Category Archives: family of faith

For my children..

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1Timothy 6.6-12)

Nearly twenty two years ago, I was safely – and belatedly – delivered of a son, a precious gift and source of great joy and contentment, as well as not a little grief and anxiety over the years of his growing! Four years ago, he left home, first for a gap year, and then to university. There he thrives, and we have had the pleasure of watching him relish every opportunity to learn; every friendship which has come his way; and above all, of seeing him grow in faith, seeking to reach his community with the gospel. He is a man made by and for God, and he knows his maker – a blessing which cannot be quantified, and one which every christian parent craves for their children but cannot guarantee.

I say these things not to boast – it is none of my doing, and even as I give thanks for the blessings he has received, I yearn over the children of christian friends who as yet are choosing to walk through life without putting their faith in Christ, sitting lightly to the question of their salvation. So why talk about him at all? Because this  morning, after a week of holiday with friends here, he left me again…

Does it never get easier, this parting from the one who once was utterly dependent on me? Does the raw place where my heart was ripped from his never really heal over? I have no fear for him, and yet how sore it is when he leaves, returning to the larger life he now enjoys with friends who are so dear – in which I barely play a part – and all of life ahead of him.

The bible regularly uses the imagery of a father – or mother – to describe God’s yearning over his children, and I believe that this longing love is something that human beings experience in smaller degree. In our parenting; our nurturing of new life and raising for independent living, we experience a little of the passion with which God loves us, his beloved children, driving him to seek after and bring us to himself again. The very pain which is part of letting our children go, is a window into the heart of a tender God. How are we to use it?

I can resent the ways that God has chosen to ordain my life, separating me from my children and leading them away from me..or I can rejoice that for a little time, I was privileged to be in their lives, loving and caring for them on his behalf. They were his before they were ever mine, and if I remember that, then I can take comfort even as I watch them go – God’s love for them is so much greater than I can ever imagine, and they can be in no better place than the centre of his will for them.

I can follow the example of Paul, who though not the human father of Timothy, yet wrote tenderly to that young man, calling him a dear son, and addressing many earnest and loving words of advice to him. Paul does not caution Timothy to look out for his own interests, but challenges him to the highest calling – a life devoted to God, in which those qualities of godliness, love, endurance, faith, gentleness and righteousness are always growing stronger.

Who knows what this will look like in real life? A calling to full-time christian service; to overseas mission or ministry in this country? A life lived in an increasingly secular and hostile society, bearing faithful witness to the rebuke and challenge as well as the offer of the gospel? A life of single chastity, or marriage and parenthood? A life blessed with good health, or plagued by illness?

I cannot tell, and I thank God that I do not know. But I can and do pray for my children – and for their friends, the precious young lives which come into contact with mine – that their faith will be in Christ alone; that their will to obey might be fixed; and that they might live to glorify and serve the God who made them for such a time as this.

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What am I saying?

Look at the birds in the sky. they never sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable to him than they are?

Consider how the wild flowers grow. they neither work nor weave, but I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these! Now if God so clothes the flowers of the filed, is he not much more likely to clothe you?

(Matt 6.26,28-30)

Two sparrows sell for a farthing don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then – you are far more valuable than sparrows.

(Matt 10.29&30)

At a recent bible study, we were praying for the young people in our fellowship, remembering how hard they find it to speak about faith in front of anyone else – especially one another – and how vulnerable they are as they take their first steps into adulthood. The silence of our teenagers can be baffling, frustrating, and discouraging – I do not argue about that! But our reaction to them and the way that we choose to speak and act can be a very powerful force for good – or bad – in their lives.

In fact, this is true at every age isn’t it? As members of the family of God, we are all given the power to build one another up in Christ, but too often fail to use it, and waste opportunities or even manage to hurt and bring people down. What am I saying, when I brush past an older sister, who is living alone and needing some conversation, in order to spend time with someone else? What would Jesus have done? I can show the love and respect which is due to her by spending some time, listening to her stories and showing genuine concern. When I do this, I say ,”You matter, to me and even more, to God; He loves and cherishes you as his beloved child, and loves to bless you.”

