Category Archives: Glory

Stop, look…listen!

Honour the Lord, you heavenly beings; honour the Lord for his glory and strength. Honour the Lord for the glory of his name. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders. The Lord thunders over the mighty sea. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars; the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf; he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with bolts of lightning. The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare. In his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters. The Lord reigns as king forever. The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.

(Psalm 29)

I don’t know if you have ever noticed how hard it can be to simply praise God, without slipping in a little request along the way? I used to attend a church where the Saturday night prayer meeting began with a time of praise. We sang a psalm and thought about it a little, then spent ten minutes or more simply praising God – absolutely no requests were made, the focus was entirely upon our God in all his aspects, and our response of worship. It was through this experience that I learned how important it is to stop my busy thoughts, to lift my eyes to the truth revealed about God, and give him his proper place.

When we spend time deliberately thinking about all we can see of God’s handiwork, and all it reveals about his power, beauty, imagination, playfulness, love and skill, we come into an attitude of profound thankfulness and also humility. The sheer scale and complexity of the created world is so far beyond our comprehension that we rightly marvel at the one who made it. When we realise how delicately everything has been balanced so that humanity can thrive, we are overwhelmed by the loving kindness which lies behind every detail.

As we focus our thoughts on God, not for what he may give us, but simply for who he is and all the wonderful and terrifying things we know of him, our perspective shifts and he takes his rightful place – on the throne of our hearts, undisputed ruler and subject of our highest loyalties and ambitions. Such adoring contemplation helps me to keep other things – principally myself – from taking that highest place in my life; and it is when God rules in human hearts that they are most fully human, we were not made to worship ourselves, but him!

This psalm demonstrates that beautifully, as the word “I” never appears, and God is referred to in every sentence. Try reading it aloud to yourself, feeling the growing thrill of wonder and worship as the psalmist heaps image upon image in order to express the power and authority of the Lord as revealed in his creation, until that wonderful response where all in the temple simply have to cry “Glory!”

And those final words are like a benediction. After so much contemplation of who God is, we turn to what he does..He rules and reigns. This God, whom we have seen is so powerful and holy and good; he it is who rules, and therefore we do right to bring all that we are and all that concerns us to him. It is his task to see that justice is done, and while we may have questions about how he chooses to do that, we can surely trust him. Our God is great enough to hold our unanswered questions and to give us peace in return, since we see his goodness and know that he must be true to himself.

How good it is to praise God, and how unutterably wonderful to have one who is entirely worthy of praise! Let us lose ourselves more often in worship of the Lord who rules and reigns forever, so that we might live by his strength and in his peace.

But I will boast!

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of  that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle, they are the new people of God.

(Gal 6.14-17)

This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in the power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

(Jer 9 23-24)

The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…. there is a subject upon which one could lavish a lifetime of study and reflection and still never reach the end! It is the pivotal point upon which all of history revolves, and by which the eternal destiny of humanity is determined. And for every individual follower, it is the foundation of their new life, the power which re-creates them as children of God with the promise of eternal life and the guarantee of his constant presence.

In the cross, God demonstrated that he was indeed a God who brings justice to the earth, because it was there that the price demanded by holiness for sin was paid – the wages of sin is death. And there too, was demonstrated the unfailing love of God, because it was God himself who paid the price, so that we might be spared! Our God, he it is that delights in justice, in unfailing love, and righteousness – that all should be done well. How great should our delight in this God be! We can most legitimately boast in our God, the only one who can fully deal with the brokenness of our hearts and our world, while at the same time restoring us to the perfect relationship with him for which we were designed.

What human wealth could ever buy a clean conscience or a quiet mind? What power on earth can bring a holy God back into fellowship with rebellious, proud and stubborn creatures? What wisdom could discern the only way to restore the broken image of God in his creatures? When we begin to understand what was achieved on the cross, then we begin to understand our great God, to glimpse the unfathomable love, the amazing grace, which are his essential character. There can be no end to the ways in which we can truthfully glory in, boast about our wonderful God.

