Monthly Archives: April 2017

To arms, to arms!!

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light…..It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.

(Psalm 18. 28,33-35)

Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

(Ephesians 6.10-13)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

(1Peter 5.8-11)

It sneaks up on me, little by little, one cord here, another there. I stumble, something bruises me, my eyes are clouded by some distress and I lose sight of the path. Before I realise what has happened, I am struggling desperately in a trap, as hopeless and terrified as a child stuck in the dark of a strange room at night, unable to find the way out..

I am surely not the only follower of Jesus who has experienced such ambushes, oppression and assault, realising only too late that my adversary, the devil, is playing with me for his own devious and harmful ends. My failure to recognise and deal with him promptly has left me vulnerable to a tightening of the trap, a deepening of the darkness, and the emotional confusion makes it hard to think clearly.

I thank God that he opened my eyes to what was happening, that he showed me how the accumulation of small things was all part of an assault on me and on my family – and something not to be surprised at, since where God is at work, there the evil one will also come to undermine and oppose. My husband is a minister, he deals in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples – is it any wonder that his family should be in the firing line? We should not be surprised at such things, and yet all too often, I am; I fail to recognise the enemy until I am down and weakening.

Thank God, who opens our eyes to see and our minds to understand these things, and who graciously forgives all the times we failed to perceive soon enough what was going on! And thank God for the friend by whose conversation I was reminded of the call to arms, the call to strike in defence of who and what I am in Christ!

We shy away from the language of warfare which is used in the bible, but it is surely the best way to understand our part in God’s work in the world today. In Christ, we have ultimate victory over death, the wages of sin are paid and the devil has NO jurisdiction in our lives. But he is fighting a desperate rearguard action, and if he can, he will render us useless for Christ by binding us in traps of despair or even just indifference.

It is for us to claim the victory we have in Christ – hence Paul’s rousing words to the Ephesians! We have the armour, and in Christ, we have the king who has dealt the fatal blow to our enemy. Christ is my king, the Lord of my life, and the evil one has NO right to interfere and no authority to destroy. I can and must take all the weapons given me and stand firm, resisting until he flees. My marriage is God’s calling of two into one, and the devil has no place in it; in Jesus’ name I can shut him out. Our congregation is God’s family in this place, and we can claim the protecting arms of the great Shepherd around his sheep.

Praise God, for in him we have a final victory; and also the strength to stand firm and claim that victory in each part of our lives. I do not say this lightly: we don’t presume that every difficulty will be removed, but rather that in Christ, we can and will bear suffering with hope, and confidence. There is – as Paul so famously says in Romans 8 – NOTHING, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is our victory!

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Therefore go!

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(Matthew 28.18-20)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle..for the gospel of God..regarding his Son who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace..to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

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 as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Romans 1. 1-5 & 16-18)

An imperative, a command with no exceptions – the risen, glorified Lord commands his disciples to ‘GO’. His death and resurrection has ushered in a new era, has opened the door of heaven to broken and lost humanity, that they might come home; finding fullness and joy such as they have never known.

It is good news for the weary and grieving; for the proud and lonely; for the driven and unsatisfied – and a challenge to the self-satisfied, all those who rely upon their own righteousness and achievements. It is good news, because it addresses the deepest needs of humankind – whether they recognise and acknowledge those needs or not – and is the only guarantee of obtaining the security in this life, and hope for the next which we pursue in so many different shapes and forms apart from God.

This is the command which sends men and women across the oceans to serve as missionaries in lands where they are aliens; learning strange languages and submitting to challenging climatic and living conditions – all that their beloved Lord might be made known to people who have never heard of him. It is not personal glory that they pursue, but his glory and the growth of his kingdom; it is with Christ’s sacrificial love that they go, for the sake of those walking in darkness, knowing nothing of the beauty of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

This is the command which draws men and women into full-time and professional ministry in their homelands – that they might reach their neighbours with the good news of a saviour; might make disciples of young believers, seeing them grow in strength and understanding, persevering through trials and testifying to God’s power in their lives. It is not institutional glory they are pursuing, but the rescuing of as many as may respond from a bleak, black, hopeless future without Christ.

This same command is given to me, a housewife, with no formal theological training to undertake, no foreign mission field to go to, no difficult languages to learn or challenging climate to deal with. I am tasked with sharing the good news of Jesus with my natural neighbours, in my own tongue, from the comfort of a good home and with a strong support network of believing friends to help me… What possible excuse can I make for failing to do it?

