Category Archives: family of faith

And when I pray…

Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses…Only be strong and courageous.

(Jos 1.17&18)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what  is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Phil 1.3-6&9-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

(Col 1.2)

It is always good to learn from others how we might serve the people of God more faithfully, and perseveringly – at least, I know that I have much to learn. The writings of Paul to his beloved churches give us a glimpse into the life of intercession which he followed so faithfully, and I was struck recently by the fact that he seems to start praying for people by being thankful for them! Perhaps this is not new for you, in which case, read no further..

What happens when we look at the prayer list, when the array of burdens and requests mounts up and it seems that all we are doing is bringing a shopping list of our demands to God? I think that I lose perspective, I become absorbed in the – important but not crucial – details, and forget that God’s overall plans and purposes are so much greater and so utterly other than my own. I begin to think that if I don’t see the answers I want, then prayer doesn’t work, or that I am somehow failing to ask properly.

But, when I start by giving thanks for God’s people, each unique, each beautifully crafted for his purposes and saved by grace through faith in Jesus – each one a beloved child and sibling of min in Christ – then my perspective shifts. They are no longer a duty to be ticked off, but a person in relationship to the Almighty – and to me. They are fearfully and wonderfully made and to be rejoiced in. Their salvation story is a reason to celebrate God’s goodness and power in transforming broken humanity – as is mine.

Their heart’s desire, like mine, is to know Christ and to make him known, to play their part in God’s great plan of salvation and new creation. While we may have our own human ideas of what that ought to look like in a given situation – healings, job opportunities etc – actually, we all know and ultimately trust in a God who so often confounds human expectation.

So, when I pray, I can use some of the great prayers of the scriptures like these:

  • that God would go with us in all we do
  • that the Spirit will make us courageous and confident in God to work ahead of us
  • that we might receive daily grace – God’s work in us to accomplish what we can’t do
  • that we might live in the peace which is experiencing the blessings of being fully reconciled to God hour by hour and day by day
  • that we might grow in love for Christ and for one another, a mature and self-denying love which builds community, and witnesses to the power of the gospel in our hearts
  • that we might bear fruit for Christ, the changed lives which result from continual re-orientation of all our thoughts and attitudes according to his word
  • that we might bring glory and praise to God

All of these are things that I long to see happening in my life, so should I not also pray them for others? These things all underpin the details of daily life, so that our attitudes and decisions are increasingly godly and discerning, and fully aligned to whatever God is doing in and through us. Each and every situation is an opportunity to chose to live for God, and to trust him to use that glad and obedient submission for his own purposes.

When I pray in this way for others, I am reminded all the time that God’s agenda is so big and that whatever the details of each life may be, we are together in fulfilling his plans. Our sufferings and struggles gain significance, and also are drained of their power to bind us in despair and half-heartedness when we remember the great story in which we are playing a part, and the adversary who seeks to thwart every blossoming of God’s work in human lives.

Friends, let us pray with joy, because the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion, and in the meantime, he has promised never to leave us. Then let us pray with confident thanksgiving, and to him be all the glory. Amen!

Loving others as God loves us…

“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…. love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

(Lev 19.1&18)

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God….. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1. 3&8)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.. There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.

(1 Cor 13.4-7&13)

If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart… We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us.. Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions….. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.

(1Jn 3.14-18; 4.7-12)

Did you notice those last sentences in the words from John’s letter? “No one has ever seen God. BUT if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” 

I find that frankly, staggering. The idea that anything involving humankind could possibly lead to a full expression of God’s love seems outrageous! But, if true, it is surely one of the greatest incentives to the church to love one another. In our lived-out gospel, it is as we love that we reveal God in his fulness to the world.

The love of God for his rebellious creatures, his eternal intention that we should be his dear companions, is the driving force behind the entire narrative of human history. We are created to know, and to be known; to love and to be loved. This is no sentimental thing, no affair of emotions, but a relentless and clear-sighted commitment to doing what is best for us, no matter what it costs. The love of God is unchanging, relentless, even ruthless in the same way that a surgeon is ruthless in cutting away disease in order to bring healing.