This afternoon, I watched my small nation’s rugby team winning – against the odds – the opening game of the 2017 Six Nations tournament. It was thrilling, nerve-wracking, exhilirating – all the things a great sporting occasion can be; and I am proud tonight to be a Scot, to identify with the team in their commitment, passion, skill and doggedness. But as we all know – especially Scots! – sporting greatness is a fleeting thing, and not to be relied on for national pride or peace of mind. As individuals, we dare not invest our security or identity in such things, because they CANNOT be relied upon, they will fail us and leave us adrift and vulnerable. That is the point which Jeremiah is making when he dismisses the claims of wealth, power and wisdom to our loyalty and reliance.

There is nothing upon which it is safe to build our identity, our lives, except the Lord of unfailing love, who delights to bring justice and righteousness to the world. And it is supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord that we see this God revealed to us, when everything  needful was done to restore us. We add nothing, no matter how wise, powerful or rich we are, to the cross. If we cannot accept it without paying or contributing in some way, we have failed to understand what God is doing, and what a state we are in before his holiness. Let us rejoice in this complete work, in the cross, and be at peace!

I will not boast in anything, no gifts no power no wisdom;

But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection!

Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer;

But this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.

(Stuart Townend) 

 

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.

Inaccessible light

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

O Lord my God, how great you are!

You are robed with honour and majesty. You are dressed in a robe of light.

You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens; you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.

You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind. The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!

May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104 1-4,33&34)

Dressed in a robe of light…What an amazing picture, and one which takes me straight to the opening lines of Walter C Smith’s wonderful hymn with which I grew up –

Immortal, Invisible, God only wise; In light inaccesible, hid from our eyes…. 

We live as created beings with a great hunger in our hearts for something or someone greater than ourselves, something eternal from which we can find meaning in the world and on which we can build with what we have. The bible reflects this hunger in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer speaks of how he pursued every imaginable source of satisfaction in life, in vain. All was ultimately meaningless and unable to quench the hunger in his heart.

Through the great narrative of the bible stories, we see God revealing himself as the only true satisfaction for humankind, and declaring over and over his deep desire to dwell with us, his people. Our creator knows how we are made, knows that only in relationship with him can we be at peace and fully alive. And yet surely it is also true that we can never really know him. By definition, our God is so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. If we could understand everything about God, then we would be the creators, not he. We hunger to know him more, to discover more of his character, and yet find ourselves unable to stretch our minds enough to cope!

So we have to live with this tension and not allow it to undermine our faith in God’s love, goodness, holiness and faithfulness to us.

We cannot see him clearly; he is indeed wrapped in light, as in a garment. We are dazzled and blinded and unable to see past the glory of his holiness and purity, our minds cannot comprehend his greatness – one who by his word called into being billions of stars, and set in motion forces which we are only beginning to guess at, creating the conditions for life to exist and flourish on this single tiny planet of one star.

How wonderful to find that God, in his compassion for our limitations, came in person, came as one of us, so that we might see and hear him, learn to know him as a man, so that our confidence in him as God might be strengthened. Jesus tells his disciples that since they have seen him, they have seen their heavenly Father, they can know what he is like. So much remains a mystery to us, so many questions arising from our sin-sick world and all the suffering which has scarred God’s beautiful handiwork. What do we do with those unanswerable questions? What did Job do with his? He brought them to God, and was answered – not with a detailed list of explanations, but with a fresh vision of God’s greatness, a reminder that he is ultimately beyond our understanding and utterly good and holy.

Then Job replied to the Lord:”I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked,’who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know..” (Job 42.1-3)

The psalmist contemplates the greatness of God in creation, rejoicing in all he sees and in the knowledge that this same creator God is the one who is his God – the one who has promised to be with us and for us! We have the testimony of creation, but also the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, revealing God to us and inviting us into that personal, fulfilling relationship which is our true satisfaction.

May our thoughts about God indeed be pleasing to him, as we worship what we can see and know; and accept that the mysteries which remain are good and right, and our God can be trusted. He is hidden in light, not darkness, and worthy of all our praise and honour!

