Category Archives: gratitude

Travelling mercies and wayside glories!

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them..and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light..

Moses said to the Lord, “…You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you…” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…” 

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

(Ex 13.21;33.12-15;40.38)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.

(Ps 23.1-4)

There is a famous song from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’, entitled “You’ll never walk alone’, a song which tugs at the heartstrings quite unmercifully, and speaks powerfully of our desperate need of presence as we face the trials of life. Although I doubt that it was written with the Christian faith in mind, it does fit very well with the words of the psalmist, as he rejoices in the knowledge that the Lord is present at all times and in all places, even the valley of the shadow of death. As believers, we do not rely on the memories of departed friends for comfort, nor even on the actual human presence of fellow travellers, but on the promise of God himself to be with his people.

As Moses urged God to remain with the Israelites – well aware that their sin and rebellion deserved no such favour – so also we cling to God in prayer and depend on his promise to be with us always – to guide us and to bring the light which drives out fear. Ultimately, we all face life alone, since no one can live for us, or share our experience of it completely, and so unless our companion is the Lord himself, our maker and sustainer, we will be astray and vulnerable. But with him, we are fortified against whatever may come. He often uses the presence of others in our lives as a means of communicating his love, and making provision for us in our need – do you ever think of your friends as travelling mercies and wayside glories, gifts to sustain and strengthen your faith for the day ahead? They are both those things! The love of others – fellow believers and those who do not yet know him – and the gift of their friendship are among the loveliest things that the Good  Shepherd bestows on his flock.

In addition to these human gifts, we receive direct from his hand those things which he knows are best suited to our nature by way of encouragement, and the restoration of our souls. For many people, the wonder of creation in nature is a boundless source of joy and encouragement, and I know for myself that even the most desolating times have been pierced by light from God as my attention is drawn to some delicate flower or moss, the colours and textures of rock and wood, the grandeur of distant mountains and the perfectly timed appearance of a rainbow or particular bird.

We do not rely on these things, but we do well to be open to receiving them from the Shepherd’s hand, as gifts for our good, and tokens of his loving presence in the midst of whatever we are facing.

There is an old song, perhaps a little trite sounding, but precious in the deep reality of which it speaks for Jesus followers:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me, and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart; you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!

The One who loves us, the One who died for us, the One who rose to stand forever at the Father’s side to intercede for us; this is He who lives within our hearts and from whom nothing can ever part us again. Let us take care to be on the watch for his daily mercies to us, and the glories which are so lavishly bestowed along the way, so that we may be restored in our souls. We have his presence to guide us, and the light of his victorious glory to drive away our fear. We are safe in his hand and need never walk alone!

It does me good to stop..look…and give thanks

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98

The sun is brilliant from behind a veil of silver clouds in the west, and the stiff breeze whips colour into my face. Overhead, the gulls are riding the wind, arrogantly motionless, they soar aloft, their mewing cries joining the voices of sea and wind in exaltation. All the earth around me is indeed singing for joy to the Creator, the Lord of all things. Colours are intensified by the low sunshine, and glory sounds on every hand, from green field, deep yellow gorse, and the white-ruffled blue of the water; from the wisps of cloud scattered across the skies, and the sharp faces of mountain peaks. 

I do not worship creation…but I look, and am healed, comforted, nourished and inspired by the beauty which the Creator has put into this tiniest corner of a mind-boggling universe. I do not worship creation…but I look and wonder as all that is made gives glory to its maker by being itself – reflecting his power and expressing his greatness. I do not worship creation…but I look and am humbled, reminded of just how insignificant we are, and how resolutely we continue to dishonour our maker, to destroy his creation, and reject the very notion of his existence.

Why should the Lord of all this beauty, the power which created and sustained it, be concerned in the lives of human beings who defy, deny and destroy? Why should his right hand and his holy arm work salvation, revealing his righteousness to the nations? Why should the judge of all things choose to act in such a way that sinful humanity might be delivered from the justice which would require our destruction?

