Category Archives: assurance

His rules, and rule…

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years…and it was so.

(Gen 1.14)

The Lord..said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures…As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

(Gen 8.21&22)

Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants….The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down…How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures..May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

(Ps 104)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created..He is before all things, and in him all things hold together..he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.15-20)

A friend recently observed that while we believe and trust in the Saviour who has made us members of his kingdom – an eternal and unshakeable one – yet we are still also time-bound human creatures, and therefore live with a strong tension between the ‘now and the not yet’. We know the truth of our hope for life after death, and of our Lord’s sovereignty, but the circumstances of our planet, our nation, our immediate condition, press so inevitably and strongly on our consciousness that we must pay attention to them too.

In this tension which runs through our lives as believers, I find great comfort in observing the unmistakeable hand of God in sustaining the laws and rhythms which govern the created things. The same God who established his kingdom through Jesus, is the one who called into being the galaxies and who rules the motion of every star and planet by his own immutable law. I can see the latter, while I cannot begin to understand them, and I am reassured  in my citizenship of the former!

I consider the moon and the sun, which between them exert such incredible power over our planet – power designed and instituted by God to sustain our lives as they drive our climate, our seasons, our very days and nights. Without his intimate and mind-boggling control over the details of physics, and his faithful upholding of the underpinning laws, we would be without hope. And as I consider that through all the millenia of known history, God has chosen to sustain those patterns and rules – in the face of the rebellion of his creatures – I am humbled and awed into profound thankfulness for his sustaining mercies.

As we continue to live through days of restriction and with levels of uncertainty not known in the prosperous and peaceful UK for over 50 years – though sadly too familiar to millions around the world – I put my confidence and trust in the God who says each day to the sun, ‘Shine!’, and to the mighty oceans, ‘Rise and fall’. He has upheld his creation through untold years, and has promised that until all his children are gathered in, the rules will be kept. His grace is truly designed to lead us to repent and depend on him, he desires that none should perish. The rule-maker is also the Rule keeper – the Lord above all, in whom all things are held together and for whose glory they exist. I rejoice to know and be known by one who is so utterly dependable, and so full of compassion towards his creatures that he holds back his just judgement, and sustains their lives, in order that they might come to know and love him. 

Nothing to be ashamed of?

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no-one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

(Ps 145.3-7)

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God..the Lord, who remains faithful for ever..

(Ps 146.3-6)

How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! …He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds..the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love

(Ps 147.1,3&11)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..

(Rom 1.16)

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord..our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a hearald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him…

(2 Tim 1.8,10-12)

My readings in the book of Psalms have reached the closing section, an extraordinarily powerful series of songs exulting in the God revealed in creation, through his dealings with the people of Israel and his inspired word. I have found them deeply helpful and encouraging in these days when our lives continue to be restricted and the only certain thing about the future, is that it is completely uncertain!

What relief to know that I am not meant to put my faith in humanity, to rely on ingenuity, science, brute force or any scheme by which humankind seeks to find meaning and purpose, let alone to control this world in which we live. The multiple levels of crisis now occurring around the world are demonstrating so very clearly that as a species, we are our own worst enemies, in process of destroying both ourselves, and the planet on which we live. What hope can I have, if I must trust even the noblest of the species? They are mortal too, they suffer the same sin-fracture, which brings even the best lives to an end, and reduces their plans to nothing.

What a relief to know that my life in this world is not my sole chance for a joyful, fulfilling existence, and that injustice, pain, deprivation and loss are passing things. I am made for a greater life, perfect and rich, and my hope for that life is in the gospel of grace revealed in Jesus. In his death, and especially in his resurrection to new life, I see the guarantee and can look forward with confidence to a new earth where I will have nothing to be ashamed of anymore, and will be lost in wonder, love and praise of my Saviour.

So am I living as one who has such a glorious and assured future? Does my life testify to a mind-boggling grace, to daily renewal and cleansing, to a loving and close relationship with Almighty God? Or do I live as one ashamed to be known as a believer, apologetic and tentative about expressing hope, joy and adoration?

Oh dear Lord, forgive my hesitancy, and instead fill me with the strong current of praise, confidence and boldness like that of the apostles, and the psalmists. As I contemplate your creation, may I sing your praises, and commend you to all I meet. As I contemplate the deep suffering of your handiwork, may I trust in your righteousness, your promised justice and restoration. As I contemplate the matchless love which took you to the cross, may I in all humility accept your grace, reject all pride, and choose to make you my only boast.

