Monthly Archives: July 2016

Getting to know me…

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5.18-20)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speed; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

(Psalm 19.1-4)

David, the shepherd boy, the giant slayer, and beloved king of Israel, is also described in the second book of Samuel, as “the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs. The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.” (2Sam 23.1)

The gift of song-writing was given to David as part of God’s great plan to bless the whole world through his chosen nation, although his people probably valued his military and leadership skills more highly while he was alive! David’s songs, left to us in the collection of Psalms, are the word of God to us just as surely as the words of the books of law, history and prophecy. He knew that this gift came from God, and that what he was doing was of eternal power and significance.

More than that, David knew that they were songs, not just poems or words to be spoken. He knew that music has a divine power to drive truth into the human heart, and to release human sorrow, joy and gladness, bringing healing and wholeness to the singers. Modern research simply confirms what singers have always known – it is good for you! We feel physically better, but also emotionally better, when we sing. And as followers of Jesus, we have much to sing about.

We join in the song of creation, adding our voices to those of the heavens in praising our maker. We sing with all the ransomed souls around the world, adoring the one who loves us enough to become human and even to die so that we might live with him. And we also follow David’s example in singing about our griefs, our struggles with injustice and oppression, with the sheer wanton destruction caused by evil in the heart of mankind.

Our new congregation has for some years held a weekly Songs of Praise event during the summer months, open to all and giving us the chance to sing the sun down on a Sunday evening. Although it can seem a bit daunting to go out again after two services, it is in fact such a sweet and wholesome time of fellowship together and well worth the effort. No preparation is required, our accompanist can play literally every song in the book, so folk just call out what they would like to sing and away we go!

At the close of the service last week, my neighbour turned to me and said, “That’s a bad cold you’ve got!” I replied that it was no cold which had caused me to blow my nose and wipe my eyes so frequently, but rather the emotions which our songs had brought. One after another celebrating the awesome sacrifice of Jesus; His tender love for us; our sure hope – through all trouble – of glory to come; our shame at our sin and thankfulness for forgiveness, cleansing and transformation; affirmations of our own vows to follow and serve him and him alone. It had been a night of floodgates opening in my heart, and I was utterly drained and profoundly thankful.

I hope that my new congregation will quickly accustom themselves to the sight of their minister’s wife in floods of tears, because it happens so often! I cannot sing of my Lord and his love without being deeply moved, and how can I not show it? Perhaps my own tears – sometimes of joy, sometimes of sorrow, sometimes of homesickness for heaven –  will help others around me to freely express their feelings and enrich our times of worshipping God together.

I am not ashamed of my Lord, and I will not be ashamed of the depth of emotion which he stirs in my heart. Let us all rejoice in his praise, and join the glory of the heavens in lifting his name high!

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Solomon…in all his glory

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 

And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

(Matthew 6.28-30)

Solomon…a name which conjures up images of wealth, splendour and majesty on a scale which was never duplicated in the history of Israel. He was the King who carried his nation to giddy heights of prosperity and influence, achieving great fame for his building projects, his wealth and also for his understanding and wisdom.

Wisdom and wealth, two things which we aspire to, thinking that in them we will find security and peace. And yet here we find Jesus dismissing Solomon’s greatness as nothing beside the fleeting yet breath-taking beauty of the flowers  growing wild in the hills of Galilee. Jesus’ words give the idea that God himself has designed the colours, shapes and textures of every flower with just the same care as the most exacting fashion designer. It is God’s infinitely creative nature which is at work all around us, revelling in the possibilities, and improbabilities that he has at his disposal.

The bible teaches that all of creation, all that we have discovered and are yet to learn about our world and the incredible cosmic context within which it is held, everything was made to provide humanity – the pinnacle of God’s handiwork – with a home, a place to belong and to share with him. How easily we dismiss such thoughts, forgetting to take time to wonder at what has been made for us to receive from our loving Father. Every single part of this creation bears the fingerprint of the maker, reflects his character and expresses his inherent qualities. He has literally taken limitless trouble to provide for us – and has delighted to do so.

In the same way that a master craftsman will take great pains with even those parts of a design which are unseen, because the perfection of the whole depends on that inner integrity: so also our God has seen fit to bestow his detailed attention on the humblest elements of the world he has made for us. It all matters.

