Category Archives: Complete in Christ

One Church, One Faith, One Lord!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-4)

“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….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

(John 17.20,21&23)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

(Psalm 133.1)

It is a very sad reflection on the chronic brokenness of human hearts that down through the ages, the church of God has been marred by ferocious divisions and internal strife. The pride and stubbornness which marked our race from Eden have fractured the body of Christ again and again down the centuries, and we read the prayer of Jesus on the night he was betrayed (John 17, quoted above), with heavy hearts, recognising what a miracle such unity would be!

No physical body experiencing the breakdown in unity which has characterised the church could have survived, it would have died long ago. The miracle is that God has sustained his church thus far, in spite of all the quarrels and battle-lines, so that although divided, she continues to grow and to bear witness, and by his grace to minister to a world in desperate need of salvation. Praise him for his power, and his patience with us!

We may not be in a position as individuals to change this situation, but we are called to pursue unity wherever we can – by modelling ourselves on Christ in his humility and servant-heart, seeking the good of others, not putting ourselves first nor insisting on our own rights. Although we may – for whatever reason – belong to a different branch of the church from our neighbour, there is no excuse for failing in love towards them, or avoiding active service alongside them for the gospel.

Paul reminds us in Philippians that we are one in Christ, and that we share fellowship by the one Holy Spirit. From that starting point, we can have the same purpose and labour together, to reach our communities with the good news of Christ, so that people may be gathered into the kingdom of God for eternity, and begin to live the values of that kingdom here and now. Indeed, such united effort is itself a witness to the love of God, and draws people out of the darkness to the light of the gospel which has caused such transformation.

Our unity in wielding the weapons of faith against the spiritual forces which keep our communities from turning to Christ encourages us in the fight, and strengthens our hope and confidence in God. Like well-trained soldiers, we know that there is safety in numbers, and that together we are so much stronger and less vulnerable to attack when there are comrades at our back!

The challenge is to be willing to labour with others, to see fruit in another field, and to be content since all the growth is to the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom. It is a human weakness to want to get all the benefit of our labours in our own particular church family – but does it really matter, in the light of eternity and of the great extent of God’s amazing plans for his church? Is it not sufficient that souls are saved, discipled and grow to mature faith somewhere?

May I be willing to work faithfully alongside believers from every part of the body of Christ, to accept that differences are not necessarily barriers, and that God is so much greater than our artificial denominational boundaries. May I accept that true growth anywhere is to the glory of God and the praise of Jesus Christ, and rejoice in it without envy or resentment even if my own church is not blessed at this time.

Food for the journey..

A feast of joy unspeakable is spread, by him who is himself the living bread, A place for hungry souls is now prepared, a life of endless glory to be shared.

Yet places at this feast were dearly bought when Jesus Christ came down and souls were  sought, and found and saved by his own precious blood, to make our peace with heaven’s holy God.

That gentle hand, once pierced, will pour the wine, the liquid life of love our souls refine, in heaven’s hall of wonders still to come, when God in matchless mercy brings us home.

And there, together saved by lavish grace, the room ablaze with light from Jesus’ face, and every trace of sin and darkness gone, we’ll sing the praise of God’s all-radiant Son.

(Malcolm Macgregor: sung to ‘Ellers’ by EJ Hopkins)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

(1 Corinthians 11.23-26)

It is just a year since we first suspected that we ought to be seriously considering the call to come to this remote part of Scotland, and came to visit the area, the church and manse and meet with a few of the members. Only twelve months, during which time our lives have changed profoundly, and God has demonstrated his faithfulness and tenderness time and again in providing for our needs and giving us strength and peace through the changes.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Lord’s supper in the most northerly of our three church buildings, remembering together what Jesus did for us on the cross, and taking time to give thanks again; to receive strength for the next stage of our journy; and take courage that whatever the world may say of or to us, we have complete assurance of our eternal destination.

It is such a simple act, a bit of bread, a cup of wine (or grape juice!), shared by a miscellaneous bunch of people in a remote corner of Scotland. And yet a profound act. A deliberate act of remembering what was done for us, by  God’s son, the perfect one, who alone could die the death we should have died, in order that we might live. An action which we take with fellow believers, a statement of unity and belonging that transcends every possible barrier of age, gender, race, and which links us with all who have gone before. We are ONE in Christ, and that bond goes deeper than any other. These people, whom I as yet barely know, are my people, and we belong together.

And it is an action that looks forward, as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians – we do this according to Jesus’ own command, to declare his death for us ‘until he comes.’ A day is coming, when we will share in a glorious feast of communion, a celebration of Jesus Christ, with him at the head of the table, and with all our travails behind us for ever. In his promises we have hope, and his grasp on us is the foundation of our faith, not our hold on him which is weakened by circumstances and our own frailties. Glory be to God, who has given us this sign which we share, remembering the past, celebrating the present and straining with hope towards the future.

We sang the words which I quoted above in our service last Sunday, and I was moved to sweet tears – of joy, of hope and longing for that holy feast. He has done it all; His lavish grace has rescued and restored us, and keeps in store a life rich beyond our imagining  So when we come to the table, let us come with joy and be filled again with love for one another and for those who are yet to believe, that we might proclaim the Lord’s death with pride until he comes!

But what am I, a mere mortal ?

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars that you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?

(Ps 8. 3&4)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

(Eph 2. 10)

Breathtaking, isn’t it? And I am not just referring to the picture – sunset over the Lake of Galilee, a symphony of colour and grandeur! We rightly wonder at the diversity, majesty and beauty of the creation around us, and revere the Creator whose power and unsearchable wisdom brought it all into being. But even more, we should be struck dumb at the realisation that in the great story of creation, the human race was the pinnacle, all was brought into being in order to give us a home, a place to share with one another and above all one which would reveal God’s greatness to us as we shared fellowship with him.