Praise the Lord, who holds all things secure in his loving hands; who will act justly and vindicate his name before all beings and all time; in whose covenant-faithfulness his people can completely trust. May we honour and exalt his name by living-out-loud for him, telling the story of his love and mighty works to the next generation, and NEVER being ashamed of our God!

Standing firm, or hanging on..or being held?

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you….I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life… To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless.

(Ps 119.89-91,93&96)

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)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

(1 Cor 1.18,20&25)

As I read this morning in Psalm 119, it hit me like a wave of relief….it is not what the world may say that matters, but rather what is true. What do I see around me? What does the testimony of centuries speak of? What above all does the book of Revelation assure me ? That the God in whom I am fighting to trust, that Almighty who reveals himself through the scriptures of the Old and New testaments, He is..He is good…and astonishingly, I am his beloved.

The darkness of the world has not changed; the bleak outlook in economic, political, environmental and social terms is the same. But – thanks be to the kindness of my Lord and the work of the Spirit – my eyes have been guided back to the only worthwhile truth, the eternal word of God. While the world continues to perplex and trouble me, I know deep in my heart that it makes even less sense if I try to leave God out of the picture. I rejoice with the psalmist, even as I call on God to fulfill his purposes in our broken world, even as I cry for his mercy on my doubts, and his active care for the untold millions in distresses without number.

The testimony of God’s people down the years – first his faithful among the Jews, and now those from all nations, tribes and tongues who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – is that God chooses to confound human pride and strength, in order to demonstrate our limitations and his own glory and might. Our God will not share his glory with another ; no state apparatus, no empire – however secure and impregnable it may look at its height, no power-hungry leader, no commercial system or social trend.. All human institutions come and go, but our God reigns and rules for ever and he will accomplish all that he pleases.

I want to be on the winning side! I want to stand at the end with Jesus, and say thank you for bringing me into your family, at such a cost and in spite of all you knew about how I would fail you – because all of this will resound to his glory and will magnify the love which planned from the beginning to redeem a fallen world. I want to be part of the new creation, to finally live as I was made to live in humble and glad service of God, and enjoying his presence without shame.

For the moment, this means accepting the world’s judgement of me as foolish; it means living with the agonising tension between the dark and broken reality of the world, and the certainty of hope which is mine in Jesus – a hope which is offered to all who are willing to lay aside their pride and accept the ‘folly’ of the gospel.

Can I encourage anyone reading this who is struggling like me to live faithfully in this tension…it is God’s tenacious grip on me which is my security, not the assiduity of my bible reading or prayer life. It is God’s certain adoption of me into his family through Jesus which gives me peace, not the credit of my good works or exercise of the talents which I have been given. This is called foolishness in a world which preaches self-help, and rewards those who have confidence in themselves…

Keep on talking to your heavenly Father, keep bringing your grief and lament into his presence, keep putting yourself in the place where you can hear his voice – so many things have been used to help me this past week, the words of hymns, the prayers of others, remembered phrases from books..You honour him best in these trying times by clinging harder and harder to that eternal word, pushing into that faithfulness and covenant love.. There is no one like our God, we are on the winning side, and he will indeed accomplish all that is good and right – how we long to see that day!

It all depends who you are talking to…

” I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me?…”

(Job 10.1-2)

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.

(Ps 104.31-35)

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..

(Phil 2.14&15)

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..and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6&7, 10)

‘Do everything without complaining…’, do you ever feel with me that this is an impossible instruction from the apostle Paul? It is so easy for us to moan and grumble, to argue that we will feel better if we get things off our minds, to look for sympathy and support from friends. And yet, the command is there, quite explicitly and without any loopholes. I am convicted and silenced, and realise that I make a habit of complaint – dressing it up as ‘sharing my burdens’, but actually I am talking to other people in a negative way about how God is choosing to deal with me. And that speaks of a lack of trust, a shortfall of faith, an unwillingness to accept his will as my best.

For this reason, I was intrigued to find that the word used by the psalmist in psalm 104 for ‘meditation’ is actually used in other parts of the bible for a complaint! The same word is used by Job as he lamented his sorry condition – the complaint to which he gives free rein in God’s presence. The same word is also used when Hannah bewails her childless condition in the temple, lamenting her barrenness and calling on God in her distress. It is this kind of pondering, meditating, which the psalmist commends to God – the same God in whom he rejoices!

