Category Archives: encouragement

This is not all there is…

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One…..The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them…

(Ps 2.12&4)

O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the god we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

(Dan 3.16-18)

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.13&14)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen…Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen

(Rev 1.5-7)

I don’t know if it is my age and stage of life, or if the world is really a good deal more threatening and fragile than it was when I was younger…But I have become aware that I am constantly being dragged down by a weight of anxiety, of fear for the future. This largely derives from the widespread understanding that humanity as a species is in the process of destroying the resources it depends upon for life, as a result of the ways we choose to use – and abuse -them. Depending upon whose point of view I listen to, the collapse of our environment and all that goes with it – food and water, drugs, security, health and stability – is unavoidable, and even likely to occur within my lifetime.

This is very uncomfortable stuff, and I am challenged about my reaction to it as a follower of Jesus – it should make a difference that I believe in God, in his power and goodness and desire to bless his people!

Yes, but all too often, I fall into a human-centered way of thinking about things, instead of remembering what the bible says consistently from beginning to end…God is the centre and foundation of this story, the main actor and the one who knows what is happening – I and all my race are the creatures, the rebels, the puny and ludicrously self-sufficient earth-dwellers, with no conception of the breadth and glory of the narrative in which we are playing a small part.

When I allow myself to be trapped into panic and despair about the future of this planet, I have forgotten what God says about my true purpose – which is to enjoy him in eternity, in a new earth, where there is no more sin-driven destruction, or exploitation, and all is well. I am not made merely for this world, but for a glorious future, with a resurrection body – and NOTHING that happens to me before my death can rob me of that inheritance.

I – and my children and dearest friends – may face climatic collapse, the end of all that we have known and loved; but does that mean that God is no longer on the throne? Our lives may become very painful, full of uncertainty and threats; but does that mean that God is powerless to save us, or that his promises are worthless? Certainly not! But how I struggle to trust when I do not understand, and when my sin-shadowed mind fails to fix itself upon the figure of my risen, victorious Lord.

The anxiety which I feel is showing me that my heart is not yet fully fixed upon the treasures which God has for me; my security still depends too much on being in control of my life, and on things going as I expect them to. It may be that the great lesson for so many believers in the days and years to come will be to really put our trust in God – when he permits everything else to be stripped away from us.

May we be given grace to trust him absolutely; ever-brightening hope to brighten our days; and urgent love for our neighbours, to share with them the Saviour who alone can sustain us through what may lie ahead into an unimagined future glory.

 

Advertisements

It’s all about him..

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth…I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

(Ps 57.5,9-11)

“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….” This is what God the Lord says- the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness..I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

(Isa 42.1,5-8)

After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God

(Jn 17.1-3)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sin, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven

(Heb 1.2&3)

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep..Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet..when he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

(1Cor 15.20,24,25&28)

Recently I was privileged to be among a gathering addressed by one of the most eminent and respected christian scholars of the last fifty years, and was particularly struck by some comments he made regarding God’s stated aim throughout scripture – to be glorified in all creation. Why, he asked, should we worship God and give him the pre-eminent place? Firstly, because unlike every other being – human or spirit – he is good, powerful, perfect, holy and just, in ways that we cannot begin to conceive. But secondly, because “the universe is made that way”!

All creation – springing from the heart and word of God – has a fundamental principle upon which it is founded, namely that God is supreme, and everything will operate perfectly, in its right place, only when that principle is observed. When humanity rebelled and tore God from the throne of their lives, we violated that founding principle and have been paying the price ever since – all creation became and remains indeed out of balance, unstable, and flawed.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news which comes to us through his life, death and resurrection, is not some sticking plaster remedy for our rebellion, nor some panacea for its bad side-effects. The idea that Jesus died solely for our benefit, to make us happy and to solve our personal problems is a sorry misrepresentation of the magnificent truth. Jesus came to restore order to the universe, to make it possible for EVERYTHING that has ever existed to be in a right relation to God once again. Only by defeating sin and death on the cross, paying the price for our rebellion, could that fundamental imbalance be addressed. But by doing this, Jesus has drawn us into a narrative of unimaginable breadth and majesty – our small lives are now transformed into part of this rising crescendo, this relentless march towards the day when we shall see Christ in all his glory laying everything at his father’s feet.

