Category Archives: church

If not me, then who?

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem…..” Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved, prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem….

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles..they returned..each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah: The list of the men of the people of Israel: the descendants of Parosh, 2172; of Shephatiah, 372…the men of Bethlehem, 123; of Netophah, 56…

(Ezr 1.1-5; 2.1-4,21&22))

The great Hebrew Scripture narratives of exodus and exile are associated with lists….huge lists of names and numbers, relating to the people who were involved in these historic events. As modern readers, we are tempted to skip over them – we can’t pronounce most of them, and they mean nothing to us! But consider their significance to generations of Jews, who would trace their own family name back to one of these, and remember with awe that their ancestors were part of those hugely significant events. The inclusion of these names is a reminder that all of God’s work in history has involved individuals, real people like you and me, whose lives were caught up into his overarching purpose. 

As those called to be God’s people, we are pledged to obedience and faithfulness (as God enables us), and we are not free to dictate the terms on which we will follow where God is leading – we are slaves to Christ, not his employees and certainly not his employers! If all the exiled Israelites had responded to God’s prompting of their hearts by saying – ” returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple is a great idea…let someone else do it, I am quite comfortable here with the way things are and I don’t like change..”: then there would have been no return from exile. I wonder how those who chose not to go felt in later years? Did they regret their failure to be part of that work of return and rebuilding, or had their faith never been in God at all, but rather in the trappings of prosperity and security which they now found in Babylon?

It is our personal commitment within the body of Christ which leads to corporate obedience. If I choose to delegate obedience to another, what is to prevent them doing the same? It is entirely possible for us to miss out on being part of God’s work in the world – but we will be the losers, and our faith and spiritual health will suffer. Is my trust in Jesus as my Lord, or in the habit of meeting in a certain place at a certain time? Is my faith a matter of habit and laziness – of letting someone else tell me what to think and avoiding the difficult questions and self-disclosure which might prompt self-examination, confession, repentance and change? 

Most of us recognise that many formal church structures are collapsing, and that perhaps it is time for far-reaching change if we are to support local believers in authentic witness and outreach to our communities. What will my response be to change that hurts? Will I reject it and cling to my own comfort, or will I allow Christ’s love to compel me along the difficult path, trusting his provision and enabling? If each member of the church in turn says, “Change is good, but let other people change, I am comfortable here”, then there will be no corporate submission to God’s leading into new things.  We will have shown that even the abundant grace shown to us in Jesus, and all the lavish promises of God are not as valuable to us as our comfortable traditions.

Change starts within each one of us….

Do I worship Jesus as Lord of my life? Then I must at the least be willing to set aside anything which hinders his work – including cherished music, forms of worship, translations of scriptures – and also to make myself available to do things differently – perhaps to learn in new ways, to be more active in sharing with others. The pain or struggle of doing this will be real, but is his love not worth anything I can give? What does the old hymn say?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.”

I hold my personal comfort in an open hand, I offer it to the Lord and say, take this and use it according to your pleasure. I will trust you to be with me, no matter where and when I meet with your people; no matter what we sing – or don’t sing; and to speak to me whether there is an ordained minister present or not! Lead me into whatever you have for me, and I will follow, all that matters is that Jesus is honoured and obeyed.

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When I want to look away..

Our Father, who is in heaven

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all life; in whose image all humanity is made, and who desires that all might know and love you, might walk in joyful fellowship with you and with one another, hear our prayer.

As a Father you yearn over your children, from every race, tribe and tongue you call us forth to live together in peace as your family and to glorify you as each brings their own unique part to complete the whole. 

In our rebellion and pride, we long ago rejected your wisdom, your lordship, and chose what we consider right in our own eyes. And see what a price we are paying for our pride and so-called freedom…

The heart of humanity is fatally flawed, and without you, our best and highest aims become the grounds of our corruption, the motivation for the darkest deeds. Almighty God, we confess our sin afresh, and mourn for the grief which has come upon us because of sin, because of our rejection of our God.

