Category Archives: Grace

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you….We each have different gifts according to the grace given us. 

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..

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To do lists…

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

(Ps 119.97-99)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

(Gal 6.9&10)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people..

(Eph 6.18)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col.3.23&24)

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ..always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1Thess.5.14-18)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves….whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

(Jm 1.22&25)

One of the most insidious weapons which the devil uses against me – and very possibly against many other believers – is to play on my desire to glorify God in my life, my desire to become more like Jesus.

Does that sound like a contradiction? I can assure you it is not. This very good and proper thing – like so many other good things – can be manipulated and twisted into a weapon which disables the believer and causes them endless trouble. I know, because it happens to me so often.

The great love of God for me, his grace in forgiving and making me a child in his family, call forth a response of love, of a hunger to please him and show how much I value all that I have been given, and also how amazing he is. This is very right and proper…but then with a very clever twist, the devil gets me to begin thinking about just what that right response should look like in my life – what is the “right” thing to do here and now? For an over-thinker, a perfectionist, and one who hates to upset anyone, that question is a lethal, paralysing power that goes straight to my heart and destroys my peace.

Firstly, the list of things which we are called to ‘do’ in response to our calling as redeemed children of God is quite daunting – so much to be prayed(continually?!) for, so much scripture to be meditated on (day and night!); so many people in physical and spiritual need to be reached out and ministered to. How does anyone manage to hold down a full-time job, run a family, pursue their God-given talents and skills in recreation, as well as doing these things which are commanded? How can I hold conversations with people at the same time as praying continually? How can I study and write essays, or take part in meetings and make business decisions at the same time as meditating on scripture?

When I put it that way, you can see it is nonsense, and since God has called us to interact with people, to serve him in our labours, to be godly parents, spouses, siblings, then these things also must be right. But just how does it work in practice? Perhaps now you see why I described it as a ‘paralysing’ question?!

Secondly, when I begin to think about prayer and scripture meditation, about serving others and sharing the gospel, I am invariably overwhelmed by the awareness that I do none of these things ‘as well as other people’. That is a dangerous phrase – when you hear it in your thoughts, take warning and realise that the devil is needling at your peace of mind, at your acceptance as a child of God and perfect in his sight.

I do not have answers to this challenge, I live with the questions; what does God desire that I should do with the limited time, talents and opportunities he has given me?

But I take great comfort from the word given to the Colossians – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” – and from the sure knowledge that God sees my heart, and understands my weaknesses. Let me learn to trust his grace to be sufficient – I can never be ‘right’ in what I do, and that is ok with him, because his strength is made perfect, seen most clearly, in all the ways that he does things ‘right’, weaving all my best efforts into his beautiful whole.

We must use our words….

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..And God said,”Let there be light, ” and there was light…

(Gen 1.1&3)

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward…..Look up at the heavens and count the starts – if indeed you can count them…so shall your offspring be.”

(Gen 15.1&5)

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I , the Lord your God, am holy.'”

(Lev 19.1)

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

(Ps 119.89&90)

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…

(Luke 1.76&77)

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

(Rom 10.12-14)

 Humankind is driven by communication, the desire and ability which we have, in the image of God, to share and express ourselves. We think in words, and from the earliest age we teach our children to speak so that we can understand them and they can understand us. From the very beginning, God reveals himself as a God who speaks, who desires to know and be known by his creation. He does not leave us at the mercy of dreams and visions with uncertain meanings, but reveals his plans, his character and his commands through his words.

Perhaps we are so used to reading the words ‘And God said’, or ‘The Lord said’, that we no longer notice them, but we should. God speaks..he does not wish to be unknown. In the book of Leviticus, he speaks over and over again, laying out in detail the plans for the unique life and worship-witness of his people as they demonstrate his holiness and love before the world. We can be in no doubt about our God’s plans – although we may not always understand why he chooses to work in certain ways.

I remember saying to my children when they were young and upset about something, “Use your words”, encouraging them to give me the chance to understand what the  problem was. The fact is that we all need to use our words, all our lives, if we are to have healthy relationships and above all, if we are to bear witness to the good news about Jesus and our salvation.

While it is possible to live godly lives, to be generous and hospitable, charitable, forgiving and loving, none of these things in themselves will explain to anyone what our faith rests upon. No one can guess from watching a follower of Jesus serving the poor in their community, or facing extreme adversity with courage and faith, that they are motivated by the life, death and resurrection of a Nazarene carpenter 2000 years ago – we must tell them.

This is the point which first Zechariah, and then Paul make. Zechariah sings to his infant son – the future John the Baptist – of the unique role which he will grow into, the task of being the truth-teller about the coming Messiah. John’s ministry would have been nothing without his words! And Paul states quite categorically that no one can believe in something that they do not know about, that saving faith depends upon hearing the truth-words about Jesus.

