Category Archives: encouragement

Just so much fluffiness?

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young…… For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,”declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.   ………………….”Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

(Isa 40.10&11;41.13&14; 42.1-3)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matt 11.28-30)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.

(Eph 4.1-3)

As followers of Jesus, those who have the fruit of his life within them being developed by the power of his spirit, we are all called to gentleness – alongside self-control, patience, joy, peace etc – to the development of a ‘kindly nature or character’ (after the dictionary definition of this quality). But what does that look like for us, in a world where kindness and gentleness are often confused with weakness, and trodden underfoot; where strength lies in might, in noise, in exerting power and status and influence, where looking after number one is paramount? Gentleness is now largely a matter of describing fabric, or the quality of a breeze, and is rarely valued in the personalities which dominate our headlines.

I believe that as we look at Jesus, we see gentleness modelled for us very clearly. Here is no doormat, no timid spirit. Jesus at times was bold, confrontational, assertive and he certainly cannot be accused of conforming to popular opinion in order to avoid uncomfortable situations!! He demonstrated the power of God to overrule the natural world, to defeat the powers of evil, and ultimately, the power of death. And yet he is commended to us as a gentle and humble man.

The prophets foretold these qualities, speaking of the coming judgement and justice which would be fulfilled under the authority of the Messiah, and yet also speaking in the most eloquent, tender words about the gentleness with which he would tend, heal and cherish his own precious ones.

I believe that gentleness speaks of strength under complete control, exercised in love to those who are weak, wounded, frail and desperately needy – which we as sinners are! I find this quality in my Lord utterly irresistible, and it is one which we greatly need to cultivate in our dealings with one another. None of us can see into the heart of another, we cannot know what struggles and wounds are being carried there – through interminable days – as our fellow believers seek to follow Jesus along the path to which he has called them. What we can do, is to handle one another with gentleness, guarding our language and tone of voice, as well as the way we use our physical strength, and fully aware of one another’s vulnerability.

If a person is irritating you so much that you are in danger of losing your temper and being harsh…..what would your gentle Lord do? Consider his manner with the confused and questioning disciples on the night before he died- he was so patient and gentle with them, in spite of his own desperate need for reassurance from his father. Their weakness called forth his own loving gentleness; out of his strength, he gave to them in their need and tempered his words to their confusion.

Let us rejoice in the gentleness of our Saviour, as he carries us in his arms; let us pray that we might have that same gentleness in our dealings with one another, that we might be a means of healing, strengthening, comforting and guiding one another, and always pointing to Christ, the perfect ‘gentle’-man.

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Who are you cheering on?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight…I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe….I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.

Now to him  who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 1. 2&3, 17-19; 3.16-21)

What a blessing it is to have friends who share scripture with us, who put God’s word into our hands and minds to encourage, challenge and strengthen us. I received the final verse in this quote recently, from a friend who has known many challenges, and has walked with God through great darkness, but whose continuing faith is a wonderful testimony to God’s power to keep his children at their weakest and most vulnerable.

The whole letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus is massively encouraging – try reading it aloud to yourself, and see if you don’t end up quite overwhelmed with the magnitude of the blessings being poured out on you as the beloved child of an amazing God! It can be a terrific antidote to our small vision of the world, to the very real discouragements and problems which we as individuals, as a church, and as a nation, are facing, to look behind the scenes and be reminded of the great dramatic narrative which is unfolding.

Therefore – as Paul often says – we can take these words and use them not only to encourage ourselves, and one another, but also in praying for one another..If the apostle in writing to christians who were small in number, facing possible persecution on many fronts, and with little political clout to protect them, can write prayers which don’t touch on any of those issues, then we need to learn from him.

How often do we focus on physical needs, the issues of safety and organisation when praying for missionaries and friends? We pray for our children’s health, their education and employment prospects; we pray for good weather for particular occasions, and for job interviews to work out in the way we want. Our God is not in the business of doing our bidding, no matter how holy we think our desires are. He is the untameable, unknowable, all-powerful and utterly holy one, and he is in the business of making his people holy, and of making known his ‘manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ through the church.

