Category Archives: honesty

Making it real..

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind…. to God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his… To him belong strength and victory;.. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. He makes nations great, and destroys them;… He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.

(Job 12.10,13,16, 22-25)

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of… For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name…, though you do not acknowledge me… I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things… This is what the Lord says – the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness….

(Isa 45.1,4,7,11-13)

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

(Ac 2.22-24)

The King has come. The new kingdom has been birthed in the lives of those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and their loyalty is now to him. But is it?

When the state of our world, or the state of our neighbourhood, fills us with sadness and threatens to flood our hearts with fear for the future of our children; when long cherished plans and hopes for our lives or those of our loved ones are shattered and we are tempted to despair instead of to hope; when our situation seems utterly futile, and existence seems pointless… what does it look like in these circumstances to live as loyal subjects of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Friends, this is something I find to be a constant challenge, and I am thankful for my heavenly Father’s patience and gentleness with me as I fail time and again. I will worry; I will find myself doubting that God will get it right, and that what He is permitting in our world just now can possibly be good and right when so much pain is involved for so many. I am indebted to the Canadian writer, Ann Voskamp for the most recent reminder that when I choose to let my thoughts run down this path of worry and doubt, I am dethroning Jesus and putting myself back onto the throne. 

The message of the Hebrew Scriptures, the gospels, Acts and all the letters (and especially of Revelation) is absolutely consistent. God is in charge; God is good and just, powerful and righteous; God can be trusted to keep His word. But, God is capable of doing the utterly unexpected, we cannot and must not try to constrain his actions  – the recognition of the heathen Cyrus, King of the Persian empire, as God’s agent to fulfill the divine plans must have caused consternation in Isaiah’s audience!

So what should I do next time the news in the papers, or the message from a friend threatens to send me down the well-trodden path of worry, fear and doubt? I take those thoughts captive; I recognise that I am on the top of a familiar slippery slope and choose to step back! The power to do this will come only as I depend by faith on God, asking his help to honour his name in my life – honouring him by choosing to trust and giving him the glory in the midst of what I do not understand.

And when God’s will seems most incomprehensible, I will remember what Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, will remember that God purposed to bring the greatest good out of their greatest act of betrayal and rebellion. My God is so much greater than I can possibly understand, and he is in the business of turning darkness into light, death into life, and mortal into immortality.  I will keep on crowning him King, and choosing trust.

King of my life, I crown thee now – thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow, lead me to Calvary.

Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love to me, Lead me to Calvary

(JE Hussey 1874-1958)

Translating truth..

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior….Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

(Jdg 6.12,14-16)

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “… before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”… “Ah, sovereign Lord, ” I said, “I do not know how to speak;..” 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.”

(Jer 1.4-8)

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

(Rom 12.3-6)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… If anyone thinks they are something when they are nothing, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves, without comparing themselves to somebody else, for each one should carry their own load.

(Gal 5.22&23; 6.3-5)

God has called us to be his children not on the basis of our abilities or lack thereof. We are his family because He loves us, and in Jesus we are made worthy to be sons and daughters of a holy God – we belong there now. There is – as it is said – ‘nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does’, Jesus has achieved everything I need and more than I can imagine by his perfect work. So… how does that translate into the messy business of living in this broken world, among broken people, in a body which remains vulnerable to temptation, illness, and which has a particular and unique combination of strengths and weaknesses? What do I do with the fact that the soundtrack in my head is so relentlessly negative, apologetic, full of regret for letting others – and myself – down? How does that stand up to the searching light of scriptural truth, to what God says about me?

Friends, I believe that God does not call us to be blind to who we are, the unique circumstances and opportunities – and limitations – of our lives. When God called Gideon to be judge and warrior in Israel, He didn’t deny that Gideon was the least in the weakest of clans – rather the response was, “go in the strength you have…. and I will be with you.”

Similarly, when Jeremiah balked at the prospect of being prophet to the rebellious and ultimately doomed people of Judah, God didn’t deny either the challenge of the situation, or Jeremiah’s youth which would put him at a disadvantage. Rather, God reminded Jeremiah that he would not go alone – God would go with him. I think in fact that we see later in Jeremiah’s ministry just how hard it was for this man to obey God, fighting the burden of grief and resenting the message which he was called to give. I doubt very much that Jeremiah had an inflated or unrealistic opinion of himself, and that gives me great comfort! I can identify with this faithful servant who found himself prey to despair and wanting to give up in the face of his own weakness and the magnitude of the task before him.