Why should God choose to set his love upon humanity, and then go to the Cross in the person of his Son so that we might know and return that love, living with him in hope here, and in fulfilled and perfect immortality? 

He loved us, because he loved us, because he loves us…

This is why my heart sings when I see the beauty all around me, from the tiniest frond of moss, to the stars lavishly scattered across the night sky. Because all these things proclaim the God who loves me..all these things are now mine to cherish as his gift to me, as his provision for me, and because when I rejoice in them, I bring delight to the heart of the giver. 

There is so much that I cannot understand, so much grief and darkness in my own life and in the world around me. But when I take time to look, to remember what creation is telling me every moment of every day, that the Creator is no distant, uncaring or arbitrary deity but a God of bounty, of beauty, of blessing who gave his Son that I might know him, I take courage for the next step of obedience. 

Sin remains, weakness persists, temptation recurs; but the Lord has done marvellous things, and salvation for all who believe, from every nation to the ends of the earth is accomplished. Friends, let us avail ourselves often of this encouragement from the beauty around us – that our Creator God, the holy and righteous judge, has done for us all that we need, so that we stand beloved in his presence, and raise our whole being in praise, in chorus with all his creation, shouting for joy before our King.

and arbitrary

Stand up, stand up…!

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man…You are my God, and I will give thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.5-8,28)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…

(Isa 61.1)

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

(Lk 13.10)

You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus..It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

(Gal 3.26-28,5.1&13)

He finds me with my eyes fixed on the ground at my feet, looking for my reflection in the dirt as though there was nothing of value in me; avoiding eye contact so that I might not see the scorn, the rejection, the confirmation of my own worthlessness in the faces of others.

He finds me with my back doubled over under a burden of shame for past sin; for years of failing in love to others, a lifetime of rejecting his lordship of my life and wasting that precious gift in selfishness.

He finds me shrunk in upon myself, desperately protecting what remains of the vulnerable child who so longs to love and be loved, to live each day to the full and sleep without troubled dreams. In my extremity, I have put up so many defences against further pain, so many facades of indifference and independence, that I barely know anymore where the real person lies hidden.

He finds me….He, whose name is Love, seeks and finds me. He, whose name is Truth, knows my truth and sees past every defence to that weary and terrified child whom He loves so much. He, whose name is Life, touches me and speaks – and the Word whose power called forth the universes speaks life into this chaos and darkness.

And I find myself, slowly and astonishingly, raising not only my eyes, but my whole body so that I can look into the face of Truth, Life and Love and see there a profound delight and overflowing gladness that He has found me and we may know one another. How can this be? That holiness and power should choose to be allied to such frail flesh? I cannot understand the mystery of divine love, but I rejoice in the immeasurable riches which I receive through it, and praise the God who thus deals with his creatures.

Because He found me, I stand tall today. I stand fearless before God and man, since nothing can break the bond which binds me to my Lord, and all the evils which man might do ultimately are of no effect. I look the world in the eyes steadily, knowing that I am of priceless worth to God, and my status in this world is irrelevant to my standing with Him.

Because He found me, I stand free today. The burdens of guilt and sin are rolled away at the cross of Christ, and I am forgiven, fully and forever. There are no chains anymore to bind me to pursuit of peace by selfish indulgence, or by slavish observance. Nothing has any power over me except the love of Christ, and to obey Him is my fullest freedom.

I stand up today for Jesus Christ, not because He needs me to defend Him, but because I am so proud and thankful to be his beloved, redeemed and restored for life eternal. I stand up today for Jesus to be counted as His, a living testament to His grace, power and love. With the psalmist, I choose to say, “You are my God, and I will give thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever!”

Pressing the ‘reset’ button…

A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the  morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts! The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will for ever be destroyed.

But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever.

For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured upon me. My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries; my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Psalm 92)

One of the most sustaining, helpful disciplines which we can cultivate as followers of Jesus, is that of speaking truth to our own spirits – the truth about God as revealed in his word and especially in his son our Saviour, Jesus.

