Monthly Archives: February 2020

Stumbling across glory…

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary…worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord for he comes…

(Ps 96.4-6,9, 11&12)

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him..Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

(Ecc 3.10-14; 5.2)

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…

(Jer 17.7&8)

Beautiful in its time…which means that beauty will come to an end, will pass away, and that ache in our hearts which is briefly assuaged by it must return. The writer of Ecclesiastes explains just why the fleeting quality of beauty is so painful for us to bear – because God has set eternity in our hearts, that reflection of his nature which is designed for an everlasting expression and experience of love.

We seek to prolong our experience of beauty – by trying to capture it in a photograph; finding words to convey it others; creating methods of remembering and reproducing it in the case of music – and even by trying to prolong our own lives in order to increase the amount of beauty we may experience! But ultimately, none of these can satisfy the eternal appetite which is placed within us by God, an appetite which can only be appeased when finally we find in the new creation the full expression of all those things of which beauty in this world is only a shadow.

The author, academic and christian apologist, CS Lewis gave his biography the title “Surprised by Joy”, because it was through these ecstatic, and fleeting experiences of beauty (which he calls ‘Joy’), that he first hungered after an other-world, a place from which this joy came and to which he belonged. It was in the gospel of Christ that he finally found the source of joy, and his adoption into the kingdom where the great Author of joy, the source of beauty and glory reigns. And in many writings, especially his ‘Narnia’ series, he reflects on the purpose of these moments when the beauty of this world grabs us and take our breath away.

God’s creation must reflect his power and character, his essential beauty is revealed in so many ways in his handiwork. Is it not natural that those whose hearts are formed to mirror this divine nature should thrill in response to such glimpses of glory? We are not the Creator, but the creatures, and our own attempts to generate true beauty can never satisfy in the same way as the real thing. So we respond in celebration to the glories around us, and we gladly acknowledge our inability to match God in creation. We remember that God is in heaven, and we on the earth, so that our words – and our ambitions – should be few!

When I stumble into the presence of glory, I worship with a full heart. When my heart aches in contemplating the beauty of this broken world, I rejoice because one day, Lord make it soon, I shall be at home in the unimagineable beauty of a perfect, re-created world, and I shall be sharing my joy with the Author and Creator himself, face-to-face. When I have to pass on, when the beauty is gone, I do not grieve as those who have no hope, but allow the experience to feed my home-sickness for heaven, and to nourish my soul with fresh hope and expectation.

My God knows my need; and I choose to trust him for the supplies I need along this journey – especially for continual discoveries of glory along the way, as his power, splendour and majesty are revealed in his creation, and my appetite for my glory-home grows stronger. Let us worship along the way, and press on towards the goal!

Outlook..changeable!

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the pace where you dwell.  Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

(Ps 43)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor.4.8&9, 16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

(Phil 4.4&6)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

One of the many effective ways in which our enemy, the devil, can cause us to stumble in our walk with God is by making us doubt our salvation. And one of the easiest ways for him to do that is to tempt us to focus on how our lives in this world continue to be dogged by difficulties – suffering of every kind. If he can once begin to direct our thoughts down the line of “if I were a real christian, surely I would not find life so hard, I would triumph over all my difficulties”, then he has got us trapped in a mire of self-reproach, self-preoccupation, and lies.

I say lies, because if we actually take time to look at the stories of believers’ lives – both faithful Old Testament followers and disciples in the New Testament – what we find are very familiar patterns of struggle and despondency, in a world that looks as dark and difficult as our own. The psalmists wrote of great joy, and also of deep despair – even of a sense of abandonment – but always from the conviction that God was listening, and powerful to act. They freely expressed their troubles, but had learnt that their experiences were not to be relied upon as an indication of God’s presence, absence or favour.

Time and time again, we find their darkest hours are underpinned by the rock-solid belief that God is, that He is good, and that somewhere, somehow, He is at work in this situation. They pressed on, in faith, not pretending to be perfect, not imagining that the world should be kinder to them than it was, but trusting God to keep them and use every trial for his glory and their blessing.

