Category Archives: Grace

..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…

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They don’t have to be perfect…

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

(Romans 12.3-6)

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)

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. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

(Eph. 1.3-8)

Some of you may know that over the last year, I have undertaken some further study – returning to academic labours after nearly 30 years – and have found the process more than a little challenging. It has been very illuminating to discover just how much latent pride in my own achievements continues to lurk – and there is no other explanation for the way I react to a less than excellent grade in my assignments. Classmates and lecturers assure me that I am doing extremely well, but for some reason, I cannot rest in “good enough” and instead fall prey to disappointment that I have failed to excel. Deep in my spirit, there is some seat of judgement which holds everything I do up to a standard of perfection, and then condemns me to the bitterness of failure when – of course – I do not reach it.

I am ashamed at this behaviour, and hope that as I progress with the course so I will also find that this inner judge is dethroned, and replaced instead by the only one whose opinion of me really matters – my heavenly father. I believe that as a follower of Jesus, it is not right for me to be so unreasonably severe on myself – to fail to show to myself the grace, acceptance and forgiveness which is so freely offered by God, the perfect one, himself. If he does not condemn me for less than perfect grades, then I must not do it for myself!! I have spent years telling my children that I love them not for how well they do, but for who they are – and does my heavenly father not love me in this way too?!

I have my own gifts, character, strengths and weaknesses; I also have my own work to do in the place to which God has called me – and I am utterly secure in his love, forgiven for all my sins and failures, everything taken carefully into account in God’s perfect plan for me, so that I am free to work hard, sin and fail, strive and achieve, all with a peaceful and cheerful heart! I DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT, and I am praying that I might learn more fully what that means for daily life, so that I can be free from the bitterness of inappropriate disappointment with myself.

May God in his mercy be at work powerfully to transform my understanding, so that I might show in my life the freedom which is mine through Christ – the freedom of a daughter of the King of kings, who may hold her head high knowing that no matter how strong the feelings of being unloved, unworthy and inadequate might be, they are only feelings. The fact of my status in Christ remains, and on this I stand, amazed, overjoyed, and free…

 

He knows me so well…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,…

(Psalm 103.13-17)

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. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

(Psalm 139.1-6)

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

(Psalm 104.31-34)

Some people have a gift for saying, giving, or doing, just the right thing to communicate their love, encouragement, compassion and sympathy. It is a gift; we can all seek to cultivate it, but for some it comes easily! They have an instinctive understanding of those around them which allows them to see what will speak most clearly – what will convey the message most effectively. Their friend’s lives are enriched by their presence and they can make a huge difference to the weary, lonely and hurting, as well as adding to the joy of the glad in their celebrations..

And I believe that this gift is a reflection of God’s incredible ability to communicate his love to each and every one of his children, in ways which speak intimately and personally to us, bringing healing and deep contentment in his presence. He knows us, through and through, the strengths as well as the weaknesses, the darkness as well as the light; and in his love for our frailty, he delights to meet us with daily gifts – private pleasures which we can share with him.

I believe that when we learn to notice these gifts, and make a conscious effort to thank God for his goodness in each one, that he delights in us, and the total sum of our joy is much greater than if we had simply accepted the gift as our due and passed on. I want to be one of the works which my Lord rejoices in; I want to dwell and meditate on his goodness in ways which help me to live every more closely with him!

We are indeed frail creatures, only God knows how pitifully thin is the line which separates us daily from illness, danger and death. And in his wonderful compassion for his beloved children, living in a beautiful world gone badly wrong, he pours out tokens of grace upon us – new days dawn, sunsets herald night and starlight; we wake, breathing and living; we have work to do, people to care for, and beauty, might and power all around for the seeing.

I may be called to bear bitter crosses at times, but the daily gifts of love will still be there for me to receive, as nourishment, as gentle caressing touches from a Father’s hand. The hardest times are when the pain of the burden clouds the eyes and dulls the spirit, so that the gifts seem worthless, their value cannot be appropriated by our weary hearts and so we neglect to give thanks. Then indeed, the cross becomes a terrible thing, because we have cut ourselves off from the one who would bear it with us, and the only one who can truly understand our troubles.