Hallowed be your name

We are no longer motivated by your glory, but by our own. We are driven by a desire for power to make ourselves secure; to win vengeance over our neighbour for his wrongs; to be the biggest, the fastest, the wealthiest, the strongest, the most enduring. Our empires(large and small) are fed on exploitation, on corruption, on manipulation and domination, on injustice and dishonesty; they grow fat on the poverty of others, and strong through the killing, intimidating and oppression of others. 

God, we deserve your judgement, we confess the darkness in our hearts and those of our leaders, and cry for the mercy which we do not deserve. Truly, your glory and honour require our condemnation and destruction.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

With trembling hearts, we praise and worship you because the judgement which was rightly ours has been taken by Jesus, by our perfect substitute, and even as he took that punishment on himself, so we by faith receive his perfection and are made acceptable and beloved children in your family. We rejoice to know that this, this astonishing salvation is your will for all your children, and that ultimately we shall dwell together with you in joyous harmony in a new and sinless earth. 

Your kingdom has been  inaugurated through Christ’s life, death and resurrection; and will be fully realised on his return in glory when your appointed time has come. But until then, Lord, how should we work and pray as we consider the bloody battlefield of this world?

As I write, my mind is full of the grievous and intractable situation currently prevailing between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people; images of destruction and violence; images of fear and hatred writ large on human faces; images of hopelessness and despair as the infected wound of a decades long conflict breaks out yet again. The roots of this agony are complicated beyond words, each generation inheriting the consequences of previous decisions and unable to reverse or disentangle them. The decisions taken by my own nation some hundred years ago have their part to play, I must not pretend that our hands are clean..This is not someone else’s problem, it is mine, because these people are my brothers and sisters, and who can say what I might do in their situation, under their provocation?

There are other battlefields to remember – Yemen, Eritrea, South Sudan, Syria,  Guatemala, Colombia, Myanmar, North Korea, Western China, Tibet, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Turkey, Ukraine….you could add to the list those places dearest to your heart. Not all the battles are physical, many are economic, religious and racial state-sponsored oppressions.

How do we – as those who believe that God’s kingdom has come and is coming – pray and work in these situations? We pray for God’s glory to be seen and for justice to be forthcoming; for that lasting peace which allows humanity to flourish and the gospel to be preached. We speak out to our own lawmakers and politicians, to those who can be heard on global stages, urging the respect for human rights which we cherish and which reflects the God-imprint which is in each one of us. We ask God to help us not to look away from conflict, injustice, prolonged suffering, but rather to be motivated through what we see to care enough for our fellow human beings to pray, and to act. We seek those agencies through which we might extend aid to the suffering, and justice to the persecuted, and we commit ourselves to being involved.

Almighty God, I pray today for all those in the land of Israel who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and in his name seek peace in their land. Give them courage to stand against injustice and violence, and help them to hold together – as ethnic Jews, Arabs and Palestinians united in Christ – so that your name might be honoured. May the witness of your people encourage all who work for a lasting and just settlement, and may it strengthen every local effort to end hostility and bring reconciliation.

Whose church is it anyway?..

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace..Keep watch over yourselves..Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood..

(Acts 20.24&28)

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.13-20)

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you form him who is, and who was, and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

(Rev 1.4-6)

It may seem an odd question, but the implications are far-reaching..

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – expressed through all the multi-faceted organisations which now exist across the globe under that single word’church’ – then I need not be too parochial in my concerns, not worried about the fact that another fellowship in my neighbourhood is experiencing a season of growth and deepening faith. Rather, I rejoice with my neighbour that the kingdom of God is growing, and the church of Christ is a living and loving presence in my community. I will resist being bound by denominational boundaries, and see only a place where Jesus is worshipped as Lord, where his people seek his face.

