Category Archives: freedom

A renewing draught..

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something in it. 

For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him.

Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us.

(1John 3.18-24: The Message)

One of the wonderful things about the human race is the variety of characters, as well as looks. God never runs out of ideas and new ways to combine the elements to create another unique individual, born to reflect him in their own way in the world. Unfortunately, since we live between the coming of sin into the world, and the return of Jesus, and the remaking of all things, we live also with the brokenness of the human race, with character traits which can be debilitating and even destructive.

God’s message of salvation, and the power he sets loose in our lives is transformative, and down the centuries, his people have testified to the ways their faults and besetting sins have been dealt with. But few are perfect before they die!

Some suffer – and I believe it is the right word – from tremendous self-confidence, a dangerous quality, and one which makes it hard to fully depend upon God and truly live in fellowship with other believers – accepting their love and assistance with humility and grace. Others – of whom I am one – suffer from a terribly tender conscience! We are the ones who take even the slightest rebuke in any sermon as a personal message, and spend the remainder of the service deaf and blind in our misery and regret over the sin we think we have identified.

We know perfectly well that no one sees the reality of our hearts, so that the counsel and encouragement of fellow believers is powerless to dispel the gloom – ‘If you only knew!’ is our cry, and we hang our heads before God, despairing of ever living lives fit to bear witness to him. We see the greatness of the sins, both things done wrong and good things not done, and forget so easily the utterly sufficient death of Christ to cover them. We blame ourselves for failing God, who has surely deserved better of us, and despise our weakness and continued inability to live in the peace, joy and hope which we know our sure salvation has brought us.

So John writes to such people in his letter, giving them a sure way to deal with the problem – to practice real love; to seek the ultimate good of others in all our dealings with them, and to put all our resources to that end. If we love like this says John, then we are obeying God, and there is nothing to fear, nothing to hold us back from enjoying all the gifts God has to give us. It is surely significant for such introspective souls that to truly love others, requires us to stop dwelling on our own misery and start thinking about other people instead!

As this lovely Message translation puts it; “For God is greater than our worried hearts, and knows more about us than we do ourselves.”

We cannot ever see ourselves properly, our vision will always be clouded and vulnerable to distortion. So we are called to focus our minds on Christ and his beautiful sufficient atonement; to focus our attention next on those whom God has given us to love; and to trust that as we do these things, God sees the direction we desire to go – the lovely old phrase the ‘inclination of our hearts’. He is glad that we desire to be holy, and by his spirit at work in our lives, he is changing us: we need not worry but rather accept his love and grace-gifts like refreshing water, giving us courage for the next day of living in love for one another.

All glory to him who has saved and is transforming us; what patience, love and tenderness he shows us; may we do likewise for each other!

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Buried in the cause…

How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints..

I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people..

(Psalm 116. 12-15,17&18) 

I recently heard this phrase used by a preacher who was referring to the Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, a man who surrendered himself to the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations, and followed his parents to the mission field in China – where he would die in a Japanese interment camp at a relatively young age.

Liddell, and many others over the centuries, have been literally “buried” for the sake of the gospel, as they died in the lands to which they went – African deserts and Ecuadorean jungles – sometimes of disease, and other times deliberately martyred by those who opposed them. Some, like Jim Elliott and his colleagues, had their stories broadcast to the world, and God used their dying as a witness to the living, of how powerfully the gospel inspires and what an amazing gift it is we have to share. But so many others have died invisibly, silently, and only God knows their story. Does that make their lives and deaths of any less value?

The psalmist would certainly not say so! His words in Psalm 116 are such a tender declaration of God’s care and delight in every individual child, they always touch me deeply. But I think they also reassure me that my life is precious in God’s sight! So  many of the figures in the bible narrative are people who lived ‘small ‘lives, in a limited geographical area, without political or military power, and who were barely noticed while they lived, let alone died. And yet, time and again, our attention is drawn to them as the story of their lives is woven into God’s great plan for redemption. Consider Rahab, the woman of Jericho, whose courage protected the spies and who would be absorbed into the people of Israel after the destruction of her city. Or the young girl – whose name we do not even know – who sent her master Naaman to seek out the prophet Elisha, and receive healing. There is Mordecai, in exile and under continual threat from powerful opponents, who yet was used by God to protect and deliver all the Jews in captivity.

As our family prepare to leave the city for a new ministry, these examples of ‘small ‘ lives, faithfully lived in obedience to God are an encouragement to me.

