Author Archives: eps992014

About eps992014

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

Purpose and expectancy

Caleb son of Jephunneh said to Joshua.. “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years.. while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

(Jos 14.6,10-12)

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Ps 92.12-15)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as ever Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me..

(Phil 1.20-22)

Do you sometimes struggle to believe that there is still purpose in your life? That sounds rather dramatic, but is perhaps a more common thought than folk like to admit. A change in our circumstances can leave a sense of dislocation, emptiness, and often intense weariness of life, so that we long for our heavenly home as a means of escape. 

And yet Paul, writing from prison was eager and willing to continue in his mortal life, as God willed, anticipating fruitful and purpose-filled days. If I am still here, it is because the Lord has something for me to do, or to bear in such a way that Christ will be exalted – honoured and glorified both by human onlookers, and also the spiritual realm. Job’s continued faith and submission to God under excruciating loss and agony brought great honour in the courts of heaven, and we are assured that all who follow that example of fidelity and trust are welcomed home with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!”.

Whether it is advancing years, physical challenges and limitations, or other devastations which are leaving us feeling useless and worthless, we can learn much from what we read in the bible about purposeful perseverance. 

Caleb is a glorious example of a man who – after 45 years of waiting and what may have seemed pointless persistence – finally came into his inheritance. He claimed a promise from long ago, and not only that, he acted by faith in the God who promised, to enable him to take full and peaceful possession of that inheritance. He didn’t let his age restrict his expectations – he looked to the God who had made the promises and said, “Yes! we can do this!” Caleb encourages me to go on asking God to fulfil his word, not growing bitter over perceived delays, and willing to put my effort where my faith claims to be – in doing the work which is involved as God leads me. 

The psalmist speaks of those who grow into old age like trees rooted in a place of fertility and security. Their nourishment comes from the Lord, faith flowing through them to keep them hope-filled and expectant, bearing fruit in good deeds, praise to God and service of others – praying, encouraging, testifying to God’s power, giving of time, talents and money as they are able. I am blessed to have many examples of such people in my life, and pray that as I grow older, I might grow sweeter, more wholesome, more Christ-centred and therefore more fruitful, even as they are!

I was pondering these things as I toiled up this hill, and thinking what a good example it was of how life can feel like a steep and challenging climb, with little rest in sight. How do we tackle such a challenge in a way that will exalt Christ?

I take small steps – I choose to do the next thing which the Lord has placed in my way, no matter how small it may seem, trusting that I will be led right.

I put my feet on the smoothest spot I can see – I ground all my living in the truths of God’s love and salvation, in his character. This is a solid and safe foundation from which I can live each day and face each challenge.

I don’t look to the top of the mountain! If I look too far ahead, I am overcome by the scale of the challenge, but if I look to each step as it comes, I keep moving on.

Father God, give me grace for each tiny step upwards, give me hope to keep on moving, and may peace in Christ be the solid ground under my feet. May Christ be exalted, Amen

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

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…. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

And when I pray…

Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses…Only be strong and courageous.

(Jos 1.17&18)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what  is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Phil 1.3-6&9-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

(Col 1.2)

It is always good to learn from others how we might serve the people of God more faithfully, and perseveringly – at least, I know that I have much to learn. The writings of Paul to his beloved churches give us a glimpse into the life of intercession which he followed so faithfully, and I was struck recently by the fact that he seems to start praying for people by being thankful for them! Perhaps this is not new for you, in which case, read no further..

What happens when we look at the prayer list, when the array of burdens and requests mounts up and it seems that all we are doing is bringing a shopping list of our demands to God? I think that I lose perspective, I become absorbed in the – important but not crucial – details, and forget that God’s overall plans and purposes are so much greater and so utterly other than my own. I begin to think that if I don’t see the answers I want, then prayer doesn’t work, or that I am somehow failing to ask properly.

