Category Archives: family of faith

On being a dust-bather…

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and  my hope is in you all day long..Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

(Ps 25.4,5,7&8)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

(Pr 11.2)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

(Matt 10.8-31)

..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)

The house sparrows are using my flower bed to take dust baths, an astonishing sight as the tiny birds flutter and spin in the hollows and clean their feathers of dirt and parasites. I was reminded as I watched them, of Jesus words to his followers about their value, and how God notices ‘even’ the sparrows when they fall. Little brown birds, insignificant and easy to miss, just quietly getting on with their lives in a small corner of the grand scheme of things…and their Creator sees each one. There can be some sense that we want to make a big splash with our lives, and some of us are called to such tasks. But for most, God asks us to trust Him and then to walk humbly and quietly in his presence, to get on obediently in our quiet corner of the grand scheme of God’s plan.

Am I content to be a dust-bather? Am I content to have been spared the dazzling plumage of the peacock that draws all eyes, or the power and skill of the great raptors which fill us with admiration? Will I let God’s estimate of my worth be sufficient, or do I crave recognition, praise and adulation from those around me? 

The history of the church is sadly littered with the stories of those who were entrusted with responsibility and significance, only to fall into pride and disobedience to God, disgracing themselves and doing untold harm to God’s people and their witness. Consider Saul, David, and Solomon, and more recently, the leaders of christian ministries who have found that an exalted position is not always a healthy place to be in. How we should pray for those who are gifted in leadership, who find themselves in positions of power and influence! The enemy of God’s people so often succeeds in destroying their witness through human weakness to which we are all vulnerable.

Let us give thanks if we are called rather to less public sphere; let us ask God to continually remind us of our need for a Saviour and to deliver us from false pride in anything except the cross of Christ. We seek his leading in our lives, that we might do his will – even if it seems insignificant, who knows what will be revealed in eternity about the ways that God uses us? We seek courage to bear witness to him and to own ourselves followers of Jesus, no matter at what cost. We ask God to keep us gentle with one another – remembering how Jesus bore with his disciples – and especially to keep us in prayer for those who can’t stay quietly out of the limelight, but must step out to lead. As our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we have a duty of care to pray for them, to encourage them and pray for wise counsellors who can alert them to danger. 

In all our lives, may God be honoured and Christ exalted, to the glory of his name and the building of the kingdom!

When I want to look away..

Our Father, who is in heaven

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all life; in whose image all humanity is made, and who desires that all might know and love you, might walk in joyful fellowship with you and with one another, hear our prayer.

As a Father you yearn over your children, from every race, tribe and tongue you call us forth to live together in peace as your family and to glorify you as each brings their own unique part to complete the whole. 

In our rebellion and pride, we long ago rejected your wisdom, your lordship, and chose what we consider right in our own eyes. And see what a price we are paying for our pride and so-called freedom…

The heart of humanity is fatally flawed, and without you, our best and highest aims become the grounds of our corruption, the motivation for the darkest deeds. Almighty God, we confess our sin afresh, and mourn for the grief which has come upon us because of sin, because of our rejection of our God.

Hallowed be your name

We are no longer motivated by your glory, but by our own. We are driven by a desire for power to make ourselves secure; to win vengeance over our neighbour for his wrongs; to be the biggest, the fastest, the wealthiest, the strongest, the most enduring. Our empires(large and small) are fed on exploitation, on corruption, on manipulation and domination, on injustice and dishonesty; they grow fat on the poverty of others, and strong through the killing, intimidating and oppression of others. 

God, we deserve your judgement, we confess the darkness in our hearts and those of our leaders, and cry for the mercy which we do not deserve. Truly, your glory and honour require our condemnation and destruction.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

With trembling hearts, we praise and worship you because the judgement which was rightly ours has been taken by Jesus, by our perfect substitute, and even as he took that punishment on himself, so we by faith receive his perfection and are made acceptable and beloved children in your family. We rejoice to know that this, this astonishing salvation is your will for all your children, and that ultimately we shall dwell together with you in joyous harmony in a new and sinless earth. 