None.. and I know that the desire of my heart is indeed to see those around me come to faith. I see how their lives are distorted and blighted by the lack of peace, the sense of worthlessness, the anxiety and fear which all stem from ignorance of God’s accepting and forgiving love. And yet it seems so hard to speak of that love in a way which will they will hear, and how I dread alienating them by a word spoken out of turn..

It is not that my words must be powerful in themselves, nor clever and persuasive like those of a clever lawyer or spin doctor; no, I believe that God can use simple and even clumsy speech to do his work. And this is perhaps the key which I need to grasp more fully – to pray that he will be at work by his Spirit in the lives of those around me; that I will discern that work, and then discern how to speak to them. All the labour of drawing a soul to saving faith is God’s labour, and my task is to be a willing agent in his plan.

May I walk more and more in step with him, so that I recognise his hand at work and know his prompting to speak – or not speak but act – so that the power of God which is the gospel of Jesus Christ might be revealed in the lives of those around me. May I be blessed by seeing men and women come alive in Christ in my community – perhaps through some labour of my own, but ultimately all through God’s gracious power and to his glory!

We are the Resurrection people!

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I , and not another.

(Job 19.25-27)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13,14&18)

How wonderful it is, to have such incredible good news to celebrate and to share on this Resurrection day! We have a saviour who died, yes, and who was raised from death. God demonstrated with great power that the divine plan for dealing forever with the forces of evil and their hold on humanity had succeeded.

Jesus had cried aloud upon the cross in his obedient agony, “It is finished!” There was absolutely nothing else needed, no human endeavour to be added to this divine passion for justice and mercy. And so God, in his loving kindness to us, knowing that we are weak and frightened easily, raised Jesus to life, showing the way that is now open to us as his followers, into eternal life in a resurrected body, like and yet unlike any we have known.

This is the point which Paul makes as he writes to reassure the Thessalonian believers, who are grieving for fellow christians who had recently died.. Look, he says, see what Jesus has done, and be comforted because this will be our experience too! We may not understand the mysteries which unite our temporal reality with an eternal future; but of this we can be absolutely sure – we will enter into that future with bodies; with hands to serve and voices to praise and eyes and hearts to adore our Lord.

The experience of death in this world, dreadful though it undoubtedly can be, is not the end, the power of the grave is broken. It can no longer hold those who call upon the name of Jesus, and we are sure of being gathered into his arms and of seeing him, with our own eyes. I was privileged to see for myself the power which this hope gives to those facing death, power to yield themselves up in peace and confidence to the Lord who has gone before and has promised to carry them through this last trial. For both of my parents, their steadfast faith was the anchor and joy of their last months, making it so easy for us as their children to release them to a future which they longed to see.

As I rejoice at the empty tomb, sharing in the soul-shaking joy of Mary at her master’s feet, I repent of my frequent bouts of despair, and ask God’s help to live more and more in the light of this sure and certain hope which that empty tomb gives me. I believe in the resurrection of the body – so why do I fear anything at all?! I believe that I shall see my adored Saviour with my own eyes – so why am I not overflowing with this good news to all those who are in my life?

My God has given me so much in this world already, out of his goodness pouring blessings one after another into my life – and I can relish each one to the full, knowing that there is an eternity of even better to come..This life is NOT all there is, I need NOT resent the passing of youth, health or wealth, because EVERYTHING good and glorious is already stored up for me in my Father’s house, and as I fix my eyes upon my Jesus, following him down into the shadow of the valley of death, so I will surely be led after him out at the other side.

What is it all for?

‘I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth… And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.’

(John 17.15-17, 19)

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more….God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

(1Thessalonians 4.1&7)

The words of Jesus in his final great prayer for his disciples, and all those who would in turn follow them in calling him Lord, reveal the ultimate purpose behind his death on the cross for us – that we might be made ‘holy’. God was not concerned merely to wipe out the stain of sin, and then to forget all about the human race, putting them behind him as an unfortunate mistake. Rather, he desires to woo to himself eternal companions in whom he can delight, and who will share in the love which has always existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us all along with this in mind; you and I are uniquely designed, known and loved, with a home awaiting us in his presence.

We are told in the creation narrative in Genesis, that mankind was formed ‘in the image of God’, to be the nearest thing in all the marvellous outpouring of making, to the Maker himself. And we are told over and over again through the bible, that our God is a holy God, pure and good and utterly beautiful. We are made, formed and purposed, to be like him; it is our destiny to be glorious in holiness – something I think we find beyond our limited comprehension most of the time!