Our lives in this sin-stained and fractured world are continually exposed to the results of evil – in ourselves, through the actions of others, and through the impact humankind is having on our planet. If we dwell exclusively on what we see, or even more deadly, on how we feel on a daily and hourly basis, then we are lost to a turmoil which brings us no peace, and undermines our witness to the good news about Jesus.

God’s unchanging character, his attributes and glory, are a surer foundation on which to ground our daily lives. He has revealed himself as a powerful Creator, a holy and just Judge, and an intimately interested, involved and sufficient Redeemer. He has promised that his chosen people will dwell in his presence in an eternal, joyful and fulfilling relationship which is simply beyond our imagination, and which means that physical death is simply a gateway to glory.

This psalm, which the Jews use especially to celebrate the ‘rest’ of the Sabbath – when they anticipate the complete rest from striving which God has promised his people – is a marvellous meditation on God’s character, works and promises, and acts as a ‘reset’ button. By that I mean the idea of restoring the original settings in a device, so that it functions as it was designed to do – a clearing away of unhelpful and distracting activities/actions. When the mind is fixed on truth, when ambitions, will and desire are continually directed and redirected towards godliness and obedience, towards the glory of God, the whole person is refreshed, sustained and able to thrive as they were designed to do.

As a follower of Jesus, I celebrate the Lord’s Day, when the resurrection proved with great power that his work of salvation had been completed, and God declared my debt had been paid in full. I celebrate the ‘rest’ into which I have entered, where I need not strive after perfection in order to be saved, nor wallow in self-pity and remorse in order to be forgiven. Instead, I rest entirely on what Jesus did for me, and worship Father, Son and Spirit – the author and agent of the great plan to restore human fellowship with a holy God. This psalm speaks for me as it did to the people of the Hebrew bible – of the greatness of God’s works, which include the atoning death of Jesus; of the sure judgement and final defeat of evil which will be accomplished and which sustains my faith as I walk in a darkened world.

As I take time regularly to ‘reset’ my faith, clear my thoughts of distractions, remembering Jesus and all he has done for me, I am refreshed, and – please God – come to resemble more and more those wonderful flourishing trees which continue to bear fruit down the years, because their roots are deep in the truth.

My Lord is my Rock; He has dealt with my sin and I sing for joy at the work of his hands. Jesus has vanquished every enemy, and I have seen their defeat at his cross and empty tomb. 

O Lord, my Lord, be exalted for ever!

Bad debt..or good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations..Circumcise your hearts, therefore and do not be stiff-necked any longer..Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him..He is the one you praise, he is your God who performed for you those great and awesome wonders …Love the Lord your God..

(Deut 10.14-11.1)

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.

(Ps 50.14&15)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – some wandered in desert wastelands..some sat in darkness, in utter darkness..because they rebelled against God’s commands…some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction… Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things..he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron…Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

(Ps 107.1,2,4,8-9,10,16-17,22)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

I love the fact that everything in the bible is there for our good, to help us learn about our God, and to have confidence in living for him in this weary-yet-wonderful world. I love the fact that the whole sacrificial system instituted under Moses, directed by God, was to teach people how much God yearned to dwell with them, and how sin must be addressed in order to make that possible. And I really love the fact that there is a whole category of offerings/sacrifices which are simply described as fellowship offerings – distinctive because there was no element of atonement for sin or cleansing of guilt, and the worshipper shared in the communal meal associated with the sacrifice. The focus was on the fellowship which God delighted to share with his children – they had a meal together and enjoyed one another’s company!

Thank offerings were one particular type of fellowship offering, perhaps for occasions when something special had happened, or to celebrate a trial endured with God’s help. Above all, while they express a sense of indebtedness to God for all he is and does, they are NOT an attempt to repay the debt. When we make a sacrifice of thanksgiving, we express love and worship to God, recognising that he is the source of all good things, and his power in us is the reason we are able to achieve anything.

