Category Archives: holiness

A consuming fire

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy, in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.'”

(Lev 10.1-3)

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord..'”

(Ezek 34.11,12&16)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.11)

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…. You have come to God, the judge of all men…, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel….Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Heb 12.18,22,23,&28)

It is not easy for us to begin to appreciate the holiness of God – the ferocious purity and abhorrence of evil – which characterises the Creator and upholder of all things. We live so intimately with sin, subtly excusing and softening it in order to give ourselves an easy time, that we find God’s reaction to it a little excessive.. But that is our weakness and not God’s. He is goodness, light and love. He is right and true and entirely other than the corruption which is our nature.

From the beginning, the story of scripture makes it clear that holiness cannot be in proximity with sin; it must be destroyed – even as the power of the sun destroys everything that comes too close to it. And yet, God desires to dwell among his people, and all the story of salvation is designed to make this possible; from the sacrificial system, through the temple era, until Jesus came to be the living fulfilment of all those foreshadowings and models. He came to be the means by which holiness could be reconciled to sinful humanity, the one through whom intimacy could be restored.

In Jesus, all the destroying power which had to be unleashed against the offence of sin found its focus. As the good shepherd, he literally stands between us and God’s wrath, taking its full force upon himself – and being consumed. Thus and only thus, our sin is dealt with and we can enter into the perfect relationship which God has long desired. We receive his perfection, and he takes our sin. By dying and rising again in his new resurrection body, Jesus inaugurated the new nature which will enable all God’s chosen people to dwell intimately with his holiness in the new creation. There will be nothing in us from which God will shrink, or that could call forth his wrath on us.

Without Jesus, humanity stands before God as Nadab and Abihu did – presuming on our own notions of what is good and right, and being destroyed. With Jesus, our prospect is totally different. No dark mountain with destroying fire, but rather light, love, celebration and worship. The consuming fire HAS gone forth, but another has been burnt up for us, has completed the sacrifice, and as we – by faith – stand in him (Christ) so we receive all the blessings promised in his new covenant. We have an inheritance in glory, a place in God’s family and citizenship in an eternal, unshakeable kingdom.

Let us then worship him with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!

(Image is part of ‘A Garment of War’ by Sir DY Cameron 1864-1945)

Loving others as God loves us…

“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…. love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

(Lev 19.1&18)

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God….. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1. 3&8)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.. There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.

(1 Cor 13.4-7&13)

If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart… We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us.. Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions….. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.

(1Jn 3.14-18; 4.7-12)

Did you notice those last sentences in the words from John’s letter? “No one has ever seen God. BUT if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” 

I find that frankly, staggering. The idea that anything involving humankind could possibly lead to a full expression of God’s love seems outrageous! But, if true, it is surely one of the greatest incentives to the church to love one another. In our lived-out gospel, it is as we love that we reveal God in his fulness to the world.

The love of God for his rebellious creatures, his eternal intention that we should be his dear companions, is the driving force behind the entire narrative of human history. We are created to know, and to be known; to love and to be loved. This is no sentimental thing, no affair of emotions, but a relentless and clear-sighted commitment to doing what is best for us, no matter what it costs. The love of God is unchanging, relentless, even ruthless in the same way that a surgeon is ruthless in cutting away disease in order to bring healing.

We, in turn, obey Christ’s command to love one another – relentlessly, sacrificially, ruthlessly desiring what is best for the beloved. Ultimately, we know that our highest good is to belong to Christ, to submit fully to his will and to obey him in all things. Daily, we know that we fail, we settle for lower goals, and we are beguiled into thinking that health, prosperity and popularity are our greatest good. But over and over, we are forgiven, prompted to return to our first love – the One who loved us best and first – and to respond in renewed commitment and love.

As God’s children love one another – in patience and kindness; in acceptance and service; in forgiveness and being forgiven; in humility and thankfulness – so the bible tells us, God’s love is brought to its full expression – like the realisation of a picture into a three-dimensional object. The love of God becomes tangible and capable of touching lives as it is manifest in the love of believers for one another. Such love must speak of God to a watching, weeping, broken and hopeless world.

The onlooker may want to say , ‘Oh, they are such nice people, such good people, see how they care for one another’. To which our response must surely be,’ Oh no, it is the Lord who loves us and lives in us who makes us able to live and love like this! It is all of Jesus, who is making us like him! Left to our own devices, we would not love like this…’

Heavenly Father, we want to be holy because you are holy; we want to love others, because you have loved us. May our hearts grow warm to reflect your love, may they expand to find room for others, so that as we love, you are revealed among us, and the world cannot help but see you. Be glorified among us, O Lord, make us lovers after your own heart. Amen.

