Category Archives: beauty

A cold shower?

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word..

(Ephesians 5.25&26)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

(Psalm 19. 7&8)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

(Hebrews 4.12)

Sometimes, the things which are good for us, are not the easy or comfortable things…as fallen creatures, we lean constantly towards the quick fix, the path of least resistance, and the minimising of effort and discomfort. But in our hearts, we know that such traits are unhealthy – in the long run, we will pay the price for our current bad choices.

Healthy eating, appropriate exercise, moderation in our spending and generosity in our giving…we know that these are good for our bodies and minds, but what about the nurture of our spirits?

The bible is very clear that for the follower of Jesus, there is an obligation to pursue holiness – a lifelong quest to become like Christ, in obedient and loving response to his sacrificial death for us. It is also made clear that left to ourselves, we will twist and distort this noble quest into some travesty of God’s plan – we become bitterly judgemental like the Pharisees of Jesus day, and fall into the sin of pride in our own achievements.

Praise God, that in his mercy, he has not left us alone to pursue this quest. Instead, we read that it is Christ at work in us, the Spirit moving in power, who makes the changes. And the tool he has appointed is his word, the revelation contained in the bible, which is God’s inspired and infallible word to us his children.

We turn to the pages of the bible gladly enough for comfort, and for inspiration, but there is a danger that we will choose to ignore those passages which come too close to our bad habits and cherished sins! It is certainly true that God is working to sanctify – to make us clean and pure and whole – but we are called to work to cooperate with him in that process. Such co-operation requires our willingness to be open to rebuke, correction and the death of pride. When God grants us faith to believe that his love is perfect, and has only our good as its goal, then we find the will to trust that love in action, in convicting us of sin, bringing us to repentance, and re-shaping our minds and hearts so that sin’s stain is forever removed.

I believe that we must discipline ourselves to submit every part of our lives to God’s searching and transforming power, holding nothing back. It may be that there will be things we don’t even recognise as sins until the Spirit takes the word and cuts through to the heart, showing us the ugly realities of thought and deed. God is merciful, he knows how frail we are, and does not choose that we should be overwhelmed by understanding all at once just how deeply rooted our sinful nature is – we are not able to bear such self-knowledge. Instead, as we open ourselves up to the truth of the word, he opens our eyes, little by little, so that over the years, he washes us clean of stain after stain.

These words of an old hymn express a beautiful prayer for such steady, cleansing interaction with the word of God – an interaction which should be just as much part of our daily routine as eating, washing and brushing our teeth!

Make the book live to me, O Lord, show me Thyself within Thy word;

Show me myself, and show me my Saviour, and make the book live to me.

(R. Hudson Pope)

Sometimes, it will be a comforting encounter, sometimes as shocking and bracing as a cold shower, but every time we open the word, we invite God to do something in our lives. All praise to him, that in his mercy he is working patiently and lovingly to make us holy, and beautiful in his sight!

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Infinite beauty

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4.6&8)

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

(Isaiah 53.5 & 61.1-3)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

(John 1.14-18)

There is a common misconception about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this messy and troubled world, where life can be unbelievably hard and painful for so many people. It arises from this verse in Philippians, when Paul exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice’ always in the Lord. It is not only false, but also deeply unhelpful, to argue that this means that we are all meant to triumph continually over every adversity, to smile perpetually in the face of pain or tragedy, and to face injustice and oppression as though they were nothing.

Look carefully at what Paul says – we are to rejoice in the Lord, not in our circumstances, nor in some pretended victory over those circumstances. It is only right that as mortal beings, created in God’s image, we should grieve over death and destruction, should be provoked by injustice and deceit. As followers of Jesus – who wept over Lazarus, and delighted to heal those who suffered in their bodies – we should feel the pain of this broken world, not pretend it doesn’t exist for those who profess faith.

