Monthly Archives: April 2016

Give me eyes to see..

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God…

..once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

(Ephesians 5.1,2 &8)

You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

(1Peter 2.9)

The image of light is a very powerful one, and used in many ways in the bible. Here, Paul and Peter are using it to contrast the before and after state of the believers to whom they write. We know from our own experience how much we depend upon light in order to function.. Only the other night, awaking in the pitch dark of a strange bedroom and trying to  creep out quietly to visit the bathroom, I ended up nearly in tears in a corner frantically trying to find the door handle…My long-suffering husband was wakened by my increasingly agitated fumblings, and putting on the bed-side lamp was able to show me the way out!! It was an educational experience; the next night, I used my phone as a light.. The glow from the screen was minimal, but enough for navigational purposes.

But what does that say about our need for spiritual light? How much is enough? With a tiny glow in the darkness, we suddenly see that things could be so different, and embrace the illumination which God’s offer of salvation brings. And as we grow in faith and walk with Jesus through the maturing experiences of life, it is as if the light within us grows steadily stronger.

I firmly believe that one of the most encouraging things about becoming more mature as a Christian is a growing awareness of how much about us is still needing to be changed! The stronger our source of illumination, the greater degree of detail we can observe, and that applies just as much to our spiritual lives as to the rest of life. I can’t sew properly unless I have sufficient light to let me see the needle and thread clearly, but a dim light is enough to show me the letters or cards for a board game.

I wrote last week about the struggle to take my thoughts captive, to exercise the victory which Jesus has won for me and to turn away from acting on wrong thoughts. But I realise now that I can be most deeply encouraged by my own distress over my thoughts! Think about it: if I was not – by God’s grace – being made more like Jesus, a little less sin-sick, and a little more holy, then I would simply not care about these rogue thoughts. As I am being re-shaped by God’s word at work in me, my spiritual eyes are growing healthier and the light within is showing more of the reality of remaining sin in my life. So although I may regret the necessity for the struggle, I rejoice that I desire to engage in the battle. I am on the Lord’s side in this, and more importantly, he is on my side. We are fighting together, and I have his power at my disposal, his spirit to help me to see as he does, and his love to inspire me.

The love and mercy poured out upon me are continually drawing out a response of gratitude, which manifests itself in a desire to bring delight to the one who has loved, God himself. That is why Paul exhorts his readers ‘as dearly loved children’ to respond to that love by imitating their heavenly Father. When we come to him in our struggles, sharing his hatred of the sin which clings to us like smoke in our clothes, and claiming the victory he has won for us; surely then our God is full of gladness and delights in his little ones. We are not perfect, we are not as nearly perfect as we could be.. but by his grace and to his glory, we are not what we were, and the light in us is growing stronger and stronger.

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Thought-police?

For though we live in the world, we do  not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Corinthians 10.3-5)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or  praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 3.8&9)

 I wonder if you are sometimes deeply disturbed by the thoughts that percolate to the surface of your mind, when the voice you hear is bitter, angry, vengeful or simply loaded with the lead-weight of self-pity?

This has been and continues to be my experience, much more often than I care to admit, and it is easy to fall into despair over the apparent lack of change in one’s innermost attitudes, even after years of walking with Jesus.

I was therefore greatly encouraged in a recent brief conversation about these depressingly frequent, and totally ungodly thoughts, to be reminded that it is not so much that they come which should concern me, as what I do about them!

Let me explain.. In his words from 2 Corinthians 10, quoted above, the apostle Paul talks about “taking every thought captive”, as part of a longer passage about the war which we wage as believers against the powers in the world which oppose our faith. A soldier in a battle situation, seeing an enemy appear on his horizon has a choice – to oppose, to avoid, or to welcome him! To welcome the enemy is to be a traitor to one’s own cause, and to avoid doing anything to him is almost as bad, since it leaves him free to attack again another time. But to oppose, to do battle and struggle, to subdue and take him captive, is to be loyal to one’s own cause, to act in obedience to the orders received, and reduce the risk to oneself.

So when I apply this picture to the whole business of my thoughts, of what comes into my head as daily life with all its challenges comes my way, what do I find? Why that I also have a choice! When I find angry thoughts in my heart because of the way I have been treated, I recognise them as an enemy, and choose – with God’s power at work in me – not to speak or act upon those thoughts. I choose to follow the example of Christ who turned the other cheek to his persecutors, and to forgive them as I remember how much I have been forgiven by God.

It can be a great struggle, never under-estimate the power of your thoughts to drive a steam-roller through your good intentions! But rely instead on the power which God supplies, by his spirit within us, to claim the victory which Christ has won over the power of evil in his children’s lives. We are, in him, sweeter than our bitter thoughts; more forgiving than our grudges; more patient than our intolerance and more securely grounded than our doubts.

Ultimately, it is as we look upon Christ, absorbing more and more of his life and likeness, that we find our victory over our rebellious thoughts. As we allow the word of God – the person of Christ as revealed in the words of Scripture – to soak into heart and head, we are transformed. And be sure the devil will make every effort to undermine that work in you, in me. If he can tie us up in despair over our ungodly thoughts, he has disabled us, and instead of us claiming a victory for God, we become a casualty, a prisoner-of-war who needs to be rescued all over again and meantime is of no use in at the frontline!

So let us embrace Paul’s good advice to the Philippians, to direct our thoughts to all the goodness and beauty which God has revealed – in the world, in his people, and ultimately and most clearly, in the person of His Son, our Lord. In him, we have the victory, let us claim it!

A blank sheet..

For we are God’s masterpiece. 

