Monthly Archives: January 2021

You just never know…

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted…We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away…

(Isa 53. 4,6-8)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

(Matt 5.43-45)

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.. [they] were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death..Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?…” But Jesus remained silent. 

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?..What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

(Matt 26. 57-59,62-66)

We are so accustomed to the stories told of the life and death of Jesus that it may never occur to us to wonder just how all this information became available to the gospel writers, but we should! Following through on that question takes us to some interesting places – like the context in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have shared the intimate details of his conception and birth, and all the struggles which she and Joseph faced at that time. Did Jesus learn this as he grew up, or did Mary share it only when he embarked upon his ministry?

This week, I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found myself wondering just who it was in that council of the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who later told the story of that dark night. It can’t have been Peter, whose own sad tale of betrayal took place outside in the yard – and that tale too must have been revealed to later writers, for our blessing and instruction by Peter himself. It must have been one of the council themselves; somewhere in that gathering of hostile and frightened men (and it would have been an entirely masculine gathering), there was a heart which was already tender and open to God’s leading; a heart which would in time confess Jesus as Messiah and embrace the truth of the gospel.

They were all steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, and perhaps for one or two the words from Isaiah that foretold the suffering of the perfect servant would come to mind as they watched this Galilean hold his tongue and refuse to defend himself. Jesus’ demeanor would have spoken so loudly and clearly to those who should have recognised him as their longed for Messiah, and it seems that for at least one of them (then or later), the evidence finally became too much to resist.

When we put this together with Jesus command to love and pray for those who persecute us, we have a powerful encouragement to never give up on those who seem most adamant in their opposition to the gospel.

We cannot tell which strident aetheist, or sceptical humanist; which campaigner for secularism or advocate for universalism might be under the hand of the holy and relentless God, whose love for them took his son to the cross to win their salvation. I think this is a very important lesson for us in these days of increasingly bitter hostility against the Christian faith around the world. Will I obey the command of Jesus to pray for those who hate what I believe and hate me for believing it? Will I follow his example so that my life speaks of the truth of the gospel, of a God whose love for the broken children of this world is so powerful, steadfast and passionate? The offer of salvation is made to all who will confess Jesus as Lord – am I pressing this offer on my ‘enemies’ in prayer?

Perhaps someone was praying for Saul the Pharisee, even as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen…someone loved him well enough to intercede with God for this young man who was consumed with hatred for the Jesus movement..and how God answered that prayer! Lord, let me be faithful in this, that I might love my enemies as you love them.

Defiant praise!

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord.

(Ps 93)

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.”

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

(Isa 40.6-8 &28-29)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance than can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

(1Pet 1.3-5)

It’s what we do…as Paul and Silas praised God with songs and prayers in the prison, bound with chains, perhaps aching and bleeding from beatings.

It’s what we do….as David praised God in psalm and prayer while he was on the run from Saul; as his hope of kingship was pushed further and further into the future; as his men doubted and supplies ran low.

It’s what we do….as Daniel did, when to do so meant that his life was threatened; as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did while standing beside the furnace into which they would be thrown, with the heat beating on their backs.

It’s what we do…as Habbakuk did even while he contemplated the utter ruin of his land, and the destruction of all good things at the hand of an invading army.

In the face of darkness caused by human sin and rebellion; in face of a threatened planet and anticipated global suffering; in face of war and malice, degradation and naked evil exploitation; in face of so many well-meaning and misdirected people who think it is enough to try one’s best, that being kind is all that matters…God’s people fall on their faces at his feet in praise, adoration and total submission to his will, to every expression of his holiness and in awestruck recognition of the depths of his mercy.

In defiance of all those who mock our supposed bigotry or blindness and narrow-mindedness; in defiance of those who reject any God, and try to confine us to the bleak, limited and merciless ‘now’; in spite of those who condemn and despise Jesus because of the grievous failings of his church down the centuries…still today his followers lift their voices to acclaim their King; to tell the world that He came to die to make all things – even us – new, and that there IS so much more even than what we currently perceive.

Human kingdoms rise and fall, pandemics sweep the planet causing immeasurable harm, the life-sustaining ecosystems strain to survive…BUT our God is on the throne, and nothing is impossible with him. When his people choose to praise, choose to dwell on the truth of his character, his promises, his love and mercy; then their courage rises, their strength is renewed, and their hope brightened.

Friends, let us choose adoration; choose to put God on the throne of our lives, so that we may face our world and all its challenges with courage because we have an eternal hope for which we are being kept – in every situation, you and I are shielded by the power of God because nothing can cut us off from him and the inheritance which Christ Jesus died to give us.

Halleluia, our God reigns!

Faith and politics…

The Lord enters into judgement against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”

(Isa 3.14-15)

He has shown you, O mortal, 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. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city – and to fear your name is wisdom – “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it…Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false wights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.

