Monthly Archives: November 2021

The gift of salvation

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

(Isa 52.7&9)

.. an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

(Matt 1.20&21)

Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel

(Lk 2.28-32)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

(Rev 7.9&10)

As we enter the season of Advent – of remembering in advance what the Christmas celebration is all about – we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to what happened in that disturbed season in the Roman Empire, when great movements of people in order to make a census, took a man and his heavily pregnant fiance down the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We look further back to millennia of Jewish expectation that something would be given, would come from their God, something that would make all the difference in the world to their relationship with Him – because it would remove for ever the barrier caused by the stain of sin in every human heart.

It is not easy to assert in our culture that humankind needs to be saved from itself, that every living soul is naturally oriented away from God, and that what is counted a ‘good’ life by our standards is yet in God’s eyes as far from his standards as that of the greatest tyrant. But this is what the bible tells us, and the work of salvation is assigned to the person of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – how wonderful to see the assurance in the angelic message, ‘he will save his people’, not ‘might’ or ‘will try to’! There was no doubt in the realms of glory that victory would be gained..

It is not easy to explain that we believe in judgement for sin – that a price must be paid in order to turn aside the just wrath of a holy God against the rebellion of his creatures, and all the destructive fruits of that rebellion. Once again, the bible is consistent in its message – sacrifice for sin is the only way to restore our relationship with God, and as imperfect, sinful creatures, we cannot provide the perfect sacrifice necessary to deal with sin once and for all. Instead, we have Jesus, recognised by his cousin John the baptiser as the Lamb of the world – why a lamb? Because this was the creature of sacrifice, and as Isaiah had prophesied – all our griefs and sins were laid on him, so that we might be saved and healed.

So we look back to the birth of Jesus as the coming of God’s perfect gift of salvation to the world, the full realisation of all the promises that the Jews had lived by, and on which the eternal establishing of God’s kingdom would rest. Without the work of salvation, without the brutal realities of atonement for your sin and mine, Christmas would be an empty celebration, a pointless party, with gifts of no lasting value.

But, because of what Jesus did, we can celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour as the beginning of a new reality, where sin no longer has the upper hand, and death is no longer the end of hope. Because of him, christians can live forgiven, can live hopeful, can live out grace to one another – because we have been saved from ourselves and all the old tyrannies, to love and serve another, in whose service we are fully alive.

Finally, we look ahead, to the great day when all those who have accepted the complete salvation from sin which is found only in Jesus, join together in the new heaven and new earth to celebrate that glorious work, and to praise the amazing love which conceived and carried it out.

I worship you today my God, generous beyond imagining and loving beyond reason. I praise you for the gift of salvation which came to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you that I can live forgiven; can live without guilt; can live with hope. May I know how to value this priceless gift, and seek to share it with all who will receive it. Because of Jesus, I can pray this prayer; praise to his name, Amen!

Translating truth..

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior….Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

(Jdg 6.12,14-16)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “… before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”… “Ah, sovereign Lord, ” I said, “I do not know how to speak;..” But the Lord said to me, “…You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

(Jer 1.4-8)

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 have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.

(Rom 12.3-6)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… If anyone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves, without comparing themselves to somebody else, for each one should carry their own load.

(Gal 5.22&23; 6.3-5)

God has called us to be his children not on the basis of our abilities or lack thereof. We are his family because He loves us, and in Jesus we are made worthy to be sons and daughters of a holy God – we belong there now. There is – as it is said – ‘nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does’, Jesus has achieved everything I need and more than I can imagine by his perfect work. So… how does that translate into the messy business of living in this broken world, among broken people, in a body which remains vulnerable to temptation, illness, and which has a particular and unique combination of strengths and weaknesses? What do I do with the fact that the soundtrack in my head is so relentlessly negative, apologetic, full of regret for letting others – and myself – down? How does that stand up to the searching light of scriptural truth, to what God says about me?

Friends, I believe that God does not call us to be blind to who we are, the unique circumstances and opportunities – and limitations – of our lives. When God called Gideon to be judge and warrior in Israel, He didn’t deny that Gideon was the least in the weakest of clans – rather the response was, “go in the strength you have…. and I will be with you.”

Similarly, when Jeremiah balked at the prospect of being prophet to the rebellious and ultimately doomed people of Judah, God didn’t deny either the challenge of the situation, or Jeremiah’s youth which would put him at a disadvantage. Rather, God reminded Jeremiah that he would not go alone – God would go with him. I think in fact that we see later in Jeremiah’s ministry just how hard it was for this man to obey God, fighting the burden of grief and resenting the message which he was called to give. I doubt very much that Jeremiah had an inflated or unrealistic opinion of himself, and that gives me great comfort! I can identify with this faithful servant who found himself prey to despair and wanting to give up in the face of his own weakness and the magnitude of the task before him.

Some of God’s children find it very hard to think of themselves as able for the life to which they are called. Some of us carry a perpetual apology in our hearts and on our tongues, painfully aware of everything that might be counted failure, and weakness, and sadly less aware of what others may see as strength, gifting, and spiritual fruit. Some strive all their days against comparison with other believers, unable to resist and invariably denigrating their God-given selves – which itself dishonours God and fails to honour him, another failure added to the ever-growing list.

