Category Archives: faith

There is a time…

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

(Ecc 3.1-11)

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

(Ps 31.14-16)

Jesus…prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…

(Jn 17.1)

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

(Rom 5.6)

When my spirit is filled with an ache of longing, and wearied with the unruly, ugly and frightening deeds of humankind, dear Lord, let me remember that you have set eternity in my heart, and that is why I am homesick.

When it seems that the pride of man, and the prince of this world have frustrated all potential for good, for redemption, for hope, dear Lord, let me remember that you are the eternal God, and they are nothing in your sight.

When the pattern of my own life is not what I had hoped, or expected; when it holds gashes and stains, rough and dark streaks, when the threads are weak and like to break, dear Lord, let me remember that all my times are in your hands and none of this is wasted.

When my own persisting sinfulness, the temptations within and assaults from without would bring me to despair, dear Lord, let me remember that you have died for me, declaring forgiveness and cleansing, and that nothing can prevent you from bringing me triumphantly home at last.

 

We are creatures burdened with a divided loyalty – to our own time and place within an earthly span of years; but also to the place which God is preparing for us at his side in the new earth, where time has no meaning, and in a glory which our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend.

To this time, belong the peculiar mixture of gladness and mourning; building and tearing down; living and dying. In this sphere, we are given the privilege and opportunity of receiving all things from God as opportunities to glorify him, even as Christ prayed on the eve of his greatest ordeal.

The times of plenty, of peace, of fulfillment – these are an opportunity to push past the gift and to glory in the Giver. I need not be ashamed of the blessings I receive, but rather hold them thankfully, humbly, and seek to share them. Our suffering too, in its own small way, is a platform on which – by his grace – God may be exalted. I do not write this lightly, for I know that God’s children have experienced incredible trials, and yet the testimony of the saints remains – God is good, and worthy of our trust. All that happens to us can be surrendered to this supreme purpose, and our obedience, submission and sacrificial praise are an acceptable, fragrant offering to God. Will I not, in my turn, seek to honour my beloved Lord when he chooses that I should suffer?

May I choose not to question what my God may send me in the days ahead, but accept all things as from him – rejoicing in the hope which Christ has birthed in me; fortified by the presence of the Spirit; and resting in the tender love of the Father who may be trusted to do all things well.

Growing old, or growing up?

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah….

(Ps 95.6-8)

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: should you not fear me?” declares the Lord.

(Jer 5.21)

“I could not address you as spiritual but as wordly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

(1Cor 3.1-3)

I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again….so come on, let’s leave the preschool finger-painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place…God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. but there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!

(Heb 5.11-6.3: The Message; Eugene Peterson)

Much as we may enjoy and even cherish the infant stages of life, we would be deeply disturbed if they never passed into something else – it would be a sign that something was wrong, and cause for great concern. We are designed to grow up, to mature, to become capable of bearing responsibility and in time, nurturing the next generation. This is just as much true in our spiritual lives, as in our human bodies, as these words from an understandably exasperated apostle illustrate!

Each of us must make our own response to God’s word – we are charged to work out what God is saying to us, and then to do it. We are commanded to meditate on the word, letting it dwell in our hearts so that our thoughts and actions are transformed. God’s word can be resisted, we can close our hears and minds to his loving command and if we do so long enough, we become unable to hear him.

Is this not a terrifying prospect? I don’t believe that I can fall utterly away from God’s safe keeping, but I long to be found responsible in my handling of all the good gifts which I have received, to know that I have glorified God by bringing every aspect of my life under his command to be used as he pleases.

The bible teaches us in so many ways, that God is continually seeking to draw his people closer to him in faith and obedience, and that it is through their witness that his name is honoured. The people of Israel brought dishonour on God when they doubted him in the desert after leaving Egypt; they dishonoured him when they turned again and again to the worship of idols; they dishonoured him when – in Jesus’ day – they worshipped the observance of the law and temple procedure instead of the holy One himself. Am I bringing dishonour on Jesus by refusing to let him work out his purposes in  my life, closing my mind to what he says?

As a ransomed, new-created and holy child of God, I am called to grow out of my infant diet; to progress from the early stages of understanding my new position to working out in detail just what difference God makes in my life, and how he does it. Mine should be a mature faith which can stand the test and grow, stepping forward to embrace trials as a means by which God shows his love and manifests his glory. It is maturing faith which can step into positions of responsibility, and be entrusted with the pastoral care of others. It is mature faith which can say with Job – “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

I know that the days, months and years which God has yet for me will include difficult times, pain and suffering – my own, that of my loved ones and of the wider world. I do not want to be like a vulnerable infant, dependant on the people around me to look after me, but rather a responsible adult, one who can do the task for which God has called and enabled me. I want to grow up in my faith as I grow old in my body, making the most of the time that I am granted to serve my gracious God as faithfully as I can.

May God keep my spirit soft to receive his teaching, and my ears sensitive to his voice. Although I may weary of my own imperfections and repeated failings, God does not give up on me, and I ask for a persevering spirit to continue to grow in faith and to press on towards the glory which he has promised.