 

There’s no hurry..

WordPress has deleted the text for today’s blog, my apologies to all who came looking for it. I cannot locate the lost text, and this is just a paraphrase of it! This text from Isaiah was my starting point.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.

He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Isaiah 61.1-3)

Think about it, all of us who are so often aware only of our failure to obey and live lives which glorify God as we desire to do…

Here we are described as ‘like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory!’

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often feel much like a great oak, much more like a weedy sapling, with inadequate roots and little strength to hold up against the storms of life. My leaves are few, and there is little sign of fruit.

But it is in the righteousness we have that we are to be like these great trees – and what is the source of our righteousness? Jesus! It is because we have been healed, forgiven, given a purpose and identity in life by him, that we have any righteousness at all.

We are crowned with the beauty of adoption as God’s children, and clothed with the royal robes of Jesus’ perfection, and because of his obedience and sacrifice for us, we have received all we could possibly need.

It is his life in me which grows strong and tall, producing fruit and withstanding the storms. It is his perfection which is the beauty of the mature believer, and the only reason that our lives glorify God.

And it is for this purpose that we have been ‘planted’ by the Lord – wherever we are – so that Christ in us might shine out in all his loveliness and God be given all the glory for what we have become.

Perhaps I might be allowed to read something else into the picture which is not explicitly there – namely that oak trees take a very long time to mature! Our good and loving God knows that our growth to the beauty of full maturity cannot be rushed, and is patient with us – at times a very unpromising bunch of saplings..

One day, someday dear sisters and brothers, we shall indeed be like great oaks, breathtaking in the grandeur and majesty of their form, strong against every blast, and bearing abundant fruit. And like them, we shall glorify our God in everything we are and do. Until that day, we continue to hold fast to Christ as our righteousness, our hope, our very life, so that He might shape nurture us. To him be the glory, and praise, from even the spindliest of his plantings!

Good news from beyond…

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15. 56&57)

Were the hosts of heaven holding their breath? The son of God has put himself forward as the chosen champion; the one who will dare all against an implacable foe for the sake of an otherwise hopeless cause – a humanity under God’s judgement.

As the sky darkened that Sabbath eve, it was as if a curtain was being drawn between the watching eyes and the two protagonists. The final glimpse of Christ our elect warrior, is as he breathes his last, and enters the theatre of death for us. Then the stage appears to fall silent and empty, and we know no more.

All seemed lost as the sun set that night. All the long hours of Saturday, the bewildered disciples hid, nursing their grief and loss, profoundly confused and stunned by what they had experienced. How they must have been tormented by the memory of their failure to stand by him at his trial, by the soul-searing knowledge of their own weakness and all the appalling “If only..” thoughts which haunt those prematurely bereaved. Did they recall anything of what Jesus had taught them on the road to Jerusalem a few weeks earlier? Did his words return with the weight of fulfilled prophecy behind them? He had told them that he would be handed over to suffer and die.

Did they remember the other thing he had told them would happen…. that after three days, he would rise again? What did they make of those words during the long hours after his body had been taken to the tomb, as time crawled by and all the savour and vigour drained from life ?

And then, in the early light of Sunday, the women came tearing from the tomb, gasping out that the body was gone, and an angel had told them the Christ was risen! Did they dismiss it as feminine hysteria, grief-deluded wishful thinking? Or did Jesus’ friends finally begin to realise that – along with everything else he had told them – this was also true?

Surely, heaven must have exploded with the song of triumph as the son of God surged forth, presenting himself before the Father to receive the victor’s crown. This was what had been planned for, agonised for, laboured for – the great divine conspiracy to deliver captive humanity from the slavery of sin and death. And now, it had been fully achieved, as Paul tells us :- “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again, death no longer has mastery over him.” (Romans 6.9)

In his great love for us, God did not leave us in any doubt about the nature of that victory, so that the word which came to the women, to the disciples, and above all the absence of the dead body of the Lord all proclaimed the victory won. The warrior had conquered, succeeding in his battle beyond all that they had dreamt – not a small political triumph over an occupying power, but an eternal, universal defeat of the power of evil to cut humanity off from God.

