Monthly Archives: February 2016

Wherever?

Remember your promise to me; it is my only hope.

Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.

The proud hold me in utter contempt, but I do not turn away from your instructions.

I meditate on your age-old regulations; O Lord they comfort me.

I become furious with the wicked, because they reject your instructions.

Your decrees have been the theme of my songs wherever I have lived.

I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord; therefore, I obey your instructions.

This is how I spend my life: obeying your commandments.

(Psalm 119. 49-55)

What sweet words I find at the start of this lovely extract from Psalm 119, ” your promise to me”, reminding me where my ultimate security lies in the face of all that life throw at me! In the months ahead, I know that I will find myself in need of that solid reassurance as our family faces the biggest upheaval we have known since our first child arrived and parenthood commenced!

It is likely that in April, in a little church just behind the beach in this picture, my husband will be voted in as the minister of the local parish, and in the summer we will leave the city to learn how to live in a relatively isolated part of Scotland. We have been assured at every step thus far that God is in charge, and his timing is right not only for our family, but also the congregations involved – the one we leave and the one we are called to.

The God who has led us thus far, into marriage; ministry; parenthood; is a faithful God, one who has called us to know and be loved by Him. We have a God who has graciously invited us to be part of His great work in the world, part of the redemption of a people who will praise Him and enjoy Him for ever. We need no approval from any man, it is nothing to us if others regard our decision as foolish, because only God’s opinion really matters – He asks us to go, and to obey His instruction is our privilege and pleasure.

The psalmist is testifying to the way that God’s words to Him are a constant source of comfort in trouble – and is that not the case for us? We have a communicating God, one who has chosen not to remain anonymous or remote, but to be known, and to share His heart with us. That heart is full of tender, forgiving and transforming love, of compassion for the pain of living in a world which is deeply scarred and troubled. Our God knows that we suffer, and His promise to us is constant presence, we are never alone in the dark. He will keep us safe through all that may come, and His promise is that He is always at work in us to refine us into the likeness of Jesus, so that none of what we endure will be wasted. We have a glorious hope of resurrection life, a current promise of divine strength, and the courage of knowing that we are obeying our Lord’s explicit command – a purpose, an enabling and a future to look forward to.

The songs of God’s people have been a source of strength and comfort to me for as long as I can remember, and the best ones are retelling of great truths, ways of calling to mind and celebrating all that we know of God, His acts and character. Many times, I find a phrase coming to mind and as I trace the rest of the verse and sing it to myself, I am blest and it seems my perspective is brought back into line with God’s ways of thinking and working. It is surely this experience to which the psalmist is referring as he talks of how God’s decrees are the theme of his songs….wherever he has lived.

As I look back along the story of my life – the physical places I have lived, but also the stages of life and experiences I have known – I am reassured, that the God who has been faithful through so much will continue to keep His word to me. I can rely on Him, and actively look for the ways He will remind me of His presence with, purpose for, and delight in me.

All praise be to Him and may my life continue to become more and more pleasing to Him!

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The best I can do?

O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple.

Let the people on Mount Zion rejoice. Let all the towns of Judah be glad because of your justice.

Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers.

Take note of the fortified walls and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. 

For this is what God is like. he is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die.

(Ps 48. 9,11-14)

I used to wonder why the psalmist exhorted his hearers to go and count the towers of Jerusalem, it seemed a pretty weird thing to do as a way of worshipping God! But I now realise that this physical act of walking and counting was a very practical way of directing attention to how God had kept his promises to his servant David, that a temple would be built, and a city established where a king would reign. The city itself was a memorial, a testimony to God’s faithfulness. Yes, it was strong, but it was God’s strength which established and maintained it, and it was His presence which made Mount Zion a place of rejoicing

The Old Testament stories are full of memorials, ways that God appointed to help the people to remember the truth about Himself, so that their faith could be strengthened and passed on to future generations. The twelve stones carried from the bed of the Jordan river to create a pillar at Gilgal when Joshua led the people out of forty years wandering into the Promised land; the Ebeneezer stone raised by Samuel marking the defeat of the Philistines; and the great Passover Feast itself, which recalled the dramatic events leading up to the deliverance from Egypt. These each in their own way prompted the people to recognise that it was God who was at work – rescuing, leading, preparing the land for them – and to celebrate the God who was so powerful on their behalf and crucially to trust that God would continue to be with and for them in the future.

As followers of Jesus, we have one particular memorial, established by him, the night before he died. The Lord’s supper, communion, call it what you like, is a memorial, a physical act which he commands us to carry out for just the same reasons. When we take bread and wine, remembering his death for us, we recognise that God was at work, celebrate His power to achieve what was beyond us, and strengthen our faith in His ongoing presence and work in our lives now.

There is another reason for memorials, hinted at in the psalm – that we might tell future generations about the God whose acts are celebrated.

We may not be confident in debating the philosophical grounds for belief in God, but we can legitimately share our personal experiences of His power at work in our lives. We can tell the stories of our own private memorials – celebrating times when we saw Him at work; showing people the God who has saved us and come to live with us. We can do what the early disciple Andrew did, when he went to find his brother Peter, in order to bring him to meet Jesus. We can pray for others for God to bless them in the way that the four friends of the paralysed man fought so hard to bring him into Jesus’ presence. We can do as the Samarian woman did after she encountered Jesus at the well in the noonday heat – bringing her neighbours to meet the man who knew all about her.

We cannot in our own power force anyone to accept Christ as their Saviour, but we can and must make every effort to ensure that our lives reflect Him. We may be the only stories about Jesus that a person ever hears, what are we telling them?

