Category Archives: Duty

Reality check..

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.

(Ps 37.3-8)

Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

(Luke 9.22-26)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord..It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col 3.1&2, 23&24)

It is terribly easy to fall into the habit of selective reading of scripture, picking out those passages which make us feel comfortable and good about ourselves, and losing sight of fundamental truths which present a challenge to our thinking and acting.

Psalm 37 makes us feel good; we think about how God will give us our heart’s desires, and vindicate our good name, and it is reassuring! And then, the Holy Spirit prompts a recollection that this would have been one of Jesus own songs, one of his prayers too…..what did it look like for this to be fulfilled for him? He was the only perfect human being who ever lived, and therefore surely his cause was righteous, his desires were fulfilled and his way vindicated by God?

Our Lord delighted in God the Father, we read so many times of his prioritising time alone to pray and of his speaking of his love and obedience to God. And what did God give Christ? Hardship, foolish and faithless followers, persecution, injustice and finally an agonising, humiliating death. Jesus committed his way to God the Father, from his earliest days he sought to be about his Father’s business and publicly declared that everything he said and did was as directed by God. And his righteousness was despised, his name was blackened, and he was condemned as a criminal.

He was still before his accusers, he waited patiently through the agony of crucifixion to accomplish his allotted task, to achieve his desired end; he refrained from anger, and prayed forgiveness for his persecuters. His road to glorious and absolute victory led through what looked like abject failure and defeat…and he calls me, he calls you to follow him.

Our victory is assured in Christ, we cannot fall out of God’s loving grasp; but even as we will share in his future glory, so we are called now to share in his path of obedient self-denial and submission. God calls me to follow Jesus in doing the hard things, the painful things, the lonely, secret and insignificant things which are involved in dying to myself – a sacrifice which is for God’s eyes only, not to make a public performance or to win human praise.

My heart’s desire may truly be for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom, but am I really prepared for what that will mean in my own life? Being a follower of Jesus is not meant to be easy, smooth and comfortable – his path was none of those things! All those things which self clings to as its right – health, security, family and a good name – are disposable in the will of God, and I must hold them lightly, ready to yield them up if necessary with an obedient and willing spirit.

May God in his grace grant me his strength to do the work of dying to myself, that I might live for Christ; may the vision of the glorious and risen One draw me on steadily through my own path of self-denial, keeping me steady and full of hope that even as I share his sufferings, so also I will share in his glory.

 

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One body, many gifts

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength….Fear the Lord your God, serve him only…

(Deut 6.4&13)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.

(Lev 19.18)

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

(Jn 13.34&35)

For  just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(Rom 12.4-8)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Cor 12.4-7)

The church of Christ, the body of Christ, the family of faith….all different ways of expressing the community to which we belong as redeemed children of God – no longer living for our own ends, disconnected from one another, or unhealthily dependent on one another, but connected and deriving our essential life and purpose from one person – Jesus.

Our calling is to love God, and in doing so, to love one another – seeing in each other a glorious and infinitely precious child of God, saved as we all are by the blood of Christ. We are brought together in order to thrive – the individual parts of any living body do not last long in isolation, but dwindle and die – and together to demonstrate God’s radical, transforming kingdom in the midst of a world broken by sin and deeply shadowed by evil.

As in our human bodies, the whole can only thrive when the system works together, each part fulfilling its function, and united in a common goal. When we – as obedient and sincere followers of Jesus – seek to exercise the gifts we are given, then this must always be at the front of our thinking…what can I do to bless and build up this body of Christ? If my goal becomes my own satisfaction, or self-aggrandisement, status and fame, then I am not loving and not submitting to the directing of the Spirit. It may be that I have humble gifts..well and good! It is for God’s pleasure that I offer them, and for the good of others. It is not for me to envy the gifts of others, but to rejoice that God has provided for the needs of his church by distributing gifts across all his people.

Equally, it is not for me to expect that my service – whatever it may be – will look like other people’s service, nor that it will always take the same form. Our Lord looks for a loving, obedient and humble heart, an attitude of availability and surrender; then in different seasons of life and various contexts, our gifts will be exercised in different ways. Some may be called from an early age to teach, in public…well and good! Others may enter such service after years of exercising a private ministry of encouragement, finding that it has been preparing them for this next task. Some will readily and gladly accept the care of children, finding a life long satisfaction in that crucial task of nurture – while others can be part of that ministry for a time, and then find they are moving on.