Your kingdom has been  inaugurated through Christ’s life, death and resurrection; and will be fully realised on his return in glory when your appointed time has come. But until then, Lord, how should we work and pray as we consider the bloody battlefield of this world?

As I write, my mind is full of the grievous and intractable situation currently prevailing between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people; images of destruction and violence; images of fear and hatred writ large on human faces; images of hopelessness and despair as the infected wound of a decades long conflict breaks out yet again. The roots of this agony are complicated beyond words, each generation inheriting the consequences of previous decisions and unable to reverse or disentangle them. The decisions taken by my own nation some hundred years ago have their part to play, I must not pretend that our hands are clean..This is not someone else’s problem, it is mine, because these people are my brothers and sisters, and who can say what I might do in their situation, under their provocation?

There are other battlefields to remember – Yemen, Eritrea, South Sudan, Syria,  Guatemala, Colombia, Myanmar, North Korea, Western China, Tibet, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Turkey, Ukraine….you could add to the list those places dearest to your heart. Not all the battles are physical, many are economic, religious and racial state-sponsored oppressions.

How do we – as those who believe that God’s kingdom has come and is coming – pray and work in these situations? We pray for God’s glory to be seen and for justice to be forthcoming; for that lasting peace which allows humanity to flourish and the gospel to be preached. We speak out to our own lawmakers and politicians, to those who can be heard on global stages, urging the respect for human rights which we cherish and which reflects the God-imprint which is in each one of us. We ask God to help us not to look away from conflict, injustice, prolonged suffering, but rather to be motivated through what we see to care enough for our fellow human beings to pray, and to act. We seek those agencies through which we might extend aid to the suffering, and justice to the persecuted, and we commit ourselves to being involved.

Almighty God, I pray today for all those in the land of Israel who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and in his name seek peace in their land. Give them courage to stand against injustice and violence, and help them to hold together – as ethnic Jews, Arabs and Palestinians united in Christ – so that your name might be honoured. May the witness of your people encourage all who work for a lasting and just settlement, and may it strengthen every local effort to end hostility and bring reconciliation.

Give us this day…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.25,32-34)

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

(Jn 13.34&35)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

God has combined the members of the body ..so that there should be no division.., but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.24-26)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each 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.

(2 Cor 9.6-8,11)

Many years ago, I was challenged by a suggestion made by a well known Christian author and speaker to make a habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer for others. To my shame, it had never occurred to me before to use the beloved form of words in that way, but I can heartily recommend it. We may not know much about someone’s particular circumstances at a given moment, but everything which Jesus expressed in that prayer is always of value for his children.

I pray that God might be glorified in their lives, so that His name will be honoured – before this world, but also before all the unseen spiritual forces. I pray that His kingdom might come in their lives, their marriages, their communities – that His lordship might be real for them in all their decision making, and all their work and witness. I pray that they might be so thankful for God’s full forgiveness of their own sin, and so aware of God’s love for all his children that they can forgive those who offend against them in turn, and show that same love.

And I pray that God will meet their daily needs…whatever those may be, and especially that He will grant them that ability to leave the future in God’s hands, accepting that what He provides for each day is sufficient for that day. That prayer implies recognition that all good things come from God, regardless of the human agency by which they may be delivered, and also that He asks us to trust when the provision made does not fit our perceived need. May they have faith to believe in that hard place, and to honour God there.

And sometimes, in fact often, I believe that God calls us to answer those prayers for our brothers and sisters – to be the human means by which He meets their daily needs.

We are one body. The suffering and pain of one member calls for action and care on the part of the others – through this intimate connection, God’s love is shared among his people and their needs are met. I am called as a Christian to be responsive to my brothers and sisters – sharing my needs with them, and meeting their needs as my own means and circumstances permit. In this way, the good gifts which our generous God has lavishly bestowed upon us are used to provide abundantly for the whole body.

