Monthly Archives: November 2016

Whispers of wings?

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you ; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

(Genesis 12.1-3)

A perfect world, created to give a home to humankind, with whom God in his generous loving kindness has desired to share himself – not that he needs us, but his nature overflows with love, and the delight of the trinity in one another is to be shared with us! And in order that we might fully and freely enter into that love, we are made capable of rejecting it. In our folly, we chose to distrust our God and to put ourselves first.

So the beauty is broken, the relationship is fractured, and humanity learns the hard way that getting what we want is not always the good we expect it to be.. The earliest recorded stories of God’s dealings with humanity show that from the very beginning, he had a plan, an incredible scheme of rescue, which will ultimately bring into being the beautiful and satisfying relationship he always desired for us. Traces of it can be followed, like whispered hints of something wonderful yet hidden, through the old testament narrative, until it finds full expression in the gospels in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son and Saviour himself.

The readings at a Christmas carol service will often trace that thread, going right back to the promise given by God as Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, that the seed or offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – a picture of the victory which would ultimately be won by Christ on the cross, defeating forever the power of evil to separate humanity from God.

The steady focus and continuity of God’s purpose is a source of great encouragement to us, because it shows that he is never deflected from his plans, no matter what it may look like from our limited human perspective. Those who were caught up in the days of the Exodus – the long desert journeys, the threat of starvation and armed attack – had no idea that this part of their corporate history as God’s people would stand for the rest of time as a clear example of God’s power to keep his promises. The Midianite refugee who followed her mother-in-law home and found a welcome, and a new life with Boaz, had no idea that her small acts of love and service were part of the plan of God to create a king, David, who would bless the nation.

With hindsight, we can see that there are hints all along the way, as in the covenant promise made to Abram, that all nations would be blessed through him – through his great descendant, Jesus. But for those living the story as it unfolded, there was no such understanding. They were called to obedience and faith in the world as they could see it, without God’s blueprint for redemption and re-creation in front of them.

How much more should we be willing to serve and obey, since we have that plan, revealed in all its fulness in Jesus himself! God, in his mercy and loving-kindness to a helpless and forlorn humanity, has opened the way for us to come home, and has provided all that we need for the journey. The promise which was only whispered at the beginning, is now trumpeted abroad by the angelic heralds, who proclaim at Christ’s birth that here at last is the Saviour, the Anointed and promised one!

Let us rejoice this Christmas in the goodness of our God, in providing from the very beginning, a way for his estranged people to come home. And let us take heart, in the midst of a world which continues to be wracked by the consequences of sin, that we might be confident that God, who began this great work, will bring it to an end. He is faithful, and calls us only to be obedient in fulfilling our role in his plan. We have good news, the best gift anyone could receive, let us eagerly look for ways to share it in love, with our communities.

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Only let me speak!

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just a it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Romans 1.16-17

Nice people… kind and generous….so welcoming!

Is that all we are, as the body of Christ in the world, ‘Nice’?

Is our desire not to cause offence to our neighbours eroding our ability to speak truth and to share the gospel of Christ? I think it may be doing exactly that. I know that I am so afraid of offending people, of losing their attention, that I am very careful about what I say in regard to my faith and the gospel which is so precious to me. The modern passion for ‘tolerance’ is very effectively gagging Christians in their personal evangelism, and the life of the church is being smothered out of it by the kindly consideration of our neighbours toward our outdated beliefs.

With Christian friends, I can be on fire in my desire to share the good news of sin forgiven; but put me in the swimming pool changing room, with people who don’t recognise sin or who find the idea offensive, and I become a very different person! I believe that my heavenly Father sees my longing to share his love with others, and is glad. But I also reckon that my failure to speak is a source of grief, and one of my besetting sins. It is so much easier to keep putting off the difficult conversations, giving the inoffensive answers. And yet, I wonder if people would actually be surprised if I asked them one day, just what they thought about Jesus?

If I am known as a Christian, then perhaps such a question would not be offensive, just predictable, and fully in keeping with the belief I claim to live by. Perhaps, by failing to ask the question, I am undermining the witness I seek to present, being inconsistent? Is my failure to speak naturally about the Lord of my life not a direct contradiction of my faith?

I need to remember that I am not responsible for the reaction to my question, only for asking it in the first place – and ideally not asking until I have prayed and developed some basis of relationship on which to hold the conversation! But it comes down to this basic issue, put so forcefully by Paul later on in his letter to the church in Rome:

As Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 

(Romans 10.11-14)

If I have found the solid rock on which to build my life, the secure foundation for eternity and a fulness of joy which is beyond telling, then why will I not share it with those around me? I have no right to keep such good news to myself when others are being tossed around me in the storms of life, or towed under into despair and hopelessness, and eternal separation from God, from goodness, from light.

As I settle into this new community where God has placed us, I am looking to develop relationships where I might have the opportunity to speak about Christ, to introduce him to souls who don’t know they need him yet. There will be many who have already dismissed the gospel as ‘not for them’, sadly often on the basis of bad experiences of church and ‘christian’ attitudes. Perhaps I might be the means by which God opens their eyes again to the glorious possibility that He is true and loving and entirely FOR them! What an amazing privilege that would be, to watch someone come alive in Christ, and go on to grow to live for and with him.

May I be stirred up in my daily living to speak of my Lord, and to make him part of my conversation, so that those with whom I now live might be given the opportunity to call upon his name, and be saved!

It’s ok to be small..

Let the whole world fear the Lord, and let everyone stand in awe of him.