But, when I start by giving thanks for God’s people, each unique, each beautifully crafted for his purposes and saved by grace through faith in Jesus – each one a beloved child and sibling of min in Christ – then my perspective shifts. They are no longer a duty to be ticked off, but a person in relationship to the Almighty – and to me. They are fearfully and wonderfully made and to be rejoiced in. Their salvation story is a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power in transforming broken humanity – as is mine.

Their heart’s desire, like mine, is to know Christ and to make him known, to play their part in God’s great plan of salvation and new creation. While we may have our own human ideas of what that ought to look like in a given situation – healings, job opportunities etc – actually, we all know and ultimately trust in a God who so often confounds human expectation.

So, when I pray, I can use some of the great prayers of the scriptures like these:

  • that God would go with us in all we do
  • that the Spirit will make us courageous and confident in God to work ahead of us
  • that we might receive daily grace – God’s work in us to accomplish what we can’t do
  • that we might live in the peace which is experiencing the blessings of being fully reconciled to God hour by hour and day by day
  • that we might grow in love for Christ and for one another, a mature and self-denying love which builds community, and witnesses to the power of the gospel in our hearts
  • that we might bear fruit for Christ, the changed lives which result from continual re-orientation of all our thoughts and attitudes according to his word
  • that we might bring glory and praise to God

All of these are things that I long to see happening in my life, so should I not also pray them for others? These things all underpin the details of daily life, so that our attitudes and decisions are increasingly godly and discerning, and fully aligned to whatever God is doing in and through us. Each and every situation is an opportunity to chose to live for God, and to trust him to use that glad and obedient submission for his own purposes.

When I pray in this way for others, I am reminded all the time that God’s agenda is so big and that whatever the details of each life may be, we are together in fulfilling his plans. Our sufferings and struggles gain significance, and also are drained of their power to bind us in despair and half-heartedness when we remember the great story in which we are playing a part, and the adversary who seeks to thwart every blossoming of God’s work in human lives.

Friends, let us pray with joy, because the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion, and in the meantime, he has promised never to leave us. Then let us pray with confident thanksgiving, and to him be all the glory. Amen!

An unlikely asset in our mission..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them…

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Jos 1.5-9)

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

Strategies, visions, special training programmes and extra staff…are those what we think the church needs to fulfill the great commission of her Lord? Or is it simpler than that?

When we read the story of Joshua, on the verge of entering into the land which God has promised to the people, and which it is their mission to take possession of, we expect to find God issuing instructions about military strategy and training, logistics and procedures. Instead, we find that Joshua is commanded to hold fast to the word of God, absorbing it into the very fibre of his being, so that his thoughts are coloured and shaped by it. This command lies at the heart of the great assurances of the first chapter of the book – and this means that they are the focus or highpoint of the chapter. God is effectively saying that if Joshua holds fast to all he learns about God in the book of the law, then he will be in exactly the right place to succeed in his mission. Nothing else matters as much as this foundational dependence.

Joshua’s commission came with the assurance of God’s presence. Our commission likewise, comes with Christ’s word that he will never leave or forsake us. He has authority to send us out – just as God’s authority sent Joshua into Canaan – to take possession of that which already belongs to him, namely all those for whom he died, the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ..

So, the challenge is to us to follow Joshua’s example. We have so much more than Joshua in terms of God’s revelation of himself through his word – we have the living Word himself! We have God’s authority, and his command, to go and make disciples, trusting that – as for Joshua and the people of Israel – God will go before, to fight the battles, break down the walls, and change the hearts of those whom we face.

It is as we live on, and by God’s word – committing every day and resource to him for his will and his glory; never assuming that he is following our agenda, but looking to be guided by the spirit; putting his interests before our own worries and preoccupations – that we find ourselves by the Lord’s side, on the victorious side, watching as he opens up the way and brings us into full possession of the kingdom which he has decreed will be our home.

May we be made bold and courageous as we fix our eyes on the Lord, so that as his word becomes our food and drink, our daily direction and focus is to be where he is working, loving those whom he loves, and believing that he will be glorified in our time.

