Monthly Archives: November 2022

Unchanging but never unfeeling…

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep…How priceless is your unfailing love!

(Ps 36.5-7)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

(Jn 13.34&35)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Cor 13.4-8)

As human beings, we are prone to allow our moods to colour our interactions with others. If we are tired, worried or upset, it so often comes out in short-tempered interactions with others who have nothing to do with the problem! and if we realise later what happened, and go to apologise, it can be hard to restore the relationship which was damaged – because the other person is as flawed and sinful as ourselves, struggling to forgive and unable to forget. Our fluctuating moods can have serious and permanent consequences.

What a relief then to turn to the most faithful friend we have, to Jesus, who in his perfect love and insight into our hearts and minds can always see the root cause of our behaviour, and in his compassion, forgive us when we repent and return to him in sorrow. I may start the day distracted, sad, frustrated and even angry with God as I wrestle with unanswered prayers, disappointments and grief. But he meets me every morning with fresh supplies of love, and is never too busy or preoccupied to share those first moments.

My moods do not deter my faithful friend, and he waits patiently until I sit still long enough to hear his loving voice and know that all is well with my soul because he has it in safe-keeping. His love revives my spirit if I will only sit with him and let him speak to me, soaking away the bitterness of my troubles and inviting me to load them onto his strong back instead of trying to carry them alone.

While the issues may remain, the answers not yet come, still I am comforted, cleansed and restored as the Lord ministers to me, and I gratefully recognise that I need bring nothing in return. He has chosen to love me, and that is enough – the best thanks I can give is a daily joyful and humble embracing of that love and continual praise of the giver. His gift to me then becomes my gift in his name and for his sake to others. His perfect love and constant presence so abundantly meet my need that I am free to pour into the lives of others what they need. Thus I may, in small measure, be a channel of his peace and love, a source of blessing and help, a scent of Christ in my home and community. This pouring out of what I have received is a fitting expression of thanksgiving and praise, a fitting act of worship to God, who is love eternal.

I don’t have to generate some spiritual feelings before I come to my Lord’s side for comfort; I don’t need to add up some piety points before I may be bold to pray. What sweet and utter relief in knowing that he calls me in love to come – broken, tired, feeling ugly and out of sorts with everyone and especially myself, sick with disappointment and raw with grief. Anyhow, and any way, he calls me to come and to receive what he has in abundance to give me. Lord, I come….

Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

(C Elliott, 1823-1871)

A renewed vision

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous: it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33)

When my heart is troubled, and my mind filled with anxious thoughts about my life, and my loved ones, or about the distress of the world in these days, it is always good to return to the biblical perspective, to regain the larger vision.

The Hebrew scriptures reveal a creating, loving, powerful and just God; a God who desires to know and be known – in so far as any created being may know its creator! We find there glimpses of a mighty being, beyond our comprehension in character and eternal existence, who nonetheless claims to be intimately aware of each and every one of his people. It is clear that we cannot begin to grasp the magnitude, might and holiness/otherness of this God who makes himself known, and yet he invites us into a relationship with him, based on what we do see and can know.

The scriptures also reveal and ruthlessly detail all the ways in which we, the creatures, have departed from what we were made to be. Our realm is now so full of the rebellion we choose, and the evil, pain and destruction which are the consequences of that choice, that to believe and depend on the possibility of innate human goodness and progress seems to me utterly naive. It is in these ancient texts that we find a convincing, clear and relentless analysis of what is wrong in the world, and why humankind is as far as ever from dealing with the root of the trouble.

There is so much that we do not understand about the ways of God in addressing the brokenness of his creation – but he asks us to trust him because of what we do see and know. We see his power revealed in creation, and in mighty deeds of deliverance and preservation. We see his faithfulness to his promises, in preserving the people whom he called to be his special possession. And ultimately, we see in the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the plan that God has to address the malady once and for all. It may seem odd to us, but the whole agonising ancient problem is so deep, so real and so far beyond our solving it that I find relief in letting God know best, and trusting that when he acts, it is because there is no other way.

I will therefore join with the psalm writer and all who sing; I will put my faith in God, the one who spoke – and it was. I will ‘urgently wait’ for the Lord as one translation puts it – making him my refuge in trouble, the only recipient of my praise and thanksgiving, my foundation of trust and dependance.

A perennial blight

My heart cries out over Moab; her fugitives flee…weeping as they go; they lament their destruction. Their waters are dried up and the grass is withered; the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left.. the wealth they have acquired.. they carry away. Like fluttering birds pushed from the nest, so are the women of Moab at the fords of the Arnon.

(Isa 15.5-7; 16.2)

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

(1 Cor 11.23-26)

I saw heaven open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war…. and his name is the Word of God…On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

(Rev 19.11,13&16)

Many other and more discerning writers will put pen to paper this weekend, to comment and lament and analyse the appalling addiction of humankind to war and violence as a means of resolving difference and apportioning resources. I only want to reflect for myself briefly on the pattern, on its devastating consequences, and on the solution which is revealed in the good news about Jesus.

One of the earliest consequences of human rebellion was the resort to violence as a means to an end, and a response to the fear of others which sin breeds in us. Cain took his brother’s life, and within a few generations, his descendant Lamech was boasting about how many he had killed for trivial reasons and with impunity.

The picture of destruction and of fleeing refugees in all their vulnerability has changed little since Isaiah wept over the plight of the neighbouring land of Moab – human distress in war is not new, although perhaps the means of inflicting it may be. 