This is why people learn the languages of those among whom they serve overseas, why they labour to create written forms of unrecorded languages so that text can be created – in order that the good news about Jesus may be heard in the heart-language of those who listen, so that they might believe and be saved. This is why in illiterate cultures, story-tellers are trained in the gospel narratives, and radio broadcasts and recordings of scripture are created – so that people might hear, believe and be saved…

So much effort is being expended across the world, to enable people to hear and respond, to call upon the one name by which they may be saved….What am I doing? All too often, I am saying nothing. Fearful of giving offence, of saying “the wrong thing”, of being rejected by my listeners; I keep the good news to myself.

Lord God, forgive my stubborn silence, my failure to share the good news. Liberate my speech, and so fill my heart with love for the lost and with the glory of Jesus that I MUST speak…

He has an eye for the details..

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

(Ps 139.1-3,16)

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.”

( Luke 1.46-49)

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1Cor 1.26-31)

While we do well always to bear in mind the great story of redemption which is God’s plan for our world – to be fulfilled when Jesus returns in glory and all things are made new – it is also good sometimes to get lost in the details. To take time to consider the people whom God chose to use; to look at the details of their lives, and how God was actively making ‘all things’ work together for the good of his people and also his purposes.

These people were not chosen by God because of their holiness, their moral purity or status in society. The story of God’s dealings with his chosen people is littered with deeply flawed human beings – sinning and sinned against – who almost in spite of themselves prove suitable instruments in God’s hand. We are not often meant to look at their stories in order to find a pattern for our lives – but rather to learn that God can and does use the most unlikely people. It is their – and our – unworthiness for the task which allows God’s grace and strength and love to shine through most clearly, so that all the glory for salvation’s work might go to him.

That in itself is a great encouragement to us, as we are daily more aware of our persistent sin and all the ways in which we let God down – he knows and provides for all our mistakes, and is the more exalted and glorious because of our inadequacies. We need not be ashamed, but rather embrace a liberating humility, resting entirely upon God’s love for us, and gracious desire to involve us in his work. It matters not at all that we occupy quiet, unremarkable positions; that our talents and resources are small. In God’s providence, we are just what he desires, and in this we may rest and be satisfied.

I think we should also be encouraged to notice that God is intimately interested in all the details of our lives – we are not merely anonymous (though useful) employees, but beloved children, and everything about us matters to him. The psalmists knew this, that is why they were so bold in bringing their concerns before him. Think too of Job, in all his bitterness of spirit, never doubting that God would bear with his complaint. Consider the childless Hannah – pouring out her desire for a son, and not doubting that God heard and understood – and poor Jeremiah, who held nothing back in giving God all the credit for the sufferings he endured.

The wonderful truth is that the details of God’s children’s lives are what makes up the great narrative of redemption, and he is always interested in them. We need never think that we are beneath his notice, or that our concerns are too trivial and nothing to do with God’s purposes in the world – we are his purpose; being worked out, transformed, and being used in turn to transform others. Let us then rejoice with Mary, boasting in our great God, who has been mindful of us in our helplessness, and is still mindful of us in our weakness, but chooses to work in and through us for his good and great purposes..

The Mighty One has done great things for us – holy is his name!

Playing hide and seek…

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden…

(Gen 3.8)

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night you hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding-place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

(Psalm 32.6&7)

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, may stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

(Psalm 18.1-3)

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. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.

(Psalm 27.4&5)

The narrative of the bible is clear that the effect of sin from the very beginning was to cut humanity off from the one who loved them, and created them to share life with him. And it was their shame, and consciousness of having done wrong which drove Adam and Eve to hide from God when he came seeking them.

As a follower of Jesus, one who has admitted her need of a saviour, and who claims to be forgiven by God because of the sacrifice made for me on the cross, I know in my head that I no longer need to hide from God. The whole point of my Lord’s death and resurrection was to re-open the way for me – and every other sinner who accepts the offered grace – into the welcoming arms of my heavenly Father. I am free from guilt, sin no longer has power over me, and the devil himself cannot pluck me out of God’s hand.

But it is clear from the words of the psalmists, and of the apostles themselves, that as believers we are vulnerable and forgetful, and so often try to tackle the enemy of our souls in our own strength. We act as though we had to deal with sin before we can come before God again – we hide away from him, ashamed of what we have done, thought, or failed to do; we allow sin to become a barrier again between ourselves and the freedom and peace which are our inheritance and birthright in Christ.

Forgive us Lord,  for our short-sightedness, and misplaced confidence. We needed a saviour in the first place because we do not have the power to defeat the enemy who wages this war – against you, in our lives. We needed a saviour to destroy that power for ever, and he did it, on Calvary! But we still need that saving power, every day, to fight and win the battles in our lives over and over again. We will NEVER in our own strength, be big enough to defeat evil in all the devious and persistent ways which it tries to draw us away from Christ.

So instead of hiding from God as we struggle with persistent and secret sins, with all those things of which we are so ashamed, we need to run to him, and hide in him! It is only from the safe stronghold of his arms that we can look upon evil and have confidence; only in the name of Christ that we can claim the victory; and only in the blood of Christ that we receive forgiveness for our ongoing failures, setting us free to persevere and even to hold up our heads with pride in the one who has loved and chosen us.

Who is on the Lord’s side? I am! By his grace I will remain here; by his strength secured from harm. He fights for me, let me cling ever more closely to him and cry ever more readily for help, so that I may rejoice ever more in the deliverance which he delights to give.