So what does Paul say? That our primary source of gladness, of joy and the strength which comes with it, is to be Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is as we contemplate this man, this God-made-flesh, that we are refreshed in our spirits,  growing in faith and trust, and thus able to continue to witness to God’s goodness and saving power. This source of joy can never fail us, never dry up or become contaminated. We can never reach the end of his loveliness. This Jesus combines in himself all the wonderful attributes of God, and a perfect humanity, and therefore ticks all the boxes of things Paul is exhorting his readers to think about!

Every good quality that we celebrate in one another, is seen to perfection in Christ.

Every need that we find in ourselves, and most desperately the need for forgiveness, restoration to fellowship with God, and freedom from sin; is given abundantly in Christ.

Am I weary? He is patient and strong.

Am I grieving? He is my tender comforter, and ever-present companion.

Is the devil stirring up dead ashes of guilt about old sin? He is my all-conquering captain, victorious over that enemy and blowing the ashes away with the strong breath of his forgiving and cleansing love.

Am I toiling with private griefs and seemingly endless trials? He is faithful in bearing the burden as I repeatedly lay it upon him; and as I contemplate his death for me on the cross, I am comforted that even through my troubles, he can work all things together for good.

My beautiful Lord..faithfulness made visible, love made flesh and blood, holiness completely allied to mercy..

Praise God, praise with great praise, for the joy which we receive as we gaze upon the infinite beauty of Christ.

What am I saying?

Look at the birds in the sky. they never sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable to him than they are?

Consider how the wild flowers grow. they neither work nor weave, but I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these! Now if God so clothes the flowers of the filed, is he not much more likely to clothe you?

(Matt 6.26,28-30)

Two sparrows sell for a farthing don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then – you are far more valuable than sparrows.

(Matt 10.29&30)

At a recent bible study, we were praying for the young people in our fellowship, remembering how hard they find it to speak about faith in front of anyone else – especially one another – and how vulnerable they are as they take their first steps into adulthood. The silence of our teenagers can be baffling, frustrating, and discouraging – I do not argue about that! But our reaction to them and the way that we choose to speak and act can be a very powerful force for good – or bad – in their lives.

In fact, this is true at every age isn’t it? As members of the family of God, we are all given the power to build one another up in Christ, but too often fail to use it, and waste opportunities or even manage to hurt and bring people down. What am I saying, when I brush past an older sister, who is living alone and needing some conversation, in order to spend time with someone else? What would Jesus have done? I can show the love and respect which is due to her by spending some time, listening to her stories and showing genuine concern. When I do this, I say ,”You matter, to me and even more, to God; He loves and cherishes you as his beloved child, and loves to bless you.”

If I am not willing to make time for people, then I am missing an opportunity to affirm them, to encourage them – and if my own experience is anything to go by, I am also missing out on a blessing for myself, since the act of blessing others brings many rewards of its own!

When we take the time to really see the individual person, look into their eyes and walk with them a little way, then we can be a means by which God loves them – they are significant and precious; their joys and sorrows matter; and God is present with them in every step of their journey. Yes, it may require some sacrifice on our part to love in this way – but is that not what we are called to? We are people who follow a Christ who was crucified, who calls us to love by laying down our lives for one another, whose sufferings we are privileged to share that we might grow in fellowship and union with him. Love hurts; love costs; love gives, sometimes with bleeding hands. If there is no cost, there is no love, only sentiment and that will not last.

We find our ultimate value, our worth, in the love which God showed to us when Christ in his great act of redemption, died for us. The language which we use to describe that great transaction is saturated with images of cost, price, value. As broken human beings, we desperately need to know that we matter to someone, matter enough that they will come through for us and be there for us. THAT is what the cross tells us..

I am a beloved daughter of the King of heaven. I wear the crown of an heir to the riches of Christ. In God’s sight, I am a precious jewel, and one day I will shine along with my brothers and sisters, in the great assembly as Christ and his people come together for eternity. I matter enough to the maker of the universe, that his very own son should pay the price for sin which was mine. Me, with all my faults, doubts, and failings… that very same person is destined for glory and a place in my Father’s house for ever.