Are we sometimes tempted to think of our relationship with God as one where we need to keep up with him in terms of generosity in loving? In human relationships, there can be a struggle to accept gifts which we feel unable to repay; we may take pride in being “no man’s debtor”. And there is the dangerous word – pride – which has no place in a relationship of love and trust. Parents do not love their children and provide for them with a view to getting services and gifts back again in equal measure. Spouses do not love according to strict rules of equal generosity – or if we do, it is fatal to the health of the marriage.

There is equally no room for pride in our relationship with God. Who are we to think that we can ever repay the debt we owe the Creator of the Cosmos? Consider all that has happened in order to make your life possible, and it quickly becomes clear that we have nothing to offer in return. When we add the incredible gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ Jesus, and the transforming power of the Spirit – by whom alone we think, act and live godly lives – our debt becomes infinitely greater.

With the coming of Christ, all our sins are paid for, and the only sacrifice which is now necessary is the fellowship offering, when we come and share our delight in all that God has done for us. We have an unpayable debt, which God delights that we should not even try to address – rather we are to exult in it! The magnitude of our debt simply makes the work of Christ and the love of God even more splendid, and his grace more beautiful.

When we make a sacrifice of praise, we are focusing not on the sins (forgiven, and yet to be), but on the new life and relationship we now have with God. The root of sin is defeated, and we are always welcome to share the fellowship meal with him, celebrating Christ and anticipating his return. Our right response to this great debt of love and mercy is humility, fearless witness and continual thankfulness. On this debt we can depend as on a sure foundation, and a resting place where all fear is banished. I am loved, accepted and forgiven..Alleluia!

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear with thy righteousness on, my person and offering to bring.

The terrors of law and of God, with me can have nothing to do; my Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete; his promise is yea and amen, and never was forfeited yet.

Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above can make him his purpose forego, or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase; impressed on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace.

Yes I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.

(AM Toplady 1740-1778)

 

Observation..or celebration?

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath..for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.

(Ex 20.9&11)

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)

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath..

(Matt 11.28;12.8)

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.

(Rom 14.5&6)

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you ear or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however, is found in Christ.

(Col 2.16)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall..

(Heb 4.9-11)

One of the benefits of this strange time is the extra opportunity to learn from the bible, to think about what it means to live in a fallen world where I am called to witness and work for God’s glory and kingdom. It can be easy to let the preacher think for us, instead of learning in the life-changing way which comes by personally wrestling with the truth. There can be challenges, as the truth is not always obvious, perhaps not what we have always assumed it to be. But what riches are found when we put in the effort, as the whole of scripture begins to speak with a unified voice, all leading to Christ and glorifying him!

The idea of ‘rest’ is one of the unifying themes of scripture. Did you realise that from the very beginning, God designed us to dwell with him in a place where he had done all the work? That is what Eden and the first day of rest was all about. And with the Fall, that divine rest was lost to humankind – we are on a continual quest for it, unable to find it because ultimately until we are at peace with God again, we cannot rest.

The commandment to remember the seventh day (because on that day the Lord rested), was a call to lay aside all human labour, to recognise that God has made all things; is sustaining them, and ultimately only He will provide the rest for which they were designed. It was always meant to be a day pointing to God, to his great love and mercy, to his promise to save his people if they would only depend on him and not on themselves.

Jesus makes it clear that he came to fulfill the law, to offer the promised rest  in himself. This rest is founded on peace with God, and Christ alone as the perfect sacrifice could create that peace. As Lord of Sabbath, he proclaims himself the king of rest, the one with absolute power to introduce a new creation where his people could live in the reality of that ‘rest’-ored relationship with God. The old regulations about Sabbath observance were now redundant, because the promise or fore-shadowing of rest had been fulfilled in Christ.