Some of God’s children find it very hard to think of themselves as able for the life to which they are called. Some of us carry a perpetual apology in our hearts and on our tongues, painfully aware of everything that might be counted failure, and weakness, and sadly less aware of what others may see as strength, gifting, and spiritual fruit. Some strive all their days against comparison with other believers, unable to resist and invariably denigrating their God-given selves – which itself dishonours God and fails to honour him, another failure added to the ever-growing list.

Can I encourage you friends, if you know people like this, to pray for a special mercy from God, by which they may receive the peace of self-acceptance, as the beloved child of a heavenly Father whose strength is sufficient for their weakness, and who delights in all their acts of obedience and faith. If you can encourage them in any way, do so – but be warned, they may be unable to receive the comfort you seek to give because they are so painfully aware of the ‘truth’ as they see it, the inner life which falls so short of their desire.

Loving heavenly Father, by your Spirit dwelling in me, translate this truth into my life. Let me live at peace with the person you have made me, not resenting those things you have withheld, but appreciating and using well the gifts I have received. Silence that internal critic, and let me hear instead the beloved voice saying “Do not be afraid, I will go with you.” May I honour you by gladly living in obedience, using the resources I have to serve your kingdom. In the name of Jesus who speaks for me always at your right hand, 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

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

When everything else has fallen away..

O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief…The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails.

Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

(Ps 143.1, 2-10)

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. about the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matt 27.45&46)

As followers of Jesus, we live with a continual tension between the reality of a broken, and pain-filled world, and the revelation of God’s loving purposes for his creation. This is not the place to unpack the many discussions which can arise, rather I have been considering how we can pray for one another when the crises come. To be a Christian is not a recipe for a protected, pain free existence, and anyone who tries to convince others that the gospel brings health, wealth and happiness is to be rebuked and avoided at all costs. We will face suffering, even as every human being does.

Every trial known to humanity happens to believers too – rape, abuse, violent assault, homelessness, cancer, addiction, debilitating and degenerative diseases, disability, poverty, war, earthquakes and all natural disasters. How may we pray for one another when our lives are shaken to their foundations, when all the walls collapse and in an instant, we are naked to the winds and vulnerable to utter destruction? This is intercession, the ministry of other members of Christ’s body for those who are stunned and reeling, unable to pray for themselves, possibly running away from God, certainly in great agony of spirit.  We may be called to it for hours, days or years, and we may not see the answers we hope for – our own faith may be challenged. Are we willing?

We can pray for protection of their faith – that they will continue to bring all to God, not turn away from him. He is big enough to take all our frantic furious words and his fathomless love refuses to walk away from his hurting children. We can pray that their anger will be poured out before him, so that their spirit may be preserved from the infection of bitterness and the petrifying power of resentment. The psalmists give shape to such lament, as do Job and the prophets.

We can pray for that steadying and grounding which guards against drastic and desperate action, for wisdom to hold through confusion and the turmoil of grief. The presence of compassion and practical support, of burden-sharers, and those who can advise and bring comfort by their presence. Perhaps we ourselves may have a part to play in this. How often Paul speaks in his letters of the comfort which friends brought – by their gifts and their companionship – as God’s support to him in his need.

We can pray for for freedom from paralysing fear as they contemplate a future which they hoped never to see. How many of us deliberately contemplate what life might look like if disaster struck? We don’t, we focus instead on enjoying what we have and easily forget that life can change in an instant. A beloved may walk out of the house, and out of our lives with no warning, and how shall we live without them? A diagnosis may come which shifts life into an endurance event, full of obstacles, and pain. We don’t want to anticipate these things, but they are the stuff of real and daily life. How much we need God’s help in living through those situations, in dealing with the fear of suffering, of loss, of death.

Above all, we pray for mercy from the Omnipotent on the dust-creature whom he loves, and who is at this time flat out in stunned despair and hopelessness. Tomorrow, it could be my turn, or yours. We live, day by day depending entirely on God’s providence, and by grace we cry to him as Father for his presence. We have his love, an eternal inheritance, a daily indwelling strength by his Holy Spirit, and although we may feel abandoned, we can give thanks that we are never truly alone. Because Jesus was forsaken, we are not..

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)

This I do know..

