Category Archives: assurance

A little self-knowledge….

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law……

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word…..Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good….

May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word.

(Ps 119. 27-29, 36-38, 41&42)

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

(Jer 17.9)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

(Matt 5.3-6)

It can be profoundly disconcerting when the word read speaks directly to the heart; when the spirit pierces our understanding, and we see a little of our own reality as God sees. I thank him that we do not see the whole, being spared that picture, which if seen would cause us to despair of living for even a few moments in a truly godly way! Thanks be to God for his mercy, in shielding us from the truth: for surely we are none of us perfect yet, and so much remains that is contrary to the beauty of holiness which we see in Christ. In our ignorance we persevere, trusting that God will reveal – in his good time – what needs to be dealt with, and accepting that there is a good deal of it!

But when it is so revealed, then what do we do? The temptation is to resist the vision, to replay in our minds all the soothing, deceitful reassurances that this world would give us, that this thing is no sin, but an understandable and justifiable line of thought or action given the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves…… Our culture cannot deal healthily with the idea of shame, of grieving that we are less worthy than we held ourselves to be, and cries loudly against it. But the word of God speaks firmly, of the standards to which we are held accountable, and the power which is given to us to live up to them in the life of the risen Christ within us by his spirit.

When I, who have so many of this world’s good things, and all the blessings of salvation and the hope of a life to come, find myself persistently anxious, petulant and discontented, then the response is not to perform more acts of love and indulgence towards myself, but to confess as sin this wrong attitude, this utter lack of real gratitude and lived trust in God. My heart is indeed deceitful when it tries to blame anyone but myself for this attitude, to copy Eve in her desire to excuse herself and put the burden of guilt on another. I am responsible before God for my attitude to the days he gives me; to the people who fill my life; for my use – or abuse – of the talents, possessions, and time he has allotted to my stewardship.

I am a flawed human being, living with other flawed human beings; and my Lord and Father knows all that is part of my lot. And he commands praise, obedience, joyful embracing of his will for my life – not on the basis of my feelings, but on the facts of his nature and acts. I have no excuse before him for failing to render these things, but oh how very easily I speak false comfort to myself and claim excuses for just that failure.

I do indeed hunger and thirst after righteousness; I long for my heart and mind to be turned effectively away from selfish desires; I grow weary of the battle for holiness, and sick at heart when I see fresh glimpses of my own deceitfulness and failures.

Thanks be to God then, who has given us full and free forgiveness in his Son, by whose death we receive life, and whose blood covers all our sins. Yes, we rightly grieve over our failures, and long for transformation; but we also have the right to claim victory over the one who taunts us with our failures, over the devil who would love nothing better than to keep us in the bitter dust of self-pity and despair.

Let us claim the promised comfort; the guaranteed inheritance; the blessed assurance of forgiveness and acceptance, so that the accuser of the brethren will depart, and we may labour on for a time in peace, with confidence that our God who began this good work in us will finish it and one day we shall rejoice in knowing ourselves perfected in Christ!

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And so it comes to pass…

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

(Psalm 100)

O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage hast all our fathers led.

Our vows, our prayers, we now present before thy throne of grace;
God of our Fathers, be the God of their succeeding race

Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.

Such blessings from Thy gracious hand our humble prayers implore;
And Thou shalt be our chosen God, and portion evermore.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), Scottish Paraphrases, 1781

The hundredth psalm is subtitled in my bible, “for giving thanks”, a serious understatement when it comes to describing that glorious outpouring, in only a few verses, of praise and trust. I grew up in the Scottish psalm singing tradition, so that the words are inextricably linked to an ancient tune, and I can’t say them, but must sing, slipping into the familiar cadences and measured, joyfully steady pace of the music. I hear the echoes of my father and mother singing alongside, in the days when we shared in the worship of God together, and am grateful over again to the church where I was raised, for giving me this heritage of music and word together.

The same is true for the paraphrase (it means a song or hymn based very closely on a particular passage, or passages of scripture, and was a key part of Scottish church singing for centuries). Again, the marriage of words and music is so deeply embedded that I cannot sing these words to any other tune, but who needs variety when the originals are so good! This hymn of total dependence on God, based on his faithfulness to those who have gone before us, is a wonderfully rich prayer for every day of our lives, and those of our loved ones.

I am using them together this week, because our family is giving thanks, and looking to the future as we celebrate our son’s engagement to marry – at an as yet unspecified date – a young woman who shares his deep faith, and commitment to living for God wherever that may take them. It is very humbling when the next generation take such significant steps, another occasion for me as mother to learn to let go, and trust that my heavenly Father knows and loves even better than I do!

