Category Archives: honesty

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.

The relief of unconditional love….

How long, I Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?..But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

(Ps 13.5)

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me…do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me…I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

(Ps 27.7,9&10, 13&14)

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness..as a bride adorns herself with her jewels..

(Isa 61.10)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins…Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms..so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

(1 Pet 4.7-11)

As the tension level rises, my stomach churns and I want to both scream and fight, and also run away, I draw great breaths and cry out to God for mercy in my time of trouble.

As the atmosphere gets colder, conversation more and more awkward so that everything I say is somehow wrong and irritating, I cry out to God for mercy in our time of trouble.

As everything I am seems to be difficult for others to live with – both my strengths and my weaknesses, I weep in my heart and curl up small, trying not to cause more trouble. I cry out to God for mercy in my distress and beg his enabling for those who have to live with me.

I give thanks, starting with the little things that daily remind me of God’s provision for me and I am calmed. The provision for my bodily comfort which is more than adequate; the beauty of the land around me which ministers to my spirit; the exhilirating shock of cold sea water on my skin which reminds me of the precious gift of life itself.

I turn my thoughts to the gospel which is the greatest gift God gives to his children; I remind myself that I deserve nothing and yet receive more than I can imagine. I remind myself that I am just as deserving of judgement as those who may have hurt me, or whose reactions to me show how difficult they find me. I focus on mercy, on grace, on the totally free outpouring of forgiveness and the new birth into eternal life which IS mine in Jesus. I am humbled and ashamed of the critical spirit which has been raging in me against my fellow sinners.

My soul, hear this…the God of the universes desires your companionship. The maker of the stars in all their glory looks at you and is glad, delighting in the beauty and richness of all that you are. The Almighty, holy and pure and unable to look on sin, enjoys your delight in the world and all that each day and moment brings. Your quirks and bad habits do not exasperate the one who calls you ‘Beloved’; your lack of intellect and the narrowness of your interests does not bore or alienate the one who died to save you. Oh my dear wounded, rejected and frightened self, run to your Lord’s loving arms and take refuge there. In that secure clasp take comfort and breathe deeply, relax and be held by the one who has promised NEVER to let go of you.

And in time, you will find that you are able to return in his strength to the task appointed, to the people whom you are privileged to love in his name. And your first task is to forgive them, even as you are forgiven by your Father, so that they might receive from you that unconditional love which alone heals and restores and sustains. You cannot love perfectly, but you can keep on asking for divine help, and giving thanks for the divine grace and providence which works in and through you  in spite of your ongoing failures.

May God in his mercy be pleased to continue his work in and through each one of us, as we love and serve one another in his name, forgiving as many times as necessary and choosing love and loyalty over resentment and revenge. To him be the glory, as he fulfills his purposes so that in us, as well as in everything else, God may be praised through our Lord Jesus.

Not our will, but yours O Lord….

Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is not breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. …Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

(Hab 2.18-3.2)

“What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you..for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

(Matt.16.15-18)

..You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Eph 2.19-21, 3.10&11)

One of the hardest lessons in the great narrative of the bible is that God consistently acts in ways which bewilder his people; they stumble and falter as time and again, he works through gross evil and hostility to accomplish his purposes. We consider the role which Pharaoh played in the great redemption story of the Exodus – how the adamant resistance and pride of that ruler played directly into God’s plan to reveal the full magnificence of his power to deliver the people of Israel. 

Perhaps most shockingly, and hardest to keep in focus for those like me who have known the story all their lives, is the role of the Jewish establishment and Roman authorities in crucifying Jesus and thus bringing about the salvation which God had ordained from the very beginning. The injustice, malice, and concentrated evil which was at work to overcome Jesus acted instead to achieve exactly what had been intended, and from apparent defeat, God drew absolute victory. 

What happened next? The sustained persecution of the new believers in Jerusalem sent them far across the known world, spreading the gospel as they went and bringing hope to every people whom they met. Our God IS working out his purposes – but how ready we are to assume that those must be the same as our own, and how wrong we may be!

The ‘church’ is the people of God – those privileged to be citizens of heaven, members of God’s family – and our ultimate purpose is to demonstrate to the heavenly powers that God is good and wise and powerful, not that we are! It is God who is building, not us. It is God who sustains and inspires, and his Spirit which breathes life into those who are dead in their sins – not our strategies, or missions, or institutional magnificence. We are being built up together in Christ – not into a human organisation – and our purpose is to be the place where God’s presence dwells in the new heavens and the new earth. 

We are not there yet….by a long way, and I am just wondering whether part of God’s purpose in these days of global turmoil is to shake us as believers completely out of the complacency which continues to trust in human institutions. Is it possible that all the trappings of Christianity which we still cling to – buildings, hierarchies of clergy, denominations, ritual and pomp – all these have been hindering us from seeing and obeying God’s call? As we are forbidden to meet together, and are forced to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives in unprecedented ways, is God pruning off dead wood? This trial is revealing whether people are putting their faith in God, or in the human institution which we call the church, but which perhaps never really merited the name…

Let us pray in these days that God will find us ready to listen to his direction; to obey his call; to put away those things which are hindrances to gospel living and loving. Let us cry to him for direction and above all for encouragement that through this trial, he will reveal his power at work in building his church – in spite of all the obstacles which our ‘church’ has put in his way. 