How hard we find it at times not to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to imagine that unless we serve and exercise our strengths and gifts in certain ways, then we are disobeying his command. Let us strive to dismiss that internal voice, those insidious whisperings which come from the devil and aim to destroy our fellowship and derail our faith.

Am I truly desirous of obeying the Lord, humbly submitting my time and talents and money to his service, and open to remaining in a quiet, sometimes a hard place of obedience? Then surely he will be pleased to show me what the next task might be, and as I tackle it in his name, to grant me peace in doing his will. God grant that we might hold nothing back, but indeed love him with heart, soul, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as ourselves for his glory and the building up of his kingdom.

Bible colouring exercises..?!

You must go on steadily in those things that you have learned and which you know are true. Remember from what sort of people your knowledge has come, and how from early childhood your mind has been familiar with the holy scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work.

(2 Tim 3.14-17: JB Phillips, the New Testament in Modern English)

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness….Teach the older men…teach the older women..so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men…set them an example..so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us…Teach slaves…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

(Titus 1.1; from 2.1-10, 2.11-14)

I am part of a group of women in my community who meet together to study the bible regularly. We use DVD’s, books, and occasionally an approach which I find hugely enjoyable, called Inductive Bible Study. It requires us to print out the bible passage with plenty of space on the page to scribble on, get hold of coloured pencils and start… there are a few key questions, but no study guide and no formulaic answers.

What is so good about this technique is the way it builds confidence in the follower of Jesus, confidence in their own capacity to hear God speaking through his word without a preacher explaining it to them! I love to listen to sermons, it is my favourite way of learning about the bible and receiving the word. BUT I also know that I need to be able to read and learn from the scriptures on my own and in a small group, so this technique for bible study is very encouraging.

Perhaps you can guess from the texts quoted above that our study recently was the book of Titus – all three chapters in one session. It was fantastic fun! We traced the key ideas which cropped up all through the book, and all of a sudden, something which we had initially read rather mechanically, became enthralling and relevant to us here and now. If you are not familiar with Titus, and assume that since Paul wrote it, there must be some difficult arguments and hard concepts in it, please think again! The book is a delightful exposition of what it looks like to grow in the ‘knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness‘, basically a handbook of practical christian holiness.

In Titus, we are reminded over and over that God is trustworthy, his word is true and comes to us through the scriptures and the preaching and teaching of that word. In our culture where everything is relative and the devil would have us believe that there is no such thing as truth, how we need to remember and affirm the truth about Jesus, about God, holiness and judgement. We are warned to be on guard against those within the church as well as in our culture, whose beliefs and actions are deceitful and self-promoting. And we are reminded that our growth in godliness, in purity and the lovely qualities of Christ-likeness to which we aspire, should speak as loudly as our words in showing Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation to those around us.

What a challenge Titus gives us: is my life self-controlled, upright and godly? Am I reverent, eager to do what is good, not a gossip or a glutton? Am I encouraging others to grow in their faith, and waiting in confident hope for the glory to come? None of these things are a means of earning the salvation which God’s grace gives; rather they are all manifestations of my response to that free gift.

May God stir up within me a spirit of thankfulness, dependence and eagerness to grow in godliness, so that I too might ‘make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’.

 

My God…the reader of my thoughts

I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed…Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. …”you have said harsh things against me, “says the Lord. “Yet you ask,’What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evil doers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.'”

(Mal.3.6,7,13-15)

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked….When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny….Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

(Ps73.1-3,16,17,27&28)

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. “They will be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

(Mal 3.16-18)

How easy it is to forget that while we may hide our inmost thoughts and motives from even our dearest friends, we cannot hide a single, fleeting notion from our holy, almighty and just God. How foolish we are, reckoning that because we fool some of the people, for some of the time, that somehow God – who made the mind, in all its complexity, and who alone understands the human heart because He formed it – is deceived by our lip-service and nominal obedience.

