Category Archives: Christ’s sufficiency

Dust and ashes..

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

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

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

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about Him, not me

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…Endure hardship as discipline.. If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true heirs.. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 

[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. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous ones made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks…

(Heb 12.2,3,7,8,10,22-25)

What goes through your mind when you hear of people who used to profess faith having drifted – or run – away from God? This happened to me recently, and I found myself grieved, but also unsettled, as I realised afresh how easy it is for us to become distracted from the gospel truth by less challenging secular ideas about goodness and self-worth. I don’t know what particular events in those individual lives led to this drift, and I pray that God will restore and renew them to a living hope and dependence on him. But I wonder if they just found it easier to erase Jesus from their lives, to dismiss the idea of sin and shame, of guilt, the need for forgiveness and the claims of Christ on their whole being. Those are not comfortable concepts for many in our time who would urge that they are unhealthy and to be rejected.

But how does their more ‘comfortable’, secular, self-care and self-fulfillment philosophy sit alongside the realities of human evil, the grievous persistence of war, torture, abuse and every other way in which humanity manages to turn good things like power, wealth, beauty, relationships, and creativity, into ways to hurt, destroy and pollute? I see no answers to the growing darkness of the world from our secular thinkers, no grounds for hope. It is only in the gospel of Jesus, of God-made-man for us, that we find the hard answers to these hard questions.

Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to believe that God is in the business of making all things new – not because we as a race have the capacity to fix things for ourselves with a little help, but because we are helpless to fix things. God has come to do for us what we cannot do, so that we might join the firstborn whose names are written in heaven and be at home with our God. It’s not about somehow overlooking all the bad stuff and being as good as we can be by thinking positively and fulfilling our potential. It’s about accepting – confessing – that we are broken, and that only God can make us whole and beautiful, and that in so doing, He has to deal with the ugliness of sin and the power of death. There is a place for everyone who will come in faith, in dependence on Jesus – every colour and tongue, all have a part to play in glorifying their maker – and accepting the blood which had to be shed to make us clean. It’s not about how good we can feel about ourselves, it’s about what Jesus has done for us.

This gospel gives me hope not only for myself, but for the beautiful and broken world in which I live. It gives me hope for the millions who have never known peace or prosperity, health or security – because when they believe in Jesus who died and rose again for them, they join the family of the beloved in glory, and will receive a glorious inheritance which will cast all their sufferings into oblivion.

Believing in Jesus doesn’t make life easier – but that’s not why we do it! Believing in Jesus is the response of faith when we see who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing in the world. I want to remain part of that work, not because it brings me self-fulfilment (although it might), but because I long to be useful to my God, to be part of his work and to see his name glorified. Jesus paid the ultimate price for me, and when I consider that sacrifice, I am ashamed of my preference for a comfortable life, of my leanings toward to the secular, self-centred ways of thinking about what is important.

Great God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood has made it possible for me to be your beloved child, let me never close my ears to your voice or reject your discipline in my life. Keep me needy, keep me raw and fully aware of my weakness; open my eyes afresh to behold the fierce light of your holiness so that I might detest sin and resist temptation with your strength and for your glory. Renew in me a humble but deep hunger to reach others with the gospel of Jesus, to live as a faithful believer whose greatest joy is to see Jesus exalted. Let him be magnified, and let me see it, 

Amen

The greatest gift

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see  him with my own eyes – I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

(Job 19.25-27)

Jesus said.. ” I am the resurrection and the life. One who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” [Martha] told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(Jn 11.25-27)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 6.22&23)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him … and so we will be with the Lord for ever.

(1 Thess. 4.13,14&17)

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn; 

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born.

(P Cappeau, translated by JS Dwight, 1855)

I don’t think I have ever been more thankful in my life that my Christmas celebrations are based on the historical person of Jesus, and on what He came to be and do for me. As I look around at a weary world full of pain and struggle, a society which is grasping vainly at ‘tradition’, family, or some nebulous ‘hope’ as the basis for a party, and see so many hurting people for whom the whole idea of ‘celebration’ is both insulting and painful, I grieve and pray God’s mercy.

But I also give thanks because as a follower of Jesus, I have a hope which is certain, based on something outside human fallibility, outside this broken but beautiful world; something which is more real than I can begin to understand. Christmas is not ‘just for the children’. Christmas is not some general season of goodwill and superficial cheer. Christmas – the birth of God as a human baby, come to dwell among us, to die and rise again – is for the lonely and desolate; for the abused and the abuser; for the tyrant and the oppressed. Because He came, everything can be different, every heart re-born into hope and humility, grace and generosity, praise and perseverance.

