Monthly Archives: September 2016

Choose life!

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

(Deuteronomy 30.19&20; 32.3&4)

I have  been listening to the early books of the Old Testament as an audiobook, read by one of Britain’s most respected actors – himself a devout Christian. It has been wonderful to receive the word in this way, and sometimes a phrase has jumped out with particular impact. This time it was those words ‘ for the Lord is your life..’

Moses, as God’s prophet and the one who stood between the inconstant Israelites and their jealous God, is pleading with them in his last days as their leader, to choose life, to choose to faithfulness to God. He has poured out his life in their care, leading them according to God’s guiding word, out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the brink of Canaan’s promised bounty, and back again into the desert. He will see the land, but not enter it, because the burden of leadership on one occasion was too much even for him, and he dishonoured God. How he must have yearned over them, longing that he might have assurance of their future obedience, even as believing parents long to see their children grow up into true personal faith in Christ.

By this time, Moses could have no illusions about the capacity of this people to forget all that God had done and to choose other paths to follow, other gods to worship. Nonetheless, he obeys God, and sets out before them the terms of the covenant relationship, reminding them of all God’s wonderful provision for their race, of all the promises of blessing which were to come. And he reminds them of the consequences of breaking the covenant, in the most horrific details.

God would not hold Moses responsible for the future disobedience of this people, because Moses had been a faithful servant, proclaiming God’s message, living out for them the words he spoke. Moses’ exclusion from Canaan was for his own particular failure, not the repeated disobedience of the people he led. There is some comfort here for those in leadership – whether parents in a family, or individuals in a church family  – as we are reminded that a person’s destiny is ultimately a matter between themselves and God. As leaders, we must proclaim truth, we are not held accountable for what others do with our message.

But the way in which we tell the message will have an impact. We can be sure that Moses’ words were heard with greater weight because everyone who heard them knew the story of his dedication to their people and his life of service. And this service had not been merely with his mind and body, but with his heart. He had been passionately committed to seeing them through many trials, allowing his heart to be wrung over and over again. Moses had not only led the people, he had loved the people, and surely it is that love which made his final words to them hit home so powerfully.

Do I allow myself to love those to whom I am called to bring the word of God’s love, his offer of salvation, his equally certain promise of judgement to come? Does my life demonstrate the commitment to their well-being which Moses showed to the people he led? I wonder if this is, in part at least, what the apostle Paul meant when he said that the gifts of oratory, or wisdom and prophecy, of faith and sacrificial giving are worth nothing if there is no love.

If, after loving and serving them, weeping and rejoicing with them, I tell people of the faith I have, and of the promise which is for them too, then are they not more likely to listen as I plead with them to choose life? To choose the Lord, who alone is life and hope and health for our souls?

May I be given strength and courage to love, so that when I speak, I may be heard, and God’s word will bear fruit in other lives – to their blessing and his glory!

Take a deep breath…

Trust in the Lord and do good…Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires..

Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you….be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

(Psalm 37. 3,4,5,7, 23&24)

Have you ever found yourself in the privileged position of holding the hand of a small child while out on a walk, or trip to the park? Without thinking, in pure trust, the hand is given and you as the adult are able to guide, steady, reassure and if necessary rescue the little one from the hazards which may be encountered.

Look again at that line of the psalm – “they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” And say it to yourself over and over… yes, I will stumble or trip; yes, I may be faced by some apalling obstacle or fearsome foe.. BUT my Lord holds my hand, he is beside me, and he is supremely capable of dealing with everything which I may encounter! And everytime I do stumble, I prove once again his readiness to assist and strengthen me, pulling me out from the hazard and reassuring me so that I can go on. What a tender picture of our Father’s love and of the wonderful grounds we have for trusting him in all circumstances.

But perhaps you sometimes suffer from the same problem as I do – you forget that you are held….

I am ashamed to think how often I allow myself to get into a dreadful state of dread, panic or even despair, surrendering hope of deliverance, and wallowing in a morbid self-pity for my sad condition. I fix my eyes on whatever the problem may be – and therein lies the problem, where my eyes are!!

Recently I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night, heart-pounding, sweating, and generally not good… I tried to pray for others who I knew might be in need – sick friends, missionaries who would already be up and doing – anyone, as a distraction from the dreadful roller-coaster of thoughts which were rushing through my head. I didn’t exactly win the battle, but in his mercy, God gave me sleep again, so that my body had a chance to rest and gather strength. And as the following day proceeded, my feelings relaxed, a small hope began to gather – like the cloud the size of a man’s hand which preceeded the coming rains in the day of Elijah. I was given the gift of being still and trusting that God would act; of waiting to see what he would do. I was able to set my feelings to one side, and live the day on the basis of truth about my God, taking it moment by moment and not anticipating the unknown and so easily fearful future.

I am held, constantly, by one who loves me and knows me better than anyone else. I need not be ashamed of telling him all my fears, confessing the doubts that assail me, the terror of facing what feels like too much responsibility. It is his hand, his strength which should be my confidence, not my own. And – which is the most comforting thing – even when I am in a mess entirely of my own making, he is still holding me, and still able to keep me from going down under it!

So this is my prayer for myself this week, perhaps it may help you too:-

Dearest Father, behold your daughter, in her need, her foolishness, the muddle of her own making.

Have mercy upon her, even as you promise faithfully to do.

Grant her that childlike confidence which faces every hurdle so long as her hand is in yours – for your grip on her is unshakeable.

She is trusting you for the little details of her little life, because to her they are not small, and in the night they become overwhelming, terrifying foes, devouring sleep and peace.

Let her be still, let her breathe deeply of the wholesome airs of your truth, so that her soul might be restored, her trust renewed, and she might wait patiently to see your hand at work in her life.