Mind-bending and magnificent..

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.13&14)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

(Gal 3.26-29)

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls our, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

(Gal 4.6&7)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ..And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus..

(Eph 2.4&6)

It is probably not possible for us to fully realise the impact of the gospel of Jesus on the cultural institutions of the Roman empire, but it is nonetheless worth trying. The exercise will help to illuminate the radical nature of the kingdom of God, and challenge us to look at our own attitudes to those around us.

Jesus’ life and ministry was – among other things- a revelation of the new kingdom which God was inaugurating, where human beings would be able to live as God intended, in direct, loving fellowship with him and with one another. The values of that kingdom challenged social structures, religious legalism, exploitation and oppression, and generally turned everything the Jews thought they knew about God and faith upside down! That is why the ministry of Jesus was finally perceived by the establishment to be so threatening that he must be killed. It is by faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus that human beings enter into the kingdom, and are made new; spirit-born and heart-transplanted so that we now live by his spirit not our own – finally both willing and able to choose God’s ways over our own.

The young churches bore witness to the power of gospel and radical nature of kingdom – in the practical eradication of social boundaries, whether based on class and status, gender or economic power. They lived the truth of who we are now in Christ – not only free from slavery to sin but adopted into the same family – of whom? Our Father is the greatest king, the eternal ruler. Our status derives from our family, and believers claimed that in Christ they were all equally valued, all significant, all loved, all worthy of honour not on grounds of social status, gender or power but because we all belong to a royal family. God has put us into place as part of his new creation, and that place is as the younger brothers and sisters of the Prince of Peace. The ultimate coming of the kingdom of God will see us realise our full potential as rulers, in God’s name, of his new creation.

While the boundaries in our own culture may not be exactly the same as they were for the early church, the challenge remains. We must not destroy our witness to this transforming gospel by despising or discriminating against our sisters and brothers. We must guard against everything which might cause division in God’s family – racial difference, cultural clashes, age or gender. There should be nothing which makes us stand aloof from a fellow believer, or – crucially – refrain from offering the gospel to another human being as if somehow it was not for them. We pray for honesty to discern in our hearts where we struggle to accept others, but also rejoice with repentance that God has accepted us too, has forgiven our sins and is at work to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – even prejudice and a critical spirit.

The unity of the early churches – breaking boundaries as they did – was not perfect, but it made a huge impact for the gospel and offered real and solid proof that God could change people, and that his kingdom was a place worth being in. Let’s pray that we too in our christian lives might mirror that loving acceptance of others, and exalt our God by our unity and welcome to all whom he is calling into his family today.

 

 

 

A sovereign remedy…for self-pity

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I shall be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

(1Sam 27.1)

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord, ” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

(1 Kings 19.3&4)

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. …..You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.17-21,28&29)

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10.13)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your  requests to God.

(Phil 4.6)

I am profoundly thankful that my heavenly Father unveils my faults to me in very small doses, so that I am not overwhelmed by the truth and instead can lean hard on his grace, the truth of his forgiveness, and acceptance of me. I rejoice that he can use me in spite of those faults, but I know too that they are revealed and made plain for a purpose – I am being called to repent, by his power to change, and to grow in maturity and likeness to Jesus.

Each of us has predispositions towards particular sins, and away from others, for a whole host of reasons, but that predisposition is never an excuse for refusing to recognise them and repent. I have a strong tendency toward self-pity; it is frighteningly easy for me to end up in that particular place and I am thankful that God is pressing me in these days to recognise and address this – it is a sin. It speaks of a profound distrust of God, and a resentment of what he is permitting in my life.

In David’s case, he had recently experienced a number of miraculous escapes from Saul, and could testify to God’s keeping, and yet suddenly he has had enough. He no longer feels able to trust God for the future – who am I to judge David in this, I who so readily make my own desperate little plans to protect myself and so easily forget all that God has already done on my behalf.

Elijah had just come from the triumphant defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the Israelites had seen and acknowledged the power of the true God, and yet on receiving news of Jezebel’s threat against his life, Elijah goes to pieces and begs to die – has he forgotten God’s power on the mountain?! I forget too easily in my own life, and have no right to judge this great prophet for his temporary weakness.

So how should I respond when I find myself like Elijah, or David – at the end of my tether and tempted to give up on God, disbelieving and fed up? I believe that there is a sovereign remedy for this complaint, although sometimes it takes a great deal of self-discipline to apply it – thanksgiving, praising God for what is and has been and deliberately concentrating on gratitude and trust.

As Paul tells the Corinthian church, God never leaves us without a way out under temptation, so when I am tempted to wallow in self-pity I have a choice. Shall I choose to sin against my Lord’s love, faithfulness and promise, by sulking, harming myself and others, and frustrating his work in my life? Or will I choose to recognise the inherent sin of self-pity, and reject it? God’s plans for my life may include many trials, difficult times and painful experiences – but self-pity is not the fruit which he designs they should produce. Rather, a godly thankfulness, a humble awareness that I cannot understand his ways, but must and CAN trust him should inform my attitude.

