Author Archives: eps992014

About eps992014

a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, a mother, wife, sometime runner, singer, gardener, and proud Scot

A consuming fire

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy, in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.'”

(Lev 10.1-3)

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord..'”

(Ezek 34.11,12&16)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.11)

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…. You have come to God, the judge of all men…, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel….Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Heb 12.18,22,23,&28)

It is not easy for us to begin to appreciate the holiness of God – the ferocious purity and abhorrence of evil – which characterises the Creator and upholder of all things. We live so intimately with sin, subtly excusing and softening it in order to give ourselves an easy time, that we find God’s reaction to it a little excessive.. But that is our weakness and not God’s. He is goodness, light and love. He is right and true and entirely other than the corruption which is our nature.

From the beginning, the story of scripture makes it clear that holiness cannot be in proximity with sin; it must be destroyed – even as the power of the sun destroys everything that comes too close to it. And yet, God desires to dwell among his people, and all the story of salvation is designed to make this possible; from the sacrificial system, through the temple era, until Jesus came to be the living fulfilment of all those foreshadowings and models. He came to be the means by which holiness could be reconciled to sinful humanity, the one through whom intimacy could be restored.

In Jesus, all the destroying power which had to be unleashed against the offence of sin found its focus. As the good shepherd, he literally stands between us and God’s wrath, taking its full force upon himself – and being consumed. Thus and only thus, our sin is dealt with and we can enter into the perfect relationship which God has long desired. We receive his perfection, and he takes our sin. By dying and rising again in his new resurrection body, Jesus inaugurated the new nature which will enable all God’s chosen people to dwell intimately with his holiness in the new creation. There will be nothing in us from which God will shrink, or that could call forth his wrath on us.

Without Jesus, humanity stands before God as Nadab and Abihu did – presuming on our own notions of what is good and right, and being destroyed. With Jesus, our prospect is totally different. No dark mountain with destroying fire, but rather light, love, celebration and worship. The consuming fire HAS gone forth, but another has been burnt up for us, has completed the sacrifice, and as we – by faith – stand in him (Christ) so we receive all the blessings promised in his new covenant. We have an inheritance in glory, a place in God’s family and citizenship in an eternal, unshakeable kingdom.

Let us then worship him with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!

(Image is part of ‘A Garment of War’ by Sir DY Cameron 1864-1945)

Going deeper..

The heavens tell God’s glory, and his handiwork sky declares.

Day to day breathes utterance and night to night pronounces knowledge.

There is no utterance and there are no words, their voice is never heard. Through all the earth their voice goes out, to the world’s edge, their words.

For the sun He set up a tent in them – and he like a groom from his canopy comes, exults like a warrior running his course. From the ends of the heavens his going out and his circuit to their ends, and nothing can hide from his heat.

The Lord’s teaching is perfect, restoring to life. The Lord’s pact is steadfast, it makes the fool wise. The Lord’s precepts are upright, delighting the heart. The Lord’s command unblemished, giving light to the eyes. The Lord’s fear is pure, outlasting all time. The Lord’s judgements are truth, all of them just.

More desired than gold, than abundant fine gold, and sweeter than honey, quintessence of bees. Your servant, too, takes care with them. In keeping them – great reward. Unwitting sins who can grasp? Of unknown actions clear me. From wilful men preserve Your servant, let them not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and clear of great crime.

Let my mouth’s utterances be pleasing and my heart’s stirring before You, Lord, my rock and redeemer.

(Psalm 19, R.Alter trans. 2007)

I am learning to read the bible… which may sound a ridiculous thing for a middle-aged woman to say, one who grew up in churches with outstanding preaching and teaching every week.

But, it is true. I learnt so much and am forever grateful to those who fed me so richly, and inspired me to persevere in faith – my debt to them is incalculable. Nevertheless, I am only now learning to read for myself, to listen to my own thoughts, to trust that as I seek and study, God will teach me; and as I learn in community with others, we can discern truth even though there is no written booklet or ‘qualified’ teacher present!

A few months ago, a group of local women began meeting together weekly, reading from the book of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, and using resources like their bible commentaries and cross-referencing systems to begin exploring the connections, themes and lessons contained in that book. Much to our own delighted surprise, we not only found enough to talk about each week, but we were continually stimulated to think deeply, to learn from one another’s traditions and approaches, to refresh our understanding and to even change our ideas! The freedom to dig into the word, to wrestle with its obscurities, to juggle the paradoxes and revere the mysteries was intoxicating. We proceeded to study Philippians, are now in Ruth, and next plan to tackle Isaiah – which is not a small book!

