Category Archives: encouragement

An unlikely asset in our mission..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them…

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

(Jos 1.5-9)

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

(Matt 6.33&34, the Message translation)

Strategies, visions, special training programmes and extra staff…are those what we think the church needs to fulfill the great commission of her Lord? Or is it simpler than that?

When we read the story of Joshua, on the verge of entering into the land which God has promised to the people, and which it is their mission to take possession of, we expect to find God issuing instructions about military strategy and training, logistics and procedures. Instead, we find that Joshua is commanded to hold fast to the word of God, absorbing it into the very fibre of his being, so that his thoughts are coloured and shaped by it. This command lies at the heart of the great assurances of the first chapter of the book – and this means that they are the focus or highpoint of the chapter. God is effectively saying that if Joshua holds fast to all he learns about God in the book of the law, then he will be in exactly the right place to succeed in his mission. Nothing else matters as much as this foundational dependence.

Joshua’s commission came with the assurance of God’s presence. Our commission likewise, comes with Christ’s word that he will never leave or forsake us. He has authority to send us out – just as God’s authority sent Joshua into Canaan – to take possession of that which already belongs to him, namely all those for whom he died, the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ..

So, the challenge is to us to follow Joshua’s example. We have so much more than Joshua in terms of God’s revelation of himself through his word – we have the living Word himself! We have God’s authority, and his command, to go and make disciples, trusting that – as for Joshua and the people of Israel – God will go before, to fight the battles, break down the walls, and change the hearts of those whom we face.

It is as we live on, and by God’s word – committing every day and resource to him for his will and his glory; never assuming that he is following our agenda, but looking to be guided by the spirit; putting his interests before our own worries and preoccupations – that we find ourselves by the Lord’s side, on the victorious side, watching as he opens up the way and brings us into full possession of the kingdom which he has decreed will be our home.

May we be made bold and courageous as we fix our eyes on the Lord, so that as his word becomes our food and drink, our daily direction and focus is to be where he is working, loving those whom he loves, and believing that he will be glorified in our time.

Be strong and courageous my friends, for the Lord himself is with us and will never forsake us. In his name, let us live bold and obedient lives, for the battles belong to him, and the victory has been won!

On being filled..

And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(Jo 2.28-29)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…. [He] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

(Jn 14.15-17,26)

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

(Acts 1.4&5,8)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… [when] we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

(Rom 8.16&26)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 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.

(Eph 5.15-20)

God’s gift to the church, to his representatives on earth, so that we might continue the work begun by Christ, and spread the good news to all people and glorify our Lord – this is the Spirit promised by Joel and realised at Pentecost. In a recent bible study, it was pointed out that the Spirit is always ‘sent’, always a ‘gift’, never manufactured or summoned by people for their own ends. We may resist or reject him, but we cannot control or direct him. We may choose to ignore his promptings, and grieve him by our stubborn pride, but we can never presume to summon him.

The Spirit is sent from God the Father, to do many things for the church in the world, not least to empower every single one of God’s children for the task appointed to them. In a world where women were of little significance, and no legal standing, the thought that God’s Spirit might come to them as powerfully as to their brothers was shocking. But so it was to be – all would receive this gift as their inheritance, as the pledge of their eternal home, as the assurance of their adoption into God’s family and their security there.

By the Spirit, we are empowered for the mission of the church – the task of kingdom building and gospel sharing wherever God is pleased to place us. By the Spirit, we are enabled to grow in understanding of God’s work, of his character, of how we might live wise and godly lives in a broken world. By the Spirit, our prayers are brought acceptably before God; even our most inarticulate expressions of need, and of worship, are assured of being heard on high. By the Spirit, the body of Christ ministers to itself and to the world – we encourage and bless one another, exalting Christ at all times and in all circumstances as the Spirit continually points to his supremacy in power, love and faithfulness.

Friends, how could we not want to be filled with this gift? And yet, I wonder if sometimes I keep parts of my life shut up, unwilling to allow the transformation which may come as I surrender to the Spirit’s teaching and leading and illuminating work. We don’t always want to see the truth about ourselves, or to surrender control over our lives.

Will I resist? Will I remain full of myself, my aims, my false confidence and stubbornness?  Or will I accept the gift which my Father is pouring out on his church continually, for our refreshing and his glory? May God, in his mercy, not leave us shut up, but help us to open fully to his power, to the indwelling and daily refreshing Spirit.

A wider vision..

 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,

Selah

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for you, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.