I rejoice that my God is faithful through all the generations; and I am deeply thankful that my son has grown into saving faith in Christ, witnessing publicly to his Lord and committing himself to a life of pilgrimage. As a Christian parent, I am well aware that such faith is the only really important thing that one’s child needs, and also, that I have no power to impart it, but depend on God’s grace and the work of his spirit in my children. What a joy then, to see him thus affirm his faith, and to find that God has led him to a life-partner, one who can cherish and console, can exhort and comfort; and one to whom my son can devote all his powers of loving and nurturing.

Christian marriage brings many of the same challenges as the union of those with no faith, but it has one key difference – the presence of a living, loving God by whose power both partners are enabled to forgive and live with one another, and to cope with whatever challenges they might face. It is a great relief, as a parent, to be able to commit these children of my heart to the God whom they trust, knowing that He has their best interests at heart too, and will fulfill his purposes in their lives.

The pilgrimage will at times be weary; the path will often be perplexing; but in looking to God, I can pray with confidence that my succeeding race will find all their needs are met, their faith strengthened, and that God will be glorified in and through them.

I just wanna be a… sheep!

Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the glory of your name. Save us and forgive our sins for the honour of your name…Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.

(Psalm 79.9&13)

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need…

(Psalm 23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep……I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. …My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

(John 10.11,14&15,27-30)

One of God’s many gifts to his children, are the rest of his children! How often are you comforted, encouraged, inspired or helpfully chastened and challenged by other believers? Recently, a friend challenged me to think again about a passage and a concept with which I am so familiar that I realise I had stopped thinking about it! I think it is one of the traps into which long-time believers can easily fall, failing to register the depth of meaning in a passage because we think we understand and have already grasped all it has for us..Praise God, that he doesn’t leave us to our foolishness, but stirs us up to look again, to seek to learn again – old lessons for a new time of life, or new lessons altogether!

The gospel of John contains several passages in which Jesus refers to his people as sheep, and himself as shepherd, building on an image used in the Old Testament by the psalmists and prophets where the people of Israel are God’s flock, and most famously where David rejoices in having the Lord God as his shepherd. Sheep and the whole business of shepherding was as familiar to Jesus’ audience as our own daily routines are to us. The character of sheep, and the necessary qualifications of a good shepherd were  widely understood, so that when Jesus used these things in his teaching, everyone could grasp the message.

We – as sheep who have gone astray, vulnerable and foolish, needing care and protection – have in Christ the ideal and perfect Shepherd for our souls. His love for us – the love which took him to Calvary on our behalf – has shown the value which is placed upon us, a price beyond imagining. He knows us, not merely about us as statistics, but an intimate understanding and delighting in, which mirrors the joyous communion within the Trinity. How hard we find it to let this truth sink deeply into our understanding, to let it inform our thinking about God, and about ourselves as his beloved and chosen people!

By the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we are increasingly able to recognise the voice of our truth-telling beloved Shepherd, to discern the false voices which might beguile us away from him, and to reject them. That Spirit is also the guarantee of his gift to us, the gift of eternal life, which is the hope of all who trust in Christ – every straying, tired, despairing, or wilful sheep has a place in the Shepherd’s heart and he will not give up on any who truly call him Lord.

Finally, we are safe, and can have absolute assurance of the grasp which Christ has upon us. It is almost as though Jesus were gently boasting here, in the manner of a child..’my Dad is so much stronger than anyone else!!’ But in this case, it is no idle boast, but an earnest reassurance from our Good Shepherd that we need have no fear about our eternal security. I wonder if Paul was remembering these words of Jesus when he wrote this:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?..No despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8.35-39)

I am content to be a sheep; to accept my foolishness and utter need of constant care from a shepherd who has demonstrated such love for me and promised such a future. And I am thankful for other members of the flock who do so much to help me to hear his voice more clearly, and to follow him more nearly!

Take courage my heart!

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves…Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

(Philippians 2.3, 12&13)

The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?…We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away…to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ..So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 

Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.

(2Corinthians 3.7,8,13, 14&18)

Take courage my heart, your Lord sees your true desire and is delighted by it. He is merciful as well as just, and will not despise you in your weakness, but will bestow strength for each new need. Praise the Lord my heart, for he shines upon you like the sun.

Take courage my heart, your Lord sees your deep sorrow, and is full of compassion for you. He knows that you are frail, and longs to take the burden from you – cast it at his feet, and leave it there; over and over again, cast it down! Praise the Lord my heart, for he carries you in his arms and lifts your heaviness like the tenderest parent.