As we read in community, we trust God to guide us, we pray for the Spirit to lead us, and we pray for humility to listen to each voice. We have had some entertaining pursuits of red herrings, followed some devious rabbit holes and stumbled upon impenetrable mysteries. We have grown in love for one another, and more significantly, in confidence in God’s word to us and for us in 2022.

There will always be so much more to learn, but rather than letting that make us feel overwhelmed, we choose to praise God for the inexhaustible riches of his word, and for the many resources which are available to us now to support our learning together. I can testify that my delight in meditating – or struggling! – with the bible is so much deeper, more satisfying, than ever, and would hope that this makes me more responsive to God’s leading and transforming work in my life… that is for others to say.

Don’t give up reading, thinking, exploring the riches of God’s word to us. Find a community where the word is honoured, and where people will honestly face it with their doubts, willing to learn and to grow. We will never reach the end of God’s revelation, but we can choose whether to drift along on the surface, malnourished and vulnerable, or to take every opportunity to make truth our own, to stretch our minds and strengthen our confidence in the word. It is for each one of us!

May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Obedience in the face of uncertainty

As for me, I trust in You, O Lord. I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand – O save me from the hand of my enemies, my pursuers. Shine Your face on Your servant, rescue me in Your kindness… Be strong, and let your heart be firm, all who hope in the Lord.

(Ps 31.15-17&25, R Alter translation, 2007)

The Lord performs righteous acts and justice for all the oppressed. He makes known His ways to Moses, to the Israelites, His feats. Compassionate and gracious, the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He will not dispute for ever nor nurse His anger for all time. Not according to our offences has He done to us nor according to our crimes requited us. For as the heavens loom high over earth, His kindness is great over those who fear Him… As a father has compassion for his children, the Lord has compassion for those who fear Him.

(Ps 103.6-11&13, R Alter translation, 2007)

Then Eli said, “he is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

(1 Sam 3.18)

Joab said, “..Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

(2 Sam 10.12)

“Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

(Isa 46.8-10)

We can always know what God is like…. we cannot always know what he will do… I was struck recently by the reminder that we are called to trust in God in the same way that a very small child trusts in its parents – a trust which depends not on understanding the circumstances and giving an intellectual assent to particular actions, but a trust depending entirely on belief in the one who is making the decisions.

The pages of the Hebrew bible are full of stories which illustrate what happens when people – just like us, who have days when they seem on fire with faith in God, and days when they live as though he didn’t exist – have to choose whether to trust God, or to take matters into their own hands. It doesn’t end well when we try to take control, and although God redeems these situations over and over again, the painful and obvious lack of trust remains a problem. Do we trust God because we think he will do what we believe is right? Because we think we can direct and control him through our devotions, our doctrine, our liturgy (or lack of it), our fasting and praying?

Friend, think again if you are ever tempted to entertain such ideas. God owes his creatures nothing. God is utterly beyond our comprehension, coercion, and cajoling. His goodness, power, holiness and justice; his vision of what is to come, is so much greater and more glorious than we can imagine – how could we possibly know what is good and right for ourselves in this particular circumstance, when our lives are totally enmeshed in the lives of countless other people? God’s goodness is of another quality entirely, not based on human notions of indulgence, treats, or even prosperity, health and long-life. God’s goodness is working relentlessly to save all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, whose home is eternity and who are being transformed into the image of Christ day by day.

Today, I am called again to trust in God, not my own beliefs about him or denominational dogma and practice. I am called to trust all that I cannot know about him, all that lies hidden by the brilliance of his holiness, otherness, eternal nature and divinity.

Today, I can trust him, can step out in obedience into the unknown, can launch into deep waters with confidence, because he has promised to be loyally kind, utterly faithful in finishing what he began – ushering in a new creation, my future home, where I will dwell with Christ in glory. It is my part to obey, and his part to see that all things do indeed work together for my good – even if that doesn’t look good in the world’s eyes, or feel good to me.

The Lord will indeed do all that he pleases – will I trust and obey, working with him? Or will I fight, resist and make harder for myself and others along the way, losing all opportunities to bring him glory as my trust in him is revealed to be well-grounded?

Seeking substance and significance…

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O children.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep people away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.

May the favour, the beauty, of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90)

If you haven’t done so, may I suggest that you read this psalm aloud to yourself now; read it slowly, perhaps several times, noticing different phrases and how they speak to you today, in the times which are currently your circumstances.