And so, Jesus makes his point to the listening group, do we! In fact it is clear from the words he uses that he is trying very hard to make them realise how much more we matter than these other beautiful things.

The wealth and wisdom of Solomon did not prevent him from losing sight of the truth about God, that he must reign alone in our hearts, and we must never place a higher value upon anything else. In time, that great monarch would permit the worship of other gods, and it is sadly recorded that he followed his many wives in such idolatry – surely a warning to us to be alert to our own particular tendencies to rely on ‘other gods’.

Nothing on earth, and no one in the world will ever, or can ever, love us like God does. So why do we so readily value anything else above him? Why do we chase after even modest wealth, and pursue wordly wisdom – the latest techniques for self-improvement, for making friends and influencing people, the best ways to resist ageing and fight disease?! The list of alternatives to God’s ways is very long, we are forever adding to it, and losing sight again of the truth. The truth as revealed in our world, and ultimately in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is that God cares passionately about us, and we can and must trust him passionately, the only one who really cares about our lives.

Let these diamonds, strewn liberally over the wayside flower yesterday morning by the rain, remind me of the riches which God has in store, and which are freely available in Christ – forgiveness, new life, hope for the future, strength for today, and a joy in living which surpasses all that wealth and wordly wisdom can supply.

We are so much richer than Solomon…in all his glory, let’s enjoy it, and thank our bountiful God for all his grace!

Such good news!

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
 Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

 “Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
 See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
 You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

 Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
 Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

It has been a long week..last Sunday we had our last meal together as a family in Glasgow, and by Tuesday evening, we were in the new house, surrounded by boxes, shell-shocked but thankful for all the mercies which had attended our removal. Beautifully dry weather, exemplary removal men, and a house which was clean and ready for us to move into – thanks to the efforts of our new congregation in finishing off the alterations and getting a superlative team of cleaners on the job!

I have been unable to think straight, to contemplate much beyond the next box and where to bestow its contents, my body manifesting the stress through pain and a weariness I have never experienced before. It is at times like this that faith is a matter of just keeping going, trusting that our feelings are transient, and not the grounds of our salvation or God’s love for us! I have been hard to live with, and yet my faithful Lord has been ever present, tenderly bearing with my weakness and helping me recognise my blessings! I am so grateful for his patience and covenanted love for me in such circumstances.

Last night, my husband and our new congregation made promises to love and serve our great God together in this place, in mutual love and faithfulness – a solemn and joyous occasion, like a marriage ceremony in its formal vows made before God. We admit that this is not about feelings, it is a commitment of the will, made in obedience to God; made in trust that by his power, we will keep faith with him and one another in the days ahead. It was good to sing, pray and hear God’s word together, including these from Isaiah, a triumphant declaration by God about the power and priceless treasure which is his word to us.

Since I have been unable to think coherently enough to write for myself this week, I leave you with the words of God through the prophet, because it is his word, and the power of God through that word which is good news for our own lives and also the work to which we are all called. We obey, but it is God who is at work, and we look forward in this place to seeing how his word will bear fruit in lives transformed by his love and forgiveness.

Rough and steep….

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going..It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.

(Hebrews 11. 8&11)

When we make a promise, a commitment before God, we cannot know in what ways he may choose to test that promise, or what circumstances will try us. We promise to do things not because we believe we will always feel like doing them, but because they are the right things to do. When I professed faith in Jesus, and made promises as a new member of my congregation, I committed myself to certain actions – prayer; bible study; joining in worship; giving of my resources – not to nebulous feelings of connection with my fellow believers!

We did not put conditions on our promise, it was absolute, and made in good faith – made because we believed that it was what God was asking us to do at that time. Our promise was our obedient response to God’s leading, just as Abraham obeyed God’s call to set out for a new land. That act of obedience was like a promise to trust, to follow, and to accept God’s plan for his life.

The path of obedience for Abraham took him to some dangerous places – involving both physical danger to himself, but also moral danger. Twice we see him fall into the temptation of denying that Sara is his wife, instead of trusting God to protect their marriage and thus fulfill his word that the child of promise would be their own son. I cannot judge Abraham for his failures, because I too may find myself in difficult and unwelcome places in the course of keeping my promises, and seeking to live in obedience to God’s call on my life.