It appears then, that if we take our legitimate complaints to God, then we are doing something right; while if we take them to other people, we are failing to grow in faith and Christ-likeness. What makes the difference?

The context of the word in Psalm 104 suggests that the writer has taken time to consider the God of creation; the sustainer of life and worthy of reverence and praise. As one who has put their trust in this God, depending upon divine love and faithfulness, the psalmist comes with confidence as well as awe to lay all his burdens down. This commitment of everything that concerns him to the Almighty takes God’s promises and character seriously, and constitutes acceptable worship. In his own letter, Peter puts this same message very simply – tell God about EVERYTHING, because he cares for you (and by implication, is the one who in his loving wisdom will act for your best interests).

When I choose to honour God by bringing my complaints and sharing them completely with him, I am demonstrating a trusting and humble spirit, acting as though I believed that he has my best interests at heart and has good purposes for every situation in which I may find myself. In sending Jesus to die for me, God demonstrated the depth of his love and how much he wants to bless me – so shall I not honour him by refusing to complain to others about his dealings with me now?

Job was not rebuked for bringing his complaint to God; Hannah was answered in a wonderful way after pouring out her heart; Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, but he received wisdom and grace to accept it as God’s best for him. I pray that I might learn this lesson for myself, learn to think before I grumble or moan and instead to talk honestly with my loving Father about what I am experiencing. May I choose to accept life from his hand with an expectation of blessing, and the assurance that I can always rejoice in him. May this be my worship and witness, and God-honouring choice in the days ahead.

Bad debt..or good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations..Circumcise your hearts, therefore and do not be stiff-necked any longer..Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him..He is the one you praise, he is your God who performed for you those great and awesome wonders …Love the Lord your God..

(Deut 10.14-11.1)

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.

(Ps 50.14&15)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – some wandered in desert wastelands..some sat in darkness, in utter darkness..because they rebelled against God’s commands…some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction… Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things..he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron…Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

(Ps 107.1,2,4,8-9,10,16-17,22)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

I love the fact that everything in the bible is there for our good, to help us learn about our God, and to have confidence in living for him in this weary-yet-wonderful world. I love the fact that the whole sacrificial system instituted under Moses, directed by God, was to teach people how much God yearned to dwell with them, and how sin must be addressed in order to make that possible. And I really love the fact that there is a whole category of offerings/sacrifices which are simply described as fellowship offerings – distinctive because there was no element of atonement for sin or cleansing of guilt, and the worshipper shared in the communal meal associated with the sacrifice. The focus was on the fellowship which God delighted to share with his children – they had a meal together and enjoyed one another’s company!

Thank offerings were one particular type of fellowship offering, perhaps for occasions when something special had happened, or to celebrate a trial endured with God’s help. Above all, while they express a sense of indebtedness to God for all he is and does, they are NOT an attempt to repay the debt. When we make a sacrifice of thanksgiving, we express love and worship to God, recognising that he is the source of all good things, and his power in us is the reason we are able to achieve anything.

Are we sometimes tempted to think of our relationship with God as one where we need to keep up with him in terms of generosity in loving? In human relationships, there can be a struggle to accept gifts which we feel unable to repay; we may take pride in being “no man’s debtor”. And there is the dangerous word – pride – which has no place in a relationship of love and trust. Parents do not love their children and provide for them with a view to getting services and gifts back again in equal measure. Spouses do not love according to strict rules of equal generosity – or if we do, it is fatal to the health of the marriage.

There is equally no room for pride in our relationship with God. Who are we to think that we can ever repay the debt we owe the Creator of the Cosmos? Consider all that has happened in order to make your life possible, and it quickly becomes clear that we have nothing to offer in return. When we add the incredible gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ Jesus, and the transforming power of the Spirit – by whom alone we think, act and live godly lives – our debt becomes infinitely greater.

With the coming of Christ, all our sins are paid for, and the only sacrifice which is now necessary is the fellowship offering, when we come and share our delight in all that God has done for us. We have an unpayable debt, which God delights that we should not even try to address – rather we are to exult in it! The magnitude of our debt simply makes the work of Christ and the love of God even more splendid, and his grace more beautiful.

When we make a sacrifice of praise, we are focusing not on the sins (forgiven, and yet to be), but on the new life and relationship we now have with God. The root of sin is defeated, and we are always welcome to share the fellowship meal with him, celebrating Christ and anticipating his return. Our right response to this great debt of love and mercy is humility, fearless witness and continual thankfulness. On this debt we can depend as on a sure foundation, and a resting place where all fear is banished. I am loved, accepted and forgiven..Alleluia!