The same picture is painted for us in the lives of the saints, the believers of whom we read in the New Testament. They have the full revelation of Christ, knowledge of God’s saving love for them on Calvary, and yet they continue to struggle with the reality of life in a broken world.  Not only do they suffer persecution from non-believers, but also internal divisions within the churches. They experience illness, bereavement, personal disagreements and alienation, famine and natural disasters. All of human experience continues to be their experience – the joyous and the troubled – as it is ours. And nowhere do we find believers rebuked for their suffering, as if it were somehow the result of a lack of faith.

Rather, the apostles are concerned that they be wise, mature in their understanding, and above all grounded in faith in the nature of God. Just as for the Old Testament followers, it is not emotional experience which is the basis of reality and truth, but what God says – about himself and about us as his children. We WILL have trouble in this world – Jesus promised that! But we WILL also have his presence with us always, until the very end, when all troubles will cease and the need for obedient perseverance will finally be over.

We must encourage one another, through the ups and downs of our lives, to remember that while the ‘weather’ of our situation may change dramatically, the God who is in charge does not change. We will always feel cold when it is icy, get wet when it rains, and struggle when it gets too hot – those are normal and right reactions to our conditions. In the same way, we will grieve, feel fear or anxiety, anger and horror, depending on what is happening. We bring those feelings to God – as the psalmists did – and with thanksgiving (as the psalmists and the apostles did) we rejoice that He does not change, that He is in control, and that He will prove faithful through it all.

Sweet fragrance…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices..and make a fragrant blend of incense..It is to be salted and pure and sacred..place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.

(Ex 30.34-36)

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(Jn 1.29)

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent with life. 

(2 Cor 2.14-16, The Message)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

(Heb 13.15&16)

In the regime of temple worship which God instituted with his people, there was a special incense – to be used only within the confines of that building, and for one purpose only. This particular smell, composed of rich spices, would instantly alert the worshipper to the fact that they were in a place set aside for meeting with God.  This building would smell different from every other, a perfume different from any flower, shrub or spice they knew in daily life, a building set apart for a special purpose. The scent would speak immediately of a holy place, one where God was pleased to encounter his people, where they were put right with him through the sacrificial system.

I believe that it is this instant recognition factor which is so significant about the incense in the temple. Even those who only occasionally made the journey to worship there would carry in their sense-memory that particular scent, and each return visit would bring a sense of homecoming, as the smell of incense reached them. Here, in this place, God is..

Our sense of smell is amazing, and scents are strong triggers for memory and recognition. How often have you been jolted from your present situation by a smell, pleasantly or painfully reminded of another time, place or person? My daughter inherited the end of a bottle of perfume which my late mother used for years. I find myself confused by the scent, worn by the one and reminding me so powerfully of the other. In a less serious vein, how many of us treasure the smell of freshly mown grass?! Reeking of spring and summer, of school games fields ready for lunchtime games, it speaks of heat, life and freedom.

What then is the significance of the aroma, or scent which Paul attributes to believers as they follow Christ? Is there something here of the unique fragrance which belongs to the place where God and humankind are reconciled – the cross of Jesus, which once for all replaced the sacrificial system of the temple?

The bible tells us that as we receive Christ’s sacrifice for us, by faith, so we receive new life – his life in us. We are now welcomed into God’s presence because we are ‘in Christ’, and all his triumphs and blessings are counted as ours. This surely means that we are to God as an acceptable fragrance too – we speak of atonement for sin, of reconciliation, of peace. As we seek to live faithfully, increasingly transformed by the Spirit into likeness of Christ, our lives yield the unmistakeable scent of grace. In the same way that the hyacinth fills a room with its fragrance – simply by fulfilling its nature and coming into flower – so also as believers, in obeying and trusting God, we are spreading the scent of the gospel to all with whom we come in contact.