Sometimes, I can give money; sometimes practical assistance or the gift of presence, a listening ear, and burden-sharing shoulder. I can ALWAYS pray, commending others to the God who loves and knows their circumstances, so that He will meet their needs according to His rich resources, and through His church.

As the church pursues loving and practical unity, putting its resources at God’s disposal for the benefit of all its members, for His glory and our blessing, then indeed, His name will be hallowed and we will see his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So let us not hold back in fear, doubting God’s care and future provision for us, but rather give generously in every way we can, trusting that when it is our turn to be in need, His love and the care of His saints will not fail us.

Broad and strong, warm and sheltering…wings

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

(Ruth 2.12)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

(Ps 91.1-4)

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…..Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

(1 Pet 4.10&11, 5.6&7)

While there are no perfect people in the bible – apart from our Lord Jesus – there are many whose lives are recorded so that we might catch glimpses of how God works through fallibility and frailty to achieve his sovereign purposes and to bless his children. This week I returned to one of the loveliest of these tales, known as the book of Ruth but which might justifiably also be called the story of Boaz, or of Naomi! It is a small-scale drama, and yet in God’s providence these three lives are woven into the great narrative which will in due time arrive at the Messiah. It speaks powerfully to me of the way that our wonderful God knows each of his children, working our own good into his own over-arching will, encouraging me that I do well to focus on obeying him and humbly handing over my own cares for him to handle.

Ruth has embraced the faith of her mother-in-law, and lives this out by returning with her to a land where she is a vulnerable widow with no prospects, except as the God who she now worships may provide. Ruth is loyal to her relative, and puts her own strength at Naomi’s service, labouring hard to provide for them both – and it is God who leads her into the fields of a godly man, Boaz. She demonstrates exactly what Peter is talking about in his letter – humbly trust God, and then work hard with the gifts and opportunities you have been given.

Through Boaz, God will work to provide not only for the immediate but also the long-term future of this young woman and her relative – but Boaz himself will find great blessing through the connection, as he puts his social position, wealth and authority at Ruth’s disposal as her husband and the guardian-redeemer of the family. In this sense, we might say that Boaz became the answer to his own prayer for Ruth (the opening quote of this blog), that she might be richly rewarded by the God to whom she entrusted herself!

I rejoice to know that the Almighty Sovereign and Holy God, whose power in creation is revealed to be so far beyond my imagination, is also the tender and strong one who calls me to take shelter – like Ruth – under his protection. His eye is on an incredible eternal plan for glory, but amazingly, is also upon me. Not one detail of my life as his beloved child is beneath his notice – and he is able to weave together the tiny details of my circumstances into the majestic work of redemption and new creation.

Not only this, but he also gifts me the opportunity to be an active part of this dual narrative – I am privileged to use the gifts and opportunities he gives in order to further his work in the lives of others. I am also one whose needs may be met by others as God directs and provides for me – if I will be humble and honest enough to allow them to care for me.

A friend recently shared a song which included these lines, and I share them here as a beautiful expression of the way that God often shelters and cares for his children as they obey him in putting their gifts at the disposal of their fellow believers – as we are his wings…

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

[R.A.M. Gillard: 1953-]

church…a work in progress?

So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly , which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand..Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord. The Levites..instructed the people..making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

(Neh 8.2,6-8)

Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

(Ps 149.1-4)

It was he[Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.11-13)

…Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Saviour…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

(Eph 5.23, 25-27)

Have you ever wondered at the gulf between the passionate, potent love we see in Jesus, and the qualities of the church which is his body in the world? Why does the community which is commissioned to witness to divine love, and incredible grace have such a record of intolerance, bigotry of every kind, division, coldness, selfishness and worldliness? Why do so many people outside the church view Jesus as someone admirable, and then reject the gospel because of those who claim to know and love him?

