Category Archives: freedom

Seeing straight, seeing true?

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God…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.. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare….Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.

(Ps 25. 1,4,15&18)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

(Ps 27.4)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be give to you as well. 

(Matt 6.31-33)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it…’

(Matt 16.24&25)

Dearest Lord, forgive my poor vision, and restore my sight. It seems that every day is passing in a fog; I see only my own poor self, with all the weaknesses and scars of past failures and hurts. I cannot get past the blinkers of selfishness, and am blinded by self-pity and despair. I know that out there, somewhere, there is great light and freedom, a picture of glory and beauty which can transform my life and make it shine for you…and yet I cannot seem to see it. Oh Lord, mighty God, have mercy on your child and help me to fix my eyes upon you, each and every day; seeing ever more clearly your power and will to save, and the beauty of your love and forgiveness. Only that vision has power to burn away all shameful self-preoccupation, and only you can give it!

Heavenly Father, forgive my narrow vision and restore my sight. I live in a community of people whom you love, and for whom your son, my saviour, died. I live among people who have known great trouble and sorrow; people who have rejected what they think is the truth about you because of the pain they see in the world; and also people who never give you a thought, living only for the moment and the things of this world. I know that I fail to see these people as your precious and beloved children, as those trapped in a darkness of which they are almost unaware, and in desperate need of a saving hope. O Lord, loving and gracious, merciful and forgiving, I pray that I might see as you see, so that I might love as you love and serve in your name. Shift my gaze from my own burdens to see those of others;  displace my love for myself with your holy and pure love for others.

I praise you, my God and King, that you have paid the price for my sins and broken the power of sin and guilt and death over my life. I thank you that you have put your life into my heart; that by your spirit, I am a new creation and not bound by my past. Let me see ever more clearly what that means, and live as if I believed it! Let the truths of forgiveness bring healing and transformation, so that the shadows cast by the past are driven away, and I see more clearly that I am accepted, loved, filled with a new purpose and power for living – the best purpose there is, to worship and serve the one true God.

Set me free from myself, Lord, break the chains and bring me into the light of your love,. In that light, I see others clearly; in that light, I am utterly focused on you and forget myself; in that light, may I live, as one consumed by a single passion –  the glory of Jesus Christ, my Saviour!

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Keeping a clear spring flowing…

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

(Luke 6.43-45)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice….But among you there must  not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

(Ephesians 4.29,31; 5.3&4)

Finally, friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things..

(Philippians 4.8)

How is your mind furnished? What things of beauty are placed there to encourage and inspire you? What lurks in the corners, unwanted but somehow stuck there, and likely to roll right out into the centre of your thoughts just when it is least appropriate?

I have images, words in my head which I wish I could wipe right out, things that I read or watched in moments of weakness and now deeply regret. Because I agree completely with the diagnosis that Jesus gives, that what we say and do comes from what we think and imagine and cherish in our minds, in our inmost being. We are responsible, as believers, for the things that we allow to find room in our hearts, because they will imperceptibly come to influence how we think and act. We can become de-sensitized to violence, blasphemy, obscenity and cruelty if we expose ourselves to them too much. My preference is to avoid them at all costs, except where it is impossible – in the living of daily life in this fallen world. Where is the ‘entertainment value’ in revisiting such things, when they reflect and dwell on the pain and darkness which God weeps over? Is it not enough to experience the realities, to see lives being destroyed around us by the evil which stains every life, and warps every impulse towards good?

There is so much in the world that is worth celebrating, worth dwelling upon, so many things that reflect the goodness of God and the image of his character which yet lives in his creatures. I passionately believe that we are missing out on God’s highest purpose and desire for us when we choose to focus on the darkness instead of the light, allowing our view of the world to become skewed and in danger of losing hope. What are we modelling for young believers, for our children, if we allow the bad news, the dark stories, and the secular narratives of humanists and aetheists to dictate our thinking? We have a radical, transforming story to share, and a God who has filled the world with witnesses to his power and glory, whose church is growing and whose power is undiminished.

What do our books, films, music and social media preferences say about how we see the world, about the view of God in the world that we have, about how we are furnishing our minds? We surely know enough already about the dark side of human nature from our own thoughts without needing adult movies, explicit literature – of sex or violence – and amoral song lyrics providing the soundtrack and moving pictures in our minds!

Or is it just me…am I naive and impractical?

As I grow older, I find I am more and not less sensitive, and this doesn’t trouble me in the least. It means that when I read of real suffering, or meet it in those around me, I hurt, I feel pain which prompts prayer, action, compassion and anger against the author of all this destruction – the devil, who, we thank God, has been defeated, but whose power in the world is not yet finally destroyed.

May God continue to help me to guard against all those things that might pollute and poison the new life, and pure spirit which he has caused to well up within me. There is enough remaining that needs cleansed without me adding more!

 

 

And is it really possible?

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

(Romans 4)

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is. He’s the father of our master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.

(Ephesians 1)

Both taken from the Message, the New Testament in contemporary language.

Five hundred years ago, a theological fire raged across Europe, one which left relations between church and state in tatters, and transformed culture and social life for ever in many nations of the north. The varied rumblings and outbreaks of discontent with the established Roman church found a focus in the life and work of Martin Luther, and in 1517, he publicly appealed for a debate on the many areas where he believed reform was needed.

The failure of the church authorities to engage in this debate saw Luther push to clarify the proper relations of scripture and state, priest and people, and having once begun to rely on the scriptures for his guidance, he found more and more reasons to protest against the status quo. This ‘protestant’ movement against the claim of supreme authority by the pope over the understanding and interpretation of the bible was to set intellectual life free in Europe, empowering and encouraging enquiry and personal enlightenment.

What Luther found in the pages of the bible transformed his life, from that of a pious but desperate monk, unable to find any assurance of salvation despite a life of rigorous labour and upright conduct, to a confident, humble and passionate believer in the salvation freely and solely offered through the death of Jesus Christ. When Luther finally saw that all of the demands of God’s holiness or righteousness upon his life  had been met in Jesus’ sacrifice, and that it was God’s love gift to him received simply by faith, he wrote that it was as though the doors of paradise swung open to welcome him. The prospect before him was too beautiful to be true, and yet it was!

It was this which drove Luther in his work to translate the bible from Latin – unintelligible to his fellow-Germans – into their own language; to write books and pamphlets explaining the true means of salvation and sweeping away the confusion caused by false teaching; to teach and nurture other teachers in turn who could preach and bring this light to their congregations. In his defence before the emperor, accused of heresy and in danger of his life, he would say that he was “captive” to the word, and incapable of speaking of anything else, or of covering up what he found there.

In recalling with thankfulness the ways in which God used Luther and his fellow reformers – with all their flaws, and failings – am I guilty of forgetting what a wonderful thing it is that they restored to us in simple beautiful clarity?

We rest on the authority of Scripture, as God’s revelation of himself to us, and specifically the revelation of Jesus Christ as God incarnate. We trust solely in the atoning death of Christ to deal with the wrath of a holy God, accepting that of ourselves we are powerless to change our fate. We rejoice to receive solely by faith the power of that sacrifice, by which the holy God declares us to be clean, put right with him, and destined to share eternity with him. All has been done as a result of God’s grace, nothing is required of us but faith, and all the glory goes to God.

The door is open wide, the voice of love calls to me saying “Come child, hurry and be at home with me”, will I hesitate? Will I reject the price that was paid?

God grant that a fire may burn in our hearts too, as in Luther’s heart when he found the truth, so that we long to share the message and see others set free by our God, who has done all for love of us..

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!

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)