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

But the Lord said to me, “.. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you… See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.. Today I have made you a fortified city.. to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you”

(Jer 1.7,8&10,18&19)

“O remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’…when Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God.. all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!.. Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you to hand us over to the Babylonians, so that they may kill us or carry us into exile.” So.. all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command .. and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah.. and Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord.

(Jer 42.19; 43.1-3,5-7)

‘This is what the Lord says [to Baruch]: ‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’

(Jer 45.4&5)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

So I finished reading Jeremiah: at 52 chapters it is quite an undertaking and full of fearful prophecies of judgement. As a follower of Jesus, who would have known this book all his life as part of the Hebrew Scriptures, I must trust that there is truth here for me as a disciple, wisdom that can help me to live in the world as a faithful witness and remain steadfast.

There is much that grieves, as we read Jeremiah’s deep lament both for the way his people reject him and the message that God has given him, but also for the wayward people themselves as they face a dreadful reckoning at the hands of the Babylonian armies. There is much to bemuse, as slaughter, starvation, humiliation and the destruction of the temple come to Judah because they have broken their covenant with God over and over again. I am not able to unpack the whole business of God’s judgement on his people in this time, so instead I have been reflecting on what I can learn from Jeremiah.

God takes sin very, very seriously. His covenant people cannot break their pledge to him without consequences, and the price to be paid is so high.

God is full of compassion towards his people, and the grief which their rebellion and subsequent sufferings cause him is unspeakable. He views separation from them with horror, and yet cannot dwell with their sin.

God is sovereign over all the nations, and in holiness and justice will act to fulfill his purposes in and through them. His ways are beyond my finding out, and I am called – like Jeremiah and the people of Judah – to trust that when it looks as though all is lost, yet He is still at work for good and for His glory.

God calls us to faithfulness in difficult places, among rebellious people, where we may experience rejection, mockery and persecution.

God goes with us when – like Jeremiah and Baruch – we are unable to resist the tide of history around us and are carried off into the land where God had commanded the people not to go.  In such days of judgement, it would be counted a great blessing to escape with one’s life, a sure sign of God’s favour and protection.

It is our personal faithfulness, so far as we are able to live it out, which matters most. Our relationship with the living God, and not our geographical location, or the trappings of ‘religion’, are what keep us safe in the ultimate things.

God calls his servants to apparently fruitless ministries, to death in exile, to suffering and hardship endured in faith.

There is surely much here from which we can learn in these days for the body of Christ which is the church in our world, a world where the gospel and its messengers are often rejected and mocked, or else actively persecuted and attacked. We can pray for those who are called to lead and teach, but also for one another as believers.

Heavenly Father, let us be like Jeremiah, living by faith, trusting in your love and provision for us in what appear to be fruitless situations. Encourage us to be faithful in the places where we are called to live, blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, whether they want to hear of his love or not. In obedience, may we be content, trusting that very soon, we will hear the trumpet sounding for your return, and the dawning of the day when all your faithful servants down all the ages are made perfect and united in your presence. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory, we pray these things. Amen

What gets my ‘thumbs up’?…

Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. with my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

(Ps 119.12-16)

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips….As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart….The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

(Pr 27. 2,19&21)

These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

(Isa 29.13)

..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(Matt 6.19-21,24)

We know – because we are continually being told – that the great internet companies succeed in part through their ability to gather information about us, their customers. This enables them to target what we see every time we engage with our social media – stimulating our desires and generating (as they hope) more spending to keep the great money machine ticking over. By diligent monitoring of our habits, viewing activities, previous purchasing and ‘likes’, they build up a picture of what we are like, of our preferences, even our likely political opinions. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the ‘profile’ created for me by these companies, would I recognise myself? Would I see anything that would suggest that I am – as Christ instructed me – laying up treasures for myself in heaven?

It is relatively easy, when in the company of other believers, to say the ‘right’ things and give an impression of devotion and commitment to Jesus, but the Lord sees my heart and knows just how far those verbal affirmations go in telling the truth about me… He knows what really makes me glad, or sad. He sees when I am bored of being holy and instead choose self-indulgence, laziness and conformity to the society around me. Who am I trying to fool when I make the right noises, but live a lie? Shame on me, if I am trying to fool my fellow believers – surely it were better that I admit my struggles to remain faithful, and ask for the help of my sisters and brothers in Christ?