Take courage my heart, your Lord sees the way that lies ahead, and understands your fear. He has prepared good things for you to do for him, and his strength will not fail to make you able for them. Praise the Lord my heart, for his mighty power is freely given to all his children for their labour in his name.

Take courage my heart, your Lord is working in you though you do not see it. In his mercy, he spares you from foolish pride in yourself, he gives you a humble spirit and a tender conscience. Praise the Lord my heart, for he shines through you all unawares, and gains glory for his name in your humility.

Take courage my heart, your Lord has dealt with sin forever on your behalf. When the accuser deceives or torments you, cry on Jesus name, proclaim the Saviour’s death, and receive anew the assurance that you are forgiven, washed clean, and free. Praise the Lord my heart, for his mercies never fail, and his love covered all my sin.

Take courage my heart, for as the flowers raise their faces to the sun and in receiving light, are transformed, so also you are changing. From one degree of glory to another, you are being made new, made whole, made like Christ. Praise the Lord my heart, for one day, he will look into you and see himself, perfectly reflected.

To him be the glory, the honour, and the praise. Amen!

Try resting..

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night..For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands…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.”

(Psalm 92.1,2,3,4&12-15)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

(Psalm 91.1&2)

Twenty four years ago this week, my husband and I arrived in the little village in this picture to spend the first days of our married life, and we attended the church during our visit. We had no particular reason for choosing this place, other than that we thought no one would recognise either of us! This village is now one of three centres of worship in our parish, and I come here every Sunday evening to meet with fellow believers (in a different building), to worship the God whose ways are truly beyond our understanding! This is a place where I now delight to be at home, to be known and recognised.

It is marvellous to me to look back, and to acknowledge that my Heavenly Father knows so much better than I do what is right and good, so that all the ways he has led us over the years have brought us to this place at the right time. Two city born folk, finding themselves utterly at home in this remote seaside parish; adjusted completely to the intricately connected community way of living, and thankful for the slower pace of life. Truly, our God is wise in all his ways, and his works are a source of gladness to his grateful children.

It is good for us, when in times of uncertainty and adjustment, or seeking God’s way for our lives, to look back and consider all the paths he has led us down to reach this current resting place. It is good to catch the racing thoughts, the anxious internal conversations, and to bring them still into the moment, the present, and turn them into thankful prayer to God for his untiring, unfailing goodness.

As I consider the pattern of my life here, and continue to seek God’s guidance as to how my time is best spent, I am tempted to worry and fret – and that achieves nothing, while making me at the same time very unhappy and unpleasant to live with. When I give in to this temptation, the devil wins and peace is lost.

Thanks be to God, that he uses many things to catch our attention and draw us back to himself, unflagging in his determination to bless us and help us to grow in resilient, obedient faith. So today, as I laboured in my garden, I was able to silence the relentless internal complaint, and to rest in the moment that the Lord was giving me; sunshine on my back, strength in my arms and legs, soil to dig and plants to nourish and enjoy. I can even rejoice that I have leisure in which to become anxious – not for the anxiety but for the luxury of unhurried days, and the growing sense that I can enjoy my Lord’s company without rushing from one good work to another!

May I learn to rest more peacefully in his shadow; may I be deaf to voices that drive me to compare myself to others, and hear only his voice saying ” Darling child, I love you so much, spend time with me, tell me your thoughts, tell me how you love what I give you.”

I want to trust him for everything, and he sees my heart and knows this. If there are things that he wants me to do, is he not able to show me? If I see no clear signs, and have asked and looked and waited, then for the moment I can perhaps rest more deliberately in his presence, allowing his love to refresh me, and trusting that when the time comes, the God who has been the author of all my life story will reveal the next chapter and lead me gently into it..

 

 

Tell me again..please?

Therefore, I will always remind you about these things – even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live….For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendour with our own eyes….because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.

I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Saviour commanded through your apostles.

(2 Peter 1.12,16,19 &3.2)

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the good news I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this good news that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you…I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures said.

(1 Corinthians 15. 1,3&4)

 Our world in these early years of the twenty-first century is driven by rapid change – population growth; expanding economies; transforming technologies. We in the prosperous and stable European nations enjoy an unprecedented standard of living and are swept along in the current of constant innovation which drives our economies and personal lives. Every few years, we replace appliances, cars and pieces of furniture, and obsolescence is built in to much of what we use,  we accept it cannot last for long. We are increasingly driven by novelty, the lure of the new and different. It was ever thus, humanity is easily bored, but the pace of change today is breath-taking.