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear with thy righteousness on, my person and offering to bring.

The terrors of law and of God, with me can have nothing to do; my Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete; his promise is yea and amen, and never was forfeited yet.

Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above can make him his purpose forego, or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase; impressed on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace.

Yes I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.

(AM Toplady 1740-1778)

 

Outlook..changeable!

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the pace where you dwell.  Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

(Ps 43)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….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 outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor.4.8&9, 16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

(Phil 4.4&6)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

One of the many effective ways in which our enemy, the devil, can cause us to stumble in our walk with God is by making us doubt our salvation. And one of the easiest ways for him to do that is to tempt us to focus on how our lives in this world continue to be dogged by difficulties – suffering of every kind. If he can once begin to direct our thoughts down the line of “if I were a real christian, surely I would not find life so hard, I would triumph over all my difficulties”, then he has got us trapped in a mire of self-reproach, self-preoccupation, and lies.

I say lies, because if we actually take time to look at the stories of believers’ lives – both faithful Old Testament followers and disciples in the New Testament – what we find are very familiar patterns of struggle and despondency, in a world that looks as dark and difficult as our own. The psalmists wrote of great joy, and also of deep despair – even of a sense of abandonment – but always from the conviction that God was listening, and powerful to act. They freely expressed their troubles, but had learnt that their experiences were not to be relied upon as an indication of God’s presence, absence or favour.

Time and time again, we find their darkest hours are underpinned by the rock-solid belief that God is, that He is good, and that somewhere, somehow, He is at work in this situation. They pressed on, in faith, not pretending to be perfect, not imagining that the world should be kinder to them than it was, but trusting God to keep them and use every trial for his glory and their blessing.

The same picture is painted for us in the lives of the saints, the believers of whom we read in the New Testament. They have the full revelation of Christ, knowledge of God’s saving love for them on Calvary, and yet they continue to struggle with the reality of life in a broken world.  Not only do they suffer persecution from non-believers, but also internal divisions within the churches. They experience illness, bereavement, personal disagreements and alienation, famine and natural disasters. All of human experience continues to be their experience – the joyous and the troubled – as it is ours. And nowhere do we find believers rebuked for their suffering, as if it were somehow the result of a lack of faith.

Rather, the apostles are concerned that they be wise, mature in their understanding, and above all grounded in faith in the nature of God. Just as for the Old Testament followers, it is not emotional experience which is the basis of reality and truth, but what God says – about himself and about us as his children. We WILL have trouble in this world – Jesus promised that! But we WILL also have his presence with us always, until the very end, when all troubles will cease and the need for obedient perseverance will finally be over.

We must encourage one another, through the ups and downs of our lives, to remember that while the ‘weather’ of our situation may change dramatically, the God who is in charge does not change. We will always feel cold when it is icy, get wet when it rains, and struggle when it gets too hot – those are normal and right reactions to our conditions. In the same way, we will grieve, feel fear or anxiety, anger and horror, depending on what is happening. We bring those feelings to God – as the psalmists did – and with thanksgiving (as the psalmists and the apostles did) we rejoice that He does not change, that He is in control, and that He will prove faithful through it all.

Surely, he is worthy!

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other….Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘ In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength’.”

(Isa 45.22-24)

..Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the  name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Phil 2.9-11)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation….”to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

(Rev 3.14&21)

Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?..”See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll…Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne….Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!

(Rev 5.2,5&6, 12)

When I am all at sea, bewildered, afraid and anxious, it is a joy to spend time simply considering the names and titles which Jesus receives in the bible. What comfort it is, to let the authority of his office anchor and settle me; when I choose to hold onto the truth about him against all the tossing and troubling storms of life.

There is simply no one like Jesus. All the most admirable and exalted human beings who ever lived cannot hold a candle to him. Their moral purity, or creativity; their passionate commitment and faithfulness to a cause; their achievements in leadership or development; their victories in war and their statesmanship in peace…all are so much dross when compared with my Lord Jesus.

He is the author of creation, and he will pronounce the great Amen which winds it all up and inaugurates the glorious day of new creating, when God will come to dwell with his perfected people at last, and all the joyous merriment of the ages will be released in the bridal feast and great adventure which our eternal life promises.

