Monthly Archives: October 2016

Food for the journey..

A feast of joy unspeakable is spread, by him who is himself the living bread, A place for hungry souls is now prepared, a life of endless glory to be shared.

Yet places at this feast were dearly bought when Jesus Christ came down and souls were  sought, and found and saved by his own precious blood, to make our peace with heaven’s holy God.

That gentle hand, once pierced, will pour the wine, the liquid life of love our souls refine, in heaven’s hall of wonders still to come, when God in matchless mercy brings us home.

And there, together saved by lavish grace, the room ablaze with light from Jesus’ face, and every trace of sin and darkness gone, we’ll sing the praise of God’s all-radiant Son.

(Malcolm Macgregor: sung to ‘Ellers’ by EJ Hopkins)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

(1 Corinthians 11.23-26)

It is just a year since we first suspected that we ought to be seriously considering the call to come to this remote part of Scotland, and came to visit the area, the church and manse and meet with a few of the members. Only twelve months, during which time our lives have changed profoundly, and God has demonstrated his faithfulness and tenderness time and again in providing for our needs and giving us strength and peace through the changes.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Lord’s supper in the most northerly of our three church buildings, remembering together what Jesus did for us on the cross, and taking time to give thanks again; to receive strength for the next stage of our journy; and take courage that whatever the world may say of or to us, we have complete assurance of our eternal destination.

It is such a simple act, a bit of bread, a cup of wine (or grape juice!), shared by a miscellaneous bunch of people in a remote corner of Scotland. And yet a profound act. A deliberate act of remembering what was done for us, by  God’s son, the perfect one, who alone could die the death we should have died, in order that we might live. An action which we take with fellow believers, a statement of unity and belonging that transcends every possible barrier of age, gender, race, and which links us with all who have gone before. We are ONE in Christ, and that bond goes deeper than any other. These people, whom I as yet barely know, are my people, and we belong together.

And it is an action that looks forward, as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians – we do this according to Jesus’ own command, to declare his death for us ‘until he comes.’ A day is coming, when we will share in a glorious feast of communion, a celebration of Jesus Christ, with him at the head of the table, and with all our travails behind us for ever. In his promises we have hope, and his grasp on us is the foundation of our faith, not our hold on him which is weakened by circumstances and our own frailties. Glory be to God, who has given us this sign which we share, remembering the past, celebrating the present and straining with hope towards the future.

We sang the words which I quoted above in our service last Sunday, and I was moved to sweet tears – of joy, of hope and longing for that holy feast. He has done it all; His lavish grace has rescued and restored us, and keeps in store a life rich beyond our imagining  So when we come to the table, let us come with joy and be filled again with love for one another and for those who are yet to believe, that we might proclaim the Lord’s death with pride until he comes!

Advertisements

Worth losing?

Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is  more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…

(Philippians 3.7&8)

A picture of a cake.. which may seem odd given the text I have quoted above, but there is a connection! The cake was inspired by one made by a very good and generous friend when I last visited her, and so represents hospitality, love, years of friendship and support – as well as a celebration of our time together. Most of us have many such reasons for celebration – in our spouses and families, our health, our friends and the many good things which God lavishly bestows on us daily. It is always good to give thanks for such gifts, lest we begin to take them for granted and fail to appreciate them.

But if we are to follow the apostle Paul in the particular part of this letter to the young church in Philippi, he is arguing that all the good things he has received in his life are worth giving up without a second thought, if by that means he might grow in his union with his beloved Lord Jesus. This is a challenge which I think we spend our lives working out in practice, as we experience gains and losses, and watch others struggling to cope with their own griefs. It is one thing to say boldly, that ‘Christ is enough for me’, but quite another to put that into daily action, when facing the loss to death of a beloved husband or wife, or the brutal impact of disease or injury upon our own bodies and our capacity for independent living.

The great Scottish preacher and letter writer, Samuel Rutherford spent prolonged spells in exile from his parish, closely confined, unable to receive visitors and forbidden to preach. His writings from that time speak of his grief at these losses, but also breathe his sweet delight in the presence of his Saviour, and his satisfaction in considering the loveliness of Christ. Rutherford learnt to say with Paul that so long as he had Christ, he would be content.

Do I live in such a way that I am not looking to any human being for fulfillment of my deepest needs? Am I so aware that every day, every breath, is a gift from God, that I would be able to give up physical health and freedom if He required them of me? These are very hard questions, and I am glad that we are not allowed to see our future days, not to know what sacrifices we will be called to make until the time comes. It is not for me to worry about how I might cope if these things happened to me, but rather to focus here and now on living ever closer to my Lord, and trusting that he will be sufficient for me when the day comes. We are not called to deal in advance with such burdens, but to carry those of today with as much grace and cheerfulness as we can.