Selah

May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.

(Ps 67.1-5)

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down towards your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted. May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.

(Ps 138.1-5)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

Pray.. for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

(Eph 6.19&20)

I grew up in a congregation which met weekly for prayer on a Saturday evening. It wasn’t the kind of meeting where we shared personal concerns, but rather an ambitious and confident gathering which every week prayed around the country and around the world. The focus was on what our sovereign God was doing through his ministers, missionaries and through the unfolding of history.

I am profoundly thankful for this background to my early christian life, which I was privileged to continue in other churches which I attended. Sometimes, it seemed a great effort to drag myself out on a dreich night, sometimes my own affairs pressed hard and I was tempted to give way to self pity. But I never regretted making the effort to overcome the temptation, to face the weather or my own weariness, in order to join with others in lifting God’s world up to him for his will to be done and his name glorified.

This discipline of entering into intercession for God’s people and the growth of his kingdom is such a privilege, but also a blessing! I would encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the issues facing their own congregation to get involved in the work of prayer for the world. It lifts us out of our own lives for a little and shows us something of the breadth of God’s vision for our planet and our race. God is working all the time to fulfill his purposes – raising up and casting down nations, just as he did in the time of the prophets. He is moving people around the world in order that they might hear the gospel and take it back home to their own tribe and tongue. He is sending the light of Christ into prisons and detention centres, as his persecuted saints witness in their cells to his love and the power of the cross and the empty tomb. He is using poverty-stricken believers in war-torn countries to show his love to their displaced neighbours, bringing healing and hope.

Our God is not chained, he cannot be controlled by border guards and oppressive regimes, or silenced by control of the media. Our God will be glorified in all the earth, and he invites us to be his co-workers in making that happen, as we pray for others and also grow in courage to witness ourselves to our neighbours. Let this work of intercession be an encouragement to you when you feel there is no future for the gospel in your neighbourhood. The God who has called you there is faithful, and has work for you to do – even if it is the silent witness of loving, serving and forgiving others who refuse to let you talk to them about your saviour.

Yes, the world has many troubles and sorrows; human rebellion against God continues to work itself out in pain and destruction, the degradation of both people and the planet we inhabit. But, our God is on the throne, and we are under his wing. We have his authority to preach good news, and to pray for others who are also reaching out in his name. Let us, like the psalmist, cry out to be made bold and stout-hearted that we might join with confidence in the work of growing the kingdom, and interceding for one another. 

The greatest gift

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

(Job 19.25-27)

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

(Jn 11.25-27)

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

(Rom 6.22&23)

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

(1 Thess. 4.13,14&17)

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

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

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

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

(P Cappeau, translated by JS Dwight, 1855)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translating truth..

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior….Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

(Jdg 6.12,14-16)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “… before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”… “Ah, sovereign Lord, ” I said, “I do not know how to speak;..” But the Lord said to me, “…You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

(Jer 1.4-8)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you… We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.

(Rom 12.3-6)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… If anyone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves, without comparing themselves to somebody else, for each one should carry their own load.

(Gal 5.22&23; 6.3-5)

God has called us to be his children not on the basis of our abilities or lack thereof. We are his family because He loves us, and in Jesus we are made worthy to be sons and daughters of a holy God – we belong there now. There is – as it is said – ‘nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does’, Jesus has achieved everything I need and more than I can imagine by his perfect work. So… how does that translate into the messy business of living in this broken world, among broken people, in a body which remains vulnerable to temptation, illness, and which has a particular and unique combination of strengths and weaknesses? What do I do with the fact that the soundtrack in my head is so relentlessly negative, apologetic, full of regret for letting others – and myself – down? How does that stand up to the searching light of scriptural truth, to what God says about me?

Friends, I believe that God does not call us to be blind to who we are, the unique circumstances and opportunities – and limitations – of our lives. When God called Gideon to be judge and warrior in Israel, He didn’t deny that Gideon was the least in the weakest of clans – rather the response was, “go in the strength you have…. and I will be with you.”

Similarly, when Jeremiah balked at the prospect of being prophet to the rebellious and ultimately doomed people of Judah, God didn’t deny either the challenge of the situation, or Jeremiah’s youth which would put him at a disadvantage. Rather, God reminded Jeremiah that he would not go alone – God would go with him. I think in fact that we see later in Jeremiah’s ministry just how hard it was for this man to obey God, fighting the burden of grief and resenting the message which he was called to give. I doubt very much that Jeremiah had an inflated or unrealistic opinion of himself, and that gives me great comfort! I can identify with this faithful servant who found himself prey to despair and wanting to give up in the face of his own weakness and the magnitude of the task before him.