Are you full of plans and hopes for the future, confident and expectant for what lies ahead? Then perhaps the reminder of the fleeting day which is humanity’s lot is not welcome to you. Ultimately, none of us knows what tomorrow may brings, none can be sure that our plans will be realised, and it does us good to remember this, to humble ourselves before the one in whose hands all our days lie, for good or ill.

Are you weary with the situation in which you find yourself, seeking purpose and significance and yet finding only vanity and emptiness with nothing to show for your labour? Then take heart from the psalmist’s closing prayer – he knows exactly how you feel, and shares your sense that all is futile unless the Lord bless and give it substance. It is true that as the beloved, redeemed children of the Everlasting Father, we have no need to earn his acceptance by our labour – we receive all we need and abundantly more than that, by his grace through Jesus our Lord. BUT, since he is our maker as well as our Father, he surely knows and has placed in us that desire for significance, the hunger to leave our mark on history in some way.

The honesty and longing of this psalm are powerful in expressing the turmoil of our lives in the face of our short time on earth, and the limitations imposed on us by health, opportunities etc. We are in a relationship with eternity, and yet feel our temporality so acutely. What do we have to offer the one who birthed universes? What does the dust have to offer the author of the constellations?

We cannot enrich our God in any way; but we can respond to the love which he has lavished upon us by living in glad, trusting obedience, and bringing all our concerns to his feet – all the time, for everything that makes up our lives, and everyone who shares them. His love for us makes us significant; his joy in our obedience gives all our labour purpose and our endurance meaning. In everything we do, think and are, we have daily opportunities to respond to his love and to know that in so doing, we offer up a sacrifice of praise, an entirely appropriate and meaningful way of living which is of eternal significance.

The world around may write us off as cranks who live on a delusion; our lives may be limited (in the eyes of unbelievers) by illness, poverty, lack of the right education or skills. But in the eyes of God, who is from everlasting to everlasting – and therefore more significant than anyone who ever lived a human life – we matter, matter enough to be died for, matter enough to be transformed into the image of Christ and prepared for a new life in a new earth.  There our eternal significance will finally become fully clear to us, because we will be made of the stuff of eternity, we will have come home to be with our Lord for ever, sharing his life, his love and his family.

On being set aside…

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

(Job 1.21)

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 (Phil 4.9, 11-13)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God… Endure hardship as discipline… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees!

(Heb 12.1,2,7,10-12)

The missionary Amy Carmichael wrote, ‘in acceptance lieth peace’, and surely this is the key to those seasons in our lives when all our plans are thrown askew by unplanned interruptions, and especially when through illness or accident, we are left by the side of the journey of life to watch and be waited on by others, wondering what our purpose is and fretting over those tasks undone.

The intellect may have assented to the proposition that my health, talents and productivity are all surrendered to God, to do with as suits his divine purpose. But when I am called to live out that surrender with a quiet heart and a cheerful face, the reality can be quite different. How can it be that God wants to suspend my useful activities? How can it help his purposes for me to be unable to labour with the talents he has given? It is extremely tempting to believe that without my particular input, nothing can usefully be achieved, and that somehow, by my inactivity, I am failing God, my neighbours, and his kingdom-building work.

All of these thoughts demonstrate that I haven’t really understood and accepted just what it means to fully surrender all that I am and have to God, to be used as he sees fit. If the Creator and Lord of all wishes to lay me aside for a season – whether long, or short – that is his business, and mine is to accept his decision, to look for his lessons for me in this time, and to expect that he has things for me to learn and do even in this unwelcome inactivity. Some of God’s most productive saints have been those who have embraced his unexpected, apparently limiting, plan for their lives – consider Joni Eareckson Tada, wheelchair bound and crippled for life, who has been enabled to minister to hundreds of thousands of people, sharing the love of Christ through her weakness.

Perhaps I need to learn to be served, to embrace the humility of asking for assistance and graciously waiting until someone is able to give it. Perhaps I need to learn again that I am not the only person who can do my tasks, or that they are not quite so important as I like to pretend they are. My true worth lies not in how significant my labours are, but in my Lord’s love and sacrificial death for me. If I were to be laid aside for the rest of my life from active service, yet I know that his love and delight in me would be undiminished.

Perhaps I need also to learn a deeper sympathy and compassion for those who are truly limited in their activity – the long-term housebound, those with life-limiting conditions. Lord, let me take to heart the frustrations, losses and narrowed opportunities which are mine in these days, so that I might be more sensitive and imaginatively loving to those who are denied so much all their days.