When we enter God’s offered rest, in Christ, we in turn rest from our own works – all our attempts to gain salvation and peace through rule-keeping; rituals and rites. To turn again to rigid ‘sabbath observance’ is therefore a dangerous nonsense! I am free in Christ to celebrate every day as a gift from God, graced with forgiveness and the liberating truth that it is all by his work that I am saved and welcomed into the Sabbath-rest which is the heritage of God’s children.

I am free to especially mark a particular day in appropriate ways in order to focus on the rest which is mine in Christ – but I am not free to impose on others or to judge them for their choices. I am free to celebrate – and for many of us this will be on a day when we can meet with other believers, and take extra time to enjoy God’s good gifts, perhaps Sunday, but perhaps another day depending on our culture!

I am also free to serve, expecting nothing in return, because God is all in all to me, and has promised to care for me. And significantly, I am free to sacrifice – to forgo my expressions of freedom if they cause another to stumble in their faith.

I do not observe the Sabbath. I celebrate the day which the Lord has made; the salvation which he has won; the sure hope of eternal life with him which is mine; and the daily reality that – no matter what is happening to me, within me, and around me – I am at rest with God forever. I have peace, Thanks be to God!

 

It was the only way..

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals…I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

(Ex 12.12&13)

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement..

(Lev 17.11)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me…All who see me mock me…”He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.”….they pierce my hands and feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment

(Ps 22.1,7,16-18)

I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight….I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

(Am 8.9&10)

But when Christ came..he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption..without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness..Christ..appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself..

(Heb 9.12,22&26)

‘Like mourning for an only son and the end of a bitter day…’Those words jumped out at me recently when taking part in a bible study on Amos, as the Lord spoke through his prophet of the pain and anguish of the day when the full price for human rebellion against God would be paid.

The narrative of the Bible makes it so clear that humanity is incapable of keeping to the covenant which God has made with them; our hearts are unable to remain faithful to God, even when we are most in earnest. If we do not sin by falling away from God, we sin by trying through our own efforts to remain close to him – as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day, and making legalism and ritual a means (as they thought) to salvation. From the beginning, God made it clear that sin would have to be dealt with, and his righteous anger satisfied before true peace could exist, and we could once more enjoy fellowship with our creator.

God’s anger against sin is an expression of his holiness, it is absolutely just (unlike most human anger), and he cannot simply set aside our sin because he loves us without violating his nature. If God is to love and welcome us into his presence again, then his perfect wrath must be satisfied – the full penalty for sin must be paid. While this may sound extreme to many in our day, the bible makes it clear that the problem is our lack of understanding of God’s holiness, not his anger with sin.

The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice – of the perfect Passover Lamb who would take God’s wrath so that we might be protected, provided for. Blood had to be shed, and in Christ, the only spotless person who ever lived, a perfect substitute for humankind was provided. But as well as our perfect Passover Lamb,  he is the only begotten of the Father, the beloved one. And so on Good Friday, when the full weight of sin was finally laid upon the son, what agony entered the heart of the Father, and what grief into the son, as they endured that separation which was the proper fate of humankind.

We cannot ever fully comprehend the pain of that hour, and indeed this is cause for humble thanksgiving, since we could not have borne it. Christ did all for us, and then offered it freely as his love-gift, and so we should surely fall in worship and praise as we accept him. God mourned for his only son, and endured the bitterness of that dreadful and glorious day – because of his unfathomable, unaccountable, unstoppable love for humankind.

Surely, our praise this Holy Week should glorify the Father who loved us; the Son who died for us, and the Spirit by whom we receive the faith to believe in and accept the freedom and new life which have been bought for us at such a price.

There is a green hill far away, beside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear; but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too; and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do.

(Cecil Frances Alexander 1848)

Family ties…

..one of my brothers came from Judah, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile…They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace..When I heard these things, I sat down and wept..I mourned and prayed..”O Lord, God of heaven..who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him..they are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.”

(Neh 1.2-4, 5&10)

I thank my God every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3,4,7&8)

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children…For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you…But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you…

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord..when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.