I can sing and be glad because Jesus came; came for me and for you; came to make a difference for ever, and it depends not on my feelings about it, but on God’s truth and love and power and faithfulness to His own promises. This greatest of all gifts comes to set aside all human striving and delusion; comes and says, ‘Believe in me, and stop chasing peace in all the wrong places.’

Jesus is God’s hope for the hopeless; God’s healing for the broken; God’s forgiveness for all us sinners; God’s love for the unlovely; God’s home for the exiles; God’s light for the rest of our journey in this sin-darkened world.

Celebrating Christmas does not mean pretending that there is no pain, or that life is perfect. For some, and sometimes for me, Christmas has been viewed through tears, through a shadow of bereavement or other major source of pain and weariness. But I think that when we choose to give thanks through our tears, God is even more honoured than when we find it easy to be glad. No, we celebrate because the coming of Jesus makes all the difference to the pain and imperfection – we see their transience, see that under God’s providence they are not in charge. We are no longer alone in the dark, and it doesn’t all depend on us to make it right – what a burden that is, and how good to lay it down!

In Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the King, whose kingdom is now established among us in all who believe. I hope that for you and those you love, this coming King is welcomed as Lord and Light, Saviour and Friend, so that no matter what darkness is in your life at the moment, you can rejoice in Jesus and be encouraged and strengthened for the year that lies ahead. We do not know what the future holds, but – as the old song says – we know who holds the future, and we trust ourselves into his nail-scarred hands.

The gift of peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“And you my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

(Lk 1.76-79)

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

(Lk 2.13&14)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

(Jn 14.27)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Rom 12.18&21)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. For he himself is our peace, who has.. abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was.. in this one body to reconcile [us] to God through the cross… He came and preached peace to you… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household..

(Eph 1.2, 2.14-19)

From that first fatal, deliberate act of disobedience in the garden, humanity has been in a state of rebellion against the Creator. Whether recognised or not, this is at the root of all the misery which has ever existed, all the pain, darkness, and heart-breaking ache which is our lack of peace.

We were made to live in fellowship with God, his co-workers and stewards of this beautiful planet in all its mind-blowing diversity. Instead, having chosen to define for ourselves what is right or wrong, and to claim the authority for ruling as our right, not our gift and privilege, we live in a constant state of hostility, unease and anxiety. We cannot trust one another, and we don’t want to trust God.

God spoke his plan for peace into the story at the very beginning, promising a time when one would come to strike against the seed of the serpent, and to destroy the power of sin in human hearts. Many aspects of God’s covenant life with his chosen people modelled the ideal peace towards which all history is moving – the sacrificial system to deal with the barrier of sin; the promise of a perfect King who would reign in justice; the establishment of the people in a land of plenty, under God’s protection, so that they could enjoy Him and all His gifts without fear.  

It was this peace which Jesus came to establish. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, foretold his son’s message, pointing to the one who had come to lead his people at last into ways of peace. He knew his prophets and history; knew that God’s promised deliverer would not simply abolish hostility, but would inaugurate a new kingdom, where real peace meant that God would dwell with his people and they would thrive in his presence.

Jesus came to make peace with us before God – to reconcile us to our Father. Jesus came to make peace for us with one another – as equally beloved children, as equally undeserving and forgiven sinners, we have no need to compete or fight with one another. We can love one another because Jesus loved us, and made us one family under God.

When we receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we receive peace with God. This is our anchor in the storms which lie ahead, and which cannot be stolen. God holds us fast, and our eternal future is secure. This is the deep, soul-holding, sanity-saving peace which looks nothing like the peace of the secular world. It endures, because it depends on the faithfulness of God, not our own strength, wisdom or circumstances.

Prince of Peace, I worship you this day and rejoice that you came to give us that enduring peace which one day will flower into eternal life in the new creation.

Prince of Peace, I thank you for the family into which you brought me by your redeeming death, where all are beloved and each unique creation is celebrated as yours.

Prince of Peace, help me never to depend on my own strength for peace in this world, but to hold fast to you – even as you hold so much more strongly on to me. In you, I have the peace that really makes a difference – there is no more striving or worrying about earning God’s favour, no more fear or guilt. Because I am at peace in you, I am free to love in your name and spend myself freely for your glory. Let it be so, Lord Jesus.

