Category Archives: hope

Misplaced loyalty?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..

(Matthew 6.9)

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world. to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(John 18.36&37)

But 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.

(Philippians 3.20&21)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 11.15)

Who is really in charge? Who truly wields power in the world today? On one level, the answers are obvious – money is power, our multinational corporations are virtually a law unto themselves; military might gives power, the threat of destruction creates domination and control; ideology drives men and women to act in ways which create power, they terrorise and destroy in order to realise their vision.. The ballot box, in a democratic society, is power surrendered to the people, but it depends on their intelligent approach to the use of their votes, on their willingness to vote, and on the integrity of those who are elected to represent them..

I am thankful to live in a society where military might is not abused, where ideology is still restrained from creating chaos, and where legal systems to hold money to account, to prevent the multinational corporations from getting away with any and every form of exploitation. But am I in danger of forgetting that all these are only by the providence of God? Am I at risk of putting my faith in the ballot box, in education and information as hope for the future of my children and neighbours? Our secular society would have us believe that all we have is the result of our own labours, and that we can, with the right tools and time, sort all the problems that remain.

The bible tells me differently, and I think that many would agree on a second look at the state of the world today. Humanity is improving the lot of millions, through technological advances, through education and development. BUT we continue to destroy our planet in our greed; to destroy one another in our selfishness, prejudice, and refusal to love and forgive. The scale of human suffering today is unimaginable, in spite of all the tools available to us to create prosperity, health and stability. Why? Because the problem lies in the heart of humanity, and no system, no power that ever existed can change the heart of man – only God in heaven, its creator, has addressed that brokenness and until we accept his diagnosis and his offer of saving, transforming life through faith in Jesus, we are ultimately hopeless.

I have a duty, as a citizen of my country, to vote, to act responsibly according to the laws of the land and to seek the good of my people as far as it lies with me to realise it. I have a responsibility to pray for those who are willing to shoulder the burden of elected representation – a thankless task, one which brings much frustration and can damage those who undertake it. These people need my support, and encouragment as they(broken and weak human beings) seek to do their best, in a situation where much is outwith their control.

But my ultimate loyalty is not to the nation of my birth, but the kingdom of which I am a member by faith in Jesus. It is the eternal security of that realm which gives me hope for the future, in spite of the growing darkness and unease of the world in which we live today. I believe in a God who is just and good, and who will never leave his people unaided.

Let me not allow political uncertainty, and the abuse of power – of any kind – to undermine my confidence in the absolute security which I have in Christ, my place in the kingdom of God, an eternal inheritance of which I have already received the guarantee. Because of him, in this world of fear, hostility and inequality, I can have peace as the flag flying high over the castle of my heart!

But Lord, you promised!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

(Proverbs 13.12)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 

(2Cor 1.20-22)

We are human, you and I. We have hopes for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our world. How often have you tasted the bitterness of dashed hope? Too often to entertain the thought that everything we wish for can be ours if we will only believe in and work hard enough for it!

Where do you go with your broken expectations and hopes? Some may have been unrealistic, and in retrospect we recognise and learn from those experiences – while also acknowledging the very real pain which our disappointment has caused us. It is good to know that our Father God understands how easily we set our hearts on the wrong things, and is patient and compassionate with our grieving. By his grace, we learn to set our strongest hopes and expectations only on those things which he has promised, but even here, we must learn wisdom and discernment.

I recently spent a little time looking at the life of Sarah, wife of Abraham, and was reminded of the explicit promise which that couple received from God – a son of their own, founder of a nation which would be numerous as the sand on the shore. It was an outrageous promise, but coming from God they had no reason to doubt it would be fulfilled….No reason except human weakness and impatience, which is our common lot, so we can’t really criticise Sarah when she resorted to manipulating circumstances in order to get a son by other means! Certainly, it gave Abraham the son he craved, but it also set in motion a train of events which continues to this day to cause great trouble and grief in the world. We all have reason to regret Sarah’s decision to give her servant as child-bearer to her husband – and Abraham’s willing cooperation with that action!

In the end, God’s promise was fulfilled in the supernatural way he had always intended, and Isaac was born to the elderly parents, bringing delight and joy and that sweet fulfillment of hope which is indeed like a tree of life. If only…if only Sarah had been more holy and faithful than we are, she would have waited and trusted God even when it appeared that he had forgotten his promise. Let us be wary of judging this woman for acting as we are so often tempted to do – trying to find ways to get what we think God has promised us in any way we can make it happen! May we be restrained from acting rashly, causing more problems than we solve, and may we find ourselves willing to go on trusting, and meantime praising the God who has promised – who is good and who keeps his promises.