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – albeit expressed through human institutions of varied size and traditions – then I will be at home with my brothers and sisters wherever and however we meet, because in every case we are celebrating our membership of the family of God, and pursuing a deeper and purer relationship with our Lord Jesus. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then it exists to carry out his will, to express his love to the world which needs him so badly, and to care in his name for the people to whom we are sent. As ‘church’, we exist primarily to enable one another to serve in his name, for his glory and for the saving of souls into his kingdom. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – and not a social club which exists to provide comfort and familiar rituals for a small group who like a particular pattern for their meeting together – then the driving force behind our gatherings is to see his face, to hear his voice; to repent together and individually of sin, to rejoice in our forgiveness, and to systematically let go of all the things which hinder us from obedience to his will.

The great voice which summoned the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation gave him words to the seven churches, and in every case said: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Are we listening? What is the Spirit saying to us today? Or are we so used to our own idea of what church is about, and who it  belongs to, that we are deaf to the voice of him who died to redeem to himself a people, to call into being a church?

Am I really saying to the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever, “Lord, I don’t think you are right about this, I like ‘my’ church the way it is”? 

At the very beginning, God’s chosen people decided that they knew, better than God did, just what was good for them, so they took it. What are we, as the church of Christ doing today? Will we humble ourselves, repent of our adherence to tradition, comfort and self-serving; our fondness for status and social acceptability; and ask Jesus to breathe new life into our moribund churches so that we begin to resemble our Lord and Saviour – the fearless one, the one who welcomed all comers, the one who had no time for empty rituals and salvation by merit?

Son of God, whose eyes like blazing fire see all things, uncover my false thinking about your church, and humble me to seek your face. Teach me to follow you, not my tradition; to love you, not my habits of worship; to live for your glory, not my own comfort. Spirit of the Living God, speak, and let me hear…

Lessons in construction..

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

(Prov 12.18&25)

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building..Each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is…It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

(1 Cor 3.9-13)

..to each one of us grace has been given…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.7,12&13)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

(1Thess 5.9-11)

One body, one people under Christ, one holy temple where God is pleased to dwell and reveal his glory, power and love. This is where I belong, and where in addition to rights as his beloved child, I have responsibilities to exercise for the good of others and the glory of God who has called me here.

In the same way that the constituent parts of the human body work together for the good of the whole, so also God’s people are charged with being good for each other. I am challenged to consider how I behave to others, but also what that behaviour springs from – what is the condition of my heart? Jesus pointed out to his disciples that unclean thoughts and actions spring from an unclean heart – and only he can make that heart clean again. But if I have accepted the forgiveness which he offers, and believe that I am being transformed into his image, then I should not settle for remaining less than holy. While I remain impure, I weaken the body of which I am part, and cannot fulfill my tasks properly. My sanctification is part of God’s work in building up the church – am I happy to settle for being a weak spot? Do I want to know that it is my persisting sins which are undermining the witness of the gospel, or creating divisions and suffering in the body of Christ?

I am thankful to rest on God’s grace as I strive for perfection, knowing that in this life I cannot attain it and that he can overcome all that results from my failures, to fulfill his purposes and reveal his glory – there is no limit to his forgiveness. BUT I do not want to harbour or cherish persistent sins as if they were unimportant. Such an attitude undermines all that Jesus died to do, and devalues his sacrifice. Sin, is Sin, is Sin, no matter how intimate or – in the world’s eyes – unlikely to cause problems.

So I continue to submit to God’s discipline, asking him to reveal and deal with my sins; enabling me to turn away from them and pursue holiness for love of my saviour.

As God continues his work in me, so I am able to perform my task in building up my fellow believers – as my heart is changed, so my words and deeds become more Christ-like, my spirit more responsive to his leading, my desire ever more for his glory. I want to build in material that will last – in love, joy, hope, grace, so that my companions on the road are blessed by what God does through me. All that I am and have is a gift from God, given for use in his plans, and primarily for the encouragement of his people. I may not be an apostle or teacher, but I can always choose kindness over indifference. I can always point others to Christ, to the word of God which feeds their spirit. I can always be honest about my own need for grace, humbly offering my own experience of God’s goodness to encourage others who are struggling.