We, in turn, obey Christ’s command to love one another – relentlessly, sacrificially, ruthlessly desiring what is best for the beloved. Ultimately, we know that our highest good is to belong to Christ, to submit fully to his will and to obey him in all things. Daily, we know that we fail, we settle for lower goals, and we are beguiled into thinking that health, prosperity and popularity are our greatest good. But over and over, we are forgiven, prompted to return to our first love – the One who loved us best and first – and to respond in renewed commitment and love.

As God’s children love one another – in patience and kindness; in acceptance and service; in forgiveness and being forgiven; in humility and thankfulness – so the bible tells us, God’s love is brought to its full expression – like the realisation of a picture into a three-dimensional object. The love of God becomes tangible and capable of touching lives as it is manifest in the love of believers for one another. Such love must speak of God to a watching, weeping, broken and hopeless world.

The onlooker may want to say , ‘Oh, they are such nice people, such good people, see how they care for one another’. To which our response must surely be,’ Oh no, it is the Lord who loves us and lives in us who makes us able to live and love like this! It is all of Jesus, who is making us like him! Left to our own devices, we would not love like this…’

Heavenly Father, we want to be holy because you are holy; we want to love others, because you have loved us. May our hearts grow warm to reflect your love, may they expand to find room for others, so that as we love, you are revealed among us, and the world cannot help but see you. Be glorified among us, O Lord, make us lovers after your own heart. Amen.

The gift of peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“And you my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

(Lk 1.76-79)

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

(Lk 2.13&14)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

(Jn 14.27)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Rom 12.18&21)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. For he himself is our peace, who has.. abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was.. in this one body to reconcile [us] to God through the cross… He came and preached peace to you… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household..

(Eph 1.2, 2.14-19)

From that first fatal, deliberate act of disobedience in the garden, humanity has been in a state of rebellion against the Creator. Whether recognised or not, this is at the root of all the misery which has ever existed, all the pain, darkness, and heart-breaking ache which is our lack of peace.

We were made to live in fellowship with God, his co-workers and stewards of this beautiful planet in all its mind-blowing diversity. Instead, having chosen to define for ourselves what is right or wrong, and to claim the authority for ruling as our right, not our gift and privilege, we live in a constant state of hostility, unease and anxiety. We cannot trust one another, and we don’t want to trust God.

God spoke his plan for peace into the story at the very beginning, promising a time when one would come to strike against the seed of the serpent, and to destroy the power of sin in human hearts. Many aspects of God’s covenant life with his chosen people modelled the ideal peace towards which all history is moving – the sacrificial system to deal with the barrier of sin; the promise of a perfect King who would reign in justice; the establishment of the people in a land of plenty, under God’s protection, so that they could enjoy Him and all His gifts without fear.  

It was this peace which Jesus came to establish. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, foretold his son’s message, pointing to the one who had come to lead his people at last into ways of peace. He knew his prophets and history; knew that God’s promised deliverer would not simply abolish hostility, but would inaugurate a new kingdom, where real peace meant that God would dwell with his people and they would thrive in his presence.

Jesus came to make peace with us before God – to reconcile us to our Father. Jesus came to make peace for us with one another – as equally beloved children, as equally undeserving and forgiven sinners, we have no need to compete or fight with one another. We can love one another because Jesus loved us, and made us one family under God.

When we receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we receive peace with God. This is our anchor in the storms which lie ahead, and which cannot be stolen. God holds us fast, and our eternal future is secure. This is the deep, soul-holding, sanity-saving peace which looks nothing like the peace of the secular world. It endures, because it depends on the faithfulness of God, not our own strength, wisdom or circumstances.

Prince of Peace, I worship you this day and rejoice that you came to give us that enduring peace which one day will flower into eternal life in the new creation.

Prince of Peace, I thank you for the family into which you brought me by your redeeming death, where all are beloved and each unique creation is celebrated as yours.

Prince of Peace, help me never to depend on my own strength for peace in this world, but to hold fast to you – even as you hold so much more strongly on to me. In you, I have the peace that really makes a difference – there is no more striving or worrying about earning God’s favour, no more fear or guilt. Because I am at peace in you, I am free to love in your name and spend myself freely for your glory. Let it be so, Lord Jesus.

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.