Category Archives: family of faith

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!

Serving in sending

Just as each of us has one body with many members…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. If a person’s gift is…serving, let them serve;…if it is encouraging, let them encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously….Love must be sincere. …Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality….

(Rom 12.4-8,9&12)

Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is. Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living in the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children live in the truth.

Dear friend, you are doing a good work for God when you take care of the travelling teachers who are passing through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your friendship and your loving deeds. You do well to send them on their way in a manner that pleases God. For they are travelling for the Lord and accept nothing from those who are not Christians. So we ourselves should support them so that we may become partners with them for the truth.

(3 Jn 2-8)

I believe it is easy to underestimate the power of small things, of seemingly trivial or insignificant words and actions, but that when we harness them in the cause of the gospel, God is glorified and his kingdom enriched and advanced…what am I thinking of here? It is the ministry of hospitality, of sharing what we have in order to encourage and bless other members of the body of Christ.

If we are able to offer a place to sit, some food and drink, and the precious gift of a listening ear and a loving heart then we can serve one another in hospitality…it is one of the most basic and practical ways of loving and building one another up, of sending one another out in a ‘manner which pleases God’ as John said when he commended Gaius for his generosity. Whether or not we are able to contribute financially to the work of gospel ministry, of overseas mission or local outreach, we can all offer our presence, our homes, as an encouragement to God’s servants so that they go on their way strengthened and refreshed in spirit.

Such actions testify very practically to the unity of the church of Christ, as we welcome strangers and discover in them new brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity adoring our Lord and God. Our hospitality is a witness to our common life, and shows our non-believing neighbours and communities what it means for there to be no distinctions in God’s family. A willingness to share may prove the beginning of a lifelong friendship, or it may be that we never meet again this side of glory, but either way we have obeyed our Lord by offering what we have in the service of his people and kingdom.

Gaius offered hospitality and expected no return other than the approval of his Lord; but he was surely blessed and encouraged himself by the gentle commendation which John gives him, and also filled with gladness to know that his own faithful service has brought such joy to the old apostle! Do we not rejoice when those whom we revere in the service of Christ, those whose example inspires us, take time to commend and encourage us in our own obedience by saying how much they see in us of holy and Christlike living?

The devil loves to see Christians paralysed by self-doubt and condemnation, so John’s words were a strong weapon to release Gaius from doubts, and to inspire his ongoing service and obedience. We too can exercise this ministry for one another, taking the time for a message, a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation when we share how much a friend’s life and example speaks of Christ, showing his love and the transforming power of the Spirit.

As we partner with one another for the truth of Christ’s redeeming work, for the good news of hope and forgiveness, let us not neglect the ministry of encouragement – by our words and hospitality – so that the body might be strengthened in unity and God be glorified among his people.

Doing it together…

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

(1Cor 1.7-9)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others..

(Phil 1.1-4)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

(1 Jn.13-7)

If you have had the privilege of being in a church family for some time, you will be familiar with the phrase “a time of fellowship” – it is often used to describe that time after a worship service when members gather to drink tea or coffee, standing and sitting about chatting and dropping biscuit crumbs on the heads of small children weaving their way through the room!

Our bible verses today suggest there is rather more to it than ‘tepid tea and soft biscuits’ as I recently heard one preacher say….and the definition which he went on to give fits so well with my own experience – and more importantly with the way the bible uses the word – that I wanted to explore it in this blog. Fellowship simply means “doing life together”, choosing to live out in practice the reality which is our unity in Christ, and our unity with Christ.

It is our union with Christ which is the foundation of our freedom and power to live as followers of Jesus – we can do life together with God the Father, Son and Spirit because we have been redeemed, transformed and forgiven; we have God’s life within us and our thoughts, desires and actions increasingly reflect his character and will. As God’s beloved children, we are able to draw upon all that he is and has done and will do, in order to live the lives he has laid out for us. On our own, we are incapable of anything good, but in Christ, all God asks of us is within our reach and we do it WITH him, in fellowship.

As those who are now walking in the light, not hiding from God or striving to be independent of him, but entering into his will for the world, we and our fellow believers are increasingly walking on the same road, in the same direction – towards the full realisation of the kingdom of Christ. We share a common life – we all have received God’s new heart for our old one, and all depend upon his daily forgiveness and cleansing; we all know that our power and vision come from Christ and that our own wisdom and motives cannot be relied upon to guide us securely.

It is our calling to work together towards the return of Christ in glory, witnessing to all as we have occasion, and building up the believers among whom God has placed us by bearing one another’s burdens, and practically ministering to the needs which each one has. This is “doing life together” – looking to Christ as our goal and also our enabler, recognising in each other the likeness of God and the obligation to love as he has loved us.

Let us, with the apostle John, seek to build one another up in the glorious truths of the gospel – of our salvation, and who we now are as God’s beloved children – so that together we rejoice in the vision of glory, and the complete assurance we can have. And as we do so, let us not be ashamed to “do life together” – since God has called us to walk in this intimate way with him, we should not be afraid to welcome others into our lives, to accept as well as give love and companionship in our labours for the kingdom. May our fellowship with one another make our joy complete and bring glory to God who has made it possible!