The choices I make, in doing and spending, in speaking and remaining silent, all add up to a clear picture about what really motivates me in daily living. As a new creature in Jesus, forgiven and transformed by the indwelling of his Spirit, the potential to be driven by love for my Lord and a desire for his glory is already in me. Do I choose to harness that potential, to ask for his help in setting my heart on heavenly treasures? Sometimes I do, and sometimes, I don’t have to ask! Just occasionally, I am blessed by the realisation that Christ is indeed at work in me, and the desires of my heart – the things that I value and praise – are the things of God, of eternal value, the glory of the Saviour himself. Thank God for such occasions in your life, for the encouragement they give to your perseverance and the testimony to his power at work in you.

The transformation of our characters into the likeness of Jesus doesn’t lead to a bland, half-lived life. Rather we enter into a fuller life, because our passions are now godly and can be expressed strongly and safely, they are all under his command and direction. We learn to love justice as he does – so we can be rightly angered by injustice, oppression and exploitation. We learn to see his power in creation, to realise the privilege of sharing in stewardship of this great gift, and so we can be passionate about looking after our planet, its ecosystems, and all the people whom God loves so much that Jesus died for them. We know the value of each human life, so we can be passionately interested in our neighbours, in what is good for them and our wider communities – we learn to love as God loves, appreciating each individual in all their unique glory. We see the devastating effects of sin, throughout creation, and so we long passionately to share the good news of Jesus and the defeat of evil which he achieved.

Our Father in heaven, stir up in our hearts all those desires for heavenly treasure which you have imparted to us. May we burn more steadily and more brightly for you, so that it is clear for all to see just where our hearts are. We pray this for the glory of Jesus our Lord, and for your work in the world. Amen

Choices, choices…

Trust in the Lord and do good..Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait for him.

(Ps 37.3-7)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor 4.7,16-18)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet. 3-7)

“There are no throwaway moments in life; everything counts for eternal reward.” – Joni Eareckson Tada, in ‘A Spectacle of Glory’, 2016, Zondervan

Much of what I want to say today was inspired by these words from Joni, whose life and ministry among those with physical disabilities has shown us what God can do through suffering when it is yielded up for his work and glory. Since the diving accident which left her confined to a wheelchair in her teens, Joni has made choices every day to pursue God’s glory and to trust that He will use what she offers to that end. She is honest enough to say that it is never easy, but also urges us to believe that it is both possible and worthwhile to do.

If someone like Joni can commit to such choices, then surely I can too. Each day, I am faced with the normal trials, struggles and frustrations of human existence; from the large ones to the trivial. Each day, I have choices to make about how I will respond to what God has permitted for my life. It may be that my initial responses to trouble will continue to be instinctive – anger, fear, disgust, disappointment – but the bible teaches me that I have choices about what I do with those emotions.

Will I recognise the temptation to indulge feelings and attitudes which deny God’s goodness, providence and power? Or will I act as quickly as I can to bring those emotions to God and ask him for his help to think and act differently? I DO NOT say that this is easy, or that I am never guilty of giving in to the temptation to complain, indulge in self-pity, nurse resentment and hold grudges. But, I also believe that with God’s power at work within by the Spirit, I can choose to set aside the wrong responses and move on to the ones which will produce in me the godliness, holiness and God-glorifying qualities which I long to see. As Joni says, we have opportunities every day to make life count for eternity, to show the world, its ruling spirits, and all the heavenly realms, just what Jesus can do in us when we ask.

As I remind myself that my Lord is always near, that my purpose is to glorify God, and that I am a new creation in Christ, then my resistance to choosing God’s way is broken down, and I repent of my self-indulgent fits of temper or resentment, and find joy in acknowledging my need of him. I thank God that He is nurturing in us the self-control which enables us to do this, and that every such effort strengthens our faith and the right instinct of dependence.

The words of this prayer help me to commit my ways to the Lord, trusting that as He works in me to answer, so I shall increasingly shine with his glory.

Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.

Let me use disappointment as material for patience:

Let me use success as material for thankfulness:

Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:

Let me use danger as material for courage:

Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering:

Let me use praise as material for humility:

Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:

Let me use pains as material for endurance:

(extract from A diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, 1936)

Not just good…but best

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Ps 37.1-4)

[Jesus ..prayed] Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent..I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one..sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

(Jn 17.3,14-17)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish..In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed…

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

(1 Pet 1.3-6,13-16)

Sometimes, we find ourselves wondering why God doesn’t answer our prayers in the ways we want. We are asking for good things for ourselves and for other people, and yet God ordains other outcomes than we desire and we resent what feels like his hardness of heart..