He alone is utterly true, and can testify faithfully to us about the God who is clothed in majesty beyond our penetration, and from whose gaze we shrink because he is so pure and holy. In Jesus, and in him alone, we learn what God is – love. Not the saccharine, indulgent variety, but the searing, sacrificial, relentlessly pursuing variety, which knows and sees the need of the beloved, and will stop at nothing to achieve it. Only this Divine lover could give his beloved what was most desperately needed – new life, forgiveness for sin, and the glorious assurance of being utterly accepted and celebrated forever.

As another calendar year begins, the human story of the world around continues to be dominated by fear, greed, pain and darkness – the fruits of the truth about human hearts. No philosophy, education, social strategy or economic prosperity will ever change the truth about the human heart – it takes God to make the heart new, and in this alone lies our hope. So in the beginning of 2020, as the church prevaricates, neglects the gospel and lacks the vision and passion to act, I rejoice that Jesus is at work completing what was begun on the cross.

I may not see the work, but it is there. I may live in an increasingly troubled, and godless society, where an ever higher price is being paid in human pain for the ‘freedom’ to choose life without God. But my faithful and true witness remains; the ruler of creation is not mocked by the pomposity of human pride and achievement. The ‘Amen’ will make all things new and whole, and I cannot fall from his strong hand.

Praise the Prince of Peace

Praise the Wonderful Counsellor

Praise the Son of the Most High

Praise the Resurrection and the Life

Praise the Light of the World

Praise the Friend of Sinners

Praise the Great High Priest

Praise Immanuel, God with us!

So much better than “best wishes”!

..a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests”

(Lk 2.13&14)

Finally brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(2 Cor 13.11&14)

For [Christ] himself is our peace…he came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near..Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 2.14&17;  6.23)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Pet 1.3&5-8)

In this era of social media, and internet communication, it is rare to send or receive a tangible greeting from anyone, and the habits and conventions of letter writing are dwindling. At Christmas perhaps, we still expect to send and receive cards, and will take time to write to those precious folk whom we will not see to greet in person. And we will wrestle as we always do, with the inadequacy of language to express our love, our support and care for them. Our words cannot achieve what we desire in communicating all that is in our hearts, and certainly cannot make us present to one another!

How marvellous then are the words which we find in scripture, where time and again, God promises his presence with his people. God does not send greetings, does not make wishes for our blessing; He gives, He comes! Ultimately, the whole narrative of scripture is the tale of God’s work to restore perfect communion between himself and his people, to deal with the barrier of sin which keeps us alienated from Him. But even from the beginning, God’s promise to his chosen ones was of his presence; and all the blessings which that brings.

When Paul writes prayers for blessing – as so often he does – at the end of his letters, he is not simply expressing good wishes, but asking with confidence that God will do exactly what He has promised to do, and can do. The young churches were communities of believers, reborn in Christ and indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence was among them, and with that came his gifts – of peace and rest; of reconciliation with one another; of the glorious hope of resurrection and eternal life; of forgiveness for sins past, and grace for the day’s tasks. As Peter says in his letter, God has given all that we need to live in ways that bring Him joy – because we have life in Christ by the Spirit and are free from slavery to sin.

So my friends, let us consider what good gifts we have received from God our Father – the foundation of faith, that trust in the saving work of Christ through which alone we are rescued, and on which all else is built: peace with God, and thus with one another, as we live together as forgiven children, equally dependant upon mercy, and equally glorified in Christ: love for one another, because we are already totally loved by God and have nothing to prove, nothing to depend on others for.

We can follow Paul’s example as we greet fellow believers, and as we pray for them; we can claim God’s promised gifts for his children and know that since He is present with them, there is no danger that the gift will be withheld.

Peace to you, my brothers and sisters; love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are your inheritance and daily provision.

….with my own love in Christ to all who read and share with me in the riches of our inheritance as the beloved children of God.

The rock on which we stand

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal….

The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you…

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us..You have enlarged the nation, O Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.

(Isa 26.3-4,7-9, 12&15)

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins..that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…for the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed..then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”….

Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1Cor 15.1-5,19-20,52&54,58)

One of the most wonderful things about the gospel which is the good news of our salvation, is that it is always true! It has nothing to do with our feelings, our circumstances, our confusion or misunderstandings, our theology (or lack of it it)..This ‘rock’ or foundation is the basis of our lives, of the freedom and strength and joy which God gifts to his children and it is reliable because it is the character of our God to be faithful.