Our record as a people called to bear God’s name fruitfully, making disciples of all nations, rejoicing in our salvation and provoking the unsaved to envy of our peace, unity and hope is woeful. Our record as a people able to pick quarrels, hold grudges, mistreat, suspect, withhold forgiveness, abuse, lie, conceal and hoard on the other hand is quite impressive. How shameful, how heart-breaking, that the body of Christ in the world should be a source of such grief, pain and rejection of the gospel.

We have the incalculable riches of the word of Almighty God – his personal revelation of himself, his great purposes in creation and redemption. We have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, whose task is our daily transformation and enabling for the work of mission – whatever that may look like in our unique calling. We have Jesus, our salvation, our glory, joy and crown, by whom we stand in the the immediate presence of a holy God, with a guaranteed eternity in which to finally and fully live. What happens to us, that our lives fall so short of our calling, our identity?

From earliest records, we see that the body of Christ has been flawed, there was no golden age when everything went well. We are a community of sinners who have been saved, and who – this side of death – remain prone to every temptation known to humanity. The result is that the bride for whom Jesus died is far from pure, united and holy, and her continued existence is itself a cause for wonder and humble thanksgiving. Only God could have preserved a witness for himself in the face of so much weakness and failing. The larger our institutional churches get, the more they become like worldly institutions, with the same flaws. The tragedy is that Christ’s body in the world ought to be different. Unbelievers know this, and mock our faith; we know it, and grieve for the trap from which we seem unable to escape.

We have to take responsibility for our own personal witness, and pray for the reform of our institutions, pray for our leaders and confess our failures and sins. We also have to continue to work at being a community of believers. Each of us has a role to play in the body, in addition to our own willingness to give reason for the hope we have. We look to love, to build up, to encourage. We look to unite in praise and in learning from the word – reverencing the revelation and hungry to learn for ourselves what it means for us.

Lord of the church, for whom you died, have mercy on us. Fill us afresh by your Spirit, so that we shine for you – as individuals and as a body. Cleanse us from our persistent sins so that we honour you, and show how we treasure the blood shed to make us clean. Do not give up the work of building your church in our day, in our land, but in your mercy let us see your power poured out and a new generation of people coming to new life in Christ.

I am enough…because I belong

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard.. for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

(Rom 12.4-6)

For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”…On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.13,21-23,24-26)

When people are saved by faith, made new in Christ and come into God’s family, they do not suddenly become different people. Instead, what happens is that their essential and unique qualities – weaknesses and strengths, gifts and limitations – are all brought into the community where they belong and thus find purpose, fulfillment and support. As creatures made in the image of God, we are formed for community and relationship, not independence. We are not made to be sufficient of ourselves, but to be needy! Is that not a huge relief?! It certainly is to me; to find that I am right to long for others to share burdens, to rejoice in the skills and gifts of those who tackle jobs which I am not fit for, to celebrate that when we serve one another, God is glorified, we are blessed, and his will is done! I am enough, because I belong to the family of God, and so I face nothing alone. I rejoice in my dependance.

God crafted each of us to play our own specific role, and no other. I have received my own specially chosen bouquet of graces or gifts from my heavenly Father, and I can rest in his appointing. The devil may tempt me with comparisons, so that I become discontent with my own graces, and envy those which are more spectacular or apparently more useful. But I cling to God’s promise that I am enough, that he delights in the complete package and simply desires that I make myself available to the rest of the Body of Christ, since who and what I am belongs to them. I withhold my gifts and graces to their detriment… I may be called to be the equivalent of some small or unseen part of the body – but since God has appointed me to the task, I seek to be content..Some of us may be feet, but others must be veins, kidneys or lungs, otherwise, where is the body!!

I am fully known by God – whose perfect love is in no way diminished by my past, present or future. He has known the end from the beginning, and set his heart upon me – I am accepted and he delights in me as his child. I am enough, because he is my Father, and his perfect love asks nothing of me in return. I do not need the approval of others, because the God of the universe, the greatest and most glorious being has called me his beloved daughter, and brought me home to live with him. I delight in being fully known, and can in turn give myself to others because my heart is secure in him.