Be strong and courageous my friends, for the Lord himself is with us and will never forsake us. In his name, let us live bold and obedient lives, for the battles belong to him, and the victory has been won!

Deep and healing rest

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down- this leaning wall, this tottering fence? Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend upon God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times you people; pour our your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and “You reward everyone according to what they have done.”

(Psalm 62)

Did you have a special secret place as a child? I had a place on the hill behind my parent’s house where the turf was short and sweet, where I was hidden from the paths and could lie looking straight up to deep blue sky, hearing only distant traffic, and the song of the skylarks.

This psalm conjures for me such a place. High on a hill, bathed in sunshine, a rocky outcrop is warm from the sun and hides me from any onlookers. I am hidden and yet fully visible to the heavens. My body is relaxed by the warmth and the utter quiet of upland air is about me. Yet I am not alone, because the Lord of my heart and my constant companion is with me. He is the creator of this place, of the heavens above me and of the tiniest particle of my being. He is both unknowable, and yet intimately known to me because he has revealed himself in his son to be my loving God. His love is immeasurable, fierce and tender, and he delights to share my days, to receive all that is in my heart, and to bear my burdens.

Those who would distress and harm me – human or spiritual foes – are known to him, and before him they are as nothing. It does not lie in their power to break this sweet and eternal communion. Even when God ordains for me  a path of shadows, suffering and pain, yet in my innermost spirit I am always here on the mountainside. I put my trust in his power and love, and in his plans for me. He is good, and always working for my blessing – no matter what happens to me. His power will surely accomplish all that he plans, and because of his loving-kindness to me, I can rest in quietness and wait for that fulfilment.

The psalmist affirms that God will exercise power and unfailing love, and by exhorting himself afresh to trust and depend on God in all things, above human or material resources, he models how I must face each new challenge of life.

Those who place their trust in God are never abandoned – but are cherished not for their good deeds and merit, rather for that humble and dependant attitude. God will indeed reward each according to what we have done, may we be given grace and faith to follow the psalmist’s example and find our rest in God, letting him guard our honour and provide our salvation.

I am not myself…

..if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 15.14&15,20,42-44,55-57)

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.

(Rom 6.6-8,10&11,13)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Cor 5.14&15,17)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.. you will be my people, and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

Easter day…Resurrection day…. whatever one chooses to call it, after that day, all the world was changed for ever. The creator had become a creature. God became human, entering into our darkness and despair in order to do the only thing which could restore us to our place as God’s beloved people, for whom the earth was formed, and with whom He desires to live eternally. When God becomes human, anything may happen: the dead are raised to life and the blind see; the ‘rules’ of creation are joyously suspended, so that food is multiplied and the storm stilled at a word. The outcast is welcomed home, and to each and every one, their dignity and worth as God’s child is restored.

The world in those days couldn’t stand it – Jews and Romans, rich and poor, religious and secular, they united against him and condemned him to death. He was unspeakable, worthless, to be despised and destroyed. Today, our world continues to reject him, to cancel him and persecute those who would speak out in his name.

But he broke death…on the first day of the week, he rose, clothed in the imperishable and glorified body which will one day also be given to each of us.

And today, millions around the world will sing ‘Glory to God’, for his power in salvation through Christ – because in spite of thehuman arrogance born of two millenia of ‘progress’, the risen Christ lives in the hearts of his humble people. What does human scorn matter to us, when we have life in all its fulness and the hope of glory to come?  What hope does a godless universe offer us to compete with full salvation, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus?

I found these words many years ago on the internet, and cannot now track an author to give credit to for them. I share them here, because they powerfully express the truth about the lives of God’s redeemed people. I invite you to read them aloud to yourself – often – as you praise God for his grace and salvation today!

I am not myself. I am Christ raised on high. I am not who I was when I stumbled on sin and lost my way, when guilt or fear kept a close watch through the night, when striving to perform or please marked my day.