In the book of the prophet Malachi, God challenges his people, stripping away their defensive arguments, to reveal the truth of their hearts, the things they really believe about Him and about themselves. They have fallen into the classic misunderstanding which continues to dog humanity in its dealings with divinity – that somehow they can and must earn favour by going through certain prescribed motions. The absurdity of the notion, that these little rituals of sacrifice/cleansing and fasting, by insignificant mortals, can in some way alter the attitude of an eternal, unimaginably holy and powerful God, just keeps slipping away from us and we assume that our performances put God in our debt! It is beyond ridiculous, and it also betrays a complete failure to understand the character of God, and our own utter helplessness.

It is God’s favour to us – undeserved, boundless and eternal – which calls forth from us a response of worship and obedience to his revealed will. The prophet is speaking on behalf of God, beseeching them to repent of their superficial religiosity, and instead to embrace obedience from the heart, not in order to earn favour, but in order to appropriately respond to what they have received. Ingratitude, rejection of God’s love, of His rightful place as Lord, all speak of hearts which are full of pride and self-reliance. Earnest – if flawed – obedience; the desire to keep on pursuing holiness by all the means of grace at our disposal, speak of hearts which are humble, realistic, and dependent on God.

The same rituals which were dismissed as bearing no fruit by the merely religious, could be a source of encouragement, a form of true worship by those whose hearts were changed. In our day, the so-called ‘duties’ of a believer – bible reading and prayer; attendance at church and active membership in a congregation; faithful giving of time, talents and money are all means by which we may choose to be blessed if we bring the attitude of a redeemed sinner to them, instead of a self-serving, self-reliant critic of God.

Let us be on guard against this attitude of entitlement – God owes us nothing, but has given us everything we need for this life and the next. Those who try to earn salvation by their deeds; or who reject the idea of God altogether and choose to live without him, will have their reward in this life, but will have no part in the treasure-house of God when He comes to gather it for eternity. May we be faithful in proclaiming this truth to those who do not know it, and meantime live humbly depending upon His grace to us, and not our worthiness to receive it..

In danger of drying up?!

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy peace and love be yours in abundance…..But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life….To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen

 1, 2, 20, 21, 24 & 25)

My little corner of Scotland is into the third week of an incredible spell of early summer weather, with blue skies and high temperatures every day, and virtually no rain. This is of course a great blessing to the holiday-makers, but to those who are trying to get on with their jobs, and those trying to bring on tender plants and seeds, it is very challenging! I have been basking – there is no other word for it – in the heat, doing every outdoor job I can think of, and am out every night with the watering can, trying to keep my plants alive!

The weather has affected my powers of concentration, and I had become anxious that I had no clear idea what to write about this week, until I sat this morning with my breakfast, feeling the warmth of the day growing about me, hearing birds busy in the trees, and decided for no good reason, to have a look at the little book of Jude. God is so gracious and faithful to his children, even in their weakness, so that my distraction and lack of application has not prevented him from encouraging me from his word, and it is this which I want to share with you this week. When it seems that the word is dry, that your spirit is hardened up and no refreshing can penetrate – keep applying the water of the inspired scriptures, keep going back for more, keep putting yourself in the place where God can speak to you. Because he will….

The words that spoke to me so clearly this morning were about keeping, and being kept, perhaps you noticed them in the quote above? On the one hand, at both the beginning and end of the letter, Jude reassures his readers that they are “kept”, by one who has effectively summoned them to his presence, and who has the power to retain them there in the face of all the powers of this world which might be ranged against them. We are the beloved of the Lord, redeemed at his will, by the obedient sacrifice of the Son, and there can be absolutely no doubt of his ability and purpose to keep us safe, and more, to bring us finally and faultlessly into his eternal joy. When my heart seems dried up, and I find it hard to focus on the task of obedient living, it is so good to focus on this keeping power and purpose – because it reminds me that it is not upon my own resources and faithfulness that my salvation depends. My dear Father knows my weakness and frailty, and has made all necessary provision for my inevitable failures

The second “keep”, which is found near the end of the letter, is a different perspective, reminding Jude’s readers that they can – if they choose, and he obviously wants them to make this their preferred way of living! – be actively involved in nurturing the faith they have received. If I seek to grow in my faith – through bible study and learning from the teaching of others – and if I exercise the gift (and responsibility) of prayer, which is given me that I might take part in God’s work in the world, then I am deliberately placing myself in God’s love for me. And where else would I rather be?!