If I can learn to hold all my daily blessings on an open hand, as one offering them back to the giver, then I will not depend on them for my fulfillment and contentment. This certainly does not mean that I fail to appreciate these good things, that would be to waste the gifts of my loving Father! Rather it means that I must learn to look more and more through the gifts to the giver, to see that in them, I receive his love, perceive his greatness and the unfathomable beauty of his character.

God must become more and more the centre of my life. Jesus is the lover of my soul, my heavenly bridegroom, my redeemer and friend. All the human relationships which enrich my life are simply pale imitations of the richest relationship of all – between the church and her head, Christ, who loved her so much that he gave up his life for her.

I believe that when God calls me to let something precious go – as when my parents died some years ago – he is calling me into a closer relationship and satisfaction with himself. In God, I find the truest father and mother-love, meeting those deep needs which my human parents could never touch. I can give thanks for all they were and did, and rejoice that now they are with the Lord whom they loved. But I need not fret for myself, because my God knows and meets my longings to be loved as a child again.

He is so gracious, so gentle, so compassionate.. Let us cling ever closer to him, and be content with whatever is left to us so long as we have Christ as our own!

And by the way…

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

(1Thessalonians 5.23&24)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1.3-6)

I think I have written before about how I have been blest throughout my christian life by teachers who believe that all of scripture is God-breathed and necessary to my growth in faith and godliness. I am thankful to them for their faithfulness in helping me to study unattractive texts, and learning how to hear God’s voice as I read lists in Numbers, and gloomy, violent curses in the minor prophets!

But there are bits of the bible which I find much easier to learn from than others – namely the Psalms, and the apostolic letters in the new testament (basically everything after the book of Acts, but possibly not Revelation!). The writers of the letters to the young churches were urgent and focussed in their messages, and every phrase counts. The letter to the church in Rome is perhaps the ‘meatiest’ in that it requires careful reading and thought to follow all Paul’s reasoning. Some of the others are more direct and even pithy, as the authors fire out clear instructions to the young believers about how to live godly lives, to recognise and deal with heresy, and to bear witness under severe persecution.

I love instructions, for every area of life! I am the person who is most unhappy when faced with a responsibility or task for which she can find no ‘this is how to do it right’ kind of manual, so it is perhaps understandable that these relatively short letters appeal to me so much. Of course, the fact that the instructions are so clear does not mean that they are easy to fulfill – how many of us can truthfully say that we are always ‘alert and self-controlled’, or that we always ‘live in peace with each other’? But these types of writings do help us enormously to see what christian love should look like, when lived out with God’s help, in our daily lives. They help us to put high-sounding sentiment into hard demanding action, dealing with the sometimes brutal realities of life for ourselves and other people.

In his letter to the very young church in Thessalonica, Paul has been principally concerned to encourage and strengthen them in the face of persecution, and self-doubt, and the whole tone of the writing is full of wonderful affection for the new believers whom he had to abandon so early in their growth in faith. The latter half of the final chapter however is an almost breathless list of things which Paul asks them to do. One can almost picture the apostle realising that he has only limited space or time left in which to complete his writing, and so his thought becomes concentrated on the really important things he wants to say – and how briefly he can say them!

After firing out ‘respect those who work hard among you;‘ and ‘help the weak, be patient with everyone‘, he goes on to even briefer and harder hitting phrases, ‘ be joyful always‘, ‘test everything‘ and ‘avoid every kind of evil‘. We are left almost breathless, and certainly rather daunted by the weight behind his bullet points! Who could ever hope to keep up this level of perfection in the daily battle of following Jesus in a world which rejects him, where the remnant of sin in our own selves so easily drags us off course?

And so the great apostle suddenly changes tack, the whole tone of the writing changes again, as his compassion for his audience swells up and he remembers that they – like himself – are still frail human creatures, easily discouraged and vulnerable to despair. He launches into a great prayer to God on their behalf, a prayer which puts all the burden back where it belongs, into the hands of their Creator, Redeemer, Father and Lord. It is God who is called to make them perfect – to ‘sanctify them’ and to make sure that when Jesus returns, they are still safe within his grasp.

We are called to the utmost effort in loving obedience, but it is God who is responsible for creating perfection in us – what a relief! And what joy and peace there is for us in those wonderful words, ‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!’ 

Amen Lord, so let it be!

A renewing draught..

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something in it. 

For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him.

Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us.

(1John 3.18-24: The Message)

One of the wonderful things about the human race is the variety of characters, as well as looks. God never runs out of ideas and new ways to combine the elements to create another unique individual, born to reflect him in their own way in the world. Unfortunately, since we live between the coming of sin into the world, and the return of Jesus, and the remaking of all things, we live also with the brokenness of the human race, with character traits which can be debilitating and even destructive.

God’s message of salvation, and the power he sets loose in our lives is transformative, and down the centuries, his people have testified to the ways their faults and besetting sins have been dealt with. But few are perfect before they die!