It is always good to care for physical needs, to show practical love and care, but the best thing we can do for anyone, is to bring them to Jesus, because ultimately their eternal salvation matters more than anything else. It is God alone who convicts people of their need, who brings faith to life, and we can have confidence in His power to do this. Our job is to say, “Come, we have found the Messiah, we have found God dwelling with us!”

May we have confidence to obey, and wisdom to know how to do it, so that many souls will yet be gathered into the kingdom!

How…?

You might get all the wrong ideas about me from the way I write… My  life in no way resembles this beautiful garden, where colour and shape are all taken into account in an orderly way to create a satisfying and organised result which pleases the senses! A more accurate picture of my life would include the guddle behind the garden shed where things are dumped as ‘they might come in handy’; the dusty corner of the shed where old packets lie under rusty tools, old curtains and plant pots. Then there is the bit where useful things are kept in an unorganised heap, so that everytime I need the secateurs I have to do a major excavation! Oh dear, no my life picture is not pretty…

Am I the only Christian who has heaps of prayer letters that get moved around and glanced at in a guilty way, but never quite prayed through? What about all those bible study notes that I meant to go over again because they were so interesting? And the books and internet articles which are worth reading, not to mention the online sermons to listen to. Then there are the personal commitments to friends and family, to pray for them… How can I work out a way to do this effectively and regularly?

It seems that I am constantly remembering the things I have forgotten to do, and realising that I seem unable to create a structure within which I can pray, study and grow in my faith as I long to do! As human beings we can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, and so my intercessions all too often get lost behind the weekly shop, the imminent need to tidy up, to organise rotas and be in touch with people to make sure things happen.

I think that my loving Father knows this… He is not surprised by my lack of progress in faith, my intermittent intercessions, and my chronic forgetfulness of all those wise things that have been said and which at the time encouraged me so much!!

But I do get weary of this sense of muddle, of not getting the right priorities in my use of time and as a result being profoundly dissatisfied with myself.. What a relief to remember that it is not my organisational abilities, or the efficiency of my prayer life which is the foundation of my hope for the future! It is all secure in Christ, and while I can aspire to become more like him, I do not need to ‘do’anything in order to receive salvation.

 I don’t know if Paul experienced anything like this. His letters breathe a passionate commitment to his Lord and the proclamation of the gospel, which overrides every consideration of health and comfort. He exorts his readers to pursue their calling, to work out their faith and obey no matter what. The writer to the Hebrews puts it very graphically in the great twelfth chapter:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

(Hebrews 12.1)

Am I being too ambitious in my desire for a more ordered life, where prayer and bible study can have a higher profile?  Do I need to recognise and remove things that are hindering me – which may be good in themselves, just not the right things for me at this time! There must be a balance to be achieved, a balance which my heavenly Father can see, between my desire for time with him, and my duties to my spouse and family; my friends and community; our church family and events and the hobbies which I believe are part of the way that God nurtures me and gives me joy in living with him every day.

May we all be given wisdom to discern how we may best use the days and strength given to us – not in comparison to anyone else, but according to the leading of God and his will for our lives.

Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of thy peace.

(John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-82)

Practical, purposeful living

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

(2 Peter 1.5-9)

I think we all like to believe that our lives can be of benefit to someone, that we are making a positive difference by being here – it gives us a sense of value, of purpose in our daily routine. In fact, the bible tells us that we are designed for a purpose – to know and be known by God, to enjoy the world he has made for us and to share with one another the love he shows us.

Although that original purpose has been frustrated in part by the rebellion of humanity against God’s authority, still as followers of Jesus, with his life quickening our spirits, we are called to live to share the gospel, by word and deed, and to declare God’s glory until Christ comes again.

Peter’s words in the passage at the top of this blog are a challenging piece of instruction for early believers in how they might become more and more equipped to fulfill God’s purpose in their lives – and they apply equally to me today.

It is all very well to be transported through music and meditation into a state of rapture as I worship God, but if my faith only ever produces private pleasures, then it is not something to be proud of. I may be comforted in times of weariness and loss by the knowledge of Jesus love for me, but if that same love is never shared by me with others, then I am being utterly selfish and un-Christlike in my response to His grace.

Yes, indeed, God has been pleased to call me His own, to grant me faith, to forgive and restore me to His family. But the story is so much bigger than that! I am a tiny little part of a great Redemption narrative that includes all of creation and all time, and in which I have a role to play in the lives of many other people. My personal salvation is NOT the end of the story, but only a little sub-paragraph, which should see me joining in with a great multitude of God’s people to fulfill His purposes and ultimately to fall in worship before Him.

I am saved for a purpose; to be – in whatever situation He chooses to place me – the person He calls me to be. I am to accept that what might feel like very hard situations for me personally, will ultimately be for the blessing of others – and I am especially to accept that I may never know how God chooses to use me in those situations.

I am not God, I cannot see all the implications of every situation, and so I cannot possibly see how He is working all things together for His purposes – but I can choose to trust His word when He promises that He is doing that very thing.

And so I come back to the list which Peter wrote, of qualities of Christian character which can be deliberately cultivated, and which will help me to be productive for Jesus – in whatever ways He chooses to use me. I need all of these, need to grow in cheerful perseverance, in knowledge of God and His word, so that I might serve Him faithfully and steadily.

I thank God that it is by His power at work in me, that these qualities are developed – although I certainly need to play my part. I thank God that He sees my desire to be more like Christ, and forgives my frequent failures to do so! I pray for the steadiness of spirit which will allow me to travel on, a pilgrim on a quiet path, trusting Him to be with me and for me at every step of the way. May John Bunyan’s beautiful words be more and more true for each of us in the days ahead:

Who would true valour see? Let him come hither;

One here will constant be, come wind, come weather;

There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

(John Bunyan 1628-88)