I rejoice in my safe-keeping; I rest in the strong and irreversible love of a great and awesome God who has chosen me as his child. I look forward in hope to the eternal reality which is promised – which will make this life with all its vivid glories look a pale shadow – and thank him that in his mercy towards his children, he has guaranteed our future. I confess that my love is often weak, my commitment less than whole-hearted, and give thanks that there is always a fresh start, and new opportunity to play my part in keeping in the centre of his love and his will.

May his grace and mercy stir me up to ever deeper and more whole-hearted devotion, that I might bring honour to his name, now and forever!

Doing what comes…. naturally?

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Hebrews 13.20&21)

How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

(Psalm 116.12-14)

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.

(Jeremiah 31.33)

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. And He died..that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Corinthians 5.11,14&15,17)

My parents made promises before God and their fellow christians when they brought me to be baptised as an infant, promises which bound them among other things to “teach the truths and duties of the Christian faith” to me, their child. I was blessed by their keeping of those promises, and grew up in a home where life revolved around the priorities of worship and service, primarily in their local congregation. It was entirely normal that the weekend should be dominated by the Saturday prayer meeting, and then two services on Sunday, usually with generous hospitality shown over a meal to visitors.

The sense of ‘duty’ extended beyond mere attendance, to personal devotion, professional integrity, sacrificial giving, opening their home and hearts to hundreds of people over the years, in addition to the hard work of parenting, discipline and patient forbearance with three children! They kept their promises, as far as they were able, and clearly demonstrated what Christian duty looked like.

That word ‘duty’ has come to bear a less than positive aspect, bringing with it a burden and a weariness which makes people avoid any sort of responsibility for fear they will be shackled to an unbearable weight! But is this how I should think as a Christian? Surely not!

My ‘duties’ as a follower of Jesus are an expression of my sense of indebtedness to him, recognising that his sacrificial love for me has placed me forever in his debt and that nothing I can do to serve and glorify him is too much to give! It is this which the psalmist puts so clearly in Ps116 above, as he boasts not in his ability to fulfill his vows, but in the greatness and worth of the God to whom those vows are made.

Those same ‘duties’ are also my privileged and appointed tasks, commanded by my King and Lord, who has the right to direct and spend my life according to his perfect pleasure and will. He has told me that these things are what he desires of me, that they are for my blessing, and will bring him glory – should I not be all eagerness to fulfill them?! What reasons could I give for rejecting his command, for denying myself the privilege of serving such a Master?

Our daily grief as believers is, that in spite of our best aspirations, and deepest sense of sweet obligation, we find it so hard to do our duty, to live according to the pattern which Christ commends to us. We are disappointed in ourselves and tempted to give up, to resent that God asks so much, instead of asking for his help.  Because the wonderful truth is that help is readily available, and we already have the basic provision that we need.

The bible makes it clear that as those who call on Jesus as ‘Lord’, we have been transformed, given a fresh start, made ‘new’ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians. Our nature has been renewed by the indwelling Spirit, and it is as though God had written his desires upon our hearts, so that our natural inclinations are now a mirror image of his own – although still badly clouded by the deceptive remnant of rebellion that haunts us!

That deep desire to honour God through fulfilling my duties as a believer – that is my new nature at work; those little victories over old bad habits and selfishness – that is my new nature, growing stronger under the influence of the Spirit; the increased ease with which I reach out in love to serve, and the joy which it brings – are the fruits of God’s gracious equipping of me with all that I need to do his will.

Instead of despairing over my failures, let me promptly bring them to God in repentance, and then set off in joy and renewed trust to try again, confident that his power and provision for me, the new nature he is nurturing in me, will bear good fruit. In doing my duties as a Christian, I express my debt to my Lord, and serve him with delight, exulting in the privilege of such a position and resting in his understanding love.

May God continue to give us daily the things we need, and strengthen his likeness in us, so that we may serve naturally and gladly, bringing glory to him and blessing to others.