May God graciously enable us to build wisely, so that his church grows in strength and is built up, not torn down. May we build in the name of God, on the gospel of Christ, in the power of the Spirit.

Praise unceasing…

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to your our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all people will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple….Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.

(Ps 65.1-4,8)

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world..My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

(Jn 17.18,20-21)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died….. that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

(2 Cor, 5.11,14&15, 20)

..the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….and they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

(Rev 5.8-10)

The glorious evening light streaming through stained glass seemed to cast a benediction on our praise and thanks to God for the growth of his kingdom. The 19th century hymn, ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended..’, is an old favourite, conjuring a picture of the global church, a continuity of praise, as each faith community in turn is roused by the sun to a new day of love and service.

I grew up praying for the work of the church around the world, and have been privileged to continue doing so; to visit and take part in the work, and to meet believers from overseas when they came to share their stories. As a family, and a congregation, we have friends serving in India, Uganda, Mexico, Japan, China. God is building his church through aid and development work, medical work, direct gospel outreach, literature and translation work, church planting and theological education, broadcasting and publishing.

We KNOW that all over the world, God is building his church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, because we have met believers – people just like us – who are serving, praising, sharing the gospel with their neighbours in those far away lands. They tell of lives transformed, and of battles with ignorance, indifference and idolatry – and we recognise their struggles are ours too. As one family in Christ, their battles and ours are the same; their joys are our joys, and their needs are our privilege to meet. We need never wonder how to pray for them – we pray as we do for ourselves. They too face financial, physical, emotional pressures which we can understand and where possible, address – as we would hope to be supported ourselves in our own time of need.

We cannot travel the globe as ambassadors for Christ, pleading with people to hear the good news and repent. But, united with them in Christ, we go in spirit with our brothers and sisters, to proclaim light in the darkness and freedom for all who will believe – what a privilege, and what a responsibility is ours! Because we believe that God is calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, it is right that we give to the work of witness and discipleship across the world. God gives to us, so that we might give to those who go; giving generously so that their labours are not made wearisome by a lack of support and constant worry about how to make the funds stretch far enough.

As we consider the glorious vision of God’s family of nations, of praise which never ceases, and a mind-blowing unity in diversity, let us be encouraged to persevere in praying and giving to our sisters and brothers so that the kingdom continues to grow. One day, in the new creation, we shall hear at last the stories of what God did with our contributions, however small. But even now, we are blessed in knowing that in giving we serve, love and cherish the family to which, in Christ, we belong.

We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light, through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

( The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.. John Ellerton, 1826-93)

Photograph courtesy of Elsa McTaggart – sunrise on Lewis, 2021

Give us this day…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.25,32-34)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

God has combined the members of the body ..so that there should be no division.., but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.24-26)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need you will abound in every good work….You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2 Cor 9.6-8,11)

Many years ago, I was challenged by a suggestion made by a well known Christian author and speaker to make a habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer for others. To my shame, it had never occurred to me before to use the beloved form of words in that way, but I can heartily recommend it. We may not know much about someone’s particular circumstances at a given moment, but everything which Jesus expressed in that prayer is always of value for his children.

I pray that God might be glorified in their lives, so that His name will be honoured – before this world, but also before all the unseen spiritual forces. I pray that His kingdom might come in their lives, their marriages, their communities – that His lordship might be real for them in all their decision making, and all their work and witness. I pray that they might be so thankful for God’s full forgiveness of their own sin, and so aware of God’s love for all his children that they can forgive those who offend against them in turn, and show that same love.