And this, all this amazing truth is true also for every member of God’s church – and indeed is his desire for all people he has made, that they might know how much they are loved, and turning to him, find their significance and  be at peace.

We each have the power, by our words and actions in dealing with one another, to release God’s transforming power into our lives, by saying loudly and clearly – “You matter; your destiny is God’s passion; you are uniquely gifted to glorify him through your life, and everything about you is important to your heavenly Father”.

May God open my eyes more clearly day by day, to see other people as he sees them, and to speak his truth into their lives, so that they might grow in faith and rejoice in their state as heirs of the Kingdom of God!

I just need to sing!

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 108.1-5)

I admit it is a little foolish to write about singing – I should just go and sing – but I wanted to explore and share a little of what happens to prompt my singing, of why it can be the only right response to what is happening in my life, and thoughts.

Consider the wonder which is a new day. The sun has risen again, all the laws of nature continue to operate , and life is sustained. I have slept – a huge blessing in itself – and am awake. My body continues to function – that is a gift of God, he could have chosen to take me home, but he has granted me this new day in which to live, breathe, see and talk to other people – each one of whom is a unique and precious creation in God’s eyes. The very pattern of the clouds in the sky above the hills is new every morning, never to be repeated. My eyes – a scientific marvel still beyond our full comprehension – register colour, shape, distance and details, so that my mind makes sense of the world around me.

In that world there is so much to touch my heart with wonder, and drive me to my knees in thankfulness to the creator, the original singer of songs. See the delicate details of petals, the brilliance of colour, and beauty of forms; look at the strong silhouettes of the trees – shorn of leaves at this time so that I may glory in the variety of structures, the colours and textures of bark. Listen for the birds in the thickets, or calling overhead as they ride the wind and exalt their maker by their effortless mastery of the air. Watch the tiniest finches throng the bird feeder, with bright colours and quivering alertness to every possible danger – and remember that not one falls to the ground without its maker knowing!

The savour of the simplest of foods, the smell of fresh coffee and superb thirst-quenching power of pure water – a luxury which I take too easily for granted – all should prompt my profound thanks.

All these good things, which I cannot earn, have not deserved, and yet which I receive in such bountiful measure…And somehow, until I have rendered thanks for them, my pleasure is incomplete, lacking. It is in praising my Father, the giver of all good gifts, that I fully realise the riches which I have. And for me, that means singing my thanks, my heart is much too full for mere spoken words to give expression to the joy, the sense of astonished gratitude, which is mine.

I am humbled when I remember that for too many in this world, the physical daily blessings which I receive are unheard of luxuries, but it is good for me to be reminded that my reasons for thankfulness must not depend upon my bodily well-being. If my thankfulness is not ultimately – as the psalmist’s was – for the love and faithfulness of my God, then it is misguided, ungodly and transient.

The God who made this world is good, all the time, and made a world which would speak of his power, beauty, and love. But the gifts themselves are not the ultimate good, God is, and I rejoice most truly when I rejoice in him – his character and his salvation, freely given to me, at great cost to him. This is why singing as part of public worship is so important – it allows us to give expression to our sense of indebtedness, our delight in God, our deep thankfulness for his love, and our awareness of how little we have deserved such goodness.

We are creatures with emotions, and we are made with music in our souls. I believe that we are designed to glorify our God at least in part by expressing our loving response to him in our singing – and that when we do, we are making an acceptable offering to him; a sacrifice of praise.

So next time you have been profoundly moved by your bible reading; by a sermon; by the beauty of a sunset or the laugh of a beloved child, let that gift prompt your praise in music. Join me in being those who sing songs of praise as they walk the hills and beaches; or drive under great trees and by fair fields, and who remember that the God who made all this has loved and saved us, individually for his glory and pleasure!

Are we nearly home yet?

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am .

(John 14.1-3)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Rev 21.3&4)

For as long as I can remember, I have been conscious of a longing for another place, a place of which our world is only a pale imitation. CS Lewis puts it beautifully in ‘The Last Battle’, when one of the characters cries out in delight as he gazes around his new home:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this..”