As I labour on, bearing the appointed cross and earnestly desiring to glorify my Lord by imitating his attitude, may I continue to notice the daily gifts – the touch of a warm breeze after winter, the passing beauty of foam tossed up by the river, the chance encounters with bird and beast – fellow creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made, the pleasures of eating good food, and the smell of freshly laundered, wind-dried sheets! In giving thanks, may I encounter again the Father’s gaze of love, and hear the precious assurance of his constant presence and holding of me. How wonderful indeed, to be thus intimately known by the Lord of Lords, let me rejoice, and be glad!

It’s not about the chocolate..

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8.34)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.. he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2.5-8)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2.21-23)

As followers of Jesus around the world take time over the next few days to remember particularly the events of the last week of his life, looking forward to his death for all who would believe in him, I have been thinking how easy it is to forget a very significant truth about how he lived for us first.

Before Jesus died to save us from the power and consequences of sin – to offer hope for all the brokenness that each of us carries and cannot by any amount of our own effort overcome – he died to himself.

He deliberately set aside his own desires, the urge for self-preservation, comfort and privacy, for a “normal”life and the freedom to grow old without pain, and in peace. He gave up his rights as the eternal Son, setting them aside in order to become as a servant, one to whom no honour was due; and whose life might be disregarded and set at little worth. He gave up his rights to have his needs met in the ways he desired; he gave up the right to justify himself and to have the last word in an argument; he gave up the right to seek justice on his enemies for the wrongs they did to him. He set aside any notion of status or human authority, and never fought for recognition for his gifts and talents. He did not sulk or scheme against others when their opinions prevailed and his was set at nought.

It is far too easy for us to read Jesus’ words about denying ourselves, and to take them in as 21st century people – immediately thinking of diets, or other forms of privation; as many people still do in Lent, even when they have no faith in the Saviour whose life and death that season is associated with in many church calendars. It is far too easy to confine self-denial to food, or tv, or our favourite social media, or some other relatively innocuous item which doesn’t touch the heart of the matter.

It is ‘self’, the root of all human rebellion against God which must be denied, and that goes so deep with us, that most of us will spend our lives discovering ever more ways in which it rules and must be toppled from the throne over again.

I have no rights. I can demand nothing from life which I am entitled to receive. As a believer, all that I am and have is a gift from God, freely given, for him to use or withdraw according to his purpose and pleasure – for a greater and more glorious future than I can currently imagine. Will I trust this God – as Jesus did? Will I choose to cling by faith to his goodness and his promises when all my dearest hopes are gone; if my health were to be chronically undermined, or my children materially to suffer? Will I choose to let him look after the honour of my name and reputation, if all around treat me like dirt? Will I choose to let the justice of my cause go undefended, trusting in God to see and know, and resting on his love and acceptance of me for all my peace?

Jesus did this. He calls me to follow, rejecting the self which weeps and cries, fights and resists, clinging to every last foothold in my spirit and mind with incredible tenacity and hiding itself behind so many specious arguments.

My precious Lord and Saviour, for whom every step along the road to Jerusalem, every word and deed that last week was an act of obedient submission to the Father, and of ruthless denial of self, may I receive grace to follow and to carry my cross as simply, humbly and selflessly as you. Put to death in me that fierce enemy of the King of my heart, so that he might reign alone, and be glorified by who he makes me.

When morning gilds the skies..

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?….Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?… Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?

(Job 38.1,4,6,7,12&13)

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise him from the skies! Praise him, all his angels! Praise him, all the armies of heaven! Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him all you twinkling stars! Praise him skies above!.. Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being. 

(Psalm 148.1-3,5)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2.9-11)

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow.. so that my first thoughts are not of the unsettled sleep of the night; nor of the aches and pains of my ageing body; but of you.

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow…so that my first thoughts are not of the fragility of the lives of my loved ones; nor of the troubles, trials and temptations they are facing; but of you.

O Lord, let me wake in my right mind tomorrow….so that my first thoughts are not of the tasks which I must accomplish; nor of the pleasures in which I hope to indulge; but of you.