If I am not willing to make time for people, then I am missing an opportunity to affirm them, to encourage them – and if my own experience is anything to go by, I am also missing out on a blessing for myself, since the act of blessing others brings many rewards of its own!

When we take the time to really see the individual person, look into their eyes and walk with them a little way, then we can be a means by which God loves them – they are significant and precious; their joys and sorrows matter; and God is present with them in every step of their journey. Yes, it may require some sacrifice on our part to love in this way – but is that not what we are called to? We are people who follow a Christ who was crucified, who calls us to love by laying down our lives for one another, whose sufferings we are privileged to share that we might grow in fellowship and union with him. Love hurts; love costs; love gives, sometimes with bleeding hands. If there is no cost, there is no love, only sentiment and that will not last.

We find our ultimate value, our worth, in the love which God showed to us when Christ in his great act of redemption, died for us. The language which we use to describe that great transaction is saturated with images of cost, price, value. As broken human beings, we desperately need to know that we matter to someone, matter enough that they will come through for us and be there for us. THAT is what the cross tells us..

I am a beloved daughter of the King of heaven. I wear the crown of an heir to the riches of Christ. In God’s sight, I am a precious jewel, and one day I will shine along with my brothers and sisters, in the great assembly as Christ and his people come together for eternity. I matter enough to the maker of the universe, that his very own son should pay the price for sin which was mine. Me, with all my faults, doubts, and failings… that very same person is destined for glory and a place in my Father’s house for ever.

And this, all this amazing truth is true also for every member of God’s church – and indeed is his desire for all people he has made, that they might know how much they are loved, and turning to him, find their significance and  be at peace.

We each have the power, by our words and actions in dealing with one another, to release God’s transforming power into our lives, by saying loudly and clearly – “You matter; your destiny is God’s passion; you are uniquely gifted to glorify him through your life, and everything about you is important to your heavenly Father”.

May God open my eyes more clearly day by day, to see other people as he sees them, and to speak his truth into their lives, so that they might grow in faith and rejoice in their state as heirs of the Kingdom of God!

What are we for?

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 3.6,10&11,20&21)

I wonder what answer you might give if someone asked what the church – not just your local congregation but the entire body of believers around the world and down through the ages – is for?

Humanly speaking, there may appear to be many different purposes, some more prominent at times than others – some purposes of which we are now ashamed such as the violent crusades of the Middle Ages, or the misguided propagation of western culture under the guise of mission. At times, the churches have wielded political power, or acted as the moral authority for a nation – enforcing certain patterns of behaviour regardless of belief or understanding. In the western world today, many regard the church as primarily an agent for social action, usually on the side of the oppressed and needy.

These are not necessarily bad things in themselves – to our deep shame and regret, there is more need than ever in our world for compassionate, radical change to transform lives blighted by poverty, war, starvation and oppression. But this is not the special calling of the church, the body of Jesus Christ in the world today. And I believe that without a clear vision of what we ARE for, there is a real danger of allowing ourselves to be squeezed into the socially acceptable pigeonhole of compassionate care, and campaigning for the weak. Those activities will not offend our secular society, they might even make us quite popular!

In the book of Proverbs(29.18), there is a verse which – in the old King James version reads as follows: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Our modern translations give it this way: When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. 

What is the vision, which we need in order to avoid perishing; the divine guidance which we must accept in order to avoid running wild (and by implication, away from God’s care and salvation)? What is the church for?

Paul is stunningly clear, and absolutely emphatic in his letter to the Ephesians, that the church universal, through all time, exists in order to show every power which has ever existed just how amazing God’s love is; just how breath-taking his wisdom, in addressing the deepest need of humankind – to be united in fellowship with him.

Consider for a moment what this means for your congregation.. that particular gathering of people, whom you know to be imperfect, and whom you struggle to love at times (as perhaps they struggle to love you!). THAT congregation, has an amazing purpose in God’s great plan of redemption, to be a place where God reveals his power and wisdom, in transforming lives and bringing light, hope and new life to people who were as good as dead in their inability to save themselves. We..you and I …are part of a body of people who are designed to be a showcase for God to our world!