Above all, perhaps I can live more slowly and deliberately, willing to be quiet and still, to truly see the beauty around me, the good things with which I am so well supplied, and to be profoundly thankful as I consider from whom all has come.

May I accept this discipline from my Lord with grace and cheerfulness; trusting that as he has called me to it, so he will give me the strength to bear it with a stout heart and in hope that it will not be wasted. May I look for and learn the lessons he has for me in it, that I may come through stronger in faith, and more able to serve, glorify and love him in the days ahead. As the clouds of heavenly witnesses testify with glad shouts to the faithfulness of the Lord, may I be encouraged to prove for myself by obedient acceptance, that he is indeed worthy to be praised.

I will… He will!

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil people advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling, he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27)

What are the enemies lined up against you this week, the ones that make your flesh shrink and your spirit quail as you consider their threats and are aware of their power? It is unlikely to be physical foes for most of us, but I don’t think that robs this psalm of all it has to say to us, as believers who are nonetheless on the front line in our faith.

We face the arch-enemy of our Lord, who delights to attack Christ by attacking Christ’s followers, the ones for whom he died and with whom he so closely identifies. This identification is the reason we are attacked, but it is also the reason that we can be sure of our ultimate security and victory. Our Lord Jesus will not let any of his little ones be carried out of his arms by the evil one – NOT ONE, no matter how weak or foolish they may be. As we learn to recognise our assailant – the driving force behind all our very real temptations to despair, hopelessness, cynicism and disobedience to Christ – so we learn to pray with the psalmist to the one who has decisively crushed and triumphed over the enemy.

We affirm our heart’s desire, which is to know and see our God; we look forward to sacrificing with joy and praising his name for his power in our salvation and ultimate deliverance to glory. We affirm our confidence in him as victorious, and as totally good, anticipating that we will see that glorious goodness in our lives and the world around us. As we do these things, we are reminded of who God is, and strengthened to resist the temptations which it would dishonour him to succumb to. Whenever his children look up by faith and say, Lord, for your name’s sake I choose to resist this temptation, then all heaven rejoices!

Almighty God, who for the sake of your dear Son, our Saviour, looks on us with love and delight, we rejoice today in all that you do for us. Thank you that as we face our great enemy, we can pray with David, standing on the solid ground of your character and promises. Lord, sustain your servants as we seek to live godly and Christ-glorifying lives. May we wait with confidence, trust with hope, and rejoice always in who you are. Thank you that you welcome us, though all others reject us; that you set us high upon the rock of salvation and hide us from the destructive power of evil; thank you that you keep us safe unto eternity and the resurrection life you have prepared for us.

When the foundations are shaken

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

(Ps 46)

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord… that you have brought me this far?.. What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no-one like you, and there is no God but you… And now, God, keep for ever the promise you have made concerning your servant.. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great for ever. Then men will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God!… O Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant..

(2 Sam 7.18,20-22,25&26, 28

Our instincts, when life becomes turbulent and frightening, drive us to ‘fight’ the situation in our own strength, or to ‘fly’ from it in order to protect ourselves. The bible instead calls us to the discipline of stillness in God’s presence – to the imitation of David who went and sat before the Lord. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we claim that God (and not us) can save us in, from or through the particular trouble we face. This discipline is our worship, because by it, we ascribe or formally hand over to God all power over our lives and the circumstances which beset our world. Only the Lord Almighty has the power, and wisdom, and authority to deal justly and perfectly with what is happening. Human understanding and capacity are simply useless in the face of the realities of a sin-sick, and weary creation.

While God has created humankind with astonishing capabilities, He alone remains enthroned as King above all.  As Sovereign Lord he has the right to do as he wills with what he has made, and if we believe what Jesus tells us about God, what Jesus reveals about God, then we can and must trust that what God wills, no matter how incomprehensible and painful it may seem to us, is ultimately just and good and right.

How then, do we behave as the world shakes around us, and as so many mock our faith and refuse to believe in a loving God? We find examples throughout the bible of God’s people praying his own promises back to him as requests, steadying and standing firm on that sure ground of his faithfulness to himself.

For those facing life-limiting diagnosis, bereavement and loss, we remind God that He has promised to be with his people always, to be their strength and refuge, to glorify his name in their lives as they live by faith through the trials he has permitted.

As we look around at a God-less nation, we remind God that his name is to be exalted, and that he is calling people to himself from every nation and tribe on earth. We ask him to fulfil his promise in our day, in our land, that we might see his name lifted high and honoured.