I was recently challenged about my own weakness in this regard, reminded that God may have higher priorities than mine and that while I may desire good things, He seeks the best for all his children. What is that ‘best’ which inspires all God’s working together for good, through time and across the nations?

The whole narrative of the bible reveals a God who desires to dwell with people who love him, rejoice in and worship him – who bear his name to great honour and glorify him in all they do. This is not because of some power-hunger in God, but because – having fashioned us- he knows that this is our truest fulfilment, the ideal for which we are made. So long as we pursue our own goals before God, we will remain broken and unsatisfied. Of ourselves, we are incapable of breaking the power of sin in our lives which keeps us from living for and with God. So Jesus came and by his sacrificial death broke the power of sin. All who trust in that wholly effective blood payment, who recognise that only Jesus can save them, are brought to life, are newborn into God’s family and not only experience freedom and forgiveness in this life, but have a certain hope of an eternal life of unimagineable richness and fulfilment.

God’s best for us – as part of his overarching plan for new creation – is our salvation from sin, and our sanctification, our growing holiness and Christ-likeness. While the wealth, health and happiness which the world desires may be good things, they are not the most important, and indeed will distract, ensnare and pollute faith and holiness if not kept under the lordship of Jesus.

When I pray for good things for others, and for myself, I need to remember that if these things are not conducive to salvation and sanctification, then God will not grant them. Our God works through pain, loss, suffering and disorientation to bring people to the point of recognising their helplessness in sin, and their need of Jesus. Should I pray for things that will prevent them from responding to the gospel? Surely not!

The many crises currently enveloping our world are a source of much suffering and anxiety – this is undeniable. BUT they are also opportunities for people to reach an end of their self reliance, their faith in humanity, and to call out to God who alone can hear and save them.

In my bewilderment at the many trials which are going on around me, I am challenged to pray for God’s will to be done – for the salvation of many, the deep maturing of faith and growth in holiness as the saints choose to trust God in this great upheaval.

May I learn to desire that which really matters, for myself and those I love, for my wider community and the whole world – that I may truly say (with Paul)..”I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil 3.8)

The heaviness of holiness

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. All the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary….Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him all the earth..then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96.4-6, 9,12&13)

This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live;..Seek the Lord and live…Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good…Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light…I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!

(Am 5.4,6,14&15,18,21,22&24)

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 3.21-24)

Jesus grew up in a devout Jewish family, with the traditions of temple worship, synagogue teaching, and the books of what we call the Old Testament were his only scripture. We forget this at our peril, and if we avoid studying these books because they make us uncomfortable, or if we claim that we don’t need them in order to understand the gospel, we are in danger of developing a very innaccurate understanding of God. Jesus was not ashamed of the God revealed in the Old Testament(He called him “Father”), he did not dismiss the narratives, or set aside the wisdom and the prophets. In fact, he claimed that these scriptures foretold his coming and that he was their fulfillment.

Our housegroup is currently studying the prophetic words given to Amos, a short book, full of grievous warnings of judgement to come on the nation of Israel. In fact, they would shortly be invaded, their rulers captured, and would never exist again as a distinct entity – the end had come. At the time when Amos spoke, they were enjoying political prominence and economic prosperity – but there was a huge gulf between rich and poor, and the religious systems were approving, rather than challenging this situation. The elite were secure and scornful of the threat which Amos described, deaf to repeated entreaties to see through their worldly security to their real danger in the eyes of a holy God. Their religious observances made them feel safe, but through the prophet, God speaks of his abhorrence and anger at their behaviour.

This message recurs through the narratives and prophetic books, as God calls out to his people to remember that their hope lies in him and not in rituals, good deeds, and an abundance of religious laws and observances. God longs for their hearts to be devoted to him, to be truly Lord of their lives – so that good deeds flow as a part of their worship and obedience, not in order to earn his favour.

The truth is that God’s holiness is a burden too great to be borne by fallen humanity. Our innate sinfulness makes it impossible for us to be devoted to him as he desires – and the Old Testament bears witness to this as the covenant people repeatedly fall into idol worship and rebellion, or legalistic and superficial adherence to God. But all through the stories and prophecies, it is clear that when people recognise their sinfulness, realise how completely it alienates them from God who alone gives them hope, they throw themselves upon his mercy, and by faith depend upon him for salvation. This is the faith which Abraham displayed in trusting that God would fulfill the promise – that faith which was credited to him as righteousness.