Let us learn from the apostle, so that in our prayers for one another we put the important things first – the work of God by his Spirit in his people, that they might show forth his glory. This may mean suffering and loss, it may also mean triumph and fulfilled hopes. Let us not dictate to God how things need to be worked out, but in committing the details to him,  trust that his will is good and perfect and that he has more than enough power to achieve it.

Dear friends, I pray that we might be made strong through the indwelling Spirit, walking each day with our ever-present Saviour, and putting down ever deeper roots into his inexhaustible love. May we grow in that love for one another, so that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ might increasingly be a demonstration of the infinite wisdom of a just, holy, loving and merciful God

 

..from a full heart, I sing!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up ….He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

(1Sam 7.12)

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord..”

(1Sam.1.27)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days….May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90.1,2,14,16&17)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1.16&17)

Throughout the bible narrative, God calls on his people to review the ways in which he has dealt with them, acted in love towards them, rescued and provided for them – even though they couldn’t always understand the methods he used! Through the ups and downs of their lived history as the covenant people, they were to learn that God was good, that God could be trusted – no matter what happened. The repeated message is to “remember…”, and we do well to follow their example.

Our family recently celebrated the graduation of our son from university, after four years of study. It was a day full of ritual – as befits an ancient seat of learning – and joy, as all the students rejoiced together, enjoying a final few days before their paths diverge into the next stage of life. Graduation is a major rite of passage for a family, marking the end of formal education and in large measure the end of the role of parents in supporting and providing for their children. It is a time for reflection and thanksgiving, and as I watched my son beaming enthusiastically at his tutors (and their faces shining back at him), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who gave us this precious charge, this child, to be raised for him.

The journey to this point has had its fair share of challenges – for one thing, he didn’t want to be born!! – and I have wept and agonised over his choices, and endured the torrid teenage years like other parents. There has been a measure of kicking over the traces, and he has his own particular palette of weaknesses – some of them mine, which is such a shame… But, but, but….God has promised, and has blessed us by fulfilling that promise while we are alive to see it, and our son professes a lively faith in the God to whom we committed him as an infant. Nothing else really matters, and I am so thankful that I can entrust my beloved child to my heavenly Father, who loves him with such a passion.

Here, I raise my Ebenezer; here I say, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us!’; will he not continue to do so?! Let me learn from the years of child-rearing, let me remember that through it all, my God never abandoned us, never left us or broke his promises. Let me hold even more firmly to those promises as we look to the future, so that no matter what comes, I will be willing to trust God with my children.

Today, my heart is full of thankfulness, singing songs of praise to my heavenly Father, the source of all good things; today, my life is bursting with good things, and there are no clouds in the sky. When tomorrow comes, things may change, but my God never changes; and all that is permitted to touch me and mine comes within his sovereign will for us, and for his glory.

Let the possibilities of future troubles not cloud the celebrations of today; let me take in full measure, the joy and satisfaction which my Lord is pouring into my lap in so many ways. This is a time for singing the songs of fullness, of gratitude for good gifts and answered prayers; a time for storing up reasons to be thankful against the days when I am in the dark. My God will prove faithful then, and I can rest in his unchanging love and nature, come what may…

A prickly character….?

Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you , brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

(1 Thessalonians 5.12-15)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

(Romans 12.18)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of  no advantage to you.

(Hebrew 13.17)

One of the most amazing signs of God’s love and grace is the continued existence of his church in the world. Think about it for a moment..Within a few short years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gospel had spread across the known world – all very good and encouraging – BUT the infant church was riddled with divisions, hostility and false teaching. The letters to the young churches in the New Testament address a depressingly familiar set of problems, and Paul, Peter and John must have wondered what on earth the future could possibly hold for the church as a whole!

Although I have referred to the problems as ‘depressingly familiar’, there is also a sense in which we can be profoundly encouraged..Why? because in spite of the chronic weakness and persistent failures of believers from the very beginning, the church still exists! God has preserved the witness of his people, has extended the reach of the gospel and continues to transform lives around the world through the power of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.

I have been struck afresh recently by just how very hard it must be for our leaders to maintain their energy, hope and vision for the work to which God has called them. Consider the gulf between the ideal church, as described in the extracts above, and the gruesome reality.