The gift of salvation

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

(Isa 52.7&9)

.. an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

(Matt 1.20&21)

Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel

(Lk 2.28-32)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

(Rev 7.9&10)

As we enter the season of Advent – of remembering in advance what the Christmas celebration is all about – we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to what happened in that disturbed season in the Roman Empire, when great movements of people in order to make a census, took a man and his heavily pregnant fiance down the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We look further back to millennia of Jewish expectation that something would be given, would come from their God, something that would make all the difference in the world to their relationship with Him – because it would remove for ever the barrier caused by the stain of sin in every human heart.

It is not easy to assert in our culture that humankind needs to be saved from itself, that every living soul is naturally oriented away from God, and that what is counted a ‘good’ life by our standards is yet in God’s eyes as far from his standards as that of the greatest tyrant. But this is what the bible tells us, and the work of salvation is assigned to the person of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – how wonderful to see the assurance in the angelic message, ‘he will save his people’, not ‘might’ or ‘will try to’! There was no doubt in the realms of glory that victory would be gained..

It is not easy to explain that we believe in judgement for sin – that a price must be paid in order to turn aside the just wrath of a holy God against the rebellion of his creatures, and all the destructive fruits of that rebellion. Once again, the bible is consistent in its message – sacrifice for sin is the only way to restore our relationship with God, and as imperfect, sinful creatures, we cannot provide the perfect sacrifice necessary to deal with sin once and for all. Instead, we have Jesus, recognised by his cousin John the baptiser as the Lamb of the world – why a lamb? Because this was the creature of sacrifice, and as Isaiah had prophesied – all our griefs and sins were laid on him, so that we might be saved and healed.

So we look back to the birth of Jesus as the coming of God’s perfect gift of salvation to the world, the full realisation of all the promises that the Jews had lived by, and on which the eternal establishing of God’s kingdom would rest. Without the work of salvation, without the brutal realities of atonement for your sin and mine, Christmas would be an empty celebration, a pointless party, with gifts of no lasting value.

But, because of what Jesus did, we can celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour as the beginning of a new reality, where sin no longer has the upper hand, and death is no longer the end of hope. Because of him, christians can live forgiven, can live hopeful, can live out grace to one another – because we have been saved from ourselves and all the old tyrannies, to love and serve another, in whose service we are fully alive.

Finally, we look ahead, to the great day when all those who have accepted the complete salvation from sin which is found only in Jesus, join together in the new heaven and new earth to celebrate that glorious work, and to praise the amazing love which conceived and carried it out.

I worship you today my God, generous beyond imagining and loving beyond reason. I praise you for the gift of salvation which came to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you that I can live forgiven; can live without guilt; can live with hope. May I know how to value this priceless gift, and seek to share it with all who will receive it. Because of Jesus, I can pray this prayer; praise to his name, Amen!

Chewing it over…and over..

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

(Ps 1.1-3)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim 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 joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour.

(Isa 61.1-3)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Gal 1.3-5)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving; considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

(Jas 3.13,17&18)

It is always good to remind ourselves of what the scriptures say is true about us, to choose to let God’s words be the basis on which we evaluate not only what is going on around us but also what weight to give our own thoughts – those constant companions which colour our actions and words.

When I feel that I am astray in this present evil age, weak and wayward, I recall that Christ has died to rescue me – and that he succeeded! The resurrection proves that my debt is paid, and I am free from the powers which so cruelly dominate our world. As one of his ransomed and precious children, I have total security in my Saviour’s work, and in the place to which God is leading me is called home. 

The work of Jesus is completely sufficient, and not only am I rescued, but also transformed. For the dust and ashes, the rags and tatters of human brokenness, I receive a crown; beauty for brokenness, rich royal robes fitted for a princess. And these are mine not to cover up shameful secrets, to deceive God as if He could be fooled. Rather, these are now my proper possession as His child. I am a new creation, a beloved, beautiful God-delighting daughter, and all that He bestows on me now is simply my birthright – all because of Jesus.

This is wisdom then; to chew over these truths again, and again. Choosing to make them the basis on which I face each fresh challenge and stage of life. Choosing to live as though they were and are and always will be true, so that more and more my thoughts follow God’s thoughts about me, and I have that never failing stream of renewing, nourishing life flowing through me. 