Just so much fluffiness?

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young…… For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,”declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.   ………………….”Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

(Isa 40.10&11;41.13&14; 42.1-3)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matt 11.28-30)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.

(Eph 4.1-3)

As followers of Jesus, those who have the fruit of his life within them being developed by the power of his spirit, we are all called to gentleness – alongside self-control, patience, joy, peace etc – to the development of a ‘kindly nature or character’ (after the dictionary definition of this quality). But what does that look like for us, in a world where kindness and gentleness are often confused with weakness, and trodden underfoot; where strength lies in might, in noise, in exerting power and status and influence, where looking after number one is paramount? Gentleness is now largely a matter of describing fabric, or the quality of a breeze, and is rarely valued in the personalities which dominate our headlines.

I believe that as we look at Jesus, we see gentleness modelled for us very clearly. Here is no doormat, no timid spirit. Jesus at times was bold, confrontational, assertive and he certainly cannot be accused of conforming to popular opinion in order to avoid uncomfortable situations!! He demonstrated the power of God to overrule the natural world, to defeat the powers of evil, and ultimately, the power of death. And yet he is commended to us as a gentle and humble man.

The prophets foretold these qualities, speaking of the coming judgement and justice which would be fulfilled under the authority of the Messiah, and yet also speaking in the most eloquent, tender words about the gentleness with which he would tend, heal and cherish his own precious ones.

I believe that gentleness speaks of strength under complete control, exercised in love to those who are weak, wounded, frail and desperately needy – which we as sinners are! I find this quality in my Lord utterly irresistible, and it is one which we greatly need to cultivate in our dealings with one another. None of us can see into the heart of another, we cannot know what struggles and wounds are being carried there – through interminable days – as our fellow believers seek to follow Jesus along the path to which he has called them. What we can do, is to handle one another with gentleness, guarding our language and tone of voice, as well as the way we use our physical strength, and fully aware of one another’s vulnerability.

If a person is irritating you so much that you are in danger of losing your temper and being harsh…..what would your gentle Lord do? Consider his manner with the confused and questioning disciples on the night before he died- he was so patient and gentle with them, in spite of his own desperate need for reassurance from his father. Their weakness called forth his own loving gentleness; out of his strength, he gave to them in their need and tempered his words to their confusion.

Let us rejoice in the gentleness of our Saviour, as he carries us in his arms; let us pray that we might have that same gentleness in our dealings with one another, that we might be a means of healing, strengthening, comforting and guiding one another, and always pointing to Christ, the perfect ‘gentle’-man.

..from a full heart, I sing!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up ….He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

(1Sam 7.12)

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord..”

(1Sam.1.27)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days….May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90.1,2,14,16&17)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1.16&17)

Throughout the bible narrative, God calls on his people to review the ways in which he has dealt with them, acted in love towards them, rescued and provided for them – even though they couldn’t always understand the methods he used! Through the ups and downs of their lived history as the covenant people, they were to learn that God was good, that God could be trusted – no matter what happened. The repeated message is to “remember…”, and we do well to follow their example.

Our family recently celebrated the graduation of our son from university, after four years of study. It was a day full of ritual – as befits an ancient seat of learning – and joy, as all the students rejoiced together, enjoying a final few days before their paths diverge into the next stage of life. Graduation is a major rite of passage for a family, marking the end of formal education and in large measure the end of the role of parents in supporting and providing for their children. It is a time for reflection and thanksgiving, and as I watched my son beaming enthusiastically at his tutors (and their faces shining back at him), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who gave us this precious charge, this child, to be raised for him.

The journey to this point has had its fair share of challenges – for one thing, he didn’t want to be born!! – and I have wept and agonised over his choices, and endured the torrid teenage years like other parents. There has been a measure of kicking over the traces, and he has his own particular palette of weaknesses – some of them mine, which is such a shame… But, but, but….God has promised, and has blessed us by fulfilling that promise while we are alive to see it, and our son professes a lively faith in the God to whom we committed him as an infant. Nothing else really matters, and I am so thankful that I can entrust my beloved child to my heavenly Father, who loves him with such a passion.

Here, I raise my Ebenezer; here I say, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us!’; will he not continue to do so?! Let me learn from the years of child-rearing, let me remember that through it all, my God never abandoned us, never left us or broke his promises. Let me hold even more firmly to those promises as we look to the future, so that no matter what comes, I will be willing to trust God with my children.

Today, my heart is full of thankfulness, singing songs of praise to my heavenly Father, the source of all good things; today, my life is bursting with good things, and there are no clouds in the sky. When tomorrow comes, things may change, but my God never changes; and all that is permitted to touch me and mine comes within his sovereign will for us, and for his glory.

Let the possibilities of future troubles not cloud the celebrations of today; let me take in full measure, the joy and satisfaction which my Lord is pouring into my lap in so many ways. This is a time for singing the songs of fullness, of gratitude for good gifts and answered prayers; a time for storing up reasons to be thankful against the days when I am in the dark. My God will prove faithful then, and I can rest in his unchanging love and nature, come what may…