Some will react against it, finding all that the gospel stands for abhorrent, and condemning all that we hold most dear. But even as the hyacinth cannot change its scent simply because some people find it unpleasant, so we as believers cannot change the truth about us – that we are saved, because we needed to be rescued, because sin is a reality which humanity alone cannot deal with. The gospel is indeed a stumbling-block to many, but we as believers are not accountable for how people react to it, only to for sharing it.

As I live by faith in Christ, depending on his once-for-all sacrifice, and representing in myself the place where God by his Holy Spirit dwells with his people, I pray that the aroma of grace might be the most noticeable thing about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

when the picture is not clear..

The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. 

(Ps 28.8)

Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire..Seek good and not evil, that you may live..Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts

(Am 5.6,14&15)

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?…He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

(Mic 6.6&8)

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth..

(1 Tim.2.1-4)

I am a Scot, I live in the United Kingdom, and for the last 47 years, I have been part of the European Union. Our laws and institutions, our culture, our political and social priorities, our very society itself, has been profoundly influenced by membership of this particular economic union, this family of nations, birthed in the aftermath of war with a vision of unity, peace and prosperity.

And now, my nation has decided to leave, to loosen the ties and pursue an independent course in the world. Some of our people are very glad, others deeply distressed, and many like myself unsure because the future is so uncertain. We all live with uncertainty – the bible makes it clear that none of us can presume on our tomorrows in any way – but political and economic change on this scale is particularly unsettling, and I want to reflect on my duty as a believer in this situation.

Ultimately, these great national events are a challenge to my perceptions of security – in what do I hope and trust? If it is democratic government, established institutions, economic prosperity and growth, then I have good reasons to fear what might happen. Our world is troubled; unresolved tensions are re-shaping political loyalties, and power is wielded by invisible forces beyond the influence of democracy.

The prophets of the Old Testament knew all about these uncertainties, as did the apostles in the New Testament. Both groups call repeatedly for faithful people who know God to focus on him as their only true security, to seek to live according to his word and to represent his character in the world. What does this look like for God’s people?

We live lightly in the world – knowing that we have an abiding home with God in the yet-to-be-revealed glory of a new creation. The troubles and trials of this world cannot steal that inheritance from us, and so we are not cast into despair by them as those who have no hope. The looming giants of this world do not strike terror into our hearts, because we know that our God is on the throne, and Christ has triumphed over them. Their speech may be loud, but God’s still small voice is stronger.

We live responsibly in the world – knowing that we are stewards of creation, with responsibility to use all God’s gifts for the blessing of all his people. Our attitudes to our own consumption, our choices, the impact of our lives, should be driven by a desire for righteousness in every relationship, for justice, and with compassion for those who suffer because of the greed of others.

We live gladly in the world – rejoicing in the abundance and sharing our joy with the Giver of good gifts. We live as those who have good things to share – because we do! In addition to our material wealth, we have the infinitely greater treasures of the gospel itself to share with all mankind. We have been commissioned to speak good news – is not salvation our most precious possession, the best thing we can possibly share with our neighbours?

So as I in my small place consider how God calls me to live in the new, post-EU Scotland, I will remember my calling.

I will pray for those who rule; that we might have peace and freedom to proclaim the gospel of truth in our land. I will remember that our leaders are frail and sinning human beings, just as much in need of God’s love and forgiveness as I am.

I will raise my voice and use my words in support of justice, and the extending of mercy to the victims of oppression and inequality. I will remember that those who oppress are also broken people, sinners for whom Christ died.

I will remember that I am small, and that God is great; and I will boast only in Christ, not my own wisdom. I will remember that I am a sinner, and only God is perfect. I will pursue godliness, humility and faithfulness – not so that by these I may be saved, but because by them, others might see Christ in me, and find salvation in him.

I do not need to see the big picture, because God has given me a job to do which is within my reach, and I choose to trust him with all the rest!