I am enough because I am renewed daily through the spirit dwelling within me. As I continue to trust in Christ for salvation, and receive forgiveness and mercy in every time of need, I live and labour in the strength which God gives me. Because I am completely forgiven, I am enough – I have nothing to earn, nothing to prove, and nothing to boast about. My sufficiency is Christ’s and I can rejoice in being daily his debtor for all that I need.

God’s plan for his children in salvation is perfect, and we can be sure that he will carry it to completion. We can rest in the sufficiency of his provision for everything we need, and in the wisdom which puts us into a community where we are designed to thrive. God’s purpose for us as unique parts of the body of believers should bring an end to comparisons. Instead we live a life of mutual love, interest in and celebration of God’s beauty in each person. I am called to be 100% who I am for the good of my brethren – I am here for them, and they for me, and together, we are enough.

Family ties…

..one of my brothers came from Judah, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile…They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace..When I heard these things, I sat down and wept..I mourned and prayed..”O Lord, God of heaven..who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him..they are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.”

(Neh 1.2-4, 5&10)

I thank my God every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3,4,7&8)

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children…For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you…But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you…

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord..when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.

But Timothy has ..brought us good news about your faith and love…that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged…For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

(1 Thess 2.6&7, 11&12, 17-20; 3.6-8)

This lengthy extract from the letter of Paul to the young church in Thessalonica – which he had to abandon at short notice to save his life – is a delightful revelation of the warm and affectionate relationship which he had with them. It is touching to read of Paul’s anxiety for them, and his frustration at not being free to return and see that they were holding firm to their faith. Like a parent whose child has recently left home, he is anxious to hear that all is well, and his concern demonstrates his love.

And like any Christian parent, his principal care is that they should “stand firm in the Lord”. With that foundation, they can weather any storm, and endure any persecution, knowing that their eternal future is secure in God’s hands. I can identify with him so deeply in this, as I watch my young adult children making their way independently in life, and pray that in all things, they might seek and know God. They will face joys and sorrows, successes and failures, times of ease and times of dark distress, and my overwhelming desire is that they too might “stand firm in the Lord” – here alone lie security and hope.

One of the glorious things about the family into which we are re-born as believers, is the affection which God gives us for one another, and which places us in community, where our emotional needs are met and we love one another as family. We rejoice in this gift, and nurture the affection, working at it in a persevering and cheerful spirit, in the same way that human families seek to bear with and love one another. This affection is a source of encouragement to us, as we take delight in seeing our ‘family’ growing in faith, standing firm and trusting in God.

We also encourage others by our perseverance in faith, and expressions of love and concern for them. See how Paul delights to hear that the Thessalonians are yearning for news of him, and long to see him again even as he longs for them. The expression of mutual affection is a refreshing, strengthening and gratitude-prompting ministry, as Paul rejoices in God’s faithfulness and promise-keeping.

Nehemiah’s anguished prayer for his fellow-Jews who were struggling and disgraced in Jerusalem expresses his affection, the feeling of one who sees his precious people in trouble. We learn here how to pray for one another when things are hard, when our affection unites us to those who are suffering and we cry out to God on their behalf. Our love for one another is but a pale reflection of God’s love for each precious child, so we can be sure that when we are upset or concerned for others, His heart is even more moved. So when we pray, interceding for them, lamenting their sorrows, we are praying in his will, for their blessing and his glory. He desires that we should serve one another in this way, becoming ever more united in love.

Let us not be afraid to feel and express the affection which we have for one another as God’s children – in words, in actions, and above all in prayer as we give thanks for one another and intercede for one another. We are children of the King, who will not let his little ones be destroyed and who can be trusted to do right at all times.

Battling for the faith of others

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple…The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever…Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me…May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Ps 19.7,9,12-14)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed he remembers that we are dust….But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…

(Ps 103.13,14&17)

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal..The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

(Isa 26.3&4,7&8)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Rom 12.2)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Cor 10.5)

One of the most distressing trials which can come to God’s children is an assault upon their mental health – and we are told that most of us will experience such assaults at some point in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. How do we pray for those whose minds are clouded and confused by illness, so that they have been deprived of the full comfort of their faith?

