Category Archives: beauty

Fullness of living…. in Christ!

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

(Romans 8. 1&2, the Message)

Sometimes a fresh translation of a familiar phrase in the bible reveals an alternative aspect of truth, a new way of thinking about things, and that is why ‘The Message’ as a modern telling of the bible has been so hugely popular. This particular re-phrasing of a part of Paul’s great letter to the church in Rome is a great example – stepping away from a literal translation of the original text into a free and imaginative expression of the truth.

The picture is a glorious one, of stepping out of the darkness of a heavy cloud, into a brilliant sky of light and air, with space to stand tall and breathe freely. I live in a part of the world where we can for live for days under grey skies – not always very dark, but unbroken and featureless, so that one can feel oppressed by the sense of a thick barrier blocking out sunshine, and refreshing winds. Then finally there comes a change, a break appears, and suddenly the heaviness and dullness lifts, our streets and parks are flooded with light and it is as if we see in colour again instead of shades of grey!

As a picture of the change which comes upon a person who believes in Jesus for their salvation, and depends on him completely, it is very powerful and captures the sense of life being transformed by his presence in us. It is not a change which I can recognise in my own experience, having grown to faith from early childhood as naturally as I grew into the physical and mental maturity of adulthood. I was deeply blessed to be raised in a christian home, and to have no memory of a time when I was apart from God, but only an ever deepening understanding of what it meant to be his beloved and redeemed child. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the picture of the life of faith being like walking in the sunshine – all the time! My life is lived in full colour, there is nothing between me and the glory of heaven except what remains of my life in this broken world, and I trust my God to keep me safe through that. He sees and knows me, loves and accepts me, and each day lavishes gifts on me from his endless stores – the love and kindness of family, friends and strangers, the beauty of the natural world around me, the priceless knowledge of his love for me and his promises to me, and the presence of Christ in my heart as my soulmate.

I have enough experience of life to know that it will not always feel ‘sunny’, and many of our fellow believers are suffering greatly under persecution, famine, exile, war, disease and discrimination, so that it might look as though they walk in darkness. But their humbling testimony to us who know so little of their sufferings, is that in the light of God’s love for and presence with them, even these appalling trials are not dark. I believe that it is as we immerse ourselves more and more fully in Christ, in His love and saving power, that the light shines more and more brightly on us – no matter what is happening in the world around and even in our own bodies.

The words of this old hymn are not very elegant, but all my life they have expressed deep truth about the fullness of life which we enjoy in Christ, and I hope they will encourage you too in persevering through trials and appreciating the daily grace you receive.

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know,

Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so….

Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen…

His forever, only His; who the Lord and me shall part?

Ah with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!

Heaven and earth may fade and flee, first-born light in gloom decline,

But while God and I shall be, I am His and He is mine.

(George Wade Robinson 1838-77)

Just say “Thank you”…

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…..Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

(Luke 12. 22,23,27,28)

Spring in Scotland can involve every kind of weather – sometimes all in the same day – so we cherish the sunny and warm days when we get them. This April has been  particularly spectacular, and I am full of thankfulness for the season. There has been an explosion of colour, with bulbs flowering and primroses opening carpets of yellow faces to the sunshine. This part of my city is full of great trees, putting forth new leaves like a green lace, each one a different shade as the sunlight pours through their delicate transparency. There are streets and parks where cherry trees are weighed down under great handfuls of pink and white blossom, which turns into drifts of colour along the pavements as the wind carries it off. So much beauty, there for the seeing, for the savouring. One of the things I deeply appreciate about knowing Jesus as my Saviour, is knowing also to whom I can offer thanks for so much beauty poured out day after day for my blessing. And the very act of thanksgiving increases my pleasure, deepens the sense of being nourished deep in my soul by this gift of beauty. It is like storing up light against times of darkness, investing in warmth against the coming chill.

I know that in this world I will have troubles – although at the moment I am humbly aware of how blest I am to live in health and peace under a democratic government, where freedom and life are valued and my children can grow to their full potential. Only a few days ago, our brothers and sisters in Nepal were visited by the destructive power of an earthquake, and so many lives have been destroyed and disrupted – I know nothing of such grief, loss and fear. I am not proud to have been spared, but rather humbled, and challenged, to think what I can do out of the riches which I have, to meet even a few of the needs of those who are suffering so much. This is another result of thanking God for all I have and receive – it reminds me that none of it is mine in the first place, but only ever a gift to be held in readiness, to share with those who need. I have nothing by right, but all by gift, and I have it that I might serve God, love his children and share his glory with the world that needs to see it so badly.