Some of God’s children find it very hard to think of themselves as able for the life to which they are called. Some of us carry a perpetual apology in our hearts and on our tongues, painfully aware of everything that might be counted failure, and weakness, and sadly less aware of what others may see as strength, gifting, and spiritual fruit. Some strive all their days against comparison with other believers, unable to resist and invariably denigrating their God-given selves – which itself dishonours God and fails to honour him, another failure added to the ever-growing list.

Can I encourage you friends, if you know people like this, to pray for a special mercy from God, by which they may receive the peace of self-acceptance, as the beloved child of a heavenly Father whose strength is sufficient for their weakness, and who delights in all their acts of obedience and faith. If you can encourage them in any way, do so – but be warned, they may be unable to receive the comfort you seek to give because they are so painfully aware of the ‘truth’ as they see it, the inner life which falls so short of their desire.

Loving heavenly Father, by your Spirit dwelling in me, translate this truth into my life. Let me live at peace with the person you have made me, not resenting those things you have withheld, but appreciating and using well the gifts I have received. Silence that internal critic, and let me hear instead the beloved voice saying “Do not be afraid, I will go with you.” May I honour you by gladly living in obedience, using the resources I have to serve your kingdom. In the name of Jesus who speaks for me always at your right hand, Amen.

Out of hope…not fear

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled…You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour.. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

(Ps 65. 1,5,8-13)

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.'”

(Isa 45.18&19,22-24)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…..

(Matt 6.9&10)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…..” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

The debate around climate change, and the very compelling evidence for the scale of the crisis now faced by humankind, is one of the most disturbing things which we face as believers. I am continually overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, and the seemingly inevitable suffering which lies ahead, especially for those already oppressed by poverty, disease and war.. When one adds a degree of realism – or is it undue pessimism? – about the capacity of the major global agencies to actually cooperate and act constructively and decisively, it is hard to find grounds for hope.

BUT, as a believer, I must wrestle with this, and recently in my struggle I have been greatly helped by being reminded that we are not in this alone. There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that God simply set up creation and then abandoned it to the mercies of human beings. Rather, there are multiple indications that God is intimately involved with the ongoing life of our planet; sustaining its laws, caring for its creatures and also celebrating and appreciating his own handiwork. We are also told very plainly, that God is in the business of ‘making all things new’ – of realising his purposes in a perfected creation, where He can live with his redeemed and glorified people, enjoying everything as it was always meant to be. 

So what can I do as I seek to live as God’s child, God’s representative, in this troubled time?

I can be sure that God is still involved in this world; and that as his child, I am called to follow his example of caring for and celebrating the beautiful, abundant creation around me. God’s hands are still on his handiwork, for good.

I can be sure that God will fulfill his purpose for all creation; to deliver it from the effects of sin into a place of abundance and thriving which I cannot even imagine, but which one day I will delight in as my eternal home!

I can pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ and then expect that God will answer, and that I can be part of that answer – even though I may not understand the paths He chooses to take. I can be part of that answer, by looking at my own life and the opportunities I have to do things differently; and also by encouraging other people to see the goodness of this earth and to cherish it. 

I can encourage others to hear how creation shouts aloud of God’s love and generosity; celebrating all his greatness and power, and responding in loving stewardship of those things which it is in our power to influence. I can encourage them to believe that since we are working with our God in a world which is precious to him, for a purpose which is glorifying to him, then our efforts will never be altogether futile, no matter how small. 

God is with us, now and always, therefore we need not fear – though the oceans rise – but can work with him in hope and expectation. May we be strengthened to live in this way in these days, that our hope might cause others to seek Jesus, and find salvation for themselves.

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When it pulls so hard…

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced.. He is the Lord our God; his judgements are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations….. He confirmed in to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.

(Ps 105.5,7,8&10)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands….Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

(Ps 63.2-4,7&8)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…”

(Jn 10.27-29)

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that… we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..

(Heb  6. 17-20)

Have you ever watched a boat straining at its anchor rope in high winds and rough waters? The rope is taut, and at times the strain is so strong that the boat appears to being pulled under the crashing waters as it cannot move with them and cut loose from that security. I wonder if at times as believers we feel like that boat?