I am planted by the Lord, to bear witness to his glory and power and righteousness as the One who keeps his promises and does all things well. I am not here because of an accident, but by His design and to fulfill his purposes. What keeps me anchored here is the life which is flowing – by the spirit in me – from his grace and inexhaustible love. As I meditate on the truth, his truth, my roots go deeper and hold more strongly, and my surroundings matter less. I can, and must, ground and nourish myself in this heavenly wisdom, trusting that it will bear fruit in my life for God’s glory and the blessing of those around me.  Trees don’t actively decide to bear fruit… it happens because they are healthy trees. May I remember that next time I am fretting over the apparent fruitlessness of my life, and trust that while it may not be obvious to me, yet my heavenly Father will be satisfied that this particular bit of his planting is doing just what he planned it should!

Attitude, not achievement..my little can be enough

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification..

(Rom 14.17-19)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come…So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body of away from it.

(2 Cor 5.1-5,9)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…[Enoch] was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…

(Heb 11.1,5&6)

Today, I worship the Lord by whose sacrificial love I am brought into a relationship with the living God. Today, I choose to reflect on the completed task of Jesus Christ in fully paying my debt, taking all the judgement for my rebellion against God upon himself. Today, I see again the miracle which is my new life as a beloved child of a Heavenly Father, whose purpose in history is to embed me into his family along with a multitude of others, each one precious in his sight.

I  consider these things, and I give thanks with a grateful heart, astonished that one as insignificant as myself should matter enough to the unimaginably great Author of creation. To be thus beloved brings peace beyond measure and security beyond price.

Then I see the question that remains for believers…since Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation, what is our purpose in remaining? The grace of God means that I already have everything I need, and don’t have to earn my salvation by a series of achievements; whether keeping rules, doing good works, developing a particular form of spiritual life, or anything else which I may feel I ‘ought’ to do. In a way, this is such a relief, as my powers are weak and my capacity for great works non-existent! But we all want to have some sense of purpose in living – and having formed us, God knows this full well. We fret for lack of direction and thrive on a sense of achievement and the satisfaction of fulfilling worthwhile tasks.

I rejoice with gladness then, as I see that God has asked me to do something for him – not to earn my salvation, but rather as an expression of my profound thankfulness for that priceless gift. I am not presented with some list of difficult tasks to prove my love to God, bur rather offered the opportunity to cultivate an attitude to life grounded in  faith. Will I take my homesickness for heaven, and offer it to God, letting it drive my worship and witness to others who also long for an eternal home and the forgiveness of sin? Will I accept that my hunger to be delivered from this mortal body (this tired and ugly tent, a thing woven through with doubt, prejudice and vulnerable to temptation), is a motivation to pursue Christ in all his beauty and perfection, and to co-operate with the work of the Spirit within me?

Dear friends, as believers, we have the privilege of choosing to live in ways which will bring gladness – pleasure – to the  Almighty God whose we are. We may feel that our own gifts and lives are so small and weak that we have nothing to bring him, but that’s not the point. The very fact that our desire is to gladden our Father’s heart is in itself a joy to him!

Perhaps today you feel that you are without purpose, that your life might as well stop for all the difference it would make. Please, dear friend, look up and consider the loving heart of the God who made you for this time and this place, and who daily delights in you. In continually recommitting ourselves to growing in faith, to this transformational attitude to our lives, we make the Eternal glad. You, me and all those who call him Father, bring him pleasure in our weakness and the small things that we are and do. Our little is enough, so let us take courage and go on into this week, this year, this life, focussing on our attitude not our achievements, and leaving Jesus to take all the glory, while we receive the blessings of his love and care.

With my own two hands…

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127. 1&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

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

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

Get wisdom..

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight..Blessed is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding..By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew…Get wisdom, get understanding..wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

(Prov 3.5,6,13,19&20; 4.5,6&7)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord…with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth..

(Isa 11.2-4)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

(Matt 13.45&46)

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of  God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe..For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.20&21,25,30)

We spend our lives today in a culture which continually bombards us with information, more ‘stuff’ comes to our attention in a few hours than our ancestors would deal with in many years – but has this made us wiser?

Our lives are increasingly dependent on complex technologies, and the advancement of science has enabled astonishing achievements in medicine, communication, and industry – but has this made us wiser?

Knowledge is not wisdom. Understanding is not necessarily wisdom. I believe that wisdom is what we do with what we know and understand – how does it inform our thinking, underpin our values, change our choices?

I believe that the Creator of our universe has woven his wisdom as well as his knowledge and understanding into the very fabric, the sustaining power that keeps us all here. True wisdom then will be in tune with what is made, will chime with the Creator’s vision for his handiwork, and will contribute to its flourishing. The author(s) of the book of Proverbs urge their audience to get wisdom, at any cost, in order to navigate the path of life in accordance with the great Author of all life – and to ‘get’ wisdom is to internalise and absorb it, so that without effort, our thoughts are running in harmony with God’s will.