When it all goes dark…and silent

..yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead.. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Surely God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household…Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

(Job 1.18-22: 13.15: 16.7&22-17.1)

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death..You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.1-3,6,8&18)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

(Isa 53.5)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(1 Cor.10.13)

 

Sooner or later, it comes to each one of us. The pain of the world suddenly becomes our pain, the tragic headlines become our headlines, our lives, and our future. There are some trials from which there can be no return – the premature death of a beloved child, a fatal diagnosis, a destroyed relationship. These things in themselves are painful enough, but when those involved had not professed faith in Jesus, when we fear that they had no hope for eternity, the loss becomes unbearable.

These things are common trials to mankind down the centuries, not unique to us here and now – this is not some new thing which God is doing. It is a mystery which his children have wrestled with since Cain murdered Abel and broke his parent’s hearts, since Job’s children were destroyed, since Jeremiah was broken and despised by those to whom he was called, since Hosea’s tragic marriage to Gomer.

We are made to call God our Father, to trust in him and to receive all the good things which are our inheritance, most of all to be in intimate loving fellowship with him. When we are wounded in these ways, we feel betrayed, and abandoned; we become angry because we are scared and alone in the darkness of our suffering. We cry out for answers;  we long for the suffering to be undone, for the bad things not to have happened – and in Job and Jeremiah’s case, we wish that we had never lived to experience such depth of trouble.

God doesn’t give us answers, nor – with a handful of exceptional miraculous interventions – does he restore the dead to us. He promises that he will never leave us, and that he is sovereign to rule over all that happens, working it out for his glory – and our blessing. And he gives us his son, to suffer betrayal, injustice, physical pain and ultimate agonising separation from the Father – a darkness which we will never know, because Christ endured it for us.

Let us be merciful to one another, we are all living with unanswerable questions –  like open wounds, amputations or paralyses which impede our every function for the rest of our lives, and at times make us feel permanently cut off from joy, light and hope. Let us be filled with compassion for those whose burden of grief is inexplicably heavy, and refrain from offering easy comfort.

We pray for others, as we would be prayed for: that they might be kept from the temptation to despair of God, He is powerful to protect his children; that they might be spared the aggravation of comforters such as Job’s so-called friends, but instead receive compassion; that they might be upheld by God, and able to cast all our cares on him, over and over again; and that they might know – even in such agony – the peace which only he gives.

Getting practical..

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

(Ps 119.97-104)

Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

(Rom 6.17-19)

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. ..we even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

(2Cor 10.3-5, JB Phillips)

I praise you, Almighty God, because in your mercy you set me free from the law of sin and death; I am no longer bound by a power too great for me to resist, which compels me to do that which is opposed to Christ. I praise you, Merciful God, because in your compassion you dwell in me by the Holy spirit, whose power is great to transform me, and overcome evil. I praise you, Loving God, because in your wisdom, you have given me your word – and in it I find the Word of Life by whom I am sustained.

I bring to you every part of my being – limbs, mind and spirit. I bring to you every area of my character – strength and weakness, interests and abilities. I bring to you every relationship of which I am part – intimate and distant, easy and difficult. I offer all these things to you as my worship, and also, dear Lord, to reflect and manifest your righteousness – that Christ-likeness which is your goal for my life.

I confess – and you already know it, so why should I hide? – that so many of my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways not your ways. I am still often in rebellion against Christ’s lordship – but how I rejoice in the truth that you have made me new, whole and clean, and that those sins I continue to commit are forgiven, not counted against me. How glad I am that you see my heart, and there you see a growing sensitivity to sin which is a guarantee of your Spirit’s working and purifying – you have set my heart to desire you, and in spite of my failings, I know it does. Thank you!

In my mothering, dear Father, let me love as you love. Let me release my children into your care – over and over, as often as it takes; affirming again that it is not for me to dictate your ways with them.

In my worrying, Almighty, Omnipotent and Omniscient God, let me instead turn to praise that it is not my job to fix everything, or even carry part of the burden, but rather to cast all my cares on you, and to praise you in the midst of my troubles.

In my studying, Giver of every good and perfect gift, let me enjoy the gifts you have given me, the passions and interests I have, and reject all anxiety and godless fear for the task ahead. Let this process show me, and others, that you give your servants peace as they serve for your glory and not their own. Let me reject all the foolish pride in achievement which drives me, and instead remember that your delight in me depends all on Christ.

As a citizen of a world facing uncertainty in politics, climate and every other sphere, let me not be crushed by hopelessness for the future. You are making all things new, and calling us to work with you for the new kingdom of God. Let me take those despairing thoughts captive to the glorious promise of Christ’s return and the day when we shall see the new heaven and earth and find our God dwelling in the midst of his people.

In every part of me, Lord, be glorified as you enable me to recognise where you are calling me to repent of old ways of thinking and doing, and to submit them – one by one, over days, and months and years – to the lordship of Christ and the truth of your word.

on having wise expectations….

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God….

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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 or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice….