Can I encourage you friends, if you know people like this, to pray for a special mercy from God, by which they may receive the peace of self-acceptance, as the beloved child of a heavenly Father whose strength is sufficient for their weakness, and who delights in all their acts of obedience and faith. If you can encourage them in any way, do so – but be warned, they may be unable to receive the comfort you seek to give because they are so painfully aware of the ‘truth’ as they see it, the inner life which falls so short of their desire.

Loving heavenly Father, by your Spirit dwelling in me, translate this truth into my life. Let me live at peace with the person you have made me, not resenting those things you have withheld, but appreciating and using well the gifts I have received. Silence that internal critic, and let me hear instead the beloved voice saying “Do not be afraid, I will go with you.” May I honour you by gladly living in obedience, using the resources I have to serve your kingdom. In the name of Jesus who speaks for me always at your right hand, Amen.

Drawing breath

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law….. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him..

(Det 29.29; 30.19&20)

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the bear with its cubs?           

           Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

(Job 38.28-33)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.26&27,34)

Be patient.. until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 5.7,8 &11)

My soul, draw breath: turn your inner ear away from the cacophony of voices which are calling you names, reminding you of weakness, folly, errors and failure. 

My soul, draw breath: turn your eye away from the list of things you ‘should’ be doing, the things that are ‘good and worthy’, the great towering mountain of expectations that you feel obliged to fulfil.

My soul, draw breath: your Lord is near, and while you deafen yourself by telling over the lists, you cannot hear him; while you fix your eyes on the expectations, you cannot see him.

My soul, draw breath: remember just how much has been done for you, in the name of love, and by whom. Remember that your smallness does not require you to work harder than ever to achieve and to succeed. Remember that your riches are inherited, not earned, and that the loving hand which gives so generously is your Father, not your employer. There are no conditions attached, only the invitation to respond in love and adoration.

My soul, draw breath: yes, there is so much that you do not understand and cannot bear to think about. But remember who holds those secret things in his keeping: He holds you too, as his beloved. In the closest places of his heart you are present and precious. Nothing happens to you beyond his knowledge, and the burdens belong to him, who alone is able to bear them in justice and holiness, doing all things well.

Almighty God, the secret things belong to you, and sometimes that great amount of unknown threatens to overwhelm me – both my immediate questions, and the wider ones affecting your people around the world. But one of the things revealed is your power in creation, and so much more than power; brilliance, artistry, wisdom, vastness, and majesty. You are the great artist, the ultimate maker, and I praise you today. Thank you for human artistry which can help me to take time to look, really stop and contemplate the beauty of the details as well as the big pictures. Thank you for those whose gifts of word, hand and tongue cast light on your creative genius and help me to see it afresh – to find rest in contemplation of your handiwork.

Thank you, that when I take time to receive from you the daily bounty of beauty, the love in every detail, I can live in gratitude and in expectation of what you are yet to do. Thank you that this contemplation restores my perspective, and I am reminded that my place is not to uncover every secret, but to live for you on the basis of what is revealed to me. The burden lifts, as I humble myself before my maker and accept my limitations.

Draw breath my soul: look, listen, and remember what is true. And then let your song rise to your Lord, as you rest in him today. 

Chewing it over…and over..

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

(Ps 1.1-3)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour.

(Isa 61.1-3)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Gal 1.3-5)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving; considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

(Jas 3.13,17&18)

It is always good to remind ourselves of what the scriptures say is true about us, to choose to let God’s words be the basis on which we evaluate not only what is going on around us but also what weight to give our own thoughts – those constant companions which colour our actions and words.

When I feel that I am astray in this present evil age, weak and wayward, I recall that Christ has died to rescue me – and that he succeeded! The resurrection proves that my debt is paid, and I am free from the powers which so cruelly dominate our world. As one of his ransomed and precious children, I have total security in my Saviour’s work, and in the place to which God is leading me is called home. 

The work of Jesus is completely sufficient, and not only am I rescued, but also transformed. For the dust and ashes, the rags and tatters of human brokenness, I receive a crown; beauty for brokenness, rich royal robes fitted for a princess. And these are mine not to cover up shameful secrets, to deceive God as if He could be fooled. Rather, these are now my proper possession as His child. I am a new creation, a beloved, beautiful God-delighting daughter, and all that He bestows on me now is simply my birthright – all because of Jesus.

This is wisdom then; to chew over these truths again, and again. Choosing to make them the basis on which I face each fresh challenge and stage of life. Choosing to live as though they were and are and always will be true, so that more and more my thoughts follow God’s thoughts about me, and I have that never failing stream of renewing, nourishing life flowing through me. 

I am planted by the Lord, to bear witness to his glory and power and righteousness as the One who keeps his promises and does all things well. I am not here because of an accident, but by His design and to fulfill his purposes. What keeps me anchored here is the life which is flowing – by the spirit in me – from his grace and inexhaustible love. As I meditate on the truth, his truth, my roots go deeper and hold more strongly, and my surroundings matter less. I can, and must, ground and nourish myself in this heavenly wisdom, trusting that it will bear fruit in my life for God’s glory and the blessing of those around me.  Trees don’t actively decide to bear fruit… it happens because they are healthy trees. May I remember that next time I am fretting over the apparent fruitlessness of my life, and trust that while it may not be obvious to me, yet my heavenly Father will be satisfied that this particular bit of his planting is doing just what he planned it should!