We shall never know what our champion faced for us, what agonies he claimed the privilege of bearing for our sake. We can only wonder at his courage and worship him for the love which drove him. He fought the fight for us. He gives us the prize, his victory is ours. And as we see his transformed, resurrected body, we get a glimpse of the incredible future in store for all of us who believe.

This too is for us, this new life beyond the grave. How bright is the light that shines on us on Easter Sunday morning; what glad tidings we hear, of the death of the power of sin in our lives. The past has no power over us now. The victory of our champion sets us free to live in bright hope, with steady courage and a confident step. God grant that we may indeed live in that victory!

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me;

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand:

Till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

(Stuart Townend & Keth Getty, 2001)

The foundation of obedience..

Take off take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy..

(Joshua 5.15)

So Joshua has successfully led the wandering people of God’s promise into the land where they are to settle. He has seen the floods of the Jordan back up to create a dry pathway for their feet, and heard the thunder of returning waters after the last foot left the river bank. He knows from his spies that the people who live in the land – even in the great fortified cities like Jericho – are terrified at the coming of this bunch of nomads, because of the reputation of the God who goes with them.

He could be forgiven for becoming a little presumptuous about the next steps, for assuming that he just had to walk up and challenge the gates of Jericho, to see everyone flee in terror. But it seems he was not – one of the things I love about the stories of Joshua, are the way they reveal an utterly humble and faithful servant heart, I look forward to meeting this hero of God’s story in heaven and hearing all about it!

Joshua went wandering, prowling around the hills near the city, perhaps debating in his mind how God would want him to proceed. He is answered, in a heart-stopping encounter with an armed stranger, who is revealed to be neither an enemy, nor a member of his own army! This is the true commander, come to remind Joshua that God is God, and owes alliegance to no man. It is the work of God which will open the land to his people, not the strength of Joshua’s strategies or soldiers. The question is, where does Joshua’s alliegance lie? Has he become proud – as Saul would later in Israel’s history – and unwilling to wait on God’s leading?

There is no question in Joshua’s mind, as he drops to the ground in reverence, and identifies the stranger as ‘my Lord’, asking what the instructions might be. We should be cheering this faithful servant, rejoicing that God has answered him so directly and convincingly! But we can also learn from him, and the way that God dealt with Joshua – as he dealt also with Moses all those years before in the desert encounter with a burning bush.

Our God is a holy God – that means that anything impure is utterly abhorrent to him and it cannot abide in his sight, but will be consumed as if by fire. Joshua, this mere man, a creature of flesh and weakness even as we are, knew that to be on holy ground was a terrifying thing, fraught with danger. He surely knew as the writer to the Hebrews would later put it that ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.‘(Heb 10.31)

We shrink from the idea of a God who should be feared, preferring to dwell on the wonderful love which is revealed through Christ’s life and death for us. And it is good so to dwell. But the same holy and righteous God is active in the life of Christ. We see him condemning those who reject his kingdom, assuring all who listen that those who continue to shut their ears to God will suffer and know his wrath. This is not easy reading, it should frighten us! Our God is above all one who must be taken seriously – both in his love for us, and also his power and holiness.  Do we? Do I sometimes sit far too casually with my familiar sins, instead of seeing them as my living God does – as the appalling and deadly thing they are? Does my obedience and desire for growing holiness of life really spring from a growing awe at the God who has called me to be His own?

I believe that Joshua served God gladly, with joy and even pride in what God had called him to do. But there was a right spirit about his service that I desire for myself – a spirit of prostrate worship before an utterly holy God; to whom nothing but perfect obedience should be given, because nothing less could be an acceptable expression of his love and devotion.

May God grant us each an ever deepening grasp of his beautiful, terrible holiness, blindingly bright, and irresistibly lovely, so that we might worship and serve Him worthily, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.