The old hymn speaks of the ‘anchor that keeps our soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll’, but we perhaps forget that the strain exerted upon the boat by its anchor-rope against those billows is immense! If the anchor were not strong enough to hold firm in the seabed, the boat would certainly move freely again upon the waters, but it would also, and just as certainly, come into danger of destruction as a result. I would like to think about the way that our connection to God, through Jesus, is like that anchor rope, and to ponder what that means when we are in the stormiest waters and like to founder.

Sometimes, I find myself so deeply troubled by pain and suffering – my own and that of others, that I am tempted to wish I did not believe in a God of love who cares for me. The tension between what I am feeling – or seeing others endure – and what the bible tells me is true, is so powerful that I am being torn in two and cannot bear it any more. But consider friends, if God’s loving hold upon me was not so strong, I would not feel that tension at all, I would simply choose to walk away from an inconvenient set of beliefs, and seek another way to make my peace with the realities of life in this broken world (not that I believe there is such a thing).

I believe that we can take comfort from the very intensity of our struggles – they show just how firmly God’s love is grasping us, just how determined he is to fulfil his covenant promise in us, and to what lengths he has gone and will go to glorify his name by saving us in spite of all our faults and failings. It is no credit to believers when – either in the midst of the storm, or in the succeeding calmer days – we testify to our perseverance. Rather, all the glory goes to God who has laid hold upon us, chosen to keep us for his own name’s sake – does a boat take credit for remaining at anchor through a storm? No, it is the one who has set the anchor, chosen and attached the rope to the boat who deserves praise.

What a relief to know, as we endure current trials and submit to what may come in the days ahead, that our anchor is totally secure – because of the one who has attached us to himself so utterly and completely. We can trust him, even when the tension is like to tear our hearts in pieces, to be faithful to his promises and to be glorified in and through what is happening.

Thank you Father that when, like Jesus in Gethsemane, we are in agony and wrestling to accept your will, we can know that it is your love for us that holds us fast, and your love in us which is refusing to let go and surrender us to the darkness of the storm. When we are in pain, may we even there be able to rejoice that you have given us love for you, faith in Jesus, and reason to hope.

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. with my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

A pleasure, and a privilege..

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in agreement with the faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him lead diligently; if it is showing mercy let him do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

(Rom 12.6-13)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

(1 Pet 4.7-11)

Tomorrow, for the first time in many months, there will be guests in our house, sharing food around a table. A simple thing, denied to us for so long because of the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on daily life designed to restrain and defeat it. We have learned a great deal over these months about ourselves, our habits, the freedom and activities we took for granted.

It felt so good today, to be pottering about the house preparing to welcome people, thinking about the food but also looking out dishes and glasses which will be a pleasure to use, clearing a space which will be pleasant to sit in, and anticipating the conversations which will be a joy to participate in.

Offering hospitality was something in which my parents excelled, and barely a weekend passed without a gathering of folk over a meal on a Sunday after church. I appreciate only now as an adult, the work which went into this, but I know that my parents offered it as part of their service of the Lord whom they loved, and for the sake of his people. Hundreds of folk found a haven there over the years, many became friends, others passed on having been refreshed and blessed by the food and the encouragement of time with faithful believers. It was offered with no expectation of return – although my mother did love it when someone invited her round even just for a cup of tea! Rather, this was a way of using their gifts to glorify God, even as Peter directed the readers of his letter.

Another dear friend made it a habit to open her house every Friday morning for coffee to any who wished to drop in. A simple gathering, but one which over the years became for me a place of refuge, encouragement, and deep affection. This was her gift to us, a place of love and acceptance, a celebration of friendship. 

When we are willing to bless others in this way – by opening our homes to them for refreshment and conversation – we are using the gifts which God has given us, and it is a pleasure to do so. We offer out of his generosity to us, in order that they should be encouraged and give thanks to God in turn. Our privilege as those in possession of homes, food, and somewhere to sit, is to use these things for God’s glory. We can use them in reaching those who know nothing of Jesus, sharing our lives as well as our food, choosing to be available and vulnerable and involved with our neighbours. 

As the freedom to welcome others into my home is restored to me, how am I going to use it? Will I choose to offer what I can, to make the awkward conversation with the folk I should have invited a long time ago? Will I begin to make it a habit to invite people in for a meal or just a cuppa, keeping it simple but genuinely engaging and opening my life to them so that when the opportunity arises, we might speak of Jesus, of a love which passes understanding, and a hope which cannot fail?