But Timothy has ..brought us good news about your faith and love…that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged…For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

(1 Thess 2.6&7, 11&12, 17-20; 3.6-8)

This lengthy extract from the letter of Paul to the young church in Thessalonica – which he had to abandon at short notice to save his life – is a delightful revelation of the warm and affectionate relationship which he had with them. It is touching to read of Paul’s anxiety for them, and his frustration at not being free to return and see that they were holding firm to their faith. Like a parent whose child has recently left home, he is anxious to hear that all is well, and his concern demonstrates his love.

And like any Christian parent, his principal care is that they should “stand firm in the Lord”. With that foundation, they can weather any storm, and endure any persecution, knowing that their eternal future is secure in God’s hands. I can identify with him so deeply in this, as I watch my young adult children making their way independently in life, and pray that in all things, they might seek and know God. They will face joys and sorrows, successes and failures, times of ease and times of dark distress, and my overwhelming desire is that they too might “stand firm in the Lord” – here alone lie security and hope.

One of the glorious things about the family into which we are re-born as believers, is the affection which God gives us for one another, and which places us in community, where our emotional needs are met and we love one another as family. We rejoice in this gift, and nurture the affection, working at it in a persevering and cheerful spirit, in the same way that human families seek to bear with and love one another. This affection is a source of encouragement to us, as we take delight in seeing our ‘family’ growing in faith, standing firm and trusting in God.

We also encourage others by our perseverance in faith, and expressions of love and concern for them. See how Paul delights to hear that the Thessalonians are yearning for news of him, and long to see him again even as he longs for them. The expression of mutual affection is a refreshing, strengthening and gratitude-prompting ministry, as Paul rejoices in God’s faithfulness and promise-keeping.

Nehemiah’s anguished prayer for his fellow-Jews who were struggling and disgraced in Jerusalem expresses his affection, the feeling of one who sees his precious people in trouble. We learn here how to pray for one another when things are hard, when our affection unites us to those who are suffering and we cry out to God on their behalf. Our love for one another is but a pale reflection of God’s love for each precious child, so we can be sure that when we are upset or concerned for others, His heart is even more moved. So when we pray, interceding for them, lamenting their sorrows, we are praying in his will, for their blessing and his glory. He desires that we should serve one another in this way, becoming ever more united in love.

Let us not be afraid to feel and express the affection which we have for one another as God’s children – in words, in actions, and above all in prayer as we give thanks for one another and intercede for one another. We are children of the King, who will not let his little ones be destroyed and who can be trusted to do right at all times.

In Everything….Give thanks!

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.

(Ps 1.1-3)

“The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

(Ps 35.27&28)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

(Ecc 7.14)

A wife of noble character who can find? she is worth far more than rubies…she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

(Prov 31.1, 25&26)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4.12&13)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share..

(1Tim 6.17&18)

My circumstances may change, but the God in whom I trust remains the same, and his purposes are eternal. He delights in the well-being of his servants, and only he truly knows what that consists in – I cannot know, but  may choose to trust his wisdom and knowledge of all things. Other people may be trusted to do their best for me, but only God can be trusted to do what really IS best for me, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Since this is so, I can also choose to give thanks in all circumstances, and to be content.

Perhaps when our lives are full of material blessings, we are sorely tempted to self-reliance, conceit and pride; to selfishness and indolence. In these circumstances, the danger is that our contentment develops into arrogance and we become distant from God. Here the wisdom of scripture teaches us to remember that all we have is a gift from God, certainly for our enjoyment, but also for use in his kingdom and the blessing of his children. We hold good things as stewards bear responsibility for another’s possessions, and we are accountable to the Lord of all for our use of his gifts.

It is imperative that we do not base our faith in God on the gifts we receive from him – or where should we be when troubles come and our gifts are gone? Our true security – the strength and dignity of the wise woman of Proverbs; the joy and peace of the Psalmist – come from the right-doing character of the unchanging God in whom they (and we) trust, revealed in his word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, the living Word.