We have received the gospel because God promised from the beginning that he would make a way by which fellowship between himself and his people would be restored. We have received the gospel because all through the bible narrative, God demonstrated his divine commitment to fulfilling that promise – in spite of the faithlessness of his chosen people, their idolatry and abandonment of his truth. We have received the gospel because it is entirely the work of an almighty, loving, just and gracious God. If any part of the good news depended upon human merit or ability, we would be utterly lost – praise God that he has done it all!

In spite of the two millennia of human failing which have characterised the church, still God continues to faithfully fulfill his promise, calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, and patiently waiting until all his own are gathered in before he winds up time and ushers in the glory of our eternal life with him. He has borne with the shame and dishonour which humanity(especially the church) continues to bring upon his name, as we fall sadly short of the example of Christ, and expose him to mockery and derision all over again. He continues to make people new, to call them to lives of loving service, of freedom from guilt, of wholeness instead of brokenness.

The gospel has not lost its power to transform, because God has not been diminished in any way by the increasing sophistication of our world. He is not weakened simply because certain leading thinkers and social influencers dismiss the idea of faith – nor because those who deny the divinity of Christ, and the truth of the gospel are shouting loudest. The Lord seated on the throne of glory laughs, and waits until the truth is revealed, and the folly of humanity in all its pride and self-confidence is laid painfully bare.

How necessary it is for me to return again and again to praising God for the gospel, to anchor my mind and heart in his unchanging nature, to rejoice by faith in what I cannot see – the steady completion of God’s kingdom-building work. Here is the only sure foundation for peace of mind in an increasingly troubled and God-rejecting world. How I thank the Lord for his mercy, and for his faithfulness to his people, and for the power by which I am held fast in Christ…’my heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.'(Ps 73.26)

What’s in a name..?

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who …Choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.

(Isa 56.4-7)

The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.3,14&15)

Greet Priscilla and Acquila..my dear friend Epenetus..Mary, Andronicus and Junias, Ampliatus, Urbanus and Stachys..Apelles, the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas…

(Rom 16.3-15)

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

(3Jn.14)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

(Heb 12.22&23)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name..

(Rev 3.11&12)

Deep down in our spirits, we know that each one of us matters; uniquely, eternally, matters. Our very existence has significance, and we strive to honour and respect the memory of those who have gone, as if the act of forgetting somehow wipes them out forever, and makes them of no account. This came home to me most recently at the sombre and moving memorial on the site of the twin towers in New York, where the names of those who died are recorded – not on some inaccessible wall or behind screens, but on plinths where they can be read and touched.

Each name represents a person made to reflect God’s character in the world; represents so many experiences, hopes and achievements – and above all a person for whom the world was made. We do well to remember that the terror and destruction of that day – and of so many other dark days in human history, like the Holocaust, the genocides of Africa and the Balkans, the purges of Stalin, Mao Tse tung and the Khmer Rouge, the great world wars and the invisible and forgotten conflicts that drag on today – all of these happened to ordinary people like us. In remembering, we express our own fear of being forgotten, swept away like dust with nothing to show we had ever lived.

Memorials are a cry against annihilation; a plea for it not to be true that after we die, there is nothing!

The bible teaches very clearly that the spirit in us is speaking a truth – that we are made for more than a few years of mortal life, and that our lives do have eternal significance. We have an inheritance – literally a place with our name on it – in the new heaven and earth which God is unfolding. No one can take that from us, no matter how short, troubled and apparently insignificant our mortal lives may be.

The shepherd king knows each of his sheep by name – he knows the very number of hairs upon our heads, and every detail of every day appointed for us to live. We matter to him, to the Lord of the universe, to the sovereign over every power and authority and the judge who will at last see righteousness rule over all things. He notices our little struggles and also our little victories; and he appreciates all that we seek to do in his name and for his glory. Even if our names are not recorded in some list of thanks by an apostle, we can be sure that our shepherd sees and values our labours, and we can truly rejoice because our names are written indelibly in heaven.

And there is this promise of a new name, to be given when at last we embark upon our new life with the redeemed in the perfection and joyous freedom of resurrection bodies and complete fellowship with Christ – a name which will maintain both our unique identities but also clearly show that we belong utterly to him.

I rejoice, O Lord, to know that my name is written in your book of life; and I praise you that one day, I will receive the new name which will proclaim to all the congregation of your people that I am your beloved, perfect and accepted, come into my inheritance and at peace!