Our unity, as believers and children of God, is to be a demonstration of God’s loving wisdom, fulfilling his plan to create a people for himself whose diversity celebrates his infinitely rich character, while reflecting the loving harmony between Father, Son and Spirit. In the same way that God is glorified in Jesus – our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord – so also he is to be glorified in the church!

Since we remain in a fallen world, we confess how badly we fall short of this vision. How much bitterness, division, selfishness and coldness exists – within and between congregations and denominations. God forgive us; we rob him of his glory, and blind people to his beauty by our own ugliness.

Oh may our hearts and minds be increasingly filled with the vision of the glory of Christ, so that blind to all else, we love one another for his sake – seeing his image in one another and united in our desire to see others come to know and be transformed by his forgiveness and love. Then and only then, will we truly glorify God as we ought.

Food for the journey..

A feast of joy unspeakable is spread, by him who is himself the living bread, A place for hungry souls is now prepared, a life of endless glory to be shared.

Yet places at this feast were dearly bought when Jesus Christ came down and souls were  sought, and found and saved by his own precious blood, to make our peace with heaven’s holy God.

That gentle hand, once pierced, will pour the wine, the liquid life of love our souls refine, in heaven’s hall of wonders still to come, when God in matchless mercy brings us home.

And there, together saved by lavish grace, the room ablaze with light from Jesus’ face, and every trace of sin and darkness gone, we’ll sing the praise of God’s all-radiant Son.

(Malcolm Macgregor: sung to ‘Ellers’ by EJ Hopkins)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

(1 Corinthians 11.23-26)

It is just a year since we first suspected that we ought to be seriously considering the call to come to this remote part of Scotland, and came to visit the area, the church and manse and meet with a few of the members. Only twelve months, during which time our lives have changed profoundly, and God has demonstrated his faithfulness and tenderness time and again in providing for our needs and giving us strength and peace through the changes.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Lord’s supper in the most northerly of our three church buildings, remembering together what Jesus did for us on the cross, and taking time to give thanks again; to receive strength for the next stage of our journy; and take courage that whatever the world may say of or to us, we have complete assurance of our eternal destination.

It is such a simple act, a bit of bread, a cup of wine (or grape juice!), shared by a miscellaneous bunch of people in a remote corner of Scotland. And yet a profound act. A deliberate act of remembering what was done for us, by  God’s son, the perfect one, who alone could die the death we should have died, in order that we might live. An action which we take with fellow believers, a statement of unity and belonging that transcends every possible barrier of age, gender, race, and which links us with all who have gone before. We are ONE in Christ, and that bond goes deeper than any other. These people, whom I as yet barely know, are my people, and we belong together.

And it is an action that looks forward, as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians – we do this according to Jesus’ own command, to declare his death for us ‘until he comes.’ A day is coming, when we will share in a glorious feast of communion, a celebration of Jesus Christ, with him at the head of the table, and with all our travails behind us for ever. In his promises we have hope, and his grasp on us is the foundation of our faith, not our hold on him which is weakened by circumstances and our own frailties. Glory be to God, who has given us this sign which we share, remembering the past, celebrating the present and straining with hope towards the future.

We sang the words which I quoted above in our service last Sunday, and I was moved to sweet tears – of joy, of hope and longing for that holy feast. He has done it all; His lavish grace has rescued and restored us, and keeps in store a life rich beyond our imagining  So when we come to the table, let us come with joy and be filled again with love for one another and for those who are yet to believe, that we might proclaim the Lord’s death with pride until he comes!

Can I help you?

So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.

So let’s do  it – full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10.19-25, The Message)

So I sometimes – often?! – get discouraged about life, about God’s work and the apparently impenetrable resistance of the people around me to any interest in the good news of the gospel.