May I commend this discipline of gratitude, and thanksgiving most earnestly to you? It has brought more consolation and help to me than I can begin to explain, and – I trust – will continue to be used by God to shape me into the likeness of my dear Lord Jesus.

Give thanks to our God, for he is so good; his love endures for ever.

When the world shrinks..

Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 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 6.31-34)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. …I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4 4-6,12&13)

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(Jas 4.14&15)

One of the most interesting lessons to come out of these strange days when the entire world is almost ‘on hold’, is the sense of learning to live one day at a time. For many believers in the developing world, this is a reality which they have no trouble inhabiting, since poverty, climate change, war and other factors make each day a fight for survival. Their faith in the God who loves and sustains them is humbling, a quiet rebuke to those of us whose lives are clothed in (to them) unimagineable luxury and security, and whose faith is perhaps less vigorous as a result.

Do I really mean it when I sing with the psalmist that ‘earth has nothing I desire beside you?’. Am I really choosing to live each day as if it were my last, and I am mindful only to be glorifying and enjoying God?

All of us are facing a very real grief for aspects of our lives which have been lost in the current situation. I think it is important to recognise and allow this to happen – the important thing is to bring the grief to God and ask him to keep the wounds healthy and clean, free of resentment. We will not get these days back again – days which should have been spent with loved ones, getting to know new babies, saying farewell to the dying; days set aside to be holidays and festivals, celebrations and joyous experiences; days which should have been spent away from home pursuing particular interests, opportunities for service.

We have a choice, in our confined condition, as our world has shrunk to our four walls, our immediate neighbourhood, to a future void of plans and only the shadows of anticipated pleasures which will not now be ours. We can choose to accept that since God is sovereign, good and just, he knows and is control of all that is happening. He knows our grief and loss, but he also knows that we can cope with his help, and find contentment – trusting that even our wounds can be a blessing. Or we can choose to resent all that we have lost, to disbelieve God’s goodness and faithfulness, and infuse our mourning with bitterness and self-pity.

Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you in our grief for all the many things which are not to be ours after all; for the days which cannot be recovered and which we had anticipated with so much pleasure. Thank you that you know how we are made, and you understand the wounds we carry and the temptation to resent what you are permitting in these days, to wallow in self-pity and choose sullenness.

Lord, in your mercy help us to choose instead to delight in what you have given – to remember our riches in Christ first and foremost, but then also to see so many other good things which are ours. Help us to accept with humble and reverent hearts that your will is the best place for us, even though we may not understand it, and even as we grieve, may we do so in a way that glorifies you and honours you. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

A turning of the tide..?

For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

(Isa 59.12-15)

Jesus replied:”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

(Matt 22.37-40)

Jesus…said to them, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

(Jn 8.7)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

(1 Jn 1.8)

Imagine…living in a society where no one assumed on the basis of a person’s colour that they were shiftless, dangerous, amoral or greedy.

Imagine…living in a society where the process of justice was applied fairly to everyone, regardless of their colour, background, education and wealth.

Imagine….living in a society where people were able to make fresh starts, to be forgiven and given grace to put the past behind them.

Imagine….living in a society where we could celebrate the marvellous things which make us different, because in every way they enrich us as a whole.

I believe in a kingdom where this kind of justice reigns; where this kind of love and forgiveness is available; where this kind of society can exist. And I recognise with deep sadness just how very far I am from being the kind of person who belongs in that kingdom – my place there is assured to me solely on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf. I acknowledge with shame that I am part of a nation and culture whose wealth and privilege is built upon the suffering and exploitation of other human beings, and that those people have been ignored in our telling of history – it has not been true. Hypocrisy, greed, pragmatism and disdain for the image of God in our fellow human beings has been the characteristic of so much national and individual behaviour. And I have chosen to ignore the stories which tell the truth, in order to avoid being upset by it – where is my love for my neighbour, that I cling to my own comfort at the expense of their pain being prolonged and disregarded?

The sin of suspecting, mistreating and exploiting my neighbour must be recognised, called out for what it is, and repented of. I know that it may take me the rest of my life to root it out, but I also know and thank God that I may be forgiven for this sin too, and enabled to live differently in the future. Racist thoughts and actions are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, and I believe that in my life – and perhaps at last in society at large – the tide may begin to turn and this gross offence against the image of God in each of his children will finally begin to be addressed.

I am not proud of the truth of my nation’s history in abusing my brothers and sisters around the world. But I am able to boast of a gospel which comes to each of us with hope for forgiveness and transformation, and which will bring God’s children from every nation, colour and tongue to worship at his throne one day.

I have been privileged to worship with fellow believers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to receive their loving welcome and hospitality to me, to be loved and to love in return. They choose to receive me as a sister, not to make assumptions about me based on my race – and I humbly thank them for not re-telling stories of exploitation and oppression, or assuming that I will behave in the same ways.

May I be quicker to listen, and slower to speak; eager to learn and less willing to teach; keen always to honour God by loving his children and by doing what is in my power to change my culture and see the values of God’s kingdom being lived out.