It does not matter whether the world considers that we are burying ourselves in a small place and a small work. What is small about sharing the transforming power of Christ with the people for whom he died?! It is no matter to us whether we are called to 5,000 or 2,000; our worth does not depend on the number of people in our parish, but on the love which God has for us, his beloved children. We are called to obey: to pray for lives to be touched by the gospel: to make disciples, through teaching and walking alongside them: to walk closely in fellowship with God ourselves, so that our own lives might be a story by which the gospel is told. All of these are valid whether anyone is watching or not; and our worth does not even depend upon the fruit of our labours, but simply on God’s love for us.

Yes, it will be hard if we are called to work without seeing what God is doing, to sow the seed and trust that someone else will tend the crop and reap the harvest in God’s good time. But it is our calling simply to fulfill our vows, to obey, and to find our contentment in knowing that – however faltering the effort – our heart’s desire has been to say ‘ Yes Lord, I will.’ Our inspiration is the cross and our reward is his constant, loving presence.

Upon that cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see

The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;

And from my smitten heart, with tears, two wonders I confess – 

The wonder of his glorious love, and my own worthlessness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;

I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of thy face:

Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss – 

My sinful self my only shame, my glory all, the cross.

(from “Beneath the cross of Jesus”, E.C Clephane 1830-69)

Just kidding myself….

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.

They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.

You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.

Oh that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!

Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.

As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!

I will obey your decrees….Please don’t give up on me!

(Ps 119.1-8, NLT) 

As I read these words this morning, I had to laugh. Such a perfect articulation of my thoughts this week and written, well, how long ago?! It is marvellous to receive God’s word so directly, to hear one’s own thoughts turned into prayers by a poet/musician who wrote in a completely different culture, and yet voiced the experience of God’s people down across the centuries.

We know that it is not our ability to keep God’s decrees which dictates our acceptance by him. It is all his grace, and what a relief that is! But obedience is our response to that grace, as the psalmist says – “I will thank you by living as I should!”As I go on following Jesus, my life should increasingly reflect his character, so that my thoughts, words and deeds are all in accord, so that I am a person of integrity.

The apostle Paul told his readers in the Roman church that this transformation comes about through our minds – it is by no means accidental or unwilled.:- “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.“(Romans 12.2)

I have a responsibility as a professing Christian, to be actively growing in my knowledge of God, through his word, through prayerful living and sharing with my fellow believers. If I choose to sit back and drift, then I will not find myself growing in holiness, or humility, or self-control. The human default setting is still towards selfishness, laziness, and dependence on self rather than reliance on God. I find in myself a lack of discipline, a mental laziness when it comes to studying the bible, a casual attitude to intercession, and so many ready excuses for not being what I could be…

I have to tread carefully here, since the devil would love to cast me into a pit of despair over my failures, and bind me with a sense of futility about my efforts to change. That is not God’s will for me, and I reject such an attitude. I rejoice in the forgiveness which I have in Christ, in the fresh start which is given to me daily, and the many personal tokens of God’s love which I receive . But the grief of my failure to live up to the  love which is so lavishly bestowed upon me is real, and I will acknowledge it. Indeed, I think I can even be glad that I feel it, because it is a sign that my spirit is still desiring God, longing to know him better, to live more closely with him. If I did not care about my heavenly Father’s heart, I wouldn’t mind falling short of his perfect ways.

So here is the challenge.. to allow my sense of my shortcomings to be strong enough to drive me to seek God’s help in changing habits and thoughts, re-arranging my days if necessary to do so, while not falling into a trap of despair when the inevitable failures happen!

God is not fooled by my efforts to justify myself, and he is not deceived as others may be by my public behaviour. I am known, through and through, by the only one whose opinion really matters. I have a long way to go, but praise God, the work is still in progress, and the divine craftsman is not for giving up!

May God, the source of hope, fill us completely with joy and peace because we trust in him. Then we shall overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.(from Romans 15.13) Amen Lord, so let it be!

Fullness of living…. in Christ!

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

(Romans 8. 1&2, the Message)

Sometimes a fresh translation of a familiar phrase in the bible reveals an alternative aspect of truth, a new way of thinking about things, and that is why ‘The Message’ as a modern telling of the bible has been so hugely popular. This particular re-phrasing of a part of Paul’s great letter to the church in Rome is a great example – stepping away from a literal translation of the original text into a free and imaginative expression of the truth.

