because I am afraid of failing again. What does that say about how I believe God is transforming me, is giving me his power to achieve the tasks which are appointed to me? Yes, I will go on sinning, until death ushers me out of this mortal frame, but God has not made my usefulness to him dependent on my perfection! I can and should embrace each new task with a joyful confidence in his enabling, and a humble thankfulness that  my failures will not prevent that work from being carried out.

In other areas though, it can be hard to let go of the past, to accept that precious days, sweet relationships will not come again. When a parent sees a beloved child step into independence – or begin to do so – there is a bereavement, because something beautiful has come to an end. It is a natural and right ending, but nonetheless, those days, that intimacy will never come again. The season for those things is past.

I was blessed to grow up in a particularly strong and loving church, and there are aspects of that life which I miss very much, and would dearly love to recreate. But time only moves one way, I am not in that place anymore, and much has changed. Those days will not come again. So what do I do? Is it right to allow past blessings to prevent me from appreciating what God is providing for me now? Surely not, nor to argue that I can only receive blessing in that particular way!

The apostle James wrote that, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1.17)

God is the source of all good things, and His purpose and character never change. So if He chose to bless me in one way in the past, He may choose another way today but his purpose remains my transformation into the likeness of Christ, and ultimate enjoyment with him of glory. All the good gifts are for a purpose, for my growth in faith and understanding, in trust and obedience. Let me recognise and give thanks for past blessings, but also discern the new things God may be planning to use for my good.

My God is too great and wonderful to be limited in His actions by my understanding, to be restricted to doing things in the same way over and over again! May I learn to trust that He is always good, and always loving, and look for the ways He is choosing to bless me now, so that I may – like Paul – forget what is past, let it go, and face the future with confidence in my great loving provider.

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The only constant…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

(Philippians 1.21)

 

It was on a night like this three years ago that my mother died. Soft, heavy snow fell steadily, drowning sound and creating a stark, eerily beautiful landscape, every branch bearing its weightless load.

We had known it was coming, and were thankful to be prepared, as ready as one can ever be to become an orphan. She was so ready to go home, and her saviour’s name was almost the last word on her lips.

God knows that death is too much for us, that we are made for eternity; that change and bereavement cause us to stagger, losing our bearings and succumbing to fear. Death is the ultimate insult to God’s creation of humanity in his image, the great scar which resulted from sin entering our hearts and breaking our fellowship with Him. It was never meant to be this way, and I take great comfort in knowing that my anger and grief in the face of death are a small reflection of God’s anger against this corruption of his perfect creation.

But I have learnt things through the deaths of my parents which would otherwise have remained merely theoretical. I have come to understand and rely on the Father heart of God for me, his beloved daughter; to trust in and take comfort from the Mother heart of God as I am cherished, and always understood. Perhaps it is only when precious things pass away that we learn to seek their essence in God – all the goodness and beauty of this world is a mere shadow of the truth and glory which are in Him.

It is a lesson which I need to keep learning. As my children have grown and become more independent, I am not ‘needed’ in the same way, and that role – which was so big that it became almost my entire life – is gone. I must not look to that relationship as my security and source of satisfaction in life. Nor should I depend on my status as ‘wife’, since that relationship too must someday come to an end. No, the only constant is that God, the creator and sustainer of life has chosen to reveal Himself to me, to make me his child, and to call me home to share in the glorious future planned for His people in the new creation.

It is His constancy which is my only security, everything else will pass away.

It is His arms which must be my refuge, since there are ultimately no other safe places.

It is His grace which is my only hope, since my own efforts and all the approval of others cannot make me worthy to belong in His kingdom.

It is in His beauty that I find the source of the glory which I only glimpse in the colours, seasons, sights and sensations of this amazing world. They dazzle me; how shall I bear being in the presence of the One and only, the great original?!

It is in His love that I find all my human loves purified, transformed and made perfect, so that I am finally at rest and fully myself.

