Monthly Archives: March 2019

What’s my uniform?

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you for ever.

(Ps 30.1-3,11&12)

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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

(Eph 6.10-18)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

(Col 3.12)

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress;

midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.

(Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf: 1739-, translated by John Wesley)

The hymn which I have quoted above was sung often at the church where I grew up, and it remains a precious source of comfort and reassurance to me – in spite of the antiquity of the language – pointing as it does to the great truth of our salvation…it is nothing to do with our own efforts and merit, or failings and faults but rather all to do with Christ! I have long exulted in the picture of being clothed, as with ceremonial robes, in his beauty and glory and then proudly standing as his beloved before my Creator and God. The thankfulness of the psalmist in his deliverance from death reflects this wonderful picture and sense of being wrapped all around in something that shouts “JOY!” for all to hear and see.

Ultimately, Christ’s perfections are what all believers wear before the judgement throne – we have nothing else! But the bible also uses the language of clothes, garments and even armour, in describing our lives as believers, and it can be very helpful to apply them to our daily living and interactions with¬† others. Think of them as our uniform, and consider why they might be important, even necessary…

In Colossians, Paul urges his readers to put on all these beautiful qualities of love in action, reminding them of all they owe to Christ as the fount of their blessings and that they ought to love one another as Christ loved them – patiently, sacrificially, humbly and gently. This is a uniform that will help us to do our appointed task as believers well; these are the qualities which we need to seek out, and cultivate with the help of the Spirit so that increasingly we don’t even need to think about putting them on – choosing to live in this way – but do it naturally.

This uniform will also help us to recognise one another as believers; these qualities of faith and love in action are the outworking of God’s promise to refine and shape us until we become like his son. As we are increasingly transformed, so that family likeness – the ‘uniformity’ of God’s people in spite of their wonderful diversity – is to be seen in us. We can encourage one another as we see these qualities more strongly and more often, urging one another to persevere through trials and trust God to be at work in and through them to clothe us increasingly with the image of his son.

And then there is the familiar image of the armour, beloved of Sunday school teachers and for good reason – it is simple and yet powerful in conveying both the dangers we face and also the resources we possess, the job we have to do and the way we are to do it. We have protective armour, because we are in a battle – how often do we forget this, and then wonder at the state we get into because we have not noticed how the evil one has drawn us away and robbed us of our peace? We are given armour in order to resist him – to deflect and quench the piercing arrows of old guilts ; to protect our thinking so that we reason and make good, godly decisions based on truth, not on lies from the Father of lies; to stand firm at peace in the midst of turmoil and to move with confidence because we know that wherever we are called, God is with us and the victory is his. And we have his precious word, our only weapon, with which to both defend ourselves – as Christ did in the wilderness temptation – and also to play our part in working out God’s victory over evil in the world.

We have all the promises, all the truth of salvation freely offered and completely achieved. God has promised to build his church, has promised that all the powers of hell cannot prevent it, and we claim that power and truth every time we pray in Christ’s name for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done….

We have so much to wear, are so richly provided for and equipped for the life which God has given us; let us rejoice daily and gladly wear our uniform, proud to be known as His and to be part of his amazing and growing church.

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This is not all there is…

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One…..The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them…

(Ps 2.12&4)

O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the god we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

(Dan 3.16-18)

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.13&14)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen…Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen

(Rev 1.5-7)

I don’t know if it is my age and stage of life, or if the world is really a good deal more threatening and fragile than it was when I was younger…But I have become aware that I am constantly being dragged down by a weight of anxiety, of fear for the future. This largely derives from the widespread understanding that humanity as a species is in the process of destroying the resources it depends upon for life, as a result of the ways we choose to use – and abuse -them. Depending upon whose point of view I listen to, the collapse of our environment and all that goes with it – food and water, drugs, security, health and stability – is unavoidable, and even likely to occur within my lifetime.

This is very uncomfortable stuff, and I am challenged about my reaction to it as a follower of Jesus – it should make a difference that I believe in God, in his power and goodness and desire to bless his people!

Yes, but all too often, I fall into a human-centered way of thinking about things, instead of remembering what the bible says consistently from beginning to end…God is the centre and foundation of this story, the main actor and the one who knows what is happening – I and all my race are the creatures, the rebels, the puny and ludicrously self-sufficient earth-dwellers, with no conception of the breadth and glory of the narrative in which we are playing a small part.

When I allow myself to be trapped into panic and despair about the future of this planet, I have forgotten what God says about my true purpose – which is to enjoy him in eternity, in a new earth, where there is no more sin-driven destruction, or exploitation, and all is well. I am not made merely for this world, but for a glorious future, with a resurrection body – and NOTHING that happens to me before my death can rob me of that inheritance.

I – and my children and dearest friends – may face climatic collapse, the end of all that we have known and loved; but does that mean that God is no longer on the throne? Our lives may become very painful, full of uncertainty and threats; but does that mean that God is powerless to save us, or that his promises are worthless? Certainly not! But how I struggle to trust when I do not understand, and when my sin-shadowed mind fails to fix itself upon the figure of my risen, victorious Lord.

The anxiety which I feel is showing me that my heart is not yet fully fixed upon the treasures which God has for me; my security still depends too much on being in control of my life, and on things going as I expect them to. It may be that the great lesson for so many believers in the days and years to come will be to really put our trust in God – when he permits everything else to be stripped away from us.

May we be given grace to trust him absolutely; ever-brightening hope to brighten our days; and urgent love for our neighbours, to share with them the Saviour who alone can sustain us through what may lie ahead into an unimagined future glory.

 

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you….We each have different gifts according to the grace given us.¬†

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..