For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command. 

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.

The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth.

He made their hearts so he understands everything they do. 

We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

(Psalm 33. 8-11,13-15,20-22)

How do you react when something forcibly reminds you just how frail your existence is, how insignificant your life? Does the grandeur of a mountain landscape bring feelings of panic, or of worship? Does the increasingly frantic parade of disaster and woe across our newspaper headlines bring a sense of helplessness and despair, or compassion?

I firmly believe that human beings are created by God, in his image – that is to say we dimly reflect his loving nature, his capacity for compassion and mercy, his creativity and appreciation for beauty. but I do not believe that means we ought to attempt to share his capacity for bearing the burdens of the world which he created!

Time and again we see human beings in the bible rejoicing that it is God, and not they, who are in control, and handing over the burdens which they feel with huge relief to the one who alone is capable of carrying them. The psalms often show us the process by which God’s people come to him with some great grief or worry, and having lamented, raged and bewailed a truly dreadful situation, they find that once again they are conscious of God’s power to deal with it and are able to rest in him.

If the devil, who is always on the lookout for ways to undermine our faith, can create in us a spirit of anxiety, so that we are constantly worried about something far beyond our human power to influence, then he has effectively disarmed us and stopped us growing as followers of Jesus. We become paralysed by fear, angry with God for not acting as we have decided he ought, and increasingly oblivious to the immediate opportunities we have to love, serve and witness in our own lives.

I choose now to sit lightly to the world news, even the national news, because these things are burdens beyond my capacity to solve them. I can pray for leaders to be wise, restrained, compassionate; for wars to be ended, for the needs of refugees and those affected by natural disasters to be met. I can give to charities which take my small contribution and by wise use, turn it into great blessing to those in need. But I refuse to see these things as my responsibility.

I am responsible for being the eyes, voice, ears and hands of Christ in my family, in my community. I am called to witness to an all-powerful God by choosing to accept that my small life – in his hands – is an instrument for good, though I may not see what he does with it. I can pray that my speech and actions will be a means by which love is expressed and precious individuals for whom Christ died are nurtured, honoured and brought to fulness of life in him.

Living a faithful, honest, disciplined christian life; rejoicing in Christ through the real trials of human existence; fighting the battle daily against the weaknesses and persistent sins which remain – these are my appointed tasks, and in God’s eyes, I think they are not insignificant. He is at work to make all things new – even me – and the beauty of Christ being formed in me is his goal. Small but infinitely significant; beautiful, worth devoting my energies to, knowing that I have all the power of God at my disposal.

Let me be content with the task appointed for me, and leave the business of bearing the world’s burdens in the hands of the Almighty. I am the creature, let me trust the Creator to know his business, and concentrate my energies on faithfully following and serving him in the place appointed – as one of the small ones!

Are we nearly home yet?

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am .

(John 14.1-3)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Rev 21.3&4)

For as long as I can remember, I have been conscious of a longing for another place, a place of which our world is only a pale imitation. CS Lewis puts it beautifully in ‘The Last Battle’, when one of the characters cries out in delight as he gazes around his new home:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this..”

I love the world in which I live, and have always responded deeply to the power and beauty of creation, delighting in the grandest and the tiniest details, rejoicing in my own powers of appreciation, the senses I have to receive and respond to my Father’s artistry. I love knowing to whom I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for the joy which beauty brings to my life – the great original himself, from whom all our human creativity is derived and to whose glory it should be exercised.

And yet..I still find myself looking beyond, longing for more: a deeper, richer experience and also some sense of home-coming, of final and utter belonging. I believe that when God in his good time finally ushers in his new creation, then I will find that ultimate fulfillment, because the thing lacking – his glorious presence with me, undimmed by my sin – will be abundantly and eternally mine. I will enter into beauty, and be satisfied, lost to myself and found by him.

There is another reason that I long for the home which is promised by my Lord so tenderly in his words to his apostles, reassuring them as they were fearful and unsure and would face severe trials for his sake in the days to come.. I am just plain tired of myself and of the struggle to make a decent attempt at living for Jesus in this fallen world. I know it is not so that we will give up striving in this world that Jesus shows us a glimpse of the Father’s house, but it is so good to know it is there.

When I am weary, stricken by disappointment – with myself and with others – conscious of persistent sin and convinced that there is much about myself of which to be deeply ashamed, it is sweet relief to remember that my place in that final home is not dependent on my perfect life here! I think my Father is more compassionate and tender with me than I am with myself, but I also know that all his love is directed towards encouraging me not to give up, but to persevere.

Yes, I am not what I should be – given all the blessings and privileges of faith I have enjoyed. But, I am a daughter of the King of Kings, and my citizenship in his eternal kingdom is assured. God looks not at my weakness, doubting and pathetic track-record in his service; but he looks at Jesus, my Lord, my Saviour, my Champion, who has fought the fight for me and won it, for me! In him, I am entitled to claim a place in my Father’s house and to know that even I am eagerly awaited.

Is it not enough to make us long for the day when all will be made new, and our faults and failings will be forgotten? When we will stand with heads held high and no more trace of sin to stain our vision; no dragging grief or disappointment to embitter our joys, only complete freedom to forget ourselves in joyful service and worship of our Lord.

No, we are not home yet, but each day I live brings me nearer..May God give me patience and courage to live the time that is allotted for me, allowing that glorious promised future to inspire me with hope for each day, and an urgent desire to share the riches I have with those who do not know Jesus!