What do I do when obedience finds me in a situation which fills me with fear, or hopelessness? How do I react when the logical explanation of my difficulties is that I have utterly failed, and not acted wisely or in a godly way? Does this mean that God has lost, or forgotten me? Does he not know my need, my weakness and my longing for relief from my distress?

It may well be that, like Abraham, I have made a tricky situation into a really bad one by making some wrong decisions, and often that may be due to losing our sense of God’s greatness and power to achieve his ends. But surely the story of Abraham also demonstrates very clearly that God keeps his promises, in spite of our failures to follow through on our own commitments.

What a relief, to know that my failures, my wrong decisions, do not make God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to me somehow invalid. The mess I find myself in may be partly of my own making, but it does not put me beyond God’s reach. I am also encouraged to know that God does not want me to give up on my own commitment to obedience, to fulfilling my vows to him. He sees my failures, sees how discouraged I get by the struggle it can be, and says,”Child, I know, you are sore and distressed by your own failures. Receive the forgiveness I offer, let my love wash away that stain and ease the ache of regret. Now, rest, and then we will go on together; I know you can do this, and you will!”

God kept faith with Abraham, as he will with me.

He knows my heart’s desire is to do his will, and that – although I fail so often – I want to trust his power in my life to sustain and enable me to do that.

There is a very old chorus that came to mind recently, which I will quote to finish today, and hope that you find it encouraging as I did.

When the road is rough and steep, fix your eyes upon Jesus;

He alone has power to keep, fix your eyes upon him.

Jesus is our gracious friend, one on whom we can depend;

He is faithful to the end, fix your eyes upon him!

Just keep walking..

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 8.12)

I love to walk. I like to walk around new places, getting a feel of them by pounding the streets, hearing the voices and traffic, letting the smells and sights inform and enrich my experience. I like to walk with friends, to share time with them as we go together through parkland or by riverbank, or even just up the road to church. I like to run too, but due to persistent injury, that activity is forbidden for the present, and so the energy which I would normally expend in running is being channeled into walking as a way of relaxing!

One of my favourite times to walk is of an evening, as the light lengthens and the sky often clears to reveal a breath-taking depth of colours. And just as when I walk with friends in the park, it is a time of fellowship and friendship, this time, with the one who is always present, my Lord Jesus. He is my best friend, the one above all others who loves me as I am and delights in all that pleases me. He understands why I have to stop and caress a beautiful bud, smell the freshly opened rose, lift my arms to the stooping boughs of great trees. These things were made to be received with gratitude, and so I love to share them with my Lord, to notice each one as a gift from his love, just for me.

Sometimes, I will leave the house in darkness – the darkness of spirit which comes through sin; through the pain which our most dearly loved can cause us; or through despair as I have been reminded of the extent to which our race choose to reject God and to live without hope in the world.  On those walks, there may well be tears, there will be half-formed laments and protests against the agony I am feeling. But even as I walk, weep and talk, with my Lord, there will always be that profound assurance of presence. He never leaves me to walk alone in the darkness, never…

And his presence is light in my darkness; is it not the only thing which makes our struggles bearable, to know that we are not alone? And is it not true that even our greatest joys are somehow enhanced when we share them with someone who understands and loves us? What a blessing then, to have his constant presence bringing comfort for my pain, and enriching my life by receiving my thanks for all the good things I receive!

By the light of his presence, the darkness is put into perspective, and I am reminded that I cannot see the whole picture, nor know the end of the story. His loving light shows me the sin that remains in my own life, reminding me of the cause of all the darkness and cautioning me against judging others when I am so weak myself. And above all, the light of Christ is the love of God the Father for me, his redeemed child – that love which paid the ultimate price to make me his daughter. When I remember that loving sacrifice, then I can be sure that even the deepest darkness in the world around, or in my spirit can never separate me from him. I may not understand, I may deplore my circumstances and the evil done in the world. But in the light of his presence, I can rest, sure that one day I will go home to be forever with my Lord, and all justice will be done, to the glory of God and the praise of his name.

There is an old song which expresses that deep conviction of my Lord’s constant loving presence, and I will finish today with some words from it to get you singing.

I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever men may say;

I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

(H.A. Rodeheaver.1961)