Ultimate wisdom is to know oneself – and as a Christian, I believe this means to know my own situation as a sinner in the presence of a holy God. I cannot earn my safety by rule-keeping, because I am incapable of it. I cannot bribe or cajole this transcendant and mighty judge into reducing my sentence for good behaviour, his righteousness and integrity make that impossible.

The pearl of great price, the treasure which is worth everything I have, is this wisdom – to know that God has chosen to do for me what I cannot do for myself, and to accept that gift. It will take all that remains of my life in this fallen world to assimilate that gift, to learn day by day, a little more of what it looks like to live as one who is totally forgiven, washed clean and renewed within by God’s own presence. And, how marvellous is this, I am assured that Christ himself, God’s wisdom incarnate – is my own wisdom, my beautiful and beautifying adornment and jewel. Because I have Christ, I am decked in finest garments, fit for the presence of Almighty God, crowned with honour and bearing the pearl of perfection.

The diamond drops furring the rose are a transient reflection of the glory with which I am clothed now in God’s presence. I am a sweet perfume before him, because I have Christ, the wisdom of God.

Father God, how I thank and praise you today for this greatest of gifts, this priceless treasure of your wisdom in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Thank you that I can trust you to be at work in me today, saturating my heart and mind with your wisdom so that increasingly I think and speak and act in full accordance with your will. May I rejoice and delight in this gift, giving all the honour and glory to you, as I live in the freedom, hope and joy which is mine through your wisdom in Christ.

Which way lies wisdom?

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?…”To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom.

(Isa 40.13&14,25&26,28)

The message that points to Christ on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

“I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things!- to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle – and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

(1 Cor 1.18-25, in The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson)

There is reasonable evidence in historical sources to verify the existence, some 2000 years ago, of a man who caused a brief stir in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. He made some outrageous, even laughable, claims, alongside some persuasive moral teaching, and generally stirred up the Jewish religious establishment enough to provoke them to contrive an unjust trial and execution, with the connivance of the Roman governor of the day. The subsequent rumours of his resurrection and so-called ‘ascension’ are clearly nonsense, such things don’t happen. Nonetheless, his teachings, and the Jewish scriptures to which they frequently refer, have been preserved, translated and form the basis for a faith movement which continues to grow..Isn’t is all another example of the foolishness of human beings who can’t bring themselves to take full responsibility for their own lives and actions?..How on earth could the life, death and resurrection (if such a thing were even possible) of one man (and he deluded enough to believe himself divine), make any difference to humanity and the problems we face? It makes no sense…

That is one way of looking at the story…is it yours? Does this way give you peace, contentment, hope, ambition for change and the motivation to believe in better? Does this way deal with shame, guilt, all the messiness of living in a broken world? Does it account for what we see day by day unfolding around us as humanity in its pride continues to fail and plumb new depths? 

What if, just maybe, Jesus’ story is true? What if the ‘absurdity’ of a God who claims to reveal himself to the world he made, and the people whom he loves, is actually the absolute reality? What if the life, death and resurrection of the God-made-man, Jesus, is really the means by which our individual, inherent rebellion against God can be undone, and we can be made new, clean and wholesome, with hope for an unimaginable future of joyous life with one who loves us completely? What if those who choose to be considered foolish for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ are actually the wisest? 

They will not be able to give you answers to all your questions – they can’t answer all their own questions! But they will tell you that in believing that Jesus Christ is God, made man, who died to take the blame for all that they have done (and will do) wrong, they have been transformed. They will tell of a friend who walks with them through every storm; of a healer whose love and wisdom has dealt with wounds and scars from years of guilt and pain; of a champion whose strength defeats the enemy of their peace.

The good news about Jesus Christ takes the brokenness of this world, of humanity very seriously, and deals with it head on. Easter is when the church around the world remembers especially the fierce climax of the contest, and celebrates the absolute victory of her Lord over all the powers at work against him. The church affirms that the wisdom of an Almighty Creator cannot be grasped by the puny minds of his creatures, and rejoices in the mystery and majesty of the Eternal.

Is it wisdom, or foolishness? That depends on your perspective..from where I stand, the only way into the peace, joy and hope which I desire, to the healing of this precious world, is from the foot of the cross, where human pride dies, and in total surrender of human wisdom. I am glad to be counted a fool for Jesus, to set aside human wisdom, and to put all my faith in the ‘absurdity’ of Almighty God. What about you?