Instead of being respected, leaders are taken for granted, put upon and made to suffer unrealistic expectations. Instead of being a people on fire for the gospel, with hearts full of love and practical ways of reaching out, we are largely lukewarm, nominally committed, preoccupied with other parts of life, and indifferent to the call to pray and dig into the word that we might grow and share our faith. Instead of regarding ourselves as fellow labourers, we sit back and criticise when our favourite hymns are not sung, or a visit is not made, or someone sits in our seat. Instead of seeking to live lovingly and peaceably, we indulge our grudges and become touchy, prickly, hard to work with and dangerous to cross.

We are not a beautiful sight, we sheep of the great shepherd. We are lazy, ignorant, easily distracted and selfish. These are not pleasant words, but if we consider our own lives and look around us, we can see their truth. If all the people who – on paper – are members of our churches were living as the apostles describe, and living with a passion to see God glorified in their lives and communities, what a difference there would be. How our pastors and teachers would rejoice when they came to meet with their flocks, seeing the eagerness to learn, to praise, to seek God’s will and power at work in this world. How their labours would be lightened as they humbly wrestled with the word, preparing to share it with the people that we might all learn and grow.

Yes, of course, this side of heaven the church will always be full of sinners who have been saved, and who are being transformed – but is that an excuse for not trying to engage more enthusiastically with God as he seeks to change us? Does the love of God in Christ not call forth a stronger response in us than dutiful attendance, and occasional participation?

I don’t want to be a burden on my pastor, a drain on his enthusiasm, a quenching of his God-given vision for the work. I want to be one of those who encourages him, whose attitude and presence gives him hope that God is working and can make a difference, one in whom he can trust and find sympathy and love.

May God find me eager to submit to his transforming work in my life, so that I might be good for his church, good for my leaders, good for my community, and above all, might bring glory to him!

A singing faith…

 

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy!

(Psalm 33.1-3)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5.18-20)

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…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. 

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! 

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever! The four living creatures said, AMEN, and the elders fell down and worshipped.

(Revelation 5.6, 9-14)

 

Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad gay and the gay sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant or mollify the vengeful….this precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.

Martin Luther, on music…1538

Do I need to add anything more?! Dear friends, we may not think that music is our particular gift, that our voice is nothing special, that the serious business of learning from the bible is the principle reason for meeting together as believers… But none of that is to the point!

We are commanded by our God, the one who made us and knows what we are capable of and also what is to our benefit, to SING, to make a joyful noise, and to use whatever musical instruments come to hand in order to add to the experience. We are not told to sing only when we feel like it; to sing only using certain forms of words; to sing only in church; to sing only in four-part harmony; to sing only unaccompanied by instruments, or only with instruments. It is really quite simple…humankind is created with the ability to make music, we have an inbuilt instrument, and God says to us, “I gave you that voice for a purpose, USE IT! principally to glorify me, and also for your own pleasure.”

When his people sing, when we use the voices he has given us, I believe that our loving Father delights in our music – not because of our polished performance, but because it is our personal response to all that he is and has done for us. I believe that each individual voice is heard within the whole – and if we deliberately withhold our song, he misses us. I also believe that singing our faith is a powerful way of learning our theology – how often do I find myself remembering lines from hymns which speak of deep truths, bringing comfort and encouragement. Singing is good for us, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Let’s do it with enthusiasm, and be willing to learn to do it better!

I could write at length on this, but I want to let the words of scripture speak for themselves , so will just close with one last thing that has always puzzled me…why is it that so many faithful followers of Jesus seem unable to sing with feeling? I don’t mean that we should be constantly in a state of brainless ecstasy, but rather that the truth we are singing should be expressed and reflected in the way we sing… Folk have commented that I smile often as I sing – it never occured to me that this was peculiar; of course I smile, I am singing to my Saviour, I am full of thankfulness, I must smile! And equally, at times I weep, and can barely make a sound, as I am overcome by the message of a song.. And yet so many seem to sing as if there were no connection between the words coming form their lips, and their hearts….it’s odd.

This has been a rather long post, but it only touches the surface of a big subject. Let us indeed encourage and sing to one another, let us begin to rehearse in earnest for the great day when we join the chorus of the redeemed in the new creation, to give our hearts in praise to our glorious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ..just do it!

What’s on your Christmas list?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was 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….From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

(John 1.1,14&16)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgivenness of sins..