And if we are honest, somehow our notion of holiness is not always positive, but a sneaking feeling that we will have to give up thoughts and actions which we rather enjoy and cherish…. It is true that before we personally respond to Christ’s offer of salvation, before we are overwhelmed by the price that he paid to set us free, our minds and hearts are so stained and coloured by rebellion against God that we cannot appreciate the beauty of his holiness.

But, as Christ said in his prayer, he died – sacrificed himself for us- in order to make it possible for us to become holy; and as we grow in love for him, and appreciate more and more the depth of his love for us; so our desires and thoughts are changed. We begin, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to want to be more like Christ, to express our love in our obedience and willingness to be made pure. We no longer feel comfortable with the accepted attitudes and actions of our culture, because this is no longer our home and we do not belong. Increasingly, the only opinion that we care about, will be God’s opinion, and knowing his pleasure will help to sustain us as we live counter-cultural lives. Holiness is not necessarily about being isolated – physically or emotionally – from our neighbours and friends; rather it is living as Christ lived among his disciples. He was fully engaged in their everyday lives, sharing their grief, rejoicing with them in good things. This is our challenge…and what a relief it is to know that Christ prayed for us, that we might be made holy – sanctified – by God; because it is not a work which we can carry out on ourselves.

Only the one who made our hearts can remake them anew, can give us the heart of Christ and the mind of Christ, so that our words, deeds, and thoughts, will be suffused with his love, and glorifying to our Heavenly Father.

For this Christ went to Jerusalem; for this he died; that you and I might be transformed by the beauty of holiness, and brought home; to be more fully ourselves, more fully alive, and closer to our precious Lord than we can possibly imagine.  Hallelujah, what a Saviour!!

Living with failure..

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness… My dear children, I write this to you so that you will  not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1 John 1.8-2.2)

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour.

(Psalm 24. 3-5)

I am perhaps not alone in being of a rather self-critical frame of mind – I am invariably the first to apologise in a painful situation (often when I haven’t actually done anything that I can see was wrong!); and given the opportunity for introspection will tend to dwell more readily on my failures than my strengths and successes.

As a parent, I have a great deal of material on which to dwell, looking back over 21 or so years where I have missed opportunities to model a lively faith; a healthy marriage; a missionary spirit…There are friends whom I have neglected, or unwittingly hurt deeply; siblings whom I have failed to support in their times of need as I feel I ought to have done. And that most poisonous of regrets – things I failed to do for my parents while they were still alive and within reach of my words and hands.

I have failed to pray for the tormented and suffering in the world – near and far – as faithfully as I could have done; I have failed to give thanks for answered prayers – for myself and others. I have not studied my bible regularly, not committed the words to memory, not learnt to share it with others in a way that can reach and bless them.

I look up to the hill of God with the psalmist and recognise that I am not the man of clean hands and pure heart who may ascend and stand there by right. It is a high and glorious mountain, the beauty of God dwells upon it, and it is where I long to be – but my persistent sin keeps me so far from the summit.

 As a follower of Jesus, one who claims his atoning blood to cover all my sins, I know that God has forgiven me and that I start afresh each day with a clean sheet. I know that the power of sin to enslave me has been utterly destroyed through the death of my Saviour – the holy and pure sacrifical lamb – and yet I still succumb to the temptations of idleness, selfishness and that dreadful immobilising self-pity. I do not claim to be without sin, but so frequently confess my shortcomings that I fear God must be weary of me.

Yet I cannot find any word in the bible of God wearying of his people’s repentance, nor a reluctance to forgive them when they come again in their need. Why then do I find it so hard to live with my continuing failures and shortcomings, when God’s forgiveness is assured and abundantly available? He has forgiven me; why can I not forgive myself for these things? I fear it is pride, a stubborn desire somewhere in my heart to prove to God that I am capable of better, of purer, holier living if I just try harder. And my disappointment is sore because my pride is hurt, my idealised ( and foolish) picture of myself as a mature follower of Christ, is shown to be a delusion. I am so tired of failing, that I want to give up, my courage is gone and my confidence in God’s power to sustain me as a faithful and cheerful witness for the remainder of my life is completely undermined.

May I be forgiven, for such foolish weakness and pathetic pride. May my heart and mind be increasingly filled with the beauty and power of my Saviour, who has ascended the great mountain on my behalf, and who every day is making it possible for me to keep climbing. May I rejoice and triumph ever more in what he has done – and keeps on doing – as his love drenches me, soaking out the sin stains and breaking the chains of regret for past failure. May I trust ever more in his power to work all things together for the good of those who love him – including their own failures – so that all the glory goes to him!