We know from the bible that it is through our minds, our understanding, that we receive faith and learn about the love of God for us. We read his word, and in obeying it, serving his people, and allowing it to dwell in us, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. What then of those who cannot trust their minds, or control their thoughts? How can we pray for those who are under a darkness which twists and distorts truth into lies – lies about themselves, about others, and above all about God and how he regards them?

We can praise God, because it is not our faith and understanding which keeps us secure, but the power of his saving arms. The faith of little children, of those with learning difficulties, surely shows us that it is not intellectual capacity that qualifies us to be called followers of Jesus! We thank God for his compassion towards us, his creatures. He knows how we are made, knows our frailties, and although human understanding of the mind is extensive, yet only God truly sees how ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ we are put together, how delicate and intricate is the balance of our mental and physical health.

So we can trust that although our beloved ones who are struggling may feel unloved, abandoned and hopeless, yet this is not the truth. All who have professed faith in Christ and acknowledged him as Lord, no matter how great their darkness, remain in his love. Paul reminds us that NOTHING is able to separate believers from this love – both external trials and assaults, and also surely the internal trial of mental illness. So we praise and thank God for keeping his children, for forgiving their sins, guarding them and preparing a place in heaven for them.

While we give thanks for the health of our own minds, we should pray to be kept humble, not to rely upon human wisdom as our salvation, nor to be proud of what we have learnt or can do in God’s service. We are well; good, so we put our health at the disposal of our brothers and sisters who are not – in prayer, service, and presence. For those in the darkness of mental illness, we can – by God’s help – be a constant loving reminder that God has not abandoned them, holding the truth before them even though their understanding is compromised. We pray that we might be the compassion of God in human form, patient, gentle and true.

And we can pray that – as with all our trials in this life – God will be at work to bring glory to himself, blessing to our loved ones, and good things for his kingdom. Healing so often comes, and perhaps lessons in living differently, using God’s gifts in new ways, being less busy and more restful. We cannot tell how these experiences might be part of God’s plan, but we can be sure that they are, and pray for fruitfulness in the future. He is faithful, strong and true; let us trust ourselves to him and keep praying!

Following…who?

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.

(Ps 1.1-3)

Watch out for false prophets..By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 

(Matt 7.16&17)

As I urged you…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…these promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about…

(1 Tim 1.3-7)

If you point these things out …you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus..train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

(1 Tim 4.6-8)

The goal of God’s work in his children’s lives is their godliness, the creation of an ever clearer reflection of himself in them, showing his glory and beauty to the world. In the same way that a silversmith purifies the metal by fire, burning off impurities until he sees his face reflected in the liquid metal surface, so also our God is working out his good purposes in us.

We can choose to cooperate with this work, to embrace our destiny with faith and hope, trusting in God to be at work in all things, and seeking to learn in every situation what his will is for us. We can choose to hunger for godliness, choose to yearn after the fruit of the spirit above all worldly ambitions and make every effort to reject those things which frustrate our fruitfulness. The psalmist celebrates the power of the word of God to grow us into fruitful disciples, and when we meditate on it – chew it over, consider it from many angles, allow it to shape our thoughts – we are transformed indeed.

But we also make choices about what kind of people we admire and emulate, whose advice we take seriously and whose lives are our example. It is about choosing such people wisely that Jesus teaches when he speaks of looking for grapes on thornbushes! It is good to have role models, but what qualities should I look for?

Firstly, I need to find people who at least claim to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, our sacrificial Lamb, the Risen and returning Judge – a tree that looks like one which ought to bear good fruit. Secondly, I need to consider what fruit their lives actually bear, since this may give the lie to their claims. Paul warns Timothy about those who claim to be christians, but who bear bad fruit in disputes, divisions, doubts and pointless speculation. The effect of their ministry is not growing godliness – in themselves or their hearers – and this is a sure sign that they cannot be trusted.