Left to ourselves, this expression of the destructive power of sin might have quickly wiped out humankind, and I believe that it is only the ‘restraining power of common grace’ (with thanks to the scholar Alex Motyer*) which has enabled our race to continue to exist and to grow in numbers and sophistication of technology and culture down the centuries. 

The bible tells us that God is not willing that any should perish, and his hand of final judgement is still withheld, even though sin in all its ugliness and destructive power dominates our lives. He is preparing a people for himself, with whom to share a life eternal, and for this reason, he waits. And that means that war goes on, violence continues to shatter lives and devastate communities and countries. Humanity left to itself is incapable of breaking the cycle, because it springs from the blight lodged in deepest recesses of all our hearts. We must not hide from the evidence – is the 21st century looking more peaceful and harmonious than the 20th did? No! This seems to be another lesson from history which we cannot learn.

The good news about Jesus is that he came to win the ultimate fight – against the power which enslaves humankind to wrong and destructive choices, to rebellion against God. He won through surrendering to violence – undeserved death, alienation from God – and his resurrection demonstrates his victory because sin’s ultimate weapon is death, and Christ defeated it.

When his followers remember Jesus’ suffering and death, they do so in anticipation and in thankfulness. We remember that sin has been defeated, that we are on the winning side, and that one day we will enter into a life where death and suffering have no place – where war and weeping are no more.

As a Christian, I believe that I am called to be a peacemaker – to live and interact with others in ways that promote love, generosity, forgiveness and healing. I also believe that until God’s time of waiting is finally over, there cannot be true peace in the world, because only when all human hearts are healed and made new will there be an end to those things which cause wars. 

I remember the fallen, the broken, the displaced and the haunted-living whose minds are so traumatised by violence that their lives are detestable to them. I pray and speak and move for healing peace between individuals and nations. But I do not put my faith in human effort, or education, or any other possible tool. I put my faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom I also remember, with gladness and profound humble relief, as the one who has defeated the enemy of all our souls, and has promised that one day we will live with him in perfect, fruitful and lively peace.

[Alex Motyer; The prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, 1993]

Just… tired

You pushed me into this, God, and I let you do it. You were too much for me and now I’m a public joke.. all I get for my God-warnings are insults and contempt. But if I say, ‘Forget it! No more God-messages from me!’, the words are like a fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer.. Oh, God of the angel armies, no one fools you. You see through everyone, everything… I rest my case with you.. Curse the day I was born! The day my mother bore me – a curse on it I say!… Why, oh why, did I ever leave that womb? Life’s been nothing but trouble and tears, and what’s coming is more of the same.

(Jer 20.7-9,12,14&18, the Message translation)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

(Matt 13.44-46)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

(Matt 16.24-26)

I cannot unsee what I have seen. I cannot unbelieve what I have believed. I cannot undo a life of willing and glad surrender to a loving Father. I do not want to do these things, in the deepest places of my spirit, I am bound absolutely in love to my Saviour, and worship with gladness. And yet, I am so tired. I never realised properly before that this is what it means to bear a cross daily – to live as one belonging to another kingdom, who must yet be fully alive to all that is wrong here and now, and suffer all the evils of this broken world.

On the one hand, I know myself beloved, redeemed, securely bound for an eternity and fulness of life beyond my dreams – free from burdens of guilt, free to love and forgive others, free to spend myself for them knowing that there is one who cares for me more than any human creature ever could.

On the other hand, I live with a weight of knowledge – of sin and judgement to come; of the impending departure of so many precious souls to eternal exile; of just how badly broken this world is, and how there is no hope for it apart from Christ; above all, of my own failure to be what I desire to be for him. I live with the reality of prayers which appear unanswered; of the disastrous consequences of human sin, and the deafening noise of suffering on every hand.

I am near to be crushed by the guilt which comes over me when the burden of daily realities is so much more present in my mind, so much more effective in setting my attitudes and influencing my feelings. I am ashamed that I, for whom life has been so smooth and easy, should be finding faith such a struggle. Where is the victorious life of the disciple? Where is the ability to rejoice in trials; to fix my eyes on God’s promises and thus to find joy and hope in the present? The disconnect between how I ought to live, and how I actually live is so great. I could find it in myself to envy the birds, the dumb beasts, all the lively creatures which glorify God by being, and have no spirit to discipline and subdue, no will to wrestle back into obedience. I know that I do sometimes wonder at the cheerfulness of unbelieving friends who seem to navigate life – and often troubled lives – with a spirit of optimism and lightness, unburdened by faith. Why should faith be such a heavy weight to bear, when it is also such a blessing?

Lord, I am just so tired of fighting to be faithful in face of grief, and loss; to be hopeful in the face of profound discouragement; to believe in the teeth of denial that you are at work and doing good things.

I am ashamed of this weakness, and yet convinced that you – who walked this earth, bearing in your body all our human experiences – do indeed understand and have compassion on me. I do not want to dishonour you, but to learn how to walk humbly and fruitfully through this shadow place in trust and obedience. Show me ever more clearly what is mine in my Saviour, that I might value him ever more highly as my treasure beyond price and infinitely worth persevering for. Stir up my desire for a closer walk with you, may your Spirit within enable a cheerful and persevering spirit, to cast out the weariness and lassitude which drain hope and joy. Have mercy Lord, Amen.