May we be given daily grace to grow in dependence on Him, and to hold this world and all its riches with an open hand and yielding heart. For “our citizenship is in heaven. and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to being everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!” (Philippians 3.20&21)

Dying to live..

Then he said to them all:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

(Luke 9. 24&25)

Some people would have us believe that the christian life should be a happy, smooth and fulfilling one, and that if we do not have that experience, then we are somehow failing to grasp our inheritance as God’s beloved children.

Where does Jesus call us to such a life? Not here, not in these words, which are recorded in all four gospels, indicating their centrality to our understanding of his teaching. Jesus calls us to die for him, no more, no less. For many, it is a call to physical death – whether by martyrdom, or by being exposed to unusual risks by virtue of the work we do in his name. For all of us, it is a call to die to ourselves, to the ways of thinking and acting which put our needs, welfare and personal fulfillment first.

Am I the only christian who needs regularly to be reminded that my Lord calls me to this radical discipleship? To have it drummed into my heart and thinking again and again that my own happiness is not the goal of my life, in spite of the bewitching messages with which contemporary culture tries to persuade me. When I get my eyes fixed back onto this vision of the life to which I am called, for which I was saved by my Lord, then it is like finally seeing past a smokescreen, to a clear sky and a straight road. But oh, how hard it can be to look up, to shake myself clear of the smoke and see properly!

Jesus does not give me options on obedience, I am not in a position to qualify the extent to which I will do as God commands according to my circumstances and feelings! If I once allow my feelings to become the driving force behind my willingness to obey, then I will become utterly bogged down in self-obsessed inaction. God has given me a will to act, a mind to understand, and has shown me what to do. How I feel must follow, not dictate, my obedience to those commands.

Did it not cost Jesus more than we can begin to imagine to obey God’s will in his life on earth? He wept and toiled, and embraced suffering and death because He knew that this was God’s will for him. What am I saying when I protest against the cost of obedience in my life, that I am not willing to suffer in turn? That my immediate comfort and temporary self-fulfilment are more precious than eternal life and union with Christ? That his love for me is not worth very much if it must be paid out of my own ease?

I have been reminded again of the words penned by martyred missionary Jim Elliott, who wrote :-“he is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose!”

God forgive me that I protest so bitterly against the small crosses which he asks me to bear, against the small sacrifices which he asks me to make in his name. Should I not rather rejoice that I may suffer through obedience? My Lord sees the pain I experience, and commends me as I seek to obey in spite of it. That same pain causes me to lean ever harder on His arm, to listen closer for his loving voice, to sit ever more lightly to this world and hope more gladly for the next. Is this not reason for giving thanks in my struggles? God give me courage to obey, understanding to see what I must do, and fuller knowledge of his love that my desire for him might continue to grow.

All to Jesus I surrender; all to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all; all to Thee my blessed Saviour, 

I surrender all

(Judson W. Van De Venter 1896)

Just kidding myself….

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.

They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.

You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.

Oh that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!

Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.

As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!

I will obey your decrees….Please don’t give up on me!

(Ps 119.1-8, NLT) 

As I read these words this morning, I had to laugh. Such a perfect articulation of my thoughts this week and written, well, how long ago?! It is marvellous to receive God’s word so directly, to hear one’s own thoughts turned into prayers by a poet/musician who wrote in a completely different culture, and yet voiced the experience of God’s people down across the centuries.

We know that it is not our ability to keep God’s decrees which dictates our acceptance by him. It is all his grace, and what a relief that is! But obedience is our response to that grace, as the psalmist says – “I will thank you by living as I should!”As I go on following Jesus, my life should increasingly reflect his character, so that my thoughts, words and deeds are all in accord, so that I am a person of integrity.