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

(Ps 27.4-6)

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?..But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.27,33&34)

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun..

So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen?

(Rom 8.29-33, The Message)

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. 

(2 Cor 4.16-18)

What does it mean, to love God? Is it about feelings? Is it a continual state of joy, an endless experience of peace?

I would counter with another question…what does it mean to love another person? I think it means to seek what is best for them, whatever that may look like. Love is what prompts a parent to release their children into the world, into independence and adulthood, having spent years caring for them. Love is what prompts a spouse to go on forgiving their partner, to go on asking forgiveness, to go on trying to be more gentle, understanding, supportive – it is love which seeks to see the other thrive, whatever it takes. Love for the other is what can drive us to become better people – for their sake we tackle the weaknesses and failings which cause them so much trouble. The care-free young adult, on becoming a parent may find stores of patience, determination, and self-sacrificial commitment which transform them, all for the sake of the infant committed to their care.

So when I am tormented by the enemy of God’s people about my own feeble commitment to Jesus, when I am reminded of my ongoing sin, continued failures, the weaknesses which injure others and undermine my witness, I hold on to this thing that I know..I hold on to the truth about love…it’s not about my feelings, but about my motivation and actions. What drives me, what grieves me, what do I hunger for?

The answer to those questions is – as truthfully as I can tell it – that I long, like the psalmist, to dwell in God’s presence, to see his face and be worthy to be there with him. I remind myself that God’s own Son was willing, out of love,  to die for me – I matter that much to him, and in that death, my sin is dealt with once and for all. It cannot be used to drive me away from him, but only towards him in dependence on that full forgiveness. He knows how bitterly I grieve for my own sin, for the ways I fall short of righteousness and holiness….and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows I hunger to be more steadfast, eloquent, fruitful, Christ-like …..and he hasn’t given up on me. He knows how easily I am swayed by self-pity and general self-centredness…..and he hasn’t given up on me.

How glorious is this reassurance to all those – like me – who are making their way steadily, but full of self-doubt, along the road to our eternal home! God is going to finish what he started, and that heart-hunger to give him joy is his gift of reassurance, that I am on the right road. I may not feel joyful or victorious, powerful or holy – so what! I KNOW that God has saved and forgiven me, loves me, and is ALWAYS at work in me by his Spirit to realise the likeness of his beloved son, my saviour, Jesus.

Whose church is it anyway?..

I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace..Keep watch over yourselves..Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood..

(Acts 20.24&28)

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1.13-20)

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you form him who is, and who was, and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

(Rev 1.4-6)

It may seem an odd question, but the implications are far-reaching..

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – expressed through all the multi-faceted organisations which now exist across the globe under that single word’church’ – then I need not be too parochial in my concerns, not worried about the fact that another fellowship in my neighbourhood is experiencing a season of growth and deepening faith. Rather, I rejoice with my neighbour that the kingdom of God is growing, and the church of Christ is a living and loving presence in my community. I will resist being bound by denominational boundaries, and see only a place where Jesus is worshipped as Lord, where his people seek his face.

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – albeit expressed through human institutions of varied size and traditions – then I will be at home with my brothers and sisters wherever and however we meet, because in every case we are celebrating our membership of the family of God, and pursuing a deeper and purer relationship with our Lord Jesus. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then it exists to carry out his will, to express his love to the world which needs him so badly, and to care in his name for the people to whom we are sent. As ‘church’, we exist primarily to enable one another to serve in his name, for his glory and for the saving of souls into his kingdom. 

If it is the church of Jesus Christ – and not a social club which exists to provide comfort and familiar rituals for a small group who like a particular pattern for their meeting together – then the driving force behind our gatherings is to see his face, to hear his voice; to repent together and individually of sin, to rejoice in our forgiveness, and to systematically let go of all the things which hinder us from obedience to his will.

The great voice which summoned the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation gave him words to the seven churches, and in every case said: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Are we listening? What is the Spirit saying to us today? Or are we so used to our own idea of what church is about, and who it  belongs to, that we are deaf to the voice of him who died to redeem to himself a people, to call into being a church?

Am I really saying to the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever, “Lord, I don’t think you are right about this, I like ‘my’ church the way it is”? 