The great narrative of scripture puts us in pride of place at the climax of creation, the only beings which God created to reflect his character, and into which he breathed life. We know very well that our rebellion against our loving God led us out of fellowship with him, that the image in us was scarred almost beyond recognition, and the world around us was broken by our sin. And yet, in spite of all this, the bible is adamant that our proper place remains as the crown of creation, the apple of God’s eye, his greatest handiwork.

From the moment when God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin and spelled out its consequences, his plan was being revealed, a rescue plan, and one which would result in even greater glory to God than if we had never sinned, never needed saving! It takes a great craftsman to produce a work of art, and an even greater one to take a desperately flawed and spoiled thing and make of it something beautiful and useful. Our God is the great craftsman, the one for whom nothing is too broken to be restored to wholeness, and for whom no amount of painstaking labour is too much.

How is it that we can be made beautiful again, restored to bearing the image of God and sharing fellowship with him? It is all his work, and all through the way in which we are united with Jesus by God when we trust in the power of his death to wipe away our sin. As Paul says earlier in that chapter of Ephesians :- ” So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness towards us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed.” (Eph 2.8)

Praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for his saving power, and his great love, which he pours out on us, so that we may live new lives, free from the guilt and power of sin! What good news we have to share of an Eternal Father’s love, a Saviour’s blood to cleanse and a Holy Spirit’s power active in our lives to make the fact of our new nature more and more a daily reality.

As I allow the truth revealed in the bible to soak into my mind, applying it like a filter to every view of life, I will see things more and more the way God sees them. This is the transforming of my mind, my thoughts, so that I am increasingly aligned with the unseen realities, with the truths which underlie our lives instead of the lies and myths which our culture imposes on us. The devil would love to keep me blind to the truth, hobbled by a sense of my own past failures, and present weakness; to keep me doubting God and afraid to ask for his help because I fear that he really doesn’t care about me. I need to keep on returning my gaze to the stars, the heavens above and the wonders all around, and saying to myself:- “Lord, your handiwork is great, I am humbled by your power and majesty, but I choose to believe that in Christ, I am a masterpiece in your hands, that you look upon me with delight, and that I have purpose and a place in this world and in your family.”

Fullness of living…. in Christ!

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

(Romans 8. 1&2, the Message)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen…

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

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

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

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

(George Wade Robinson 1838-77)

Alpha and Omega

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.

(Hebrews 12 v 2)

Last year, I did a new thing for Advent, searching the bible for names of Jesus, and using one each day to help me to focus on him, the reason for this season! I pick them out of the bowl at random, and then make an effort to think during the ensuing day about what that title means, and how it enriches my understanding of Jesus and all that he is.

Yesterday, it was this verse from Hebrews, reminding me that Jesus is both the author – the source of the plan of salvation – and also the perfecter of our faith. He not only drew up the blueprint, but came from heaven, from the glory of his father’s throne, and worked it out down to the last detail in his own body. Stuart Townend & Keith Getty put it succinctly in their song  ‘See what a morning’ –     ” See God’s salvation plan, born in love, wrought in pain, paid in sacrifice”.

There is nothing left for me to add…. no ticking of boxes, no achieving of prescribed standards of behaviour, or conforming to a particular mould. I can only receive, agreeing in my heart with a holy God, that I have nothing worthwhile to offer him, and that I stand in desperate need of a Saviour. My human pride rebels over and against this, seeking any way that I might put God in my debt, and somehow deserve this priceless gift which he is offering me. Surely, if I pray with great persistence, give sacrificially, witness at every opportunity, then I will have earned God’s favour?

What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians chapter 13? That one can be the most gifted, dedicated servant but without love – without that response to God in my heart – I am NOTHING. All my labours achieve is to wear me out with well-doing, creating a bitter and resentful heart as I see that God continues to bless others who do not try as much as I do, and that hard and painful things continue to happen to me.

What a relief it is by comparison to accept that it is only in Christ that I have any claim on God, and then to recognise that Christ’s claim is absolute! In him, I am a beloved child of the King of Kings,  acceptable to a holy God, secure in my new family ties and with an eternal life in which to enjoy and work them out. The perfect son of God is the one who planned my salvation from the beginning, and is also the one who carries it through to completion, so that in the end he will present us – all his people – pure and spotless before the throne of God. It is not my labours after perfection which determine my future, but his finished work which guarantees it.

Yes, it is right and proper that in our response to this love we should desire to become like Jesus in his holiness, that we should long to share the good news of his death and resurrection, and to care for all his children. But while we remain in frail human flesh, our efforts will remain flawed and compromised. It’s ok! God knows and understands, welcoming our desire to be changed, to serve and love in his name, and enabling us more and more to live in this way as we trust him for daily strength and perseverance.

I don’t have to be perfect, because Jesus is perfect for me. I just need to remain in his presence, depending on and loving him more than anything else. The apostle Paul wrote to his Philippian church to encourage them in this kind of faithful living, reminding them that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. (Phil 1 v 6)

The title of this piece, two Greek letters which stand at the beginning and end of that alphabet, is another of the names given to Jesus (Rev 22 v 13). This idea that he is before and after all things, somehow holding it all together, is a richly satisfying picture for me, and ties in very closely with the verse from Hebrews with its sense of the completeness of his work. The words are also quoted in a very old hymn, not often sung nowadays, but full of good theology and worth revisiting! I will close with it this week, and pray that as you take these words and think over them, you will be filled with praise for Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he,

Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,

Evermore and evermore!

(Aurelius Clemens Prudentius 348-413, translated by J M Neale 1818-66)