He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

(Eph 2.10)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

(1 Peter 2.9&10)

God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.

(Eph 1.9&10) 

As I contemplate the next few months, with a change of home; church and lifestyle – moving after 16 years in one house, 22 in the same church, and a lifetime in the city – I am deeply conscious that God is asking every day, “do you trust me?”

Do I? I am tempted to barter with God, to ask to see in advance how he will provide for me – for friends, rewarding activities, replacements for all the things that make my life here so rich. That is not trust. Indeed it speaks of a deep suspicion, an unwillingness to believe that God is going to be faithful to his promises, and I am ashamed to recognise it in my heart.

The whole of scripture reveals an active God, one who has a plan – both a great overall strategy and an intimate personal plan for the lives of the individuals caught up in it. Think of the wonderful story of Ruth, called out of her native land to become a mother and grandmother within the people of Israel, and part of the blood-line not only of King David, but also our great King Jesus himself. She needed to be cherished and provided for as a woman in her society, and God brought Boaz to be her husband, meeting both the intimate personal needs and the larger plan he was steadily working out. Or consider Hannah, a faithful but barren wife – mocked and demeaned by her neighbours and suffering deeply for her lack of children. God heard her prayer for a son, and filled her arms and her heart with joy; but he also brought into the nation the boy who would become one of the greatest prophet leaders, Samuel, who would anoint first Saul and then David as king.

I need to remind myself of these promises, these stories, of God active to meet personal needs within his great plan, as our family faces upheaval and I wonder what I am to do in our new place of ministry. God’s great plan remains – to call a people to himself, to make disciples of all nations and to see all things gathered together under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is astonishing to think that I have a part to play in that adventure, but it is for this that I was created new in Christ, and God has planned good works which he will enable me to do for him!

But on a personal level too, I will have things to do, new relationships to establish, people to encourage and serve, new ways to serve and glorify the God who has called me out of darkness into his glorious light! Will I not trust him to reveal those to me in his own good time? I want to close with words which I first heard through Elisabeth Elliott – a woman who learnt to trust God through great suffering – and which although archaic to our ears yet convey that sense of waiting in trust that God will direct my steps in his own, good, time.

From an old English parsonage, down by the sea

there came in the twilight a message to me;

Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,

Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.

And on through the hours the quiet words ring like a low inspiration –

“Do the next thing.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,

Many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,

Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.

Fear not tomorrows, child of the King, trust them with Jesus,

“Do the next thing.”

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;

do it reliantly, casting all care;

do it with reverence, tracing His Hand

who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence, safe’neath his wing, leave all resultings,

“Do the next thing.”

Looking to Jesus, ever serener

(Working or suffering) be thy demeanour,

In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,

The light of His countenance be thy psalm,

Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing, then as He beckons thee

“Do the next thing.”

(author unknown) 

But what am I, a mere mortal ?

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars that you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?

(Ps 8. 3&4)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

(Eph 2. 10)

Breathtaking, isn’t it? And I am not just referring to the picture – sunset over the Lake of Galilee, a symphony of colour and grandeur! We rightly wonder at the diversity, majesty and beauty of the creation around us, and revere the Creator whose power and unsearchable wisdom brought it all into being. But even more, we should be struck dumb at the realisation that in the great story of creation, the human race was the pinnacle, all was brought into being in order to give us a home, a place to share with one another and above all one which would reveal God’s greatness to us as we shared fellowship with him.

The great narrative of scripture puts us in pride of place at the climax of creation, the only beings which God created to reflect his character, and into which he breathed life. We know very well that our rebellion against our loving God led us out of fellowship with him, that the image in us was scarred almost beyond recognition, and the world around us was broken by our sin. And yet, in spite of all this, the bible is adamant that our proper place remains as the crown of creation, the apple of God’s eye, his greatest handiwork.

From the moment when God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin and spelled out its consequences, his plan was being revealed, a rescue plan, and one which would result in even greater glory to God than if we had never sinned, never needed saving! It takes a great craftsman to produce a work of art, and an even greater one to take a desperately flawed and spoiled thing and make of it something beautiful and useful. Our God is the great craftsman, the one for whom nothing is too broken to be restored to wholeness, and for whom no amount of painstaking labour is too much.

How is it that we can be made beautiful again, restored to bearing the image of God and sharing fellowship with him? It is all his work, and all through the way in which we are united with Jesus by God when we trust in the power of his death to wipe away our sin. As Paul says earlier in that chapter of Ephesians :- ” So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness towards us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed.” (Eph 2.8)

Praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for his saving power, and his great love, which he pours out on us, so that we may live new lives, free from the guilt and power of sin! What good news we have to share of an Eternal Father’s love, a Saviour’s blood to cleanse and a Holy Spirit’s power active in our lives to make the fact of our new nature more and more a daily reality.

As I allow the truth revealed in the bible to soak into my mind, applying it like a filter to every view of life, I will see things more and more the way God sees them. This is the transforming of my mind, my thoughts, so that I am increasingly aligned with the unseen realities, with the truths which underlie our lives instead of the lies and myths which our culture imposes on us. The devil would love to keep me blind to the truth, hobbled by a sense of my own past failures, and present weakness; to keep me doubting God and afraid to ask for his help because I fear that he really doesn’t care about me. I need to keep on returning my gaze to the stars, the heavens above and the wonders all around, and saying to myself:- “Lord, your handiwork is great, I am humbled by your power and majesty, but I choose to believe that in Christ, I am a masterpiece in your hands, that you look upon me with delight, and that I have purpose and a place in this world and in your family.”