I love the world in which I live, and have always responded deeply to the power and beauty of creation, delighting in the grandest and the tiniest details, rejoicing in my own powers of appreciation, the senses I have to receive and respond to my Father’s artistry. I love knowing to whom I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for the joy which beauty brings to my life – the great original himself, from whom all our human creativity is derived and to whose glory it should be exercised.

And yet..I still find myself looking beyond, longing for more: a deeper, richer experience and also some sense of home-coming, of final and utter belonging. I believe that when God in his good time finally ushers in his new creation, then I will find that ultimate fulfillment, because the thing lacking – his glorious presence with me, undimmed by my sin – will be abundantly and eternally mine. I will enter into beauty, and be satisfied, lost to myself and found by him.

There is another reason that I long for the home which is promised by my Lord so tenderly in his words to his apostles, reassuring them as they were fearful and unsure and would face severe trials for his sake in the days to come.. I am just plain tired of myself and of the struggle to make a decent attempt at living for Jesus in this fallen world. I know it is not so that we will give up striving in this world that Jesus shows us a glimpse of the Father’s house, but it is so good to know it is there.

When I am weary, stricken by disappointment – with myself and with others – conscious of persistent sin and convinced that there is much about myself of which to be deeply ashamed, it is sweet relief to remember that my place in that final home is not dependent on my perfect life here! I think my Father is more compassionate and tender with me than I am with myself, but I also know that all his love is directed towards encouraging me not to give up, but to persevere.

Yes, I am not what I should be – given all the blessings and privileges of faith I have enjoyed. But, I am a daughter of the King of Kings, and my citizenship in his eternal kingdom is assured. God looks not at my weakness, doubting and pathetic track-record in his service; but he looks at Jesus, my Lord, my Saviour, my Champion, who has fought the fight for me and won it, for me! In him, I am entitled to claim a place in my Father’s house and to know that even I am eagerly awaited.

Is it not enough to make us long for the day when all will be made new, and our faults and failings will be forgotten? When we will stand with heads held high and no more trace of sin to stain our vision; no dragging grief or disappointment to embitter our joys, only complete freedom to forget ourselves in joyful service and worship of our Lord.

No, we are not home yet, but each day I live brings me nearer..May God give me patience and courage to live the time that is allotted for me, allowing that glorious promised future to inspire me with hope for each day, and an urgent desire to share the riches I have with those who do not know Jesus!

Inaccessible light

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

O Lord my God, how great you are!

You are robed with honour and majesty. You are dressed in a robe of light.

You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens; you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.

You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind. The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!

May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104 1-4,33&34)

Dressed in a robe of light…What an amazing picture, and one which takes me straight to the opening lines of Walter C Smith’s wonderful hymn with which I grew up –

Immortal, Invisible, God only wise; In light inaccesible, hid from our eyes…. 

We live as created beings with a great hunger in our hearts for something or someone greater than ourselves, something eternal from which we can find meaning in the world and on which we can build with what we have. The bible reflects this hunger in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer speaks of how he pursued every imaginable source of satisfaction in life, in vain. All was ultimately meaningless and unable to quench the hunger in his heart.

Through the great narrative of the bible stories, we see God revealing himself as the only true satisfaction for humankind, and declaring over and over his deep desire to dwell with us, his people. Our creator knows how we are made, knows that only in relationship with him can we be at peace and fully alive. And yet surely it is also true that we can never really know him. By definition, our God is so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. If we could understand everything about God, then we would be the creators, not he. We hunger to know him more, to discover more of his character, and yet find ourselves unable to stretch our minds enough to cope!

So we have to live with this tension and not allow it to undermine our faith in God’s love, goodness, holiness and faithfulness to us.

We cannot see him clearly; he is indeed wrapped in light, as in a garment. We are dazzled and blinded and unable to see past the glory of his holiness and purity, our minds cannot comprehend his greatness – one who by his word called into being billions of stars, and set in motion forces which we are only beginning to guess at, creating the conditions for life to exist and flourish on this single tiny planet of one star.