As we recall that God has promised to bless all nations – to be passionate about what is really good for them, which is knowing Jesus as Saviour – we can pray that God will do this in every place where humanity is at war, where oppression and exploitation are leaving a trail of devastated lives and lands. Ultimately, the salvation of his people matters more than anything which they may suffer during their mortal lives – and those who know and love Jesus as Lord, are totally secure in their eternal hope and promise of a richer and fuller life than we can currently imagine.

Those who know and love God, understand that the meaning of life lies rooted in a power too great and good to be overcome by the momentary anarchies of history.

(Reinhold Niebuhr: 1892-1971)

Sovereign Lord, help us to be still before you and to pray for your name to be honoured, for your will to be done, and your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Be glorified in us, and by us, and in our sight in this day, for you are Lord above all, and you have said you will do this. By the power of Jesus we pray and hold ourselves still in your presence, looking to see your hand moving in power. Amen

Finding my voice…telling his truth

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever..

to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures for ever..

to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures for ever…

and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures for ever…

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever….

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever…

Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,4,16,21,23&24,26)

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

(Jos 23.14)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Rom 1.16&17)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2 Cor 1.20-22)

We were challenged at bible study recently to consider how we might answer someone who asked, ‘What have you gained since coming to know Jesus Christ?’

I didn’t find it easy to answer, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. The first one, and perhaps the most significant, is that I have been a follower of Jesus virtually all my life, having grown up in a genuine Christian home, and made a commitment early in my teens. I simply have no ‘before-and after’ experiences by which to assess the difference which knowing Jesus as Lord has made. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to try and live without him. 

Another reason is that I think as Christians, we are so determined not to get full of ourselves, but to remain aware of what Jesus did for us on the Cross – as sinners, we had to be died for – that we struggle to articulate benefits of faith beyond forgiveneness! Of course, that is important, but if we are trying to witness to our faith to people who barely believe in sin, then forgiveness isn’t an easy thing to start with.

As we go on in our lives as Jesus followers, we often find ourselves becoming ever more aware of residual sins, pet habits which we cherish, or weaknesses which we abhor but cannot overcome yet. These things rightly loom large, because they show us how we still grieve the Lord whom we love and truly desire to honour. But in witnessing to non-believers, is this a place to start? How many of those around you will be impressed with your faith if it appears to drive you to continually bemoan and wrestle with faults which they regard as ‘natural’ and unimportant, and certainly not worth making life a misery over!

I want to be able to say, with Paul, that I am not ashamed of the gospel and yet I know that all too often I don’t take opportunities to boast about my Lord. I am praying – and would encourage you to pray too – that He will prompt us to see more clearly all the good things which we have as believers, things which our world badly needs and desires, so that we might make others want to come and find out more about Jesus.

Heavenly Father, I want to thank and praise you for all the many good things which I have because I am your child. I have significance, and an identity which cannot be taken from me – I am your beloved daughter, a royal princess, and priest in your name. I have a purpose, and the ability to fulfil that purpose, because you will enable me to do the job which is appointed to me in being part of building your kingdom – whether like Tabitha it is small, quiet acts of kindness, or like Peter in teaching and leading your people. I have a security which nothing in life or all creation can take from me, which allows me to face life with peace, and to give it up with anticipation.

Let my words as well as my deeds speak of your goodness, power and love, so that others may see and hunger after Christ, and in finding him, may find life, Amen.

 

When life gets holes in it….

Lord, God of my rescue, by day I cried out, by night, in you presence. May my prayer come before you. Incline your ear to my song. For I am sated with evils and my life reached the brink of Sheol..

You put me in the nethermost pit, in darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lay hard upon me, and all your breakers you inflicted… My eyes ache from affliction. I called on you, Lord, every day. I stretched out to you my palms..

As for me – to you, Lord, I shouted, and in the morn my prayer would greet you. Why, Lord, do you abandon my life, do you hide your face from me?

(Ps 88.1-3,7,8,10, 14&15)

I know someone who describes their existence since the experience of early widowhood as being like ‘life in black and white’. She is one of the most godly women I have ever known, and her life as a widow has been full of service to others and relative peace and contentment. And yet… all the colour and joy has gone.

