Category Archives: hope

Deep and healing rest

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down- this leaning wall, this tottering fence? Surely they intend to topple me from my lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honour depend upon God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times you people; pour our your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and “You reward everyone according to what they have done.”

(Psalm 62)

Did you have a special secret place as a child? I had a place on the hill behind my parent’s house where the turf was short and sweet, where I was hidden from the paths and could lie looking straight up to deep blue sky, hearing only distant traffic, and the song of the skylarks.

This psalm conjures for me such a place. High on a hill, bathed in sunshine, a rocky outcrop is warm from the sun and hides me from any onlookers. I am hidden and yet fully visible to the heavens. My body is relaxed by the warmth and the utter quiet of upland air is about me. Yet I am not alone, because the Lord of my heart and my constant companion is with me. He is the creator of this place, of the heavens above me and of the tiniest particle of my being. He is both unknowable, and yet intimately known to me because he has revealed himself in his son to be my loving God. His love is immeasurable, fierce and tender, and he delights to share my days, to receive all that is in my heart, and to bear my burdens.

Those who would distress and harm me – human or spiritual foes – are known to him, and before him they are as nothing. It does not lie in their power to break this sweet and eternal communion. Even when God ordains for me  a path of shadows, suffering and pain, yet in my innermost spirit I am always here on the mountainside. I put my trust in his power and love, and in his plans for me. He is good, and always working for my blessing – no matter what happens to me. His power will surely accomplish all that he plans, and because of his loving-kindness to me, I can rest in quietness and wait for that fulfilment.

The psalmist affirms that God will exercise power and unfailing love, and by exhorting himself afresh to trust and depend on God in all things, above human or material resources, he models how I must face each new challenge of life.

Those who place their trust in God are never abandoned – but are cherished not for their good deeds and merit, rather for that humble and dependant attitude. God will indeed reward each according to what we have done, may we be given grace and faith to follow the psalmist’s example and find our rest in God, letting him guard our honour and provide our salvation.

I am not myself…

..if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 15.14&15,20,42-44,55-57)

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.

(Rom 6.6-8,10&11,13)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Cor 5.14&15,17)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.. you will be my people, and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

Easter day…Resurrection day…. whatever one chooses to call it, after that day, all the world was changed for ever. The creator had become a creature. God became human, entering into our darkness and despair in order to do the only thing which could restore us to our place as God’s beloved people, for whom the earth was formed, and with whom He desires to live eternally. When God becomes human, anything may happen: the dead are raised to life and the blind see; the ‘rules’ of creation are joyously suspended, so that food is multiplied and the storm stilled at a word. The outcast is welcomed home, and to each and every one, their dignity and worth as God’s child is restored.

The world in those days couldn’t stand it – Jews and Romans, rich and poor, religious and secular, they united against him and condemned him to death. He was unspeakable, worthless, to be despised and destroyed. Today, our world continues to reject him, to cancel him and persecute those who would speak out in his name.

But he broke death…on the first day of the week, he rose, clothed in the imperishable and glorified body which will one day also be given to each of us.

And today, millions around the world will sing ‘Glory to God’, for his power in salvation through Christ – because in spite of thehuman arrogance born of two millenia of ‘progress’, the risen Christ lives in the hearts of his humble people. What does human scorn matter to us, when we have life in all its fulness and the hope of glory to come?  What hope does a godless universe offer us to compete with full salvation, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus?

I found these words many years ago on the internet, and cannot now track an author to give credit to for them. I share them here, because they powerfully express the truth about the lives of God’s redeemed people. I invite you to read them aloud to yourself – often – as you praise God for his grace and salvation today!

I am not myself. I am Christ raised on high. I am not who I was when I stumbled on sin and lost my way, when guilt or fear kept a close watch through the night, when striving to perform or please marked my day.

I am become another, and what a life is now mine. The fullness of the freedom of the blessings of heaven fills my days and velvet guards my dark. Each part of me is welcomed and loved. I am whole. I am one. I am uncluttered by the past. I am done with death dealing and dogma, with mounting stairs to God. I am not climbing, I am here, raised on high.

I am alive with the life of Christ. I have the fullness of God in my veins, the wisdom of God a treasure in my heart. I can live in His glory, I can serve with His splendour. I can know His ways for they are mine. We are one. I have been raised with Christ.

Living is a messy business

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

(Ps 130.1-5)

But [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

(Job 23.10-12)

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

(Ps 57.1-4)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 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….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.

(2Cor 4.6-9,16&17)

The saints of the Hebrew scriptures – the psalmists, prophets and faithful servants like Job – lived before the full revelation of God’s great plan for dealing once and for all with the consequences of sin. Their confidence in God’s love for them, and their conviction that somehow, their personal sin was dealt with and could not cut them off from the God whom they trusted and worshipped is astonishing to us, living as we do on the other side of the Cross. But their words show that in spite of the consequences of personal sin (Ps 130), or of the sins of others against them (Ps 57), or even the inexplicable tragedies of life (Job), yet they trusted God and rejoiced in Him as Lord.

Life in this world is a very messy business. History teaches us that every era brings its own experiences of war, natural disaster, human exploitation and oppression. Each human who has ever lived, bears the seeds for sins against others, against themselves and ultimately against their maker. We live with the consequences of all those things. In the same way that each generation can build on the prosperity and success of previous ones, so also it reaps the harvest of their bad choices, destructive behaviours, and inherent sinfulness.