I know that I am blessed beyond measure to be one of God’s children, to stand before him as beloved, cleansed, with hope and a future, purpose in life’s journey and glory to come. I know the power of that truth to lighten my dark days, strengthen my nerve in persevering service, and bring joy in every circumstance. I know that this is the best news anyone ever heard, that it is life-transforming and life-giving.

When I join with others in praise of Jesus, celebrating his character, his redeeming work and glorious triumph over sin, I am healed, my perspective on this world and all its trouble is restored. To be given fresh glimpses of the depths of love which are for me, reminded of the price that was paid, and the security of my hope.. all these things are precious beyond telling. And yet still, to my shame, I become discouraged.

It is surely good and right that we – as Jesus’ followers – long to see others responding to his love, so that his name might be made greater, and that their lives might share the blessings which are so abundantly ours! The writer to the Hebrew church reminds them of the truth about who they are in Christ – a blood-bought people, with free access to God’s throne; a people whom he delights in. These truths, combined with the promises of an utterly faithful God, are the basis for our life and witness. We have treasures to share, both with each other and with those who as yet do not believe.

I am relieved that the writer does not scold the readers for a lack of enthusiasm, but rather exhorts them on the basis of wonderful realities to find a new courage and energy for the work their Lord has given them. Some translations use words which imply a degree of reluctance on the part of the readers to be up and doing – one does not have to spur on a horse which is already galloping as fast as it can!! Perhaps the readers of the letter to the Hebrews were suffering from discouragement, even as we do, seeing the scale of the opposition and losing heart. It is fatally easy to see the task ahead in light of our own strength instead of God’s strength, and to assume that we can do nothing about it!

So how can we be ‘inventive’ in provoking one another into action, in stirring one another up to be loving and active for the sake of the gospel?

I believe that one of the most powerful ways we can do this for each other, is to share with one another the stories of God’s activities – in our lives, and those of others. I regularly attend a mission prayer meeting, and while there are plenty of needs to bring before God, we are always encouraged by the number of answers to prayer – often miraculous in our eyes, and always demonstrating that God is indeed powerful and wise. He knows and meets the needs of his people, and he can call men and women to himself in the most astonishing ways.

So my challenge for myself, is to be more conscious of God’s direct action in my life – what can I tell my friends of his goodness to me this week? How can I encourage them – not by boasting of special blessings, but by reminding them through my story that our God is good and great and faithful?

Lord, give us clear sight, to recognise your hand at work, your daily blessings and moment-by-moment grace. Let us take heart and encourage one another on our journey in faithful service of you, our almighty God.

On saying farewells

My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the good news about the wonderful grace of God.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood.

And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

(Acts 20. 24,28,32)

Last weekend, we said farewell to our congregation here in the city, and there was so much to be thankful for and to rejoice in. Our church family are generous, open-hearted, willing to try new things, and over the years we have seen so many grow in their faith as the word preached bears fruit in their hearts. Financially, spiritually, and in the quality of the facilities available in the church building, they are in good heart, and will present an attractive package to any prospective new minister.

But before that new appointment can be made, they have to let us go, to make the break in their minds from a leader and pastor who has been there for 22 years, and to search and wait together for the person whom God has already planned and identified. They are indeed a little like sheep without a shepherd, afraid and uncertain, and there were many tearful hugs. I was reminded of the passage in Acts which records the final exhortation by Paul to his friends in the church in Ephesus, from which these verses come.

His words express our own situation so clearly, and I have found myself saying similar things time and again as our departure draws closer and I have more people to say goodbye to. It is very encouraging to see that my own thoughts have at least in some degree been the same as those of the great apostle himself – God is slowly but surely shaping my thoughts and words to do honour to him!

It is often only when saying goodbye that the depth of our affection for one another becomes evident, and all at once it becomes important that we say something significant and of long-lasting value. Often it is a person’s last words to us which remain in our minds with greatest force, colouring our thoughts and memories. So it is that I have found myself following Paul’s example, trying to make the most of that opportunity to encourage and build up.