Are you mourning today? The death of a spouse, the death of a sibling, the death of a child? The passing of a parent, or a close friend? The loss of health and autonomy? The loss of satisfying employment or a precious relationship? The loss of a dream? The loss of hope for reconciliation and renewal?  What do we do when life seems to be ripped apart by loss, when the reality of our fragile hold on health, well-being and life itself has been forcibly demonstrated and we are weak with grief, dazed with loss, stunned into dumb agony?

Our culture shies away from recognising the incredibly limited control we actually have over our lives, so that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and any experience of loss becomes un-natural and outrageous.

Dear friend, loss is not only natural but inevitable in our fallen world. The question is not will it come, but rather, how must I prepare myself to respond to it? What does my God require of me, his all-too-frail creature, that I might rightly glorify him and be sustained through this experience. What do I do with my pain?

The topic is far too significant to be addressed in one short conversation, but today I would point you to saints who have shown the way for us, leaving words that we can use, and wisdom that we can learn from. First in this great hymn..

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past; safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on  thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring; cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on thee I cast my care.
Reach me out  thy gracious hand! While I of thy strength receive, hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

(Charles Wesley: 1707-1788)

Wesley invites us to ditch our pride and all pretence of competence – fling yourself upon the Lord, plead recklessly and constantly for his aid in full confidence that he will supply your need.

Then Elisabeth Elliott – twice widowed and thus purified through extreme suffering – says this: offer up your pain to God, to do with it as he will. Make it your offering to him and then give thanks that he can – and will – work in it for your blessing and his glory. For her, widowhood became ‘ a gift, a call and a vocation, not merely a condition to be endured’. Having received it from the Lord, she then offered it up for his use, and chose acceptance and trust. (Eliott, E. The Path of Loneliness, 1988)

None of this takes away pain; it doesn’t replace what is gone: but it may transform our thinking and attitude to the losses which we will inevitably experience. The missionary Amy Carmichael learnt this lesson over many years of suffering, and pressing hard to bring it to God in the darkness of grief. Her poem ‘Nothing in the house’, is a meditation on knowing God in the midst of it. May it speak comfort and encouragement to you today.

Thy servant Lord, hath nothing in the house, not even one small pot of common oil;
For he who never cometh but to spoil hath raided my poor house again, again,
That ruthless strong man armed, whom men call Pain.

I thought that I had courage in the house, and patience to be quiet and endure,
And sometimes happy songs; now I am sure thy servant truly hath not anything,
And see my song-bird hath a broken wing.

My servant, I have come into the house – I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there never can be the need to tell His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?

And I, his conqueror, am in the house, Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldest thou, child of mine, if I am here? My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing, and he shall have a braver song to sing.

(Amy Carmichael : 1867-1951)

A position to live up to..

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, an how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’..”

(Ex 19.3-6)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Pet 2.9&10)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…

(Eph 1.18-20)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press onwards to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus….Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

(Phil 3.10, 12-14,16)

..and what have we already attained, what do you and I have to live up to? My friends, take thought for who God has made you today, now, through faith in Jesus Christ. We are those to whom Peter writes as the chosen people of God; those who have received mercy and are now a royal family with a mission to show God’s love and character to all nations.

Hold up your head, you bear a crown and a royal name. No one can take that from you, ever. No one can cut you off from the King of Kings, your elder brother, or from God on high, your heavenly, holy, and eternal Father.

Hold up your hands, you lift on high the glory of a risen Saviour, a perfect and complete Redemption and victory over sin and death. You can never praise him too highly, or too much. Your calling and privilege as his priest is to make him known in all you do.

Hold up your courage, you are indwelt by that same power by which Christ was raised from the dead; that same power which God now exerts for you, at work in and through all your circumstances to bring you to his side in glory and to fulfill all his good purposes for you.

Your daily life is God’s daily invitation to live in the full power and glory of who you now are, by faith in Christ. Your duties and responsibilities, your leisure and your service, are equally part of what delights him when it is offered up in praise and thanksgiving. Nothing is left out or unwanted, nothing is too small or insignificant to be valued by our God, when we direct our minds daily to live for his pleasure.

Past failures and regrets; past triumphs and achievements – all are equally put behind us each day as we come to the Lord and offer up all we have – the day before us and the breath in our bodies today. Sins are forgiven and cannot hold us back, victories are to be thankful for and to fuel faith for the future.

Father God, enlighten my heart to grasp the hope which is mine in Christ; the wealth which I inherit together with your people; and your incomparably great power at work in and for me. You are transforming me so that one day I will come home to new life with you in the new creation – sinless, painless, deathless. For the glory of Jesus my Lord, keep me pressing forward and living up to all that he has done for me. Amen