Some suffer – and I believe it is the right word – from tremendous self-confidence, a dangerous quality, and one which makes it hard to fully depend upon God and truly live in fellowship with other believers – accepting their love and assistance with humility and grace. Others – of whom I am one – suffer from a terribly tender conscience! We are the ones who take even the slightest rebuke in any sermon as a personal message, and spend the remainder of the service deaf and blind in our misery and regret over the sin we think we have identified.

We know perfectly well that no one sees the reality of our hearts, so that the counsel and encouragement of fellow believers is powerless to dispel the gloom – ‘If you only knew!’ is our cry, and we hang our heads before God, despairing of ever living lives fit to bear witness to him. We see the greatness of the sins, both things done wrong and good things not done, and forget so easily the utterly sufficient death of Christ to cover them. We blame ourselves for failing God, who has surely deserved better of us, and despise our weakness and continued inability to live in the peace, joy and hope which we know our sure salvation has brought us.

So John writes to such people in his letter, giving them a sure way to deal with the problem – to practice real love; to seek the ultimate good of others in all our dealings with them, and to put all our resources to that end. If we love like this says John, then we are obeying God, and there is nothing to fear, nothing to hold us back from enjoying all the gifts God has to give us. It is surely significant for such introspective souls that to truly love others, requires us to stop dwelling on our own misery and start thinking about other people instead!

As this lovely Message translation puts it; “For God is greater than our worried hearts, and knows more about us than we do ourselves.”

We cannot ever see ourselves properly, our vision will always be clouded and vulnerable to distortion. So we are called to focus our minds on Christ and his beautiful sufficient atonement; to focus our attention next on those whom God has given us to love; and to trust that as we do these things, God sees the direction we desire to go – the lovely old phrase the ‘inclination of our hearts’. He is glad that we desire to be holy, and by his spirit at work in our lives, he is changing us: we need not worry but rather accept his love and grace-gifts like refreshing water, giving us courage for the next day of living in love for one another.

All glory to him who has saved and is transforming us; what patience, love and tenderness he shows us; may we do likewise for each other!

All the little things

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

(Psalm 95. 1-5))

It has been an ordinary kind of Saturday, no special parties to go to or visitors to entertain; no heart-stopping drama or sporting event to watch. But oh what a day of glory it has been!

A cloudless dawn under a frosty sky, with the sea moving imperceptibly under a polished silver skin. A day of full sunshine, of October heat, with enough breeze to set the white shirts dancing on the washing line, as the late low sunlight glowed through them. A day spent out of doors, digging, painting, sorting out storage and finally putting some plants into the ground ahead of the winter. We drank coffee in the sunshine, and treated ourselves to a carry-out for tea, feeling the tightness in our skin that speaks of a day outdoors in idyllic conditions.

Across the bay, I see the mountains, rearing greenish grey velvet heads against the sky, great dramatically moulded monuments to my creator’s genius. The sea, after days of driving gales and huge waves, is like a silver or brilliant blue blanket, spread gently around the base of the hills and forming the perfect foil to their stark slopes. Closer at hand, the great swathes of bracken which have been invisibly green against the grass all summer have suddenly gone intensely fox-bronze, burning brightly in the sunset.

I continue to be astonished that it should have been our privilege to be called to live and work in a place where this world’s beauty is so lavishly displayed – I feel permanently stuffed with good things! And is it not so often the case that we do not need to look far to find things which speak of God’s greatness in creation, his passion for colour, texture and light, which he has made us able to appreciate and which feed our spirits so deeply? I am profoundly grateful, and delight in knowing to whom I owe my daily debt of thanksgiving!

The habit of recording these daily gifts of good things, received from the Father from whom all such come, has become very precious, creating in me a spirit which looks for and expects to find – in every situation- something to give thanks for. Days like today make it very easy, because although in themselves, none of the events of the day have been noteworthy, yet all the little details have added up to something priceless. I may not remember it all in vivid detail, but it has been very good for me to be fully aware of all that I have received, resting in and relishing every moment.

Sometimes, it will be harder to find something to be grateful for, but the habit of looking has helped me to trust my Father’s faithfulness and grace towards me, as so often even the hard days prove to be full of gifts – whether of the kindness extended to me by others because of my distress, or the relief of bringing the whole horrid mess before my God. At times, there will even be the precious experience of finding an oasis in the midst of trouble, when for whatever reason, the burden lifts, the darkness is pierced by light, and we experience respite, refreshment and heart’s ease. If it were not for the trials, these times would go unnoticed, and we would have missed the chance of learning more about God’s faithfulness to us through every part of life.

Our lives are like a mosaic, so many individual little parts making up a whole, and as yet we cannot see it, we only guess at the final picture which will be unveiled as part of the new creation. But, we can choose whether we take the different pieces from God with confidence, or with fear; trusting the loving Father’s plan or fighting against all he desires to create in us. Today has been a day to build my confidence, a little shiny piece of golden stone which may stand out clearly because it is surrounded by darker pieces – but I will choose again to believe and say with the psalmist:

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

(Psalm 95.6&7)