Let her be again as a little child, in your mercy Lord, grant her peace.

Can I help you?

So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.

So let’s do  it – full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10.19-25, The Message)

So I sometimes – often?! – get discouraged about life, about God’s work and the apparently impenetrable resistance of the people around me to any interest in the good news of the gospel.

I know that I am blessed beyond measure to be one of God’s children, to stand before him as beloved, cleansed, with hope and a future, purpose in life’s journey and glory to come. I know the power of that truth to lighten my dark days, strengthen my nerve in persevering service, and bring joy in every circumstance. I know that this is the best news anyone ever heard, that it is life-transforming and life-giving.

When I join with others in praise of Jesus, celebrating his character, his redeeming work and glorious triumph over sin, I am healed, my perspective on this world and all its trouble is restored. To be given fresh glimpses of the depths of love which are for me, reminded of the price that was paid, and the security of my hope.. all these things are precious beyond telling. And yet still, to my shame, I become discouraged.

It is surely good and right that we – as Jesus’ followers – long to see others responding to his love, so that his name might be made greater, and that their lives might share the blessings which are so abundantly ours! The writer to the Hebrew church reminds them of the truth about who they are in Christ – a blood-bought people, with free access to God’s throne; a people whom he delights in. These truths, combined with the promises of an utterly faithful God, are the basis for our life and witness. We have treasures to share, both with each other and with those who as yet do not believe.

I am relieved that the writer does not scold the readers for a lack of enthusiasm, but rather exhorts them on the basis of wonderful realities to find a new courage and energy for the work their Lord has given them. Some translations use words which imply a degree of reluctance on the part of the readers to be up and doing – one does not have to spur on a horse which is already galloping as fast as it can!! Perhaps the readers of the letter to the Hebrews were suffering from discouragement, even as we do, seeing the scale of the opposition and losing heart. It is fatally easy to see the task ahead in light of our own strength instead of God’s strength, and to assume that we can do nothing about it!

So how can we be ‘inventive’ in provoking one another into action, in stirring one another up to be loving and active for the sake of the gospel?

I believe that one of the most powerful ways we can do this for each other, is to share with one another the stories of God’s activities – in our lives, and those of others. I regularly attend a mission prayer meeting, and while there are plenty of needs to bring before God, we are always encouraged by the number of answers to prayer – often miraculous in our eyes, and always demonstrating that God is indeed powerful and wise. He knows and meets the needs of his people, and he can call men and women to himself in the most astonishing ways.

So my challenge for myself, is to be more conscious of God’s direct action in my life – what can I tell my friends of his goodness to me this week? How can I encourage them – not by boasting of special blessings, but by reminding them through my story that our God is good and great and faithful?

Lord, give us clear sight, to recognise your hand at work, your daily blessings and moment-by-moment grace. Let us take heart and encourage one another on our journey in faithful service of you, our almighty God.

Inaccessible light

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

O Lord my God, how great you are!

You are robed with honour and majesty. You are dressed in a robe of light.

You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens; you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.

You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind. The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!

May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104 1-4,33&34)

Dressed in a robe of light…What an amazing picture, and one which takes me straight to the opening lines of Walter C Smith’s wonderful hymn with which I grew up –

Immortal, Invisible, God only wise; In light inaccesible, hid from our eyes…. 

We live as created beings with a great hunger in our hearts for something or someone greater than ourselves, something eternal from which we can find meaning in the world and on which we can build with what we have. The bible reflects this hunger in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer speaks of how he pursued every imaginable source of satisfaction in life, in vain. All was ultimately meaningless and unable to quench the hunger in his heart.

Through the great narrative of the bible stories, we see God revealing himself as the only true satisfaction for humankind, and declaring over and over his deep desire to dwell with us, his people. Our creator knows how we are made, knows that only in relationship with him can we be at peace and fully alive. And yet surely it is also true that we can never really know him. By definition, our God is so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. If we could understand everything about God, then we would be the creators, not he. We hunger to know him more, to discover more of his character, and yet find ourselves unable to stretch our minds enough to cope!

So we have to live with this tension and not allow it to undermine our faith in God’s love, goodness, holiness and faithfulness to us.

We cannot see him clearly; he is indeed wrapped in light, as in a garment. We are dazzled and blinded and unable to see past the glory of his holiness and purity, our minds cannot comprehend his greatness – one who by his word called into being billions of stars, and set in motion forces which we are only beginning to guess at, creating the conditions for life to exist and flourish on this single tiny planet of one star.

How wonderful to find that God, in his compassion for our limitations, came in person, came as one of us, so that we might see and hear him, learn to know him as a man, so that our confidence in him as God might be strengthened. Jesus tells his disciples that since they have seen him, they have seen their heavenly Father, they can know what he is like. So much remains a mystery to us, so many questions arising from our sin-sick world and all the suffering which has scarred God’s beautiful handiwork. What do we do with those unanswerable questions? What did Job do with his? He brought them to God, and was answered – not with a detailed list of explanations, but with a fresh vision of God’s greatness, a reminder that he is ultimately beyond our understanding and utterly good and holy.

Then Job replied to the Lord:”I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked,’who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know..” (Job 42.1-3)

The psalmist contemplates the greatness of God in creation, rejoicing in all he sees and in the knowledge that this same creator God is the one who is his God – the one who has promised to be with us and for us! We have the testimony of creation, but also the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, revealing God to us and inviting us into that personal, fulfilling relationship which is our true satisfaction.

May our thoughts about God indeed be pleasing to him, as we worship what we can see and know; and accept that the mysteries which remain are good and right, and our God can be trusted. He is hidden in light, not darkness, and worthy of all our praise and honour!