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength…and my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.4-6,8-9,11-13&19)

One of the most important lessons we can learn  as Christians is how to handle the bible wisely – in the sense of reading it with intelligence, taking advantage of the tools which are there to help us, and especially, of not taking things out of context! When Jesus was tempted by the devil, the latter used scripture to entice our Lord to act in certain ways. Jesus did not react in doubt or confusion, but used other parts of the word to counteract the false interpretation which was being put on God’s word. We must always be wary of letting verses or passages come to mean things in our minds which were not intended, and which can cause enormous problems for us.

This chapter in Philippians contains one of the most frequently quoted verses – and I believe one of the most easily misunderstood….Paul claims that he can “do all this through him who gives me strength”. What does he mean? Are we to understand that believers will be given power to do anything they like?

Look at the rest of the chapter, what is Paul talking about here? He is exhorting the believers to rejoice in God all the time – not necessarily in their difficult circumstances, but in the God who never abandons them and has plans to bless them. We are to give thanks for all the things about us that God says are true, and on that basis, to trust him to look after us – his beloved, redeemed, holy and equipped children.

We are to furnish our minds with all those things which are most characteristic of God, to take control of our thoughts and actively resist all that might pollute, distract and deceive us. This is never easy in a world where temptations abound, to indulgence and to despair; to self-dependency and pride. God calls us to remain loving, vulnerable, hopeful, available, humble, and obedient to him – drawn always by the beauty of Christ.

Finally, Paul exults in the gift of God which has enabled him to be content in every circumstance – the gift of faith in the God who will meet all his needs (not his wants!), so that his service of God may continue.

So what is Paul claiming that he can do by God’s strength? – rejoice in every circumstance; give thanks and pray about everything, trusting God to work in and through it; renew his thinking so that his mind increasingly mirrors Christ, and his words and life are transformed; enjoy contentment regardless of his wordly circumstances, because he believes that God will not withhold anything which is absolutely necessary (whether material, or spiritual resources). It’s quite a list!

With God’s strength, I can choose to dwell on the good qualities of those around me, loving them with God’s love, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, refusing to hold grudges and cherish bitterness.

With God’s strength, I can remain content in difficult situations – not necessarily finding it easy, but with deep assurance that God will enable me to do what Christ would do in that situation, and that whatever happens, God is at work to glorify himself and build his kingdom in and through me.

I am already the object of God’s deepest love, redeeming mercy and transforming power; the task in hand, of living for Christ in this sin-sick and broken world is daunting enough! Let me not seek power to do things beyond my calling, but be profoundly thankful that I am already receiving all I need for the great task which is mine – showing the world that God loves sinners, even such as I…

 

How do I give…?

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

(Ps 65.1-4)

A generous person will prosper; one who refreshes others will themselves be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us..If [a person’s] gift is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously…share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

(Rom 12.8&13)

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2Cor 9.6-8&11)

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.

(Eph 1.3)

The question is not “will I give?”, or even “what will I give?”, but rather “How will I give?”. I am rich in so many of the world’s good things, and have health and peace and security beyond the dreams of millions….what am I doing with them?

Am I tempted, like a miser, to hoard what I have for my own use – my space; my time; my energy; my intellect; my resources…because I am somehow worth it? As a follower of Jesus, one whose life is now under the sovereignty of the Lord of Life and King of Love, this is not an option! When I consider that everything I have is a free gift, part of God’s provision for His world, His church, it becomes clear that I have no right to hold onto anything He has given. I am merely a steward and the question is what kind?

So, I am commanded to give, to give generously – and cheerfully – of all I am and have for the blessing of God’s people and for his glory and work in the world. Some things are easier to give than others – less costly in terms of time, effort, privacy – but that doesn’t mean that I can put up a security fence around those things and refuse to part with them! Everything comes from God, the breath which keeps me alive, the beating heart which sustains my body, the mind which makes sense of it all; the family, friends and community which surrounds me; the money which buys food, clothes, insurance, fuel for the car, heating for the house. God asks me to withhold nothing from his service but to give when He asks, and gladly, how dare I hold back?!

So when I am called upon to set aside my schedule for the day in order to sit with someone who needs to be heard, I think of Christ, who always made time for people; when I forgo peace and privacy in order to give someone hospitality and invest in their refreshment and encouragement, I think of Christ who saw the needs of those around them and poured himself out in availability and vulnerability.

The testimony of God’s people down the years is clear, that when we give of ourselves and all we have received, we are more than repaid in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the joy of seeing God at work. This giving is a large part of our worship of God – a returning to Him in thanksgiving of the things we have received, and celebrating the privilege of using them in His service. Contrary to all that the world’s wisdom would tell us, Christ calls us to be poured out in service and giving, and to trust that here lies our true ‘self-fulfillment’. When a follower of Jesus loses ‘self’ in this way, we find our new ‘self’ within the body of Christ – an intimately connected, mutually enriching and enabling community where we are free to live, serve, love and be loved.

May we never forget to be thankful for all we have received, and to respond in obedient, trusting faith, by offering ourselves unreservedly and confidently for God to pour out in His work – let us be cheerful givers!

Reality check..

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

(Ps 37.3-8)

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

(Luke 9.22-26)

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

(Col 3.1&2, 23&24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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