Who or what am I, that I should differ from all the rest of creation, by failing to praise you, my creator, with every breath and every fibre of my being?

Who, or what am I, that I should demand an accounting from the almighty, eternal God, for his dealings with me, instead of worshipping him in prostrate adoration, and freely confessing his right to do exactly as he pleases?

Who, or what am I, that I should believe that alone among all people, I have trials and difficulties which are beyond God’s care or capacity to deal with?

May I be forgiven, in the name of my sweet and glorious Lord, for such foolish, wicked arrogance. May I realise more clearly than ever, that I can trust God, in all his ways, because in Christ he has revealed his love for me. May I let that love so heal my thinking that I no longer doubt him, or when doubting yet claim his promises and refuse to despair.

I have been shown the loving face of God, the Almighty and unimaginably other, in the person of Jesus, his son. I have been given the revelation of God’s love in action, the story of his great plan to redeem his creation from its bondage to decay. I have seen glimpses – all that the human mind can bear – of the glory which is assured to me through his promises to all who call Jesus Lord. And do I still dare to allow my own sin-skewed perspective to twist the truth about him into lies?

Oh God, give me the clear-sight which I need, so that I see things straight again. Let me see that everything, all creation, all humankind, is here solely that your Son, your beloved one, might receive the glory you desire and which is his due. In your astonishing love and mercy, you have set your love upon us, and plan for our blessing; but the end of it all is so much bigger than that!

Let me join daily with the morning stars, as they rejoice together in the dawn, and praise the eternal Word from whom they sprang; let me think not of myself, but of him and be so entranced by his beauty and worth that all the shadows of my own life shrink into their proper size, and no longer dominate my thinking.

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries, may Jesus Christ be praised!

Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair: May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine, my canticle* divine, may Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this the eternal song through all the ages long, may Jesus Christ be praised!

( German 19th century; translated Ed Caswall, 1814-78)

*canticle – a song

 

Going home..

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

(1 Thessalonians 4.13&14)

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see….since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin  that so easily trips us up. and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

(Hebrews 11.1, 12.1)

‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in  my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 

(John 14.1-3)

This year will be the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, ten years since we said farewell to a gentleman, a humble servant of Christ, a faithful and prayerful member of his christian family. In the last fortnight, three more believers of his generation in my life have been called across the final divide, called out of bodies which had failed them into the arms of the God who never did.

How do we deal with our losses? Even when those who die are full of years and leave a great legacy, we mourn and feel the parting, feel ourselves diminished by the loss of what they gave us. I believe it is right that we should grieve, recognising and giving thanks for the miracle which was that particular person, like no other. God never designed us to be separated from one another in this way, and that is why it hurts so much and causes us so much pain. But his great rescue plan for us includes a final reunion, in resurrection bodies, after which there will be no more death!

In the meantime, what do we do? We give thanks for all that was, and look forward in hope to what will be, trusting in the word of Christ, who went before and showed us that resurrection, a new life in a transformed body, was the inevitable outcome of his victory for us over sin and death. Our lost loved ones, if they were believers, are safe with Christ, secure for all eternity, and the best memorial to them in our lives is to follow their example of faithful living.

I remember being overwhelmed at my father’s funeral by the number of people who came to pay their respects, and honour his memory. I remember thinking that I could never live up to his example, but wanting most desperately to try. I think that is what the passage in Hebrews is about – not the thought of eyes upon me to see if I can perform, but the power of their testimony. I think of these three people who died recently, all facing different trials and tests, all seeking to live godly and useful lives, all striving to give of their best for God and to those whom they could reach.

When I am tempted to complain about my lot; when I am feeling resentful and envious; when I am tired of the struggle or of a load which seems too much for me; when I am conscious of so many blessings and the danger of taking them for granted or hugging them selfishly…then, I pray that I will remember these lives which have ended as 2018 began. Pray that I will learn to live each day obediently, generously, humbly, and thankfully – always looking to love; looking to serve; looking to witness to my saviour.

May we, like those who have gone before, look to Jesus, and find in him our joy and hope, our guide and friend, our saviour, redeemer and Lord.

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..