The shepherd boy who would one day wear the crown in Israel had learnt that lesson, and all through the long years when David – as the anointed and future King – was on the run from Saul, he never took the opportunities available to him to kill Saul or injure him in any way. He maintained his respect for the king, and waited, and waited, until his heart must at times have sickened within him and murmured that God was only waiting for David to act…

Then came the word of Saul’s death in battle, and David’s hour had come – without any need to dress up as obedience an act which would have been in truth a rebellion against God’s law – and the first thing he did was to mourn for Saul, honouring even in death the man who had pursued him so viciously  for many years.

What has God promised me? Health and happiness? No. Suffering and struggle? Yes! Let no one convince you otherwise, than that our life in this world will be marked by trouble, and our response should not be ‘why me?’ but rather ‘why not me!?’ Far more significantly, we are also promised the constant presence of our Saviour and God, dwelling in us by the Spirit and continually strengthening us, counselling and directing us. We are promised complete forgiveness, and freedom from guilt about the past, and we are promised a future more glorious, exciting, fulfilling and fun than we can possibly imagine!

All God’s promises to us, are ‘YES’ in Christ – and we don’t need to manipulate anything to receive them, but freely accept them as God’s gift to us. Oh let me learn to live in those promises, to set my heart and desire on them, that their fulfillment might be for me a tree of life!

Whispers of hope

Rejoice greatly; O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey…… He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners.. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!

(Zechariah 9.9,10b-12)

The bible narrative from Genesis onward is not an easy read, as the consequences of sin make themselves felt at a personal and national level for God’s chosen people. Time and again they rebel and pay the price for their disobedience. But alongside this sadly realistic picture of human nature, we find words of hope – hope for temporary relief from distress, but also of a future perfect peace, a dwelling together of God and his creatures in mutual delight and harmony. This prophecy from Zechariah, addressed to a people in long-term exile, is one such word. The promise of a coming deliverer, bringing freedom, rejoicing and justice without borders.

The exiles circumstances were bad; there was no earthly reason to hope that the future might see an improvement – and their hopelessness was compounded by the knowledge that their exile was a direct result of persistent disobedience to God, and of breaking the terms of the covenant God had made with them!

Once again, God sends through his prophet a word of encouragement to the people, a word of grace, of unmerited favour and his faithfulness to an unfaithful people. Once again, God is revealed as the  hero of the story, preparing to bless those who have so deeply grieved him and got themselves into a dreadful mess as a result. He alone can and will deliver the imprisoned and despairing. Any hope for salvation depends utterly on this grace of God, who chooses to act because he must be true to his own promises.

 What makes us prisoners? Too often it is our fears; sometimes it is our success in the world’s eyes; and for some it will be circumstances which are beyond their control and which bring great distress. Think of the prophet Daniel, who spent his entire life in captivity in Babylon, or the exiled Ezekiel, born to be a priest in the temple but doomed never to fulfill his ambition.This passage in Zechariah promises that in God, we have a deliverer, and a sure hope for future freedom from whatever binds us now. We are called by faith to turn again to the stronghold which in this case is not a physical fortress, but the Lord God himself! The psalmist writes enthusiastically of this truth:

In you O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me for you are my rock and my fortress… For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (Ps 71.1,3&5)

When by faith we are drawn to hide ourselves in God, our fortress, then we are no longer prisoners of our fears or circumstances.Our obedience in clinging to him means that we are now capable of receiving his blessings – and our whole view of our lives is transformed.

We will be hope-prisoners in the tower of the Lord, walled about by his promises, with the light of his love shining in our lives and holding us as close to him as the tightest chains. This kind of imprisonment is not something to shun, but rather to seek! There is no safer place than in God: our great,powerful and good God.

This hope can open the door of the deepest, darkest places, bringing assurance that our God is always with us, and where he is, there is life now and will be abundance to come. Our hope is certain because it is based on the character of God, not on our own strengths, or ability to work out our own salvation. And it is the fulfillment of this hope which we celebrate in the birth of Christ, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately recalling this prophecy, and through whose death, the basis for peace between God and man would finally be established.

Let us rejoice in this promise fulfilled. Let us live as prisoners of this great hope, turning ever and again to the stronghold which is our God, and seeking to share the good news with our neighbours.

Food for the journey..

A feast of joy unspeakable is spread, by him who is himself the living bread, A place for hungry souls is now prepared, a life of endless glory to be shared.

Yet places at this feast were dearly bought when Jesus Christ came down and souls were  sought, and found and saved by his own precious blood, to make our peace with heaven’s holy God.

That gentle hand, once pierced, will pour the wine, the liquid life of love our souls refine, in heaven’s hall of wonders still to come, when God in matchless mercy brings us home.