(Micah  6.8-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matt 5.3-10)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

(1 Tim 2.1-2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority; whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

(1Pet 2.13-17)

Yes, that’s a lot of direct quotation from the bible, for the good reason that it is here that followers of Jesus find their guide and rule for living out those two great commands – love God, with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. As one living in a nation increasingly divided, recently divorcing itself from long-term allies in Europe, and facing growing calls for independence for Scotland from the rest of the Uk, I live with tension and uncertainty. I live with the consequences of decisions made within a particular political system, decisions I may not be happy with but must accept. As a believer, what is it my duty to think and do in this situation? What does it look like to love God, and my neighbour?

I give thanks that ultimately I belong to a kingdom beyond this imperfect world, where truth, justice and peace flow from the perfect King on the throne. I recognise that no form of government devised and operated by fallen and sinful humanity, to rule other fallen humans, is ever going to be without its troubles, and that in every situation, God’s will is at work in spite of the problems. History relates the rise and fall of innumerable ‘empires’ and powers, some more peaceful than others, but none capable of producing the perfect justice and mercy which God requires.

I do not put my faith in a political system, but in the God who can sweep them all aside whenever He chooses. I do not put my faith in a political party or ideology, but in the gospel of Jesus, which alone is capable of the heart transformation which enables us to love one another. I can campaign for policies which I believe reflect God’s heart for creation, for his children, but until the state forbids me to practise my faith, I will submit to its rule and fulfill my duties as a citizen. I will not worry about these things as though they were the most important, because they are not – my citizenship in heaven, and the salvation of all God’s people matter more.

 I am called to pray for those in authority, so that we might live in peace and witness to our Lord without fear – am I doing that for those whose ideologies I don’t agree with? I must; that is loving my neighbour who represents me in authority. I am called to speak out for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed – am I doing that for people whose cultures and beliefs are alien to me? I must; that is loving my neighbour who lives round the corner, or on the other side of the world.

No human institution or ideology can claim a divine right to rule – that is blasphemy and rebellion against the King of Kings, denying his supreme authority, and utterly failing to acknowledge the depth of human depravity. I give thanks that the kingdoms of this world will not last, but the Kingdom of our God is eternal, and will soon be fully established. Meantime, I will seek with God’s help to show proper respect to everyone, to love my fellow believers, to fear God and honour those appointed to rule over me.

 

 

 

On persevering…

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it..Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Josh 1.8&9)

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

I eagerly expect and hope that  I will be in no way ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body..If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

(Phil 1.20-26)

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints..refresh my heart in Christ.

(Phm 7&20)

Dear Lord, how we long to know that our lives are worthwhile, that the tears and endurance – as well as the joys and celebrations – have purpose and real value..how easy for the enemy to disable and discourage us by counting all the ways in which nothing seems to change; by pointing out our failures and the things that suggest unanswered prayers and wasted petitions. We are so vulnerable here, seeking constant reassurance to drown out the voice of our enemy and help us to go on with confidence.

And so we rejoice and thank you for your promise to Joshua, in his extreme need of reassurance as he took over from Moses. How loudly the doubts must have rung in his ears, but you repeatedly spoke to comfort and assure him, above all that you would go with  him even as you had gone with Moses. You didn’t promise that it would be easy – a smooth path doesn’t require strength and courage! But you promised to go with him, and to fulfill through him the promise to establish your people in this new land. 

So he went; he took courage and obeyed. Lord, make us like Joshua, as we stand on the edge of this new year, this next month, week and day. We do not know what lies before us, but we know you and we have your priceless promise to depend upon as we go. 

Some of us fear to be useless, to somehow miss your path and waste the gifts and time you give us. So we thank you for the words of Paul, as he spoke of his deep conviction that if God continued to grant him life and liberty, then it was because there was work to be done for the kingdom. As we consider what opportunities 2021 might hold for us, may we be like Paul, eager to use each gift and chapter in our lives for fruitful labour in your name.

We thank you Lord, for Paul’s deep conviction of your sovereignty in all that happens, and pray that we too might learn more and more to live in quiet confidence that EVERYTHING is capable of being used by you to further your glory and build your kingdom. 

Father God, sometimes I am ashamed to see what little I seem to do in your name, forgive me for doubting your wisdom in apportioning gifts and opportunities to me. The fault lies in my failures, not your gifting and providing. Help me to accept the place allotted, and not to envy others their particular calling. Help me, like Joshua, to obey with what I have and to be content that you are at work through it. 

Thank you that encouragement and refreshment of your people is within my power, let it be my passion too. Thank you for those who have refreshed and encouraged me, may they too be refreshed by your Spirit. Help me to trust Lord, that even when I cannot see it, yet you are active to bless and give your people joy, fresh courage and hope, even through me. Thank you that you keep me humble and depending on you by hiding the work from me! Let it be enough that I am privileged to serve you with all that I am and have, and leave the fruits of my labour in your hands. 

In my life Lord, be glorified today…and every day of 2021!