And I pray that God will meet their daily needs…whatever those may be, and especially that He will grant them that ability to leave the future in God’s hands, accepting that what He provides for each day is sufficient for that day. That prayer implies recognition that all good things come from God, regardless of the human agency by which they may be delivered, and also that He asks us to trust when the provision made does not fit our perceived need. May they have faith to believe in that hard place, and to honour God there.

And sometimes, in fact often, I believe that God calls us to answer those prayers for our brothers and sisters – to be the human means by which He meets their daily needs.

We are one body. The suffering and pain of one member calls for action and care on the part of the others – through this intimate connection, God’s love is shared among his people and their needs are met. I am called as a Christian to be responsive to my brothers and sisters – sharing my needs with them, and meeting their needs as my own means and circumstances permit. In this way, the good gifts which our generous God has lavishly bestowed upon us are used to provide abundantly for the whole body.

Sometimes, I can give money; sometimes practical assistance or the gift of presence, a listening ear, and burden-sharing shoulder. I can ALWAYS pray, commending others to the God who loves and knows their circumstances, so that He will meet their needs according to His rich resources, and through His church.

As the church pursues loving and practical unity, putting its resources at God’s disposal for the benefit of all its members, for His glory and our blessing, then indeed, His name will be hallowed and we will see his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So let us not hold back in fear, doubting God’s care and future provision for us, but rather give generously in every way we can, trusting that when it is our turn to be in need, His love and the care of His saints will not fail us.

All the glory..

Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men….Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them…

(Ps 115.1-4,8)

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..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.

(Jn 1.9-14)

Where is our God? Our God is in heaven, he does what pleases him…and his people worship him; from every continent on the planet, praise arises. 

Where is our God? Our God, by his Spirit, dwells in the hearts of his people and thus, in every community where they are found, He IS.

Where is our God? Our God, moving invisibly and inexorably through the lives of billions, is bringing the tale of life on earth to its divinely ordained conclusion. The story of our race and planet is not ours, but his – HIS..STORY, and to him belongs all the glory, recognition and worship.

Where is our God? Two thousand years ago or so, he became flesh, became like us and walked among us for a few years. There, in that animal shelter he lay a helpless and vulnerable baby, and all heaven marvelled at the humility of the Almighty.

Where is our God? There, on the hills of Galilee, on the roads of Judea, the streets of Jerusalem he moved and spoke; healed and prayed; the ultimate self-revelation of the Divine to the children of his love.

Where is our God? On that cross..tormented, agonised, wracked with pain and thirst, utterly bereft of comfort, sustained only and to the bitter end by his all-consuming love for rebellious, helpless and lost humanity.

Where is our God? Risen, clothed in resurrection glory and mystery, yet wonderfully present with his people. Ascended, but not absent. Awaiting the day when his Father will send him returning to us in all his awe-full majesty, authority and power to judge and complete all things in the great plan of salvation.

And so his children are mocked, for believing in a God who died, who cannot be seen, who appears to be defeated by evil at every turn…whose world is dying, whose people so often reject even the idea of his existence.

To this God, to him alone, belongs all the glory because the true, the whole picture is so much greater than the proud, blinkered vision of humanity will admit. This God, who embraced weakness and triumphed over all the power of evil through apparent defeat, is calling a people for himself, a new family of humanity to share forever in his glory and joy.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God..Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?..God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong..It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for you wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.18,20,27&30&31)

Where is our God? He is coming soon, coming to bring us home to dwell with him forever in the inexpressible joy of our true home, where we will belong most surely, and sinlessly.

Even as the church rejoices each year to remember the astonishing first coming of her Lord; so she also aches with longing for his return and the final revelation of his worth, beauty and kingdom. All the glory then will properly be given to the beloved Son and his long waiting and labour will be fulfilled. Friends, let our longing for that future day not silence our songs of praise and thankfulness now; rather, let us rejoice that our hope is so bright, and so sure. All the glory belongs to our God indeed, because of his love and faithfulness!