As Paul affirms his allegiance to Christ and submission to God’s will, so I have time and again found myself explaining our call to our new church in terms of an order which it is both my duty and my delight to obey. To remain with those who love us would be easy, but disobedient, and would not result in blessing for any of us. To go, to bear the very real costs of upheaval and loss, is the only real option for a true disciple. To trust, that God who has called will provide both for our needs and those of the flock we leave behind, is our calling and God’s grace will be sufficient for us all.

As Paul exhorts his friends and fellow believers to fulfill their own calling, to obey in the place where God has put them for the present, so I have encouraged our church family to pursue God’s will for them in this place, not to drift away because we are no longer here. While they are still part of this church family, they can be good for one another, can love and work together to reach out with the good news of the gospel, even as we will be doing in our new place.

And finally, even as Paul did, I have commended my dear church family, the ones who helped me raise my children, who have loved me through the loss of both my parents, who have accepted and never judged me, to the keeping of the lover of their souls. They have helped me to prove God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, because so often they have been the means by which he has done so. It is surely the most important thing that we can pray for one another; that we might rely utterly on God, in all things, to build us up and keep our faith in  him secure against all trials.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Romans 15.13)

Being the bride?

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord:

She is his new creation by water and the word;

From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;

With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

(SJ Stone, 1939-1900)

This old hymn, which we sang at a recent communion service, uses the image of a bride in describing the relationship between the church and the Lord Jesus Christ. As with so many old hymns, it is packed with ideas from the bible, truths which inform and give life to our faith and deepen and strengthen our relationship with God. I love to sing these songs, they go to my heart and head like a strong wine, filling me with joy and lifting my spirits no matter how much I am struggling. This is surely one of the main reasons why we are exhorted to sing and use our praise to recall all that God has done for us!

But what really touched me as I sang this time was the fact that the bride is one being, a single entity, not a multitude! It is so easy to lose sight of the truth that in God’s eyes, His people are one, across time and around the world. Our denominational tribes are not relevant, our preoccupation with defending purity of doctrine at the expense of fellowship and the sharing of the good news of Jesus is a source of sadness. The old creed, the statement of faith puts it quite simply…

……I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.   Amen!

In this context, the word ‘catholic’ has its proper meaning of “universal/relating to the entire body of Christians”, and what a glorious affirmation it is to make! I do believe that we are one in Christ, no matter how our traditions seem to divide us, or our expressions of praise and worship feel strange to one another.

It is our human weakness, our fearfulness and pride, which drive us into divisions, into putting up walls to make ourselves feel safer, better, holier, than those outside. What shame this brings to the name of Jesus, who prayed the night before he died that his people  might be one, might be known for their love for and unity with one another… But we can choose to sit lightly to those boundaries, to reach wherever possible out to those who worship Christ in spirit and in truth, wherever they come from. The reality is that what unites us is so great and glorious, that our differences should pale into insignificance by comparison.

There is a wry joke made by Christians that when we get to heaven we will be a little surprised to see who else is there – and they will be equally surprised to see us!! The point is being made that we none of us can claim to have all the answers, to be absolutely perfect in our interpretation of the bible and our practice of the faith. The important and overriding truth on which our salvation depends is the death of Jesus on the cross, and our trust in him alone.

We have been wooed, as a bride must be, drawn to love and commit ourselves to our beloved – the prophet Hosea speaks beautifully of how God does this:-

I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

(Hosea 2.19&20)

It is the love of God, revealed in Jesus which entrances and captures our hearts, and it is his death and resurrection which are the source of our strength, joy and hope. It is as we grow in faith in him, serving the world in his name, loving one another as he commanded, that we become beautiful in his eyes, transformed and made ready for our future. It will be at the dawn of the new creation, when all believers finally stand together before the throne, united in praise, love and adoration of the saviour, that we will truly be dressed in our wedding clothes and fit to meet the Lord. Then all our struggles will be past, all barriers to fellowship will be removed, and in glory we will rest. Let this wonderful vision of our future bring us joy and strength now, and inspire us to reach out in love to all who call on the name of Jesus as their saviour.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Revelation 21. 2-4)