At the very beginning, God’s chosen people decided that they knew, better than God did, just what was good for them, so they took it. What are we, as the church of Christ doing today? Will we humble ourselves, repent of our adherence to tradition, comfort and self-serving; our fondness for status and social acceptability; and ask Jesus to breathe new life into our moribund churches so that we begin to resemble our Lord and Saviour – the fearless one, the one who welcomed all comers, the one who had no time for empty rituals and salvation by merit?

Son of God, whose eyes like blazing fire see all things, uncover my false thinking about your church, and humble me to seek your face. Teach me to follow you, not my tradition; to love you, not my habits of worship; to live for your glory, not my own comfort. Spirit of the Living God, speak, and let me hear…

When the fields seem barren..

Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

(Isa 45.22-25)

He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

(Lk 10.16)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last..

(Rom 1.1,16&17)

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed..by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men..

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Pet 3.3-9)

When all that I am is for God, and it seems that he has chosen to put me on the shelf. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I can see that he has gifted me with abilities and character crafted to his work, and he calls me to situations where those abilities are not needed. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I know that he has called me to share the gospel, to speak his word to anyone and everyone, to give the shocking invitation of illuminating grace to those in darkness, and he surrounds me with people who politely, firmly and tolerantly refuse to let me speak..Oh Lord, have mercy!

When my heart burns to see his glory in transformed lives, to see communities healed and individuals blossoming in the light of his love, and he permits me to be smothered by indifference. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I have promised to serve the body of Christ in a particular situation, looking to see his power at work in spite of the weakness of human institutions, and instead am faced with decline, denial, the collapse of vision and hope on every side. Oh Lord of the church, have mercy!

This is the lived experience of so many of God’s faithful under-shepherds today, on their knees before their Lord, begging for some sign that he still has worthwhile work for them to do, wondering why he called and gifted them only to set them aside to waste away in the dying churches of the west. There is only so much that one preacher, pastor or teacher can do, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, there will be no fruit for all their labour.

The prophets and faithful servants of God have known this experience – think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness, of Jeremiah called to preach to a people who WOULD NOT listen – and it is one of the hardest things that he calls his followers to do, to be apparently redundant.

No one wants to see life drifting by without satisfying outcomes for their work, to feel abilities atrophy for lack of use, to sense the springs of life and zest for the task dry up and vanish. The good news burns within them, they feel shame that they cannot reach their communities and give this priceless news of forgiveness and life eternal. And it is very, very hard to find reason to hope. We know in our hearts that God could break into our country, our culture like an earthquake, breaking the thick protective coating of indifference, sending men and women running to find someone who can answer their desperate questions about eternal things. But we also know that – for his own good reasons – it hasn’t happened yet, and we begin to doubt that it will.

Friends, let us pray for our pastors, and teachers, those called to ministry and leadership. Let us intercede for them, praying against despair and for a fresh anointing of courage. Pray that in their sense of futility, God will meet them and teach them that obedience and submission to him in this situation are not wasted. Let us pray for ourselves as their flock, that we might grow in our own faith and hope, believing that God will yet raise up many in our land to call him Lord, and that we might be privileged to serve him and be part of that revival.

In the breakers

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me..do not let me sink; deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up..Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

(Ps 69.13-17)

I cannot keep my footing, the waves come with such force that I am tumbled over and left breathless. I can barely stand, as the churning waters have stripped the sand off the shore and all is stone, bruising my feet and leaving me off balance. The wind sweeps my breath away, and the hailstones sting my skin like bullets. I am vulnerable and nearly in danger, but not quite, as I stumble out of the sea back to my clothes and head for home.

The sea this morning matched what was happening in my heart and mind – wave after wave rolling in, before which I have no defence, leaving me weary from the conflict, and longing for a place of security and peace.

What is the right response of a follower of Jesus in these circumstances? As I scramble to find my footing again, what restores my balance?

I follow the example of the psalmists, and all God’s people down the ages, as they cry out to God. I turn in all my bewilderment to my heavenly father, and like a small child, ask for his comforting presence, for his loving arms to be my shelter. I bring my grieving questions to him, knowing that there may be no direct answers but also that he understands my pain and I do right to speak first to him.

But in the same way that a chilled swimmer cannot feel the rope around their body to bring them to safety, I cannot feel the comfort. I know that God who promises to work through all my trials for my blessing and his glory will do what is right. But when the breakers have been over me, I cannot feel the security that this should give me.  I am chilled by hopelessness, by a sense that these waves will keep coming because I have caused them and cannot make them stop. I am wearied by the prospect which they present, year upon year of this pain and aridity.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves..I am confined and can not escape; my eyes are dim with grief..