Do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about faith in this way, as if there ought to be some innovations by now, some new and exciting insights and teaching which will render much of our tradition obsolete? Well, perhaps there is a case for arguing that much which is traditional is no longer helpful, but actually obscures the gospel, and it could therefore be set aside. But, there is a foundation of truth upon which our faith must rest if it is to have any validity at all, and that foundation remains today as it was when the apostles wrote about it two thousand years ago..

We believe in a God who became human, lived a perfect life, died the death of a sinner, and was raised to new life, ascending into heaven where all those who accept his death in their place will also be received. It can be reduced to the simplest of statements, as the children’s hymn puts it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so..”

There is sufficient profound theology behind this truth to occupy the greatest minds; and yet it is clear enough to be understood and embraced by the youngest and simplest of us. And it does not change…this is what we believe, and without this, we are astray upon a sea of conjecture, tossed by fashionable philosophies, driven by ruthless atheists, and without any real grounds for hope. It is this truth which we need, more than anything else, to give us courage to face life, to face ourselves in all our weakness, failure and malice.

Jesus loves me – therefore I am of worth, I have value in God’s eyes and can hold my head high no matter what others say of me; Jesus loves me – and his death has dealt with all my sins, the past, present and future, I am forgiven and the burden of guilt has no weight for me: Jesus loves me – I want to live in a way that honours him and recognises that my life is no longer my own to waste; Jesus loves me – and that love is for all who will receive it, therefore I have good news to share with my world!

This old story, of Jesus and his love, is what I need to receive afresh every day of my life. It is as basic to my existence as the food I eat and the air I breathe. Without this story, I have no hope, and am at the mercy of my own sin, the wiles of the devil, and the power of evil in the world.

Praise God, in his infinite wisdom, that his great story of redemption is complete, that nothing need be added by all the cleverness of humanity to make it effective. There is no need to look for new versions of the good news of Jesus; the old story, the unchanging story, is never obsolete, always effective, and the only sure foundation of faith. Alleluia, and Amen!

For my children..

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1Timothy 6.6-12)

Nearly twenty two years ago, I was safely – and belatedly – delivered of a son, a precious gift and source of great joy and contentment, as well as not a little grief and anxiety over the years of his growing! Four years ago, he left home, first for a gap year, and then to university. There he thrives, and we have had the pleasure of watching him relish every opportunity to learn; every friendship which has come his way; and above all, of seeing him grow in faith, seeking to reach his community with the gospel. He is a man made by and for God, and he knows his maker – a blessing which cannot be quantified, and one which every christian parent craves for their children but cannot guarantee.

I say these things not to boast – it is none of my doing, and even as I give thanks for the blessings he has received, I yearn over the children of christian friends who as yet are choosing to walk through life without putting their faith in Christ, sitting lightly to the question of their salvation. So why talk about him at all? Because this  morning, after a week of holiday with friends here, he left me again…

Does it never get easier, this parting from the one who once was utterly dependent on me? Does the raw place where my heart was ripped from his never really heal over? I have no fear for him, and yet how sore it is when he leaves, returning to the larger life he now enjoys with friends who are so dear – in which I barely play a part – and all of life ahead of him.

The bible regularly uses the imagery of a father – or mother – to describe God’s yearning over his children, and I believe that this longing love is something that human beings experience in smaller degree. In our parenting; our nurturing of new life and raising for independent living, we experience a little of the passion with which God loves us, his beloved children, driving him to seek after and bring us to himself again. The very pain which is part of letting our children go, is a window into the heart of a tender God. How are we to use it?

I can resent the ways that God has chosen to ordain my life, separating me from my children and leading them away from me..or I can rejoice that for a little time, I was privileged to be in their lives, loving and caring for them on his behalf. They were his before they were ever mine, and if I remember that, then I can take comfort even as I watch them go – God’s love for them is so much greater than I can ever imagine, and they can be in no better place than the centre of his will for them.

I can follow the example of Paul, who though not the human father of Timothy, yet wrote tenderly to that young man, calling him a dear son, and addressing many earnest and loving words of advice to him. Paul does not caution Timothy to look out for his own interests, but challenges him to the highest calling – a life devoted to God, in which those qualities of godliness, love, endurance, faith, gentleness and righteousness are always growing stronger.

Who knows what this will look like in real life? A calling to full-time christian service; to overseas mission or ministry in this country? A life lived in an increasingly secular and hostile society, bearing faithful witness to the rebuke and challenge as well as the offer of the gospel? A life of single chastity, or marriage and parenthood? A life blessed with good health, or plagued by illness?

I cannot tell, and I thank God that I do not know. But I can and do pray for my children – and for their friends, the precious young lives which come into contact with mine – that their faith will be in Christ alone; that their will to obey might be fixed; and that they might live to glorify and serve the God who made them for such a time as this.