So if I am looking to be inspired and encouraged by others in my journey of faith, I need to find those who bear good fruit after the manner described by Paul – lives of godliness, showing peace and self-control, faithfulness and patience, love, joy and kindness. It may well be that those qualities are in lives which are small and quiet in the eyes of the world, and even those considered foolish – so be it, these are the things which I desire. Let me learn humbly and reverently from God’s servants wherever they may be found, recognising in them a means by which I may be drawn further into godliness.

It is also good to find teachers who can educate us in the things of God, and we can serve them in praying for their protection – the history of the church is littered with sad tales of prominent saints who were led astray, and whose status proved a temptation to which they seemed to have no defences. We are all vulnerable and none should judge another for falling, but rather pray God’s keeping from sin and deliverance from temptation for ourselves and all those called into public service for the gospel.

Lord God, I thank you for all those who teach and lead me in your ways. Keep us all from sin, and make us quick to run to you when tempted to go astray. Keep your name in honour among us, that we might above all things fear bringing it into disrepute, and strive with all our might to be found increasingly in the image of Christ. For your glory and our blessing we pray, Amen!

What’s in a name..?

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who …Choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.

(Isa 56.4-7)

The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.3,14&15)

Greet Priscilla and Acquila..my dear friend Epenetus..Mary, Andronicus and Junias, Ampliatus, Urbanus and Stachys..Apelles, the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas…

(Rom 16.3-15)

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

(3Jn.14)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

(Heb 12.22&23)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name..

(Rev 3.11&12)

Deep down in our spirits, we know that each one of us matters; uniquely, eternally, matters. Our very existence has significance, and we strive to honour and respect the memory of those who have gone, as if the act of forgetting somehow wipes them out forever, and makes them of no account. This came home to me most recently at the sombre and moving memorial on the site of the twin towers in New York, where the names of those who died are recorded – not on some inaccessible wall or behind screens, but on plinths where they can be read and touched.

Each name represents a person made to reflect God’s character in the world; represents so many experiences, hopes and achievements – and above all a person for whom the world was made. We do well to remember that the terror and destruction of that day – and of so many other dark days in human history, like the Holocaust, the genocides of Africa and the Balkans, the purges of Stalin, Mao Tse tung and the Khmer Rouge, the great world wars and the invisible and forgotten conflicts that drag on today – all of these happened to ordinary people like us. In remembering, we express our own fear of being forgotten, swept away like dust with nothing to show we had ever lived.

Memorials are a cry against annihilation; a plea for it not to be true that after we die, there is nothing!

The bible teaches very clearly that the spirit in us is speaking a truth – that we are made for more than a few years of mortal life, and that our lives do have eternal significance. We have an inheritance – literally a place with our name on it – in the new heaven and earth which God is unfolding. No one can take that from us, no matter how short, troubled and apparently insignificant our mortal lives may be.

The shepherd king knows each of his sheep by name – he knows the very number of hairs upon our heads, and every detail of every day appointed for us to live. We matter to him, to the Lord of the universe, to the sovereign over every power and authority and the judge who will at last see righteousness rule over all things. He notices our little struggles and also our little victories; and he appreciates all that we seek to do in his name and for his glory. Even if our names are not recorded in some list of thanks by an apostle, we can be sure that our shepherd sees and values our labours, and we can truly rejoice because our names are written indelibly in heaven.

And there is this promise of a new name, to be given when at last we embark upon our new life with the redeemed in the perfection and joyous freedom of resurrection bodies and complete fellowship with Christ – a name which will maintain both our unique identities but also clearly show that we belong utterly to him.

I rejoice, O Lord, to know that my name is written in your book of life; and I praise you that one day, I will receive the new name which will proclaim to all the congregation of your people that I am your beloved, perfect and accepted, come into my inheritance and at peace!