And he made known to us the mystery of his will…to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen..in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory…Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1.3-14)

At Christmas time, we remember the birth of the one who has been, and is and ever will be…and whose existence is Blessing, Goodness, for us.

Our Lord as the Word, was with God before ever we were thought of, and through him, all that we know was made. Made solely in order that we might exist, might live and discover him, and come into eternal relationship with him.

Our Lord as the incarnate Christ, abandoned the glories of the heavenly realm, and all the rights of Sonship, in order to be good for us. He is the only one who could give what we needed, could be what the law required, could be love in action for us.

Our Lord as the risen Saviour, reigns now over all the powers of evil, having defeated them for ever, and standing between his children and that grasping, destroying darkness to keep them safe until the very end.

What more could we wish for this Christmas? What more could we look for under the tree than we already have received?

Ah, the Lord and our Father know that we are but children, that we always love to unwrap new things; and that although we have received so much, we can only somehow appropriate it one day at a time!

So the prophet could write in Lamentations,“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”(Lam 3.22,23). Each day is a gift, every breath that wakes me is another opportunity to live and love and serve and enjoy the abundance of life; each person is made in the image of God and is a gift to me; each situation is experienced in my Lord’s company and he waits to see how I will enjoy it with him. Dark days are a gift too, because it is then that I see more clearly and lean more fully on my Lord’s strength and love, in my total need of him.

There are unsought gifts – those moments and experiences that surprise and delight us – chosen and prepared for us as the best gifts always are, by those who know us best. Then there are also the gifts we ask for, knowing that we will appreciate them, knowing perhaps that we need them! Our good God gives us both, every day.

So we live in happy anticipation of what surprises the day will bring from our loving Father’s hand; and also in quiet confidence, that whatever we find ourselves needing, will also be provided. We can say with the writer to the Hebrews,“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”(Heb.4.16)

Let us then celebrate with great joy the gift of God to his people, the light of the world which is life, hope, forgiveness and new-birth to us. Merry Christmas to you!

Divine forbearance…

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come..They will say,”Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Peter 3.3&4, 8&9)

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life.       He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

(Revelation 22.12&13,16&17, 20)

I am greatly comforted in these early years of the twenty first century since Jesus walked on our earth, to read the words written by Peter to a group of struggling and fearful believers only a few years after the events of the first Christmas. The apostle wrote to reassure them, to encourage them in their faith as they faced ridicule from their society, and to remind them that the promises of God are trustworthy. Our wise and loving Father in heaven knew full well what his children would have to face, and provided for our need!

We too live in an age of scepticism, an age when to have faith in a creating, loving, forgiving, and holy God who will judge with righteousness is to be regarded as the ultimate folly. It is all too easy to look at the world around us and say with the ‘scoffers’, “Where is this second coming? Surely if it were true, things would have happened by now!” We see so much pain and suffering, and we rightly long for the justice of God to be seen, for evil to be abolished and all wrongs put right. How can God endure to watch his creatures enduring in this broken world, when he is planning to put an end to it all for ever?

Peter writes to remind his readers – and us – that we are trapped within time, and God is not, so that we cannot share the divine perspective on what is happening. He points out that the delay is due to God’s incredible patience with his creatures, and his yearning love, reaching out to all that they might yet respond to his offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. When we become impatient with God’s timing, we demonstrate how little we share his love for the lost and fail to care enough that they might indeed come and take the free gift of the water of life.  Surely the God who went to such lengths to open the way of salvation will not be hasty in closing that way until all who are to walk in it have been welcomed in! May we be forgiven for our lack of love for the lost, forgiven for wanting everything arranged according to our meagre understanding and for our comfort..

And yet, I believe it is right that believers should in some measure be longing for the end to come, for the final glorious winding up of time, and the purging fire of cleansing and judgement. It is surely right that as we come to be formed more and more after the likeness of Christ, that we should share his desire for the time when the church will no longer suffer and be cut off from him by the remnants of sin and evil. We are meant to long for that glorious union, which is so richly portrayed for us by John in his Revelation visions. As the bride and groom look forward to their wedding day, so we as believers should be eager to see the day when we might dwell in the holy city, in the new creation, in full fellowship with our Lord.

He will come, dear friends, do not lose heart but persevere; labouring in his name, and rejoicing in the sure promise that he is coming soon…Amen. Come Lord Jesus!