(Ps 88.6-9)

Oh Lord, God of heaven, you are just and holy, pure beyond my conceiving and mighty in creation. What am I that you should consider me? Yet, you have laid your hand on me and called me to be your daughter, beloved and delighted in. How ashamed I am to confess the many ways that I have failed you, hurting others, myself, and setting up consequences which I must live with for as long as it may please you to sustain my life.

Lord, you promise not to leave your children in their troubles, but to sustain them and bring them through somehow purified and made more like Jesus. I want to believe this, but am so weary of the turmoil, and of seeing so little change! How long, O Lord, how long, before you say “Enough” and let me come home, away from the battle and the sin, the wearisome burden of years living with my sinfulness and that of other people?

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength..

(Ps 89.9,14-17)

I will praise your name, my God and my Salvation. Eternal hope is mine, regardless of what you permit for my temporal days, and that hope grows ever brighter in the darkness of the here and now. Only give me the ability to live day by day in that hope, and let me know your presence through the chillling cold of weariness, so that I might not disgrace my calling and bring your name into dishonour by despairing of life itself. Lord, have mercy, that I may know how to glorify you in these breakers, how to shout your name in praise over the winds, and to exult in the God who is sovereign and will do all things well – even in me!

On being confused…

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple…Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.

(Ps 119.130&133)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God..

(Matt 5.9)

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth I did not come to bring peace, but a sword..Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;…and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

(Matt 10.32-38)

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word..Therefore ..it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

(Luke 1.1-4)

..these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(Jn 20.31)

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to come to the gospel without any background understanding or knowledge; no preconceptions or expectations, no ingrained bias or barriers to understanding..perhaps no one comes this way, since everyone has consciously or unconsciously made some deductions about how life works and what – if anything it means. But still I wonder, struggling to read the four accounts of Jesus life and ministry without hearing again the interpretations of past teachers, and trying desperately to learn for myself from the written record.

As a christian, Jesus is not only my role model for life, but also the one who by his Spirit lives in me to make that new life possible and desirable. I know, because the bible tells me so, that as I dwell on him, worship and love him, so I am being transformed into his likeness, and that this is for my highest good. But if this is so, then why do I find his teaching so puzzling? So much seems obscure, depending on years of study and intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) to be understood. Is it really meant to be so hard? Why do we hear of non-believers reading the gospel accounts and coming to faith, when I frequently come away bewildered and wondering what I ought to have learnt?

Perhaps I am simply intellectually too lazy to do the necessary work; perhaps my heritage does truly hinder me, as I am so accustomed to learning from the preacher, and not from personal bible study. But the fact remains that while I can read much of the scriptures to great personal benefit, finding encouragement and direction, when I come to the gospels, I am often baffled.

But I persevere, trusting that even what seem like superficial observations are worth making, and that in my own confusion, I might identify with Jesus’ disciples, who must often have wondered..Who is this man who first commends peacemakers, and then claims to have brought a sword to divide the closest families? Who is this man who shows love to the outcasts, and shockingly rebukes the religious leaders?

One thing is becoming very clear as I read in Matthew….Jesus polarises opinion, leaving no middle ground when it comes to our response. It is not possible to say, “Oh he was a good man, a great teacher”. His teachings are puzzling, challenging and disturbing. He speaks more about judgement and hell than anyone else in the bible. He claimed to be the Son of God, equally divine, with full authority over creation and the spirit world.

If I will not accept Jesus on his terms – as God; as the physical manifestation of the Almighty and Eternal Judge as well as the loving and redeeming Saviour; as the only true Lord of my life, before whom every other human tie or principal must submit; as the Sovereign whose ways are utterly beyond my finding out, and who must be trusted, not understood – then, I am rejecting him utterly, and in so doing, I am putting myself beyond the reach of God’s mercy. This was the tragedy of the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day, that the Messiah whom they longed for stood before them, but because he didn’t fit their theology and expectations, they rejected him with merciless fury, and stood thus condemned before God.

Jesus says, “Take me, and you find God. Reject me, and God will not know you.” He will not force anyone to accept him, but if – as he claims – he is the only true way by which I may find hope, home and healing in God, then I must and will persevere in my quest to know and love him as he is. May God grant us humility and understanding as we feed upon his word, and are transformed by the Word into His likeness.