Until then, we catch only glimpses of what is to come, we hear echoes and distorted chords of the triumph song. But on that day, we will be part of the perfect song which rises for ever in fitting praise to the God who is utterly worthy; we will know ourselves part of a new earth and new heaven which are flawless, and in a perfect submission to God from which springs eternal life of a quality and intensity which we cannot now imagine.

May God, in his mercy, continually raise our eyes to this vision of perfection so that we might see all that happens to us in that light – what does it do for the kingdom, for his glory? When trials come, let us seek to glorify him and see His name lifted high through them. When others look at our lives, may the question on their lips be “Who is this Jesus, who is the God whom you call upon? ”

Let us be all about him…

Just a bit..desperate, Lord!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

(Jn 15.5,7&8)

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Ps 2.1-3)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

(Gal 5.22&23)

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.

(Eph 3.16-19)

Bare twigs, dead leaves, no sign of life or fruitfulness.

Barren life, bitter thoughts, wasted hopes and faded dreams, no signs of life or fruitfulness.

A spirit warped by self-centredness that cannot break free; a mind that is enslaved by its own small troubles and incapable of really embracing anything else.

Telling stories of my life that are full of darkness, pain, failure and inadequacy; as though my eyes are bound in dark and distorting spectacles so that I can see no other way. Weighted down by the shame of bringing burdens not blessings to those closest to me, of being so hard to live with and so little joy to be around. Above all, and underpinning it all, the utter awareness of failure to bear witness to the transforming power of the Christ whom I profess to be Lord of my life.

If I were truly rooted in Christ, his words living in me, dependent upon him hourly and daily for my life as the branch depends upon the vine….would I then be in this condition? Is it not a reproach to call myself a follower of Jesus and live with such a negative spirit? Where is the fruit? Where the joy, peace and patience? Where the love which boldly and tenderly speaks truth for the sake of the beloved, willing to suffer that they might thrive? Where the self-control that drives me to do the hard things – instead of the fear-driven withdrawal which allows wrong to continue for the sake of avoiding conflict?

Forgive my sins Lord – above all the sin of unbelief, which allows me to get stuck in my own small despair. Forgive me for living as though I alone were beyond your saving power! Take my distorted vision, and correct it by the lens of the gospel, so that instead of the negatives, I see the great positives of your love, mercy and grace – see you at work even in me, to bless others.

Let me believe that you are still at work, in me, that I am not a dead branch, withered and fit only to be flung away. Let me see buds which are your promises of life, of hope, of fruit that may yet be.

O Lord, make it real in me; this life of abiding in you, make it true and vivid and constant. I don’t know what to do, how to change so that your word takes root, transforming my thoughts and my attitudes. But I know that you are my only hope for the days that remain to me in this world – and for the sake of those who have to live with me, as well as for your glory, I pray you will bring new life to this branch, that I might yet bear fruit for you…

Here..and yet not here

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will grant peace in the land…I will look on you with favour….I will put my dwelling-place among you, and …I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

(Lev 26.3,6,9,11&12)

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

(1Kings 8.27)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth..

(Jn 1.10&14)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me….And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…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 21.1-5)

No one can measure how long – in human years – the separation has lasted; how long the divine heart has yearned over the gulf which divides the creatures from their loving creator. But all down through history, the ache echoes through our cultures and our own hearts. There is truly an emptiness, which nothing can fill but the knowledge that we are at home with God.

All the strategies of humanity to banish God from their thinking are just so much posturing in the face of a brutal truth – because nothing and no one else can actually address the brokenness of our race, can truly bring healing, forgiveness, and hope. And those things are the products of a right relationship with God, of Eden restored, so that we walk with him in the cool of the day and have nothing to hide.