And there, together saved by lavish grace, the room ablaze with light from Jesus’ face, and every trace of sin and darkness gone, we’ll sing the praise of God’s all-radiant Son.

(Malcolm Macgregor: sung to ‘Ellers’ by EJ Hopkins)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

(1 Corinthians 11.23-26)

It is just a year since we first suspected that we ought to be seriously considering the call to come to this remote part of Scotland, and came to visit the area, the church and manse and meet with a few of the members. Only twelve months, during which time our lives have changed profoundly, and God has demonstrated his faithfulness and tenderness time and again in providing for our needs and giving us strength and peace through the changes.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Lord’s supper in the most northerly of our three church buildings, remembering together what Jesus did for us on the cross, and taking time to give thanks again; to receive strength for the next stage of our journy; and take courage that whatever the world may say of or to us, we have complete assurance of our eternal destination.

It is such a simple act, a bit of bread, a cup of wine (or grape juice!), shared by a miscellaneous bunch of people in a remote corner of Scotland. And yet a profound act. A deliberate act of remembering what was done for us, by  God’s son, the perfect one, who alone could die the death we should have died, in order that we might live. An action which we take with fellow believers, a statement of unity and belonging that transcends every possible barrier of age, gender, race, and which links us with all who have gone before. We are ONE in Christ, and that bond goes deeper than any other. These people, whom I as yet barely know, are my people, and we belong together.

And it is an action that looks forward, as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians – we do this according to Jesus’ own command, to declare his death for us ‘until he comes.’ A day is coming, when we will share in a glorious feast of communion, a celebration of Jesus Christ, with him at the head of the table, and with all our travails behind us for ever. In his promises we have hope, and his grasp on us is the foundation of our faith, not our hold on him which is weakened by circumstances and our own frailties. Glory be to God, who has given us this sign which we share, remembering the past, celebrating the present and straining with hope towards the future.

We sang the words which I quoted above in our service last Sunday, and I was moved to sweet tears – of joy, of hope and longing for that holy feast. He has done it all; His lavish grace has rescued and restored us, and keeps in store a life rich beyond our imagining  So when we come to the table, let us come with joy and be filled again with love for one another and for those who are yet to believe, that we might proclaim the Lord’s death with pride until he comes!

Such good news!

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
 Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

 “Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
 See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
 You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

 Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
 Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

It has been a long week..last Sunday we had our last meal together as a family in Glasgow, and by Tuesday evening, we were in the new house, surrounded by boxes, shell-shocked but thankful for all the mercies which had attended our removal. Beautifully dry weather, exemplary removal men, and a house which was clean and ready for us to move into – thanks to the efforts of our new congregation in finishing off the alterations and getting a superlative team of cleaners on the job!

I have been unable to think straight, to contemplate much beyond the next box and where to bestow its contents, my body manifesting the stress through pain and a weariness I have never experienced before. It is at times like this that faith is a matter of just keeping going, trusting that our feelings are transient, and not the grounds of our salvation or God’s love for us! I have been hard to live with, and yet my faithful Lord has been ever present, tenderly bearing with my weakness and helping me recognise my blessings! I am so grateful for his patience and covenanted love for me in such circumstances.

Last night, my husband and our new congregation made promises to love and serve our great God together in this place, in mutual love and faithfulness – a solemn and joyous occasion, like a marriage ceremony in its formal vows made before God. We admit that this is not about feelings, it is a commitment of the will, made in obedience to God; made in trust that by his power, we will keep faith with him and one another in the days ahead. It was good to sing, pray and hear God’s word together, including these from Isaiah, a triumphant declaration by God about the power and priceless treasure which is his word to us.

Since I have been unable to think coherently enough to write for myself this week, I leave you with the words of God through the prophet, because it is his word, and the power of God through that word which is good news for our own lives and also the work to which we are all called. We obey, but it is God who is at work, and we look forward in this place to seeing how his word will bear fruit in lives transformed by his love and forgiveness.

Running on empty..

Just to be clear…. I do not feel that my life is quite the demolition zone that you see in the picture, but there is a definite sense of dismantling going on just now. Today sees our last service with the congregation to which we were called 22 years ago. How do you say farewell to people after that? In a month, we will leave the house which has been our home for 17 of the 23 years of our married life. The garden which has grown under my hands will be handed over to others to care for – it feels almost like abandoning a child to the care of others.  I will drive away from city life; from a rich network of friends and activities and work which have supported and encouraged and satisfied me, to …what?