The message of the Old Testament is that humanity needs a saviour, one who can deal with their sin, and transform them to live as God’s people ought to live – creating in them new hearts and transforming their minds by his power so that we can begin to live truly as companions of a holy God. We need a saviour to bear the proper wrath of holiness against sin, to see that justice is done, so that God can welcome us into his presence and call us his own.

The prophets call us to a profound awareness of our own sin and helplessness; they magnify the holiness of God until it is a great weight which threatens to destroy us. And so they greatly glorify our Lord Jesus, who in his life, death and resurrection opened the only way by which sinful humanity can enter into the awesome presence of the Almighty. Let us rejoice in the one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and give him all our praise!

 

Living with imperfections..

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me..When..you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways…I will hold you accountable for his blood..Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! ‘”

(Ezek 33.7&8,11)

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God..”

(Acts 20.26&27)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.

(Phil 3.10&12, 4.9)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…

(Heb 13.7)

The apostle Paul is revealed through his words – recorded in the book of Acts, and in his pastoral letters to churches and leaders – as a passionate evangelist and church planter, consumed with one desire – to make Christ known across the ancient world. His single-minded pursuit of this goal took him through dreadful suffering and persecution, and enriched his life as he saw God transforming lives through the preaching of the gospel.

Paul was urgent, earnest, and fully aware of the responsibility which God had laid upon him – to call the wicked to repentance and faith through Christ. In his powerful final address to his beloved friends in Ephesus, he declares himself ‘innocent’, a watchman who had fulfilled his calling and warned of the coming judgement and present offer of salvation. No one could accuse him of withholding good news from them; their guilt would be on their own heads for rejecting God’s grace.

Paul knew that he was not perfect, indeed he refers on several occasions to his ongoing weakness and struggle. But, it is not that which defined his ministry, it was his tenacious obedience, and total dependence upon Christ for salvation and acceptance with God. When Paul invites his readers to imitate him, it is not because everything in his life was holy and without fault. Rather it is because he knows it is not, and he has sought on every occasion to model how the believer should conduct themselves in light of that knowledge.

As redeemed sinners, we are free from the fear of sin because we have full forgiveness whenever we need it, and the burden of guilt is taken from us. Our sin no longer defines us, and cannot hinder God in the working out of his purposes. We are on the winning side and although our enemy is powerful, our captain is victorious and our very struggles are – by his grace – working out for our blessing and his glory.

When the writer to the Hebrews invites the reader to imitate their leaders, it is faith which is mentioned, not perfect lives. What is faith? It is the assurance of things not seen – our promised eternal life at home in glory, our future perfection and the full realisation of the sanctifying work of Christ in us. Faith is depending upon God’s promises, and basing our lives on the truth of what he says about us – forgiven, justified, adopted, beloved, glorious. This kind of faith does not pretend that there is no sin left, nor is it obsessed by the fear of sin, but rather it knows the quickest way to the Father’s side, to the mercy-seat, to the fresh cleansing fountain of forgiveness and the strength of Christ in us to resist temptation and if we fall, to get up in confidence that God is with us and we can keep going.

This is how we live with imperfections, by imitating Paul and others who have taught and modelled the christian life for us – as a persevering, a dogged and cheerful obedience which knows that we are not earning salvation, but living in it. This side of death, we cannot know complete freedom from our weaknesses, and from the pain of sin in the world. But we can live free from fear of those things, because Christ has conquered them, has promised that none of them can separate us from him nor prevent the completion of his work.

God grant us a burning desire to be holy for him, total dependance on Christ’s saving work and the Holy Spirit’s power so that as we press on, we will indeed be changed increasingly into the likeness of our glorious captain, to whom be all the praise and honour!

 

Let every head bow…

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth…How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.’ Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear; Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.

(Ps 94.2,3, 8-11)

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’….there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.., And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 3.11&12, 22-24)

 

Then I saw a ‘new heaven and a new earth’, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

(Rev 21.1-4)

All over the western world, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, people will gather to remember…to remember what? Facts from history books about a conflict which is now virtually beyond living memory? Snatches of poetry, prose and music which conjure up something of the horror of that particular war? Or perhaps more recent struggles – The second World war, the Suez crisis, the Spanish civil war,the Falklands war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, the struggles in Northern Ireland, campaigns in Afghanistan; or perhaps those many eruptions of violence in the name of nationhood and justice which have blighted our planet beyond the immediate involvement of our nation but with equally devastating consequences – campaigns in Central and Latin America; violence and bloodshed after the partition of India and Pakistan, civil wars and decade long unrest and destruction all over the African continent; or the current agonies unfolding in Yemen, dragging on in Syria, in South Sudan, in the Congo, Chad and Nigeria…