From the earliest times of God’s dealings with his people, there was an emphasis on a dwelling place, a promise of intimacy and permanence, embodied for a time in the temple. There was always a distance, a continued separation because no amount of animal sacrifice or ritual observation could permit the sinful people to enter boldly into the presence of an awesome and terrifyingly holy God. But the physical forms and festivals demonstrated God’s commitment to his own, to their welfare and his covenant promises.

And then, in Jesus, we find the first fulfillment of the promise that God will dwell with his people – are we so used to the phrase that we fail to recognise its power? It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, cause for exultant worship and silent adoration. While the world was yet flawed and polluted by sin; while humanity was yet bound in darkness; holiness took on flesh and blood, accepted the indignities of birth and childhood, and dwelt among his people, that they might know him..

Now we await his triumphant second coming, longing for the fullest fulfillment of the old promise, that God will dwell with us and there shall be nothing to separate us – because of the work of Jesus, the God-made-man, in dealing with our bondage and releasing us from the power of sin and death.

He is with us now, by his spirit; and yet how we desire that closer walk, that stronger experience of his presence, his voice, his love, which awaits us on the day when all things shall be made new..We celebrate the gift of God himself to us at Christmas time, and we long for more of him. That is not ungrateful in us, but right and proper, because we are made to enjoy more, made to dwell with him in eternal joy and unimaginable beauty and delight. Let us then be glad for the heavenly homesickness which keeps us looking forward, eager for the completion of Christ’s work and our final homecoming to our Father.

O Come, Thou key of David come, and open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

(12th cent, translated by JM Neale 1818-66)

Making marks in eternity..

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33.20-22)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground….

(Eph 5.10-13)

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet 1. 6&7)

It is easy to forget that our lives as followers of Jesus are acted out before a great audience of spiritual beings, and yet the bible makes it plain that this is the case – think of Job, and of how God calls Satan to witness the faithfulness and true quality of that much tried saint. Paul also, in writing to the believers in Ephesus, points out that they operate in spiritual realms, not just the physical; so that their enemies while appearing in human form, or in the guise of the troubles of the world, are actually spiritual.

This invisible reality is enormously relevant for our attitudes to our daily lives, so often seemingly mundane, with petty troubles, and common challenges to overcome, and nothing very significant going on. The truth is that every day brings us fresh opportunities to make choices which will glorify our God, causing the angels to rejoice in the power of Christ in a person’s life to transform them completely. We may not see or hear the joy, but that doesn’t mean that it is less real!

As we grow in faith and understanding, our lives will come to reflect the pattern of Christ-likeness which is God’s ideal for his children, but we will also increasingly be out of step with the spiritual tone of the world, which is still so much in thrall to evil. Our growth in faith may not even be evident to us, as we feel increasingly that we are struggling with many trials arising from our choices and our beliefs. In reality, the spiritual reality which we do not see, that very consciousness of struggle is a sure sign of growing faith – if we did not so ardently long for holiness, we would not react so strongly against all those things which would drag us down. It is therefore possible for a faithful saint to look back over many years of following Jesus, and fear that they have made little progress, when in reality, their continuing struggles to choose purity, honesty, faithfulness and integrity are a sign that they have never been closer to him. It is the very precious reality of our faith which makes the fight against sin most bitter and prolonged.

Since this is true, we can encourage one another with the fact that every time we make a decision for Christ in the midst of the trial – choosing to think, speak and act according to his pattern – we are making our own mark in eternity, our own contribution to the great structure of worship and praise to the Saviour which is the work of the church. It is indeed all by his grace and indwelling spirit that we are able to do these things, and so all the glory goes to him when his followers prove his strength and faithfulness.

Although we may feel that our trials are secret, ashamed that we continue to face the same troubles over and over, yet we may rejoice that in the eternal story, our part is valued, and our own small experiences of his enabling will be significant. It is all worthwhile, nothing is wasted! All will be to our blessing, and to his glory: Amen, so let it be!

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.

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