How wonderful to find that God, in his compassion for our limitations, came in person, came as one of us, so that we might see and hear him, learn to know him as a man, so that our confidence in him as God might be strengthened. Jesus tells his disciples that since they have seen him, they have seen their heavenly Father, they can know what he is like. So much remains a mystery to us, so many questions arising from our sin-sick world and all the suffering which has scarred God’s beautiful handiwork. What do we do with those unanswerable questions? What did Job do with his? He brought them to God, and was answered – not with a detailed list of explanations, but with a fresh vision of God’s greatness, a reminder that he is ultimately beyond our understanding and utterly good and holy.

Then Job replied to the Lord:”I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked,’who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know..” (Job 42.1-3)

The psalmist contemplates the greatness of God in creation, rejoicing in all he sees and in the knowledge that this same creator God is the one who is his God – the one who has promised to be with us and for us! We have the testimony of creation, but also the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, revealing God to us and inviting us into that personal, fulfilling relationship which is our true satisfaction.

May our thoughts about God indeed be pleasing to him, as we worship what we can see and know; and accept that the mysteries which remain are good and right, and our God can be trusted. He is hidden in light, not darkness, and worthy of all our praise and honour!

 

Just keep walking..

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 8.12)

I love to walk. I like to walk around new places, getting a feel of them by pounding the streets, hearing the voices and traffic, letting the smells and sights inform and enrich my experience. I like to walk with friends, to share time with them as we go together through parkland or by riverbank, or even just up the road to church. I like to run too, but due to persistent injury, that activity is forbidden for the present, and so the energy which I would normally expend in running is being channeled into walking as a way of relaxing!

One of my favourite times to walk is of an evening, as the light lengthens and the sky often clears to reveal a breath-taking depth of colours. And just as when I walk with friends in the park, it is a time of fellowship and friendship, this time, with the one who is always present, my Lord Jesus. He is my best friend, the one above all others who loves me as I am and delights in all that pleases me. He understands why I have to stop and caress a beautiful bud, smell the freshly opened rose, lift my arms to the stooping boughs of great trees. These things were made to be received with gratitude, and so I love to share them with my Lord, to notice each one as a gift from his love, just for me.

Sometimes, I will leave the house in darkness – the darkness of spirit which comes through sin; through the pain which our most dearly loved can cause us; or through despair as I have been reminded of the extent to which our race choose to reject God and to live without hope in the world.  On those walks, there may well be tears, there will be half-formed laments and protests against the agony I am feeling. But even as I walk, weep and talk, with my Lord, there will always be that profound assurance of presence. He never leaves me to walk alone in the darkness, never…

And his presence is light in my darkness; is it not the only thing which makes our struggles bearable, to know that we are not alone? And is it not true that even our greatest joys are somehow enhanced when we share them with someone who understands and loves us? What a blessing then, to have his constant presence bringing comfort for my pain, and enriching my life by receiving my thanks for all the good things I receive!

By the light of his presence, the darkness is put into perspective, and I am reminded that I cannot see the whole picture, nor know the end of the story. His loving light shows me the sin that remains in my own life, reminding me of the cause of all the darkness and cautioning me against judging others when I am so weak myself. And above all, the light of Christ is the love of God the Father for me, his redeemed child – that love which paid the ultimate price to make me his daughter. When I remember that loving sacrifice, then I can be sure that even the deepest darkness in the world around, or in my spirit can never separate me from him. I may not understand, I may deplore my circumstances and the evil done in the world. But in the light of his presence, I can rest, sure that one day I will go home to be forever with my Lord, and all justice will be done, to the glory of God and the praise of his name.

There is an old song which expresses that deep conviction of my Lord’s constant loving presence, and I will finish today with some words from it to get you singing.

I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever men may say;

I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

(H.A. Rodeheaver.1961)