In the passage I quoted above, Jesus is encouraging and teaching his disciples to have the right priorities in their lives as they await his return in glory. The incredible extravagance with which God creates and sustains beauty and fruitfulness all around us is given as an illustration of his power and care for his creation – even the most short-lived and ephemeral parts of it, like the wild flowers. Since our God is like this, should we not trust him to know what we need – we whom the psalmist describes as being made ” a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour?” (Ps 8.5)

Jesus goes on to exhort us, his followers, to “seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12.31). God is not in the business of withholding good things from his children, but rather desires our ultimate and greatest good – that we might live and rejoice with him in his kindgom for ever. We may not understand why our idea of good things is not the same as his, nor why at times we receive good through suffering, pain, frustration and dreadful difficulties. But we have the example of Jesus, who trusted his Father would provide for him, and focused all his energies on obedience and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom. Now he is seated in glory, king over all, reigning and coming again to claim all his own to share in his joy.

As I walk through pleasant places, and pray for those in deep darkness and sorrow, may I be trusting the God who gives good gifts to his children, and thanking him for being faithful. May the beauty around me be a constant reminder that I need not worry about myself, but commit myself to God for his purposes and his glory, saying with the psalmist:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(PS 8.9)

Not the best china..

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit…..for God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

(2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.6&7)

Glory and light, brilliance and beauty, purity beyond telling and might unimaginable. These verses take my breath away, and move me to cry to God in prayer for more, ever more transforming power to be at work in my life, that I might reveal this glory to the world I live in.

I am indeed like a clay jar, an everyday household pot. Nondescript and mundane, patched and worn with chipped edges, useful but hardly spectacular. And that is the whole point of Paul’s use of the image here, that no one, not even the great apostle himself, is worthy to receive and show forth this light. It is not we but the God who dwells in us, that is the source of glory and power. In the same way that a flower or a leaf can seem to glow from within when the sun catches it a certain way, so also believers in Christ can shine, illuminated by his love.

As we learn to look more and more steadily into the face of Christ our Lord – by whom God reveals himself to the world – so the glory that we see begins to permeate our being. Our eyes become stronger, and hungry for more light, more beauty; our hearts are increasingly unsatisfied by all that the world offers. The glory that shines from Jesus is purifying, cleansing, healing, transforming power, it acts like a spotlight to illuminate the darkness in our lives and like a laser to burn it away. By that glory, we see clearly and truly, deeper into our own sinfulness and need of Christ, deeper into the need of our neighbour for salvation and the redeeming love of God.

Our growing knowledge of the glory revealed in the face of Christ is the channel through which God transforms our lives, as we see more and more clearly that in Christ alone we have hope, but that in him we also have all that we need. As we learn to depend more and more on his faithful love – giving us security and significance – and to trust his power at work within us – enabling and equipping us – so we are set free to love others as He has loved us.

It is this love, this irresistible force of God at work, which is the treasure we hold in our jars of clay, our chipped mugs and bowls. We are not the focus of attention, He is. Our cracks and flaws simply act to draw attention to the beauty and glory of the love which is being poured out through us.

The following verses beautifully express a prayer to be effective channels of love, utterly surrendered to our beloved Saviour and Lord. May they be a blessing to you this week.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling all I do and say.

May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.

May His beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him. 

(Katie Barclay Wilkinson, 1859-1928)

the little things

P1020087Sometimes, it is the little things that just fill me with joy – the smell of fresh bread, the feeling of a warm, wild wind on  my face or the pleasure of kicking through great heaps of crispy bronze autumn leaves. They remind me that each day I get to wake up and live is a gift, not earned or bought, or deserved in any way, but a free gift.

The crows tumbling around the sky in quarrelsome groups, the red berries ripening on the shrubs in my garden, and the exquisitely beautiful thing which is an acorn perched neatly on the twig of an oak tree, all speak of an intricacy of design and boundless creativity which fill me with delight. I am formed in such a way that I can perceive and respond to beauty, I have senses which thrill to different stimuli and a brain which can hold certain times and experiences in memory like jewels for me to revisit again and again. My eyes are a miracle of creation, and through them, I receive not simply information but pleasure, as I look at the world in which I live and the people who share it with me.

I believe that the God who created this world, the galaxy and universe within which it is so miraculously positioned, is glad when I respond in joy to his handiwork. I believe that human beings are made to reflect his character, so that our pleasure in beauty is also his pleasure, and I know that in expressing thanks to the maker, my own joy is somehow enhanced.

For the beauty of the earth,for the beauty of the skies,

for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,

Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

This is a verse from a hymn which celebrates this sense that our appreciation of the good things we receive every moment of every day is only completed by giving thanks. It may seem an odd phrase – why should saying thank you be a sacrifice? But it is also really an offering – a presentation to God of something precious to us – and in that sense, our thanksgiving is a proper response to the giver of all good gifts. I often find myself singing it, adding my own voice to the song which is continually going up from all creation, in praise of the Father and maker of all. A modern setting of the words to music by the composer John Rutter, can be viewed online – have a look for ‘For the beauty of the earth’ on Youtube, and enjoy the way that someone has brought images alongside the words to enrich them even further!

May we find time in the week ahead to really see the beauty all around us, to smell, taste, hear and feel the incredible richness which make up our daily experience of life on earth, so that we can sing with the psalmist in Ps 150v6..

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!