The apostle Paul told his readers in the Roman church that this transformation comes about through our minds – it is by no means accidental or unwilled.:- “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.“(Romans 12.2)

I have a responsibility as a professing Christian, to be actively growing in my knowledge of God, through his word, through prayerful living and sharing with my fellow believers. If I choose to sit back and drift, then I will not find myself growing in holiness, or humility, or self-control. The human default setting is still towards selfishness, laziness, and dependence on self rather than reliance on God. I find in myself a lack of discipline, a mental laziness when it comes to studying the bible, a casual attitude to intercession, and so many ready excuses for not being what I could be…

I have to tread carefully here, since the devil would love to cast me into a pit of despair over my failures, and bind me with a sense of futility about my efforts to change. That is not God’s will for me, and I reject such an attitude. I rejoice in the forgiveness which I have in Christ, in the fresh start which is given to me daily, and the many personal tokens of God’s love which I receive . But the grief of my failure to live up to the  love which is so lavishly bestowed upon me is real, and I will acknowledge it. Indeed, I think I can even be glad that I feel it, because it is a sign that my spirit is still desiring God, longing to know him better, to live more closely with him. If I did not care about my heavenly Father’s heart, I wouldn’t mind falling short of his perfect ways.

So here is the challenge.. to allow my sense of my shortcomings to be strong enough to drive me to seek God’s help in changing habits and thoughts, re-arranging my days if necessary to do so, while not falling into a trap of despair when the inevitable failures happen!

God is not fooled by my efforts to justify myself, and he is not deceived as others may be by my public behaviour. I am known, through and through, by the only one whose opinion really matters. I have a long way to go, but praise God, the work is still in progress, and the divine craftsman is not for giving up!

May God, the source of hope, fill us completely with joy and peace because we trust in him. Then we shall overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.(from Romans 15.13) Amen Lord, so let it be!

And now …what?

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

(Luke 2.29-32)

If you were reading these words for the first time, you might think they were spoken by one of Jesus’ disciples, after the resurrection, when everything was becoming clearer and his life on earth was at an end.

In fact, the speaker was a man named Simeon, a man who had been waiting many years for God to fulfill a special personal promise to him. Simeon knew that he would not die until his eyes had seen the promised Messiah, the Christ, who would save his people and usher in the new Kingdom. And this speech was not made as Simeon stood looking into an empty tomb, or even at  a darkened, bloodstained cross. He was holding an eight-day old baby boy, whose parents had brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the law and present the child to God. There was nothing to make anyone else look twice at the child, but Simeon knew, and what joy must have filled his faithful heart as he cradled the answer to God’s promise!

He could not see into the days and years ahead, to the massacre of innocent children in Bethlehem; or the return of the grown man to declare his divinity and challenge the temple leaders; to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom and to lay down his life in sacrifice, the perfect lamb of God. Simeon knew nothing of the disciples who would one day be scattered from Jerusalem to take the gospel into all the world, revealing God’s love to the Gentiles and proclaiming forever that there was no difference in God’s eye between Jew and Gentile, that all are one people, God’s beloved and redeemed children.

He knew God, and so he trusted… His personal promise had been fulfilled, he held in his arms the beginning of the final chapter of God’s great plan for the world, and he was content to know no more.

Simeon’s faith is a challenge to me in my waiting, in my living by faith and in hope. Do I share his confidence that because I know the beginning of the story, I can trust in God’s will and power to achieve the end He has promised? I know so much more than Simeon ever did about this baby. I see the grown man in his agony for me; I see his wrestling with evil and enduring utter separation from God – for me. And still I doubt that God is able or willing to achieve good for and through me, or to fulfill all his just and right will for this world.

Oh Lord, strengthen my faith, and help me to trust you in the face of the darkness which grows upon our world.

In my waiting – let me not be passive, but active in rejoicing in my saviour and making him known to any who will listen:

In my waiting – let me not despair over the power of evil in the world and men’s hearts, but rather recognise the death throes of a beaten foe:

In my waiting – let me see beauty, life, and joy, your good gifts to your world so that we might taste of you and hunger to be satisfied:

In my waiting – let me live in that divine hope which fuels perseverance and which alone will enable me to walk peacefully through a troubled world:

In my waiting – let me be content, like Simeon, with what you have chosen to reveal to me, accepting that which I cannot understand and trusting that you know best what is good for me. Amen