I am become another, and what a life is now mine. The fullness of the freedom of the blessings of heaven fills my days and velvet guards my dark. Each part of me is welcomed and loved. I am whole. I am one. I am uncluttered by the past. I am done with death dealing and dogma, with mounting stairs to God. I am not climbing, I am here, raised on high.

I am alive with the life of Christ. I have the fullness of God in my veins, the wisdom of God a treasure in my heart. I can live in His glory, I can serve with His splendour. I can know His ways for they are mine. We are one. I have been raised with Christ.

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

Living is a messy business

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

(Ps 130.1-5)

But [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

(Job 23.10-12)

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

(Ps 57.1-4)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

(2Cor 4.6-9,16&17)

The saints of the Hebrew scriptures – the psalmists, prophets and faithful servants like Job – lived before the full revelation of God’s great plan for dealing once and for all with the consequences of sin. Their confidence in God’s love for them, and their conviction that somehow, their personal sin was dealt with and could not cut them off from the God whom they trusted and worshipped is astonishing to us, living as we do on the other side of the Cross. But their words show that in spite of the consequences of personal sin (Ps 130), or of the sins of others against them (Ps 57), or even the inexplicable tragedies of life (Job), yet they trusted God and rejoiced in Him as Lord.

Life in this world is a very messy business. History teaches us that every era brings its own experiences of war, natural disaster, human exploitation and oppression. Each human who has ever lived, bears the seeds for sins against others, against themselves and ultimately against their maker. We live with the consequences of all those things. In the same way that each generation can build on the prosperity and success of previous ones, so also it reaps the harvest of their bad choices, destructive behaviours, and inherent sinfulness.

The miracle of our salvation is that not only are we to be ultimately delivered from this messy, often painful, and seemingly inevitable progression, but even in the midst of it, we have hope and confidence that our lives matter, and that God is not wasting the small things we bring in response to his overwhelming gift to us.

The saints of old trusted in God, often in spite of the evidence of their lives, and clung to him as their rock and the one who would declare them righteous in his sight. We, who have the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate declaration of God’s love for and commitment to us, surely have so much more reason to trust him with all that we are. Our own sin and its consequences; the sins of others against us; and the tragedies of life: all of these are opportunities to choose God’s glory, to cling to him by faith and to stand firm on his goodness.

With Paul, we can say that the treasure of Christ in our hearts is displayed most fully as we increasingly recognise just what dull and unworthy material we are made of – His light illuminates our shabbiness. With Job, we can say that we will come forth from our trials refined like pure gold, as we persevere through them in an attitude of dependence on God and a refusal to ascribe evil to him. I think that Job would have recognised himself in Paul’s description of the refining and purifying work of the Spirit in a believer’s life.

All praise and glory to the one who redeems and forgives us, who weaves our small, messy  lives into his glorious plan of redemption, and in the process, makes us into his treasures – pure and beautiful, reflecting God’s own character back to him.

Loving others as God loves us…

“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…. love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

(Lev 19.1&18)

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God….. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1. 3&8)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.. There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.

(1 Cor 13.4-7&13)

If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart… We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us.. Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions….. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.

(1Jn 3.14-18; 4.7-12)

Did you notice those last sentences in the words from John’s letter? “No one has ever seen God. BUT if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” 

I find that frankly, staggering. The idea that anything involving humankind could possibly lead to a full expression of God’s love seems outrageous! But, if true, it is surely one of the greatest incentives to the church to love one another. In our lived-out gospel, it is as we love that we reveal God in his fulness to the world.

The love of God for his rebellious creatures, his eternal intention that we should be his dear companions, is the driving force behind the entire narrative of human history. We are created to know, and to be known; to love and to be loved. This is no sentimental thing, no affair of emotions, but a relentless and clear-sighted commitment to doing what is best for us, no matter what it costs. The love of God is unchanging, relentless, even ruthless in the same way that a surgeon is ruthless in cutting away disease in order to bring healing.