Humanity has an appalling prediliction for taking up arms in order to settle accounts; and there is no nation which can claim to have always been on the side of justice, nor to have avoided unnecessary bloodshed and harm. Humanity is equally complicit, equally guilty of inhumanity to others. Down the years, people have claimed to have God on their side, to be fighting for truth, justice, freedom..but even if some of this might have been true, in reality, when humanity starts fighting, dreadful things are done, and as the bible puts it, all creation groans in anguish until it is to be delivered from the burden of sinfulness which it bears.

For me, Remembrance Sunday is a time to confess before God that we have all truly fallen short of his perfection; a time to stand and grieve at the price which humanity has paid and is paying for this sinfulness; and a time to worship and adore the God who has freely provided forgiveness, redemption, and the promise of eternal peace to all who will accept it.

Let us remember and weep, repenting of our own sinfulness which is part of the world’s plague, and praying urgently for the return of our Lord to wind up the sorry narrative of history, and usher in the glorious new beginnings which Revelation speaks of. Let us remember the sacrifice of Christ, for all who will accept him, and weep in joyful thankfulness that such mercy should be shown to us. Let us remember the promise, that one day, redeemed humanity will be citizens of one city, whose gates will never be shut, and into which the glory and honour of the nations will be brought – all that is good and true and beautiful in God’s people from across the globe. And with that vision, that hope, and that assurance, let us go from remembering to living; living with purpose; that purpose to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who will receive it that they might share in the future which is without war, without grief, without death…

It all looks a bit bleak…

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises…..In his pride the wicked does not seek him, in all his thoughts there is no room for God…His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God has forgotten, he covers his face and never sees.”

(Ps 10.1,2,4,10&11)

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

(Ps 11.3)

Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering lips speak with deception.

(Ps 12.1&2)

Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done…They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

(Rom 1.28-31)

The Lord reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

(Ps 9.7-9)

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

(Ps 33.1)

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name – he is holy.

 (Ps 99.1-3)

It is good to allow the words of the bible to remind us that humanity has never been any purer at heart, any nobler in intent, than it is today; to see that the basic problems we face are not new, and that God is not somehow caught out by the situation in which we find ourselves today. Paul in his letter to the Roman church uses language which is completely up to date, and we recognise in the words of the psalms the very things which trouble our societies today.

It is an ugly, bleak and depressing picture. We see so much oppression, exploitation, suffering and injustice. The world’s populations are on the move fleeing from war, famine, slavery, and it always seems the poorest and weakest who suffer most, never those who are in positions of power and influence, making these things happen.

We cry with the psalmist, “How long?”, looking for God to act in judgement. And then we remember that we too are sinners: greedy, lazy, self-centred and quarrelsome. We too deserve judgement at the hands of a holy and righteous God. In his inscrutable purposes, the time for God to bring all things to an end has not yet come, he has not finished gathering in people who worship him from all the nations, and so the world goes on. And we must also believe that in his wisdom, he is permitting suffering and injustice to continue – for ends which we may never understand.

What we can know from the bible is that God does see and care about the wickedness and suffering of the world; and that his church are called to be part of his plan for addressing injustice and pain. When I feel grieved for those who are in trouble, what do I do about it? Prayer is absolutely necessary, but are there not other things? I can support campaign and action groups on poverty issues, debt cancellation, justice and reparation, support and counselling for the traumatised and displaced. There are many ways in which followers of Jesus can and should be part of his plan for hearing and acting on the cries of the poor and weak.

That doesn’t take away the struggle we have in watching wickedness prosper, and yet believing in a God who is loving and just. We must again look to the bible for our guidance in holding these things together in faith and confidence. The psalmists repeatedly affirm the greatness of God, the glory of God, his supremacy and pre-eminence. In the face of extreme suffering, the verdict of scripture is that God is, that he is good, and that no one will ever be able to accuse him of injustice when he brings all this broken and fractured world to its end.

I need to work hard at this, finding it all too easy to fall into despair, and to doubt that God will really answer my prayers – and those of so many – for him to act on behalf of the suffering and oppressed, and to judge the wicked. May I learn to focus ever more on what God says about himself in his word, and in the face of the bleakest scenarios, to share the confidence of the psalmists, worshipping and exalting their great and glorious God.