A powerful testimony…

Then they [all the people] said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord..sends you to say to us. Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey..so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”

(Jer 42.5)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…The words I say to you are not just my own..the Father, living in me.is doing his work.

(Jn 14.6,7,9&10)

He [Jesus] said to them…”you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

(Acts 1.8)

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. for he received honour and glory from  God the Father when the voice came…, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

(2 Pet 1.16&17)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds,…Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. so be earnest and repent..

(Rev 3.14,15&19)

Do you notice how the words in Jeremiah are mirrored by the words from Revelation? This struck me today as I considered how to write about the wonderful name Jesus takes to himself in Revelation, speaking to his church in sorrow and summoning them to repent and return to the covenant love which once they had known.

The Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) are a sorry tale of disobedience by the covenant people, to which God, by his prophets and by direct revelation bears witness. Time and again, the truth about their rebellion is brought before them, and repeatedly they fail to learn from the consequences of their actions. God calls them to repent and return, but in vain.

In Jesus, this act of witnessing to the truth – about God, about human depravity and helplessness, and about the gift of salvation – is brought to a climax. There is no more accurate revelation about God than that which we see in Jesus. He is the ultimate and utterly reliable word of truth on all these subjects. He is THE faithful witness, the only man who never failed to live and speak in ways which truly reflected God’s character and will. That faithfulness took him to the cross, but the truth to which he testified raised him from the grave again in triumph, and now he stands as eternal witness to the irresistible reality of salvation by grace, to a living hope in a new heaven and earth, a new body and an unimaginably rich future life.

The comfort to me from this wonderful name of Jesus is that I can fully rely on him; the challenge is that he has called me in turn to bear witness to the world. I am now to be one who speaks the truth – about God, about human hopelessness and the gift of salvation. I am called to suffer, as Jesus did, for being faithful to this message; speaking of the holiness of God, the depths of sin, and the wonder of grace. I know that I have failed in faithfulness, but also that by the Spirit at work in me I am being transformed into the likeness of this true and faithful witness, Jesus.

Lord God, may I rejoice in my calling to be in my own place a true and faithful witness – even when this brings me pain or rejection. Renew my trust in your truth, so that I may be steadfast in my testimony. Oh Lord, renew and revive your church, that we may increasingly embrace this calling to witness to you. Turn us from complacency, from mere institutional self-preservation and comfort-seeking, to  courageous witness to your holiness and saving power, and to the compassion and love of Jesus.

church…a work in progress?

So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly , which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand..Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord. The Levites..instructed the people..making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

(Neh 8.2,6-8)

Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

(Ps 149.1-4)

It was he[Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.11-13)

…Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Saviour…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

(Eph 5.23, 25-27)

Have you ever wondered at the gulf between the passionate, potent love we see in Jesus, and the qualities of the church which is his body in the world? Why does the community which is commissioned to witness to divine love, and incredible grace have such a record of intolerance, bigotry of every kind, division, coldness, selfishness and worldliness? Why do so many people outside the church view Jesus as someone admirable, and then reject the gospel because of those who claim to know and love him?

Our record as a people called to bear God’s name fruitfully, making disciples of all nations, rejoicing in our salvation and provoking the unsaved to envy of our peace, unity and hope is woeful. Our record as a people able to pick quarrels, hold grudges, mistreat, suspect, withhold forgiveness, abuse, lie, conceal and hoard on the other hand is quite impressive. How shameful, how heart-breaking, that the body of Christ in the world should be a source of such grief, pain and rejection of the gospel.

We have the incalculable riches of the word of Almighty God – his personal revelation of himself, his great purposes in creation and redemption. We have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, whose task is our daily transformation and enabling for the work of mission – whatever that may look like in our unique calling. We have Jesus, our salvation, our glory, joy and crown, by whom we stand in the the immediate presence of a holy God, with a guaranteed eternity in which to finally and fully live. What happens to us, that our lives fall so short of our calling, our identity?