The picture is a glorious one, of stepping out of the darkness of a heavy cloud, into a brilliant sky of light and air, with space to stand tall and breathe freely. I live in a part of the world where we can for live for days under grey skies – not always very dark, but unbroken and featureless, so that one can feel oppressed by the sense of a thick barrier blocking out sunshine, and refreshing winds. Then finally there comes a change, a break appears, and suddenly the heaviness and dullness lifts, our streets and parks are flooded with light and it is as if we see in colour again instead of shades of grey!

As a picture of the change which comes upon a person who believes in Jesus for their salvation, and depends on him completely, it is very powerful and captures the sense of life being transformed by his presence in us. It is not a change which I can recognise in my own experience, having grown to faith from early childhood as naturally as I grew into the physical and mental maturity of adulthood. I was deeply blessed to be raised in a christian home, and to have no memory of a time when I was apart from God, but only an ever deepening understanding of what it meant to be his beloved and redeemed child. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the picture of the life of faith being like walking in the sunshine – all the time! My life is lived in full colour, there is nothing between me and the glory of heaven except what remains of my life in this broken world, and I trust my God to keep me safe through that. He sees and knows me, loves and accepts me, and each day lavishes gifts on me from his endless stores – the love and kindness of family, friends and strangers, the beauty of the natural world around me, the priceless knowledge of his love for me and his promises to me, and the presence of Christ in my heart as my soulmate.

I have enough experience of life to know that it will not always feel ‘sunny’, and many of our fellow believers are suffering greatly under persecution, famine, exile, war, disease and discrimination, so that it might look as though they walk in darkness. But their humbling testimony to us who know so little of their sufferings, is that in the light of God’s love for and presence with them, even these appalling trials are not dark. I believe that it is as we immerse ourselves more and more fully in Christ, in His love and saving power, that the light shines more and more brightly on us – no matter what is happening in the world around and even in our own bodies.

The words of this old hymn are not very elegant, but all my life they have expressed deep truth about the fullness of life which we enjoy in Christ, and I hope they will encourage you too in persevering through trials and appreciating the daily grace you receive.

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know,

Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so….

Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen…

His forever, only His; who the Lord and me shall part?

Ah with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!

Heaven and earth may fade and flee, first-born light in gloom decline,

But while God and I shall be, I am His and He is mine.

(George Wade Robinson 1838-77)

In Christ…..

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace….For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

(Galatians 5 4&6, the Message)

Sometimes as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves grappling with phrases which are very familiar and yet almost impossible to translate for those who do not yet believe. This concept of being “in Christ” can be one such challenge, and yet to fully grasp it is so gloriously liberating!

I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only and the utterly adequate way by which humanity can be restored to a relationship with a holy, just and mighty God. I can add nothing to that work, I am incapable of making it more effective by any efforts I might expend. I cannot unleash the potency of that work in my life by labouring to reach some perceived standard of ‘good behaviour’ and thus achieve merit in God’s sight. I cannot cajole or persuade God to be kind to me on any terms other than those which He has revealed, and those are very clear…

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made know…this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace…

(Romans 3. 22,23,24)

There is the key… justified (meaning declared innocent, free of any condemnation) freely (at no cost whatever to ourselves) by God’s grace. And what brings about this astonishing transformation in our circumstances before God? What great labours are required? None, on our part, since all has been done by Christ, and therefore it is as we identify Jesus as the source of our salvation and trust in the completeness of his work that faith is born in us, and we receive the righteousness (meaning a new and right relationship with God) which is promised.

A great Christian writer once said “Faith is the gaze of the soul on a saving God” (AW Tozer), and as I gaze upon the Christ who died for me, confessing my need of him as saviour, so God looks upon me as it were through the prism of Christ’s saving work. I am seen by a holy God as a beloved and welcome child, because God looks on me and sees the holiness of Christ, the beauty and perfection without which I could not endure God’s presence. It is as though when I finally admit my helplessness before God and claim Jesus as my Lord, then “I” die – the proud, rebellious, wilful me perishes. When by faith I rejoice in the forgiveness and fresh start I receive from God, then a new “I” is born, one who is no longer bound by the old rules, and who now lives in direct loving relationship with the Giver of Life! The apostle Paul puts it like this to the church in Colossae..

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God….. you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.( Col 3. 2,9&10)

So when I think about being “in Christ”, I consider how my assurance of eternal life depends on him; how my daily walk with God depends on him; how my need for forgiveness and cleansing is met in him; how all my feeble efforts to truly love others are only possible because of his love for me. And yet I know that I have not begun to express the full riches of what it means to be “in Christ”. I think I am not alone in this, and it will be good to revisit the subject again! But today I will close with one of Paul’s wonderful outbursts of praise:-

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!

(Ephesians 1.3)