I am continually being asked if I am excited about the new adventure which faces me? And if I am being honest, I have to say no! I am not temperamentally an adventurous person, but one who likes the familiar, the known and predictable. I deliberately avoid situations that take me out of my ‘comfort zone’, and only really relax where I am in control of my surroundings, timetable and food! What peculiar creatures we are, and how difficult we find it to truly trust God for all our needs..

The last few weeks have brought a steady stream of thoughts along the lines of ,’This is the last time I will..’ Over and over I am confronted with special people saying thank you, and goodbye, receiving gifts and cards, being prayed for and commended to God’s care. It is humbling and very sweet – in the nourishing sense of the word – to know that one has been appreciated and will be missed. But I feel very little in myself on these occasions, hardly knowing what to say, and only glad when I can slip away and brace myself for the next encounter. All the glory and thanks belongs to God, the one who made and saved me, the one who brought me into these situations and who was pleased – through me – to bless others. I am nothing, it is all Christ in me, and I praise him for his goodness and generosity to me, allowing me to be a channel of his love to others.

Perhaps, given all of this, it is not really surprising that I have this sensation of ‘running on empty’; that my spiritual flame is low and I am simply following on, obeying because I know that is what I must do, but lacking vigour and liveliness in my walk with God.

I am so thankful that we have had days of sunshine and heat to bask in, that my garden is full of beauty and life, that our plans for moving continue to work smoothly, and that we can have holiday before that day comes. I know that I am daily receiving loving mercies from my Lord, and that in his tenderness and compassion for my low state, he is patiently keeping company with me.

I know that he has plans for blessing others through me in the place to which we are called, and I will choose to trust him to reveal those people and situations to me in his good time. And knowing all this, yet I still find myself emotionally numb, in an almost dreamlike state, where nothing seems quite real and so nothing touches me directly.

Perhaps this is a blessing in itself, as I am being spared exhausting emotionally experiences at a time when I need to be able to keep functioning, sorting, organising and preparing for the move. Perhaps after it is over and we are settling into the new home, I will come back to life again and then the sense of being fully engaged with life will return – and as often happens when numbness wears off, it may be very painful!

Through it all, my Lord keeps asking,’Do you trust me?’ And my answer must remain,’yes, I trust you. Help me to keep putting one foot in front of another and moving with you, and not fret about what I cannot control.’

It is one of the hardest things I have yet had to face; and what a relief to know that it is his power in me which will make it possible, not my own effort. Praise God, that he never changes, never fails us, and his grace will always be sufficient for my needs.

The only constant…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

(Philippians 1.21)

 

It was on a night like this three years ago that my mother died. Soft, heavy snow fell steadily, drowning sound and creating a stark, eerily beautiful landscape, every branch bearing its weightless load.

We had known it was coming, and were thankful to be prepared, as ready as one can ever be to become an orphan. She was so ready to go home, and her saviour’s name was almost the last word on her lips.

God knows that death is too much for us, that we are made for eternity; that change and bereavement cause us to stagger, losing our bearings and succumbing to fear. Death is the ultimate insult to God’s creation of humanity in his image, the great scar which resulted from sin entering our hearts and breaking our fellowship with Him. It was never meant to be this way, and I take great comfort in knowing that my anger and grief in the face of death are a small reflection of God’s anger against this corruption of his perfect creation.

But I have learnt things through the deaths of my parents which would otherwise have remained merely theoretical. I have come to understand and rely on the Father heart of God for me, his beloved daughter; to trust in and take comfort from the Mother heart of God as I am cherished, and always understood. Perhaps it is only when precious things pass away that we learn to seek their essence in God – all the goodness and beauty of this world is a mere shadow of the truth and glory which are in Him.

It is a lesson which I need to keep learning. As my children have grown and become more independent, I am not ‘needed’ in the same way, and that role – which was so big that it became almost my entire life – is gone. I must not look to that relationship as my security and source of satisfaction in life. Nor should I depend on my status as ‘wife’, since that relationship too must someday come to an end. No, the only constant is that God, the creator and sustainer of life has chosen to reveal Himself to me, to make me his child, and to call me home to share in the glorious future planned for His people in the new creation.

It is His constancy which is my only security, everything else will pass away.

It is His arms which must be my refuge, since there are ultimately no other safe places.

It is His grace which is my only hope, since my own efforts and all the approval of others cannot make me worthy to belong in His kingdom.

It is in His beauty that I find the source of the glory which I only glimpse in the colours, seasons, sights and sensations of this amazing world. They dazzle me; how shall I bear being in the presence of the One and only, the great original?!

It is in His love that I find all my human loves purified, transformed and made perfect, so that I am finally at rest and fully myself.

May we be given daily grace to grow in dependence on Him, and to hold this world and all its riches with an open hand and yielding heart. For “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 being everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!” (Philippians 3.20&21)