We, in turn, obey Christ’s command to love one another – relentlessly, sacrificially, ruthlessly desiring what is best for the beloved. Ultimately, we know that our highest good is to belong to Christ, to submit fully to his will and to obey him in all things. Daily, we know that we fail, we settle for lower goals, and we are beguiled into thinking that health, prosperity and popularity are our greatest good. But over and over, we are forgiven, prompted to return to our first love – the One who loved us best and first – and to respond in renewed commitment and love.

As God’s children love one another – in patience and kindness; in acceptance and service; in forgiveness and being forgiven; in humility and thankfulness – so the bible tells us, God’s love is brought to its full expression – like the realisation of a picture into a three-dimensional object. The love of God becomes tangible and capable of touching lives as it is manifest in the love of believers for one another. Such love must speak of God to a watching, weeping, broken and hopeless world.

The onlooker may want to say , ‘Oh, they are such nice people, such good people, see how they care for one another’. To which our response must surely be,’ Oh no, it is the Lord who loves us and lives in us who makes us able to live and love like this! It is all of Jesus, who is making us like him! Left to our own devices, we would not love like this…’

Heavenly Father, we want to be holy because you are holy; we want to love others, because you have loved us. May our hearts grow warm to reflect your love, may they expand to find room for others, so that as we love, you are revealed among us, and the world cannot help but see you. Be glorified among us, O Lord, make us lovers after your own heart. Amen.

for the helpers…

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Ps 121.1&2)

God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it…. in the church God has appointed.. apostles, .. prophets, ..teachers, ..those having gifts of healing, those able to help others..

(1 Cor 12.24-26,28)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

Today, in my weakness and distress, I have known gentleness and compassion. In my confusion, there has been one who understands. In my weariness, there has been one to carry, and think, and do for me.

Thank you, Lord God, for the one who ministered to me, who brought your kindness and patience, clothed in human form, and gave what I needed.

How precious it is, when God’s loving kindness is brought to us by a person, a pair of hands and a gentle heart; a listening spirit and wise counsel; a strong arm and the fruit of experience; a generous gift of time, talents or money which meets the need of the moment. How good it is, to reflect on the ways by which we have been helped, in great or small ways, all the days of our lives, and to recognise God’s good hand in these things.

How humbling it is, to see ourselves as others see us, in our frailty and changeability. How sweet to know that we are loved and accepted, with all our faults and that the veil of their love is drawn over our shame and it is hidden in the hearts of our nearest and dearest. We cannot be all-sufficient; we must accept our limitations and gracefully allow others to do for us what we cannot do. God has placed helpers in our lives, how stubborn and foolish it would be to refuse them the privilege of serving us, even as we seek to serve them!

How marvellous it is, to know that others are praying for us, and that often the help that comes is because of their intercessions and the mysterious providence of God, working all things together through time, across geography and in all human intention, to fulfill his glorious purposes. We cannot be all-seeing, all -knowing, but must trust ourselves to God each moment of each day, and therefore we pray for his provision for ourselves and others – for his help and direction to undergird our ways.

Lord God, almighty and all-knowing, ultimately all our help comes from you and we praise and thank you today for your care for us, the least and lowliest. 

We thank and praise you for those by whom you so often send your help, for our families and friends, for our fellow-believers, and for the random strangers who appear at just the right moment to help us in our need. May we never tire of saying “Thank you”, to your human helpers, as well as to you.

We confess again the sin of pride and independence which causes us to resent or resist the help of others, to envy their gifts instead of valuing our own, and to doubt your wisdom in creating us in the unique way that you have!

Thank you, most of all, for the greatest help you give us, in our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who gave everything that we might be helped out of our hopelessness, whose aid never fails, and who remains with us by his Spirit. In Jesus Christ, you came to us in flesh and blood, and in his name, we praise and thank you for all your faithfulness and mercy. Amen.