When God chooses to bless me with health, how do I use it? When God chooses to bless me with wealth, how do I spend it? When God chooses that my loved ones should also enjoy these blessings, how do I pray for them?

I do not need to feel guilty when I am in pleasant pastures, and there are no storms on the horizon. But I must cultivate a spirit of humble gratitude, and open-hearted generosity, so that all the gifts entrusted to me are being used for God’s glory. I believe that for a mature follower of Jesus, the true enjoyment of God’s generous blessings is dependent upon this sacrificial attitude, this willingness to surrender all to God’s service. How is it possible to be glad in one’s own good things when others in the family of Christ are in need? Or to relish my own rich inheritance of faith when there are so many around me who know nothing of salvation and the free gift of forgiveness? I may not be in a position to make a big difference, but I can be willing to do my part!

So as well as thanking God for his many material and physical blessings, I thank him for a tender conscience, and the gift of wisdom to see that unless all these things are held by me on behalf of the body of Christ and for the mission of God, then they will be spoiled for me.

And I also choose to thank him for the overwhelming gifts of love which I receive every day – the personal touches from the Lover of my Soul, which are given to gladden my heart and strengthen my faith. They prompt me to praise, and encourage me in striving to live for Christ and with Christ.

In everything dear friends, let us rejoice in the Lord who does all things well!

Great riches..

He who covers over an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends….A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov 17.9&17; 27.5&6)

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…

“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

(Jn 13.1;15.13&14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

One of the areas of our lives where we must be on guard against the foolishness of the world around us is in how we think about friendship…the word in our culture is not a strong one, and the emphasis on romantic and sexual love in our society has the effect of trivialising and devaluing the friendships which we may enjoy.

The bible makes no such mistake, although it celebrates the gift of sex as part of God’s good plan for his creation. Instead, we find celebrations of friendship, of the love which may exist between two people based on their common interests and missions. The deep love between David and Jonathon was part of God’s work in preserving the line of the future Messiah, as was the faithful commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law which drew the young Moabitess into the line of promise so that her child was David’s grandfather. Above all, we see Jesus living and working with imperfect people, loving them and calling them his friends. He opened his heart to them, even though they so often failed to understand and would ultimately abandon him.

In my own life, the friends who have walked through life with me – some for many years – are incredibly precious because they see me and love me for who I am, and speak truth to me out of love. I have received rebuke, encouragement, advice and wisdom; I have laughed and cried with them; I have shared my passions with them, and pursued common goals with them. In our friendships, God gives us such great riches of emotional satisfaction, meeting so many needs through these fellow-pilgrims, broken as they are like me by their sin. They have modelled Christ to me, and helped me to learn to model him to others in compassion, patience and forgiveness.

The gift of marriage is not given to everyone, and even those who have received it know that their spouse may well die before them, returning them to a single life. Before marriage (if it is given), throughout it and afterwards, friends are essential to our thriving as human beings. The bible teaches clearly that no one person can meet all our needs – we are formed by God and ultimately satisfied only in him – but also that God gives good gifts to his children, and that friendship is one such. Our spouse cannot fulfill every need, nor should we burden them with that expectation. Our friends cannot fulfill every need – no matter how many we have. But under God’s grace, as we invest in these relationships wisely, we may be kept in the faith, sustained for our mission, and used to bless others.

As I thank God for my friends – old and new – I also ask his help in being a true friend. I seek to love as Jesus did, putting the needs of others before my own. I seek to forgive as God has forgiven, and keeps forgiving me. I ask God’s help to be a responsible friend, refraining from gossip and unhelpful interference. I pray that I might have wisdom to know when to speak in love, when to share my fears about a course of action or decision. I pray that I might be sensitive to respond to the prompting of God’s spirit, so that he can use me to encourage, reassure or comfort his children. I pray that I might have a few trustworthy friends with whom I may be completely honest, and that I might be such a friend.

Above all, I thank God that in Christ, I find my truest friend, and pray that in all I do, I might honour and glorify him.