 

As One….

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits….Your body has many parts..but..you are still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ…We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything….Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink.

(1 Cor 12.4-13, Message)

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. There is one body and one Spirit..one Lord, one faith , one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets….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…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1-6,11-13,15&16)

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to live out of the gospel grace which we have received – to show to others the same forgiving, persevering, patient love and profound acceptance which we find in our Saviour. There is no place here for holding ourselves aloof simply because of another person’s background, because of different traditions, or because of their particular characteristics and flaws which we may find irritating and hard to live with.

The bible clearly teaches that when we are adopted into God’s family as his children, we become part of that marvellous unity which is the body of Christ – the universal and eternal bride of Christ – so that whether we recognise it or not, we belong together. In the same way that a body cannot function as a series of individual organs, so we who are believers cannot fulfill our purposes as individuals, we must grow and learn and live together. I need the gifts – and weaknesses – of others; and they need mine.

If I try to remain independent of my fellow believers, I am rejecting the very ones through whom God desires to bless me, and to whom I have been called as a blessing. I must be willing to serve, but also to be served, to be vulnerable, to be incapable of doing everything. How many of us find it easy to ask for and accept help? Our pride and stubborn independence go so deep, and make it easy for the devil to undermine our fellowship as we hold ourselves apart. But when I confess my need, I create the opportunity for the Spirit to build unity as others do for me, and for the whole body, that which I cannot do. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which the Lord graciously provides for our weaknesses, showing his glory and power as the Spirit-prompted love flows from one member to another, bringing help, nourishment and healing – even as our own bodies continually work in a marvellous and complex unity.

Our life-blood as the Body of Christ is this love which we have received and which we – continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit – give to one another. Each of us is called to be ourselves, to use all that we are, for the building up of the Body, and none of us is disabled for that work. As one, we depend upon Christ, and increasingly as one, we live with one purpose and one source of strength. Whether my task in any given time is to give, or to receive, I am called to do both trusting that God is glorified through my service, and to be content with the part I play.

Grace – it’s God’s gift to share, not ours to keep…

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Ex 34.5-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom 5.1&2)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God

(2Cor 5.13&15)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..

(2 Pet 1.2 & 5.18)

What is this ‘grace’ of which the New Testament of our bibles is so full? Was it invented by the church retrospectively to explain what was going on, or is it part of the great narrative of time?

Grace is understood – in the context of God’s revelation of himself – to be the free and unmerited favour which He (as supreme and superior to us in every way) chooses to show us, mere creatures, and in rebellion against Him. That favour is compounded of many things, well beyond the scope of a brief piece of writing, but the word itself is basically shorthand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is represented in God’s choosing of Abram, and the making of a covenant with him – one in which all the promises were on God’s side, and which God kept in spite of Abram’s failings and sin. Grace is seen in God’s powerful deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt – and especially in his bearing with them all through their sulking, rebellious and uncooperative wanderings in the wilderness. Grace is seen in their establishment in a land which was rich and plentiful. Grace is seen in God’s faithfulness to David, in spite of David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Grace is seen in God reaching out to the people of Nineveh in their sin, with the offer of salvation. Grace is seen in God’s ministry to his people even in their exile in Babylon, where the prophets spoke of God’s presence among them and promise to restore them to their land.

Grace does not arrive with Jesus…but, John tells us that Jesus – as God’s perfect representation in the flesh – showed us more clearly than anything had done beforehand just what grace looks like.

Grace is to love people when they despise you; grace is to bear with people when they misunderstand and misjudge you; grace is to go to the cross, bearing all the appalling weight of a world of sin and grief, so that those who have rejected you might be saved from the consequences of their own sin. This is what God’s grace – in the person of Jesus – did. He did not wait for us to recognise his worth; did not wait until he was popular and liked; did not require that salvation be earned by lavish good works, acts of extreme piety or self-sacrifice. He died, while we were still utterly estranged from and hostile to him, so that we might live never to be estranged again from God.

If I, as a follower of Jesus, and one who calls him Lord, am not willing to show grace to others as it has been shown to me – not willing to allow the riches of God’s forgiveness and love to be offered – then I am not worthy to be called a christian. This free gift – encompassing all of God’s riches – was lavishly poured on me, and continues to be my daily portion. How dare I then choose to whom I will show it? I am no more worthy to receive God’s riches than anyone else – and no less worthy.

Lord God, forgive me when I judge that someone is not worthy of grace, when I choose to condemn instead of being compassionate; to hold a grudge instead of forgiving; to withhold love and kindness instead of reaching out. Your grace outraged the religious leaders of your day, because it was freely offered to the wheeler-dealer Zaccheus, to the disgraced woman who anointed your feet with her tears, to the lepers and the maimed, the socially marginalised. And it was offered to those who thought themselves above you, above needing forgiveness.

You invited everyone to come and receive grace, may I follow your example, and by my words and actions make it clear that all are welcome..