From earliest records, we see that the body of Christ has been flawed, there was no golden age when everything went well. We are a community of sinners who have been saved, and who – this side of death – remain prone to every temptation known to humanity. The result is that the bride for whom Jesus died is far from pure, united and holy, and her continued existence is itself a cause for wonder and humble thanksgiving. Only God could have preserved a witness for himself in the face of so much weakness and failing. The larger our institutional churches get, the more they become like worldly institutions, with the same flaws. The tragedy is that Christ’s body in the world ought to be different. Unbelievers know this, and mock our faith; we know it, and grieve for the trap from which we seem unable to escape.

We have to take responsibility for our own personal witness, and pray for the reform of our institutions, pray for our leaders and confess our failures and sins. We also have to continue to work at being a community of believers. Each of us has a role to play in the body, in addition to our own willingness to give reason for the hope we have. We look to love, to build up, to encourage. We look to unite in praise and in learning from the word – reverencing the revelation and hungry to learn for ourselves what it means for us.

Lord of the church, for whom you died, have mercy on us. Fill us afresh by your Spirit, so that we shine for you – as individuals and as a body. Cleanse us from our persistent sins so that we honour you, and show how we treasure the blood shed to make us clean. Do not give up the work of building your church in our day, in our land, but in your mercy let us see your power poured out and a new generation of people coming to new life in Christ.

Not our will, but yours O Lord….

Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is not breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. …Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

(Hab 2.18-3.2)

“What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you..for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

(Matt.16.15-18)

..You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Eph 2.19-21, 3.10&11)

One of the hardest lessons in the great narrative of the bible is that God consistently acts in ways which bewilder his people; they stumble and falter as time and again, he works through gross evil and hostility to accomplish his purposes. We consider the role which Pharaoh played in the great redemption story of the Exodus – how the adamant resistance and pride of that ruler played directly into God’s plan to reveal the full magnificence of his power to deliver the people of Israel. 

Perhaps most shockingly, and hardest to keep in focus for those like me who have known the story all their lives, is the role of the Jewish establishment and Roman authorities in crucifying Jesus and thus bringing about the salvation which God had ordained from the very beginning. The injustice, malice, and concentrated evil which was at work to overcome Jesus acted instead to achieve exactly what had been intended, and from apparent defeat, God drew absolute victory. 

What happened next? The sustained persecution of the new believers in Jerusalem sent them far across the known world, spreading the gospel as they went and bringing hope to every people whom they met. Our God IS working out his purposes – but how ready we are to assume that those must be the same as our own, and how wrong we may be!

The ‘church’ is the people of God – those privileged to be citizens of heaven, members of God’s family – and our ultimate purpose is to demonstrate to the heavenly powers that God is good and wise and powerful, not that we are! It is God who is building, not us. It is God who sustains and inspires, and his Spirit which breathes life into those who are dead in their sins – not our strategies, or missions, or institutional magnificence. We are being built up together in Christ – not into a human organisation – and our purpose is to be the place where God’s presence dwells in the new heavens and the new earth. 

We are not there yet….by a long way, and I am just wondering whether part of God’s purpose in these days of global turmoil is to shake us as believers completely out of the complacency which continues to trust in human institutions. Is it possible that all the trappings of Christianity which we still cling to – buildings, hierarchies of clergy, denominations, ritual and pomp – all these have been hindering us from seeing and obeying God’s call? As we are forbidden to meet together, and are forced to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives in unprecedented ways, is God pruning off dead wood? This trial is revealing whether people are putting their faith in God, or in the human institution which we call the church, but which perhaps never really merited the name…

Let us pray in these days that God will find us ready to listen to his direction; to obey his call; to put away those things which are hindrances to gospel living and loving. Let us cry to him for direction and above all for encouragement that through this trial, he will reveal his power at work in building his church – in spite of all the obstacles which our ‘church’ has put in his way.