The miracle of our salvation is that not only are we to be ultimately delivered from this messy, often painful, and seemingly inevitable progression, but even in the midst of it, we have hope and confidence that our lives matter, and that God is not wasting the small things we bring in response to his overwhelming gift to us.

The saints of old trusted in God, often in spite of the evidence of their lives, and clung to him as their rock and the one who would declare them righteous in his sight. We, who have the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate declaration of God’s love for and commitment to us, surely have so much more reason to trust him with all that we are. Our own sin and its consequences; the sins of others against us; and the tragedies of life: all of these are opportunities to choose God’s glory, to cling to him by faith and to stand firm on his goodness.

With Paul, we can say that the treasure of Christ in our hearts is displayed most fully as we increasingly recognise just what dull and unworthy material we are made of – His light illuminates our shabbiness. With Job, we can say that we will come forth from our trials refined like pure gold, as we persevere through them in an attitude of dependence on God and a refusal to ascribe evil to him. I think that Job would have recognised himself in Paul’s description of the refining and purifying work of the Spirit in a believer’s life.

All praise and glory to the one who redeems and forgives us, who weaves our small, messy  lives into his glorious plan of redemption, and in the process, makes us into his treasures – pure and beautiful, reflecting God’s own character back to him.

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

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

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

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

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

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

(Jer 45.4&5)

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

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about Him, not me

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…Endure hardship as discipline.. If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true heirs.. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 

[But] you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous ones made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks…

(Heb 12.2,3,7,8,10,22-25)

What goes through your mind when you hear of people who used to profess faith having drifted – or run – away from God? This happened to me recently, and I found myself grieved, but also unsettled, as I realised afresh how easy it is for us to become distracted from the gospel truth by less challenging secular ideas about goodness and self-worth. I don’t know what particular events in those individual lives led to this drift, and I pray that God will restore and renew them to a living hope and dependence on him. But I wonder if they just found it easier to erase Jesus from their lives, to dismiss the idea of sin and shame, of guilt, the need for forgiveness and the claims of Christ on their whole being. Those are not comfortable concepts for many in our time who would urge that they are unhealthy and to be rejected.

But how does their more ‘comfortable’, secular, self-care and self-fulfillment philosophy sit alongside the realities of human evil, the grievous persistence of war, torture, abuse and every other way in which humanity manages to turn good things like power, wealth, beauty, relationships, and creativity, into ways to hurt, destroy and pollute? I see no answers to the growing darkness of the world from our secular thinkers, no grounds for hope. It is only in the gospel of Jesus, of God-made-man for us, that we find the hard answers to these hard questions.

Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to believe that God is in the business of making all things new – not because we as a race have the capacity to fix things for ourselves with a little help, but because we are helpless to fix things. God has come to do for us what we cannot do, so that we might join the firstborn whose names are written in heaven and be at home with our God. It’s not about somehow overlooking all the bad stuff and being as good as we can be by thinking positively and fulfilling our potential. It’s about accepting – confessing – that we are broken, and that only God can make us whole and beautiful, and that in so doing, He has to deal with the ugliness of sin and the power of death. There is a place for everyone who will come in faith, in dependence on Jesus – every colour and tongue, all have a part to play in glorifying their maker – and accepting the blood which had to be shed to make us clean. It’s not about how good we can feel about ourselves, it’s about what Jesus has done for us.

This gospel gives me hope not only for myself, but for the beautiful and broken world in which I live. It gives me hope for the millions who have never known peace or prosperity, health or security – because when they believe in Jesus who died and rose again for them, they join the family of the beloved in glory, and will receive a glorious inheritance which will cast all their sufferings into oblivion.

Believing in Jesus doesn’t make life easier – but that’s not why we do it! Believing in Jesus is the response of faith when we see who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing in the world. I want to remain part of that work, not because it brings me self-fulfilment (although it might), but because I long to be useful to my God, to be part of his work and to see his name glorified. Jesus paid the ultimate price for me, and when I consider that sacrifice, I am ashamed of my preference for a comfortable life, of my leanings toward to the secular, self-centred ways of thinking about what is important.

Great God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood has made it possible for me to be your beloved child, let me never close my ears to your voice or reject your discipline in my life. Keep me needy, keep me raw and fully aware of my weakness; open my eyes afresh to behold the fierce light of your holiness so that I might detest sin and resist temptation with your strength and for your glory. Renew in me a humble but deep hunger to reach others with the gospel of Jesus, to live as a faithful believer whose greatest joy is to see Jesus exalted. Let him be magnified, and let me see it, 

Amen

The greatest gift

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see  him with my own eyes – I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

(Job 19.25-27)

Jesus said.. ” I am the resurrection and the life. One who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” [Martha] told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(Jn 11.25-27)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 6.22&23)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him … and so we will be with the Lord for ever.

(1 Thess. 4.13,14&17)

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn; 

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born.

(P Cappeau, translated by JS Dwight, 1855)

I don’t think I have ever been more thankful in my life that my Christmas celebrations are based on the historical person of Jesus, and on what He came to be and do for me. As I look around at a weary world full of pain and struggle, a society which is grasping vainly at ‘tradition’, family, or some nebulous ‘hope’ as the basis for a party, and see so many hurting people for whom the whole idea of ‘celebration’ is both insulting and painful, I grieve and pray God’s mercy.

But I also give thanks because as a follower of Jesus, I have a hope which is certain, based on something outside human fallibility, outside this broken but beautiful world; something which is more real than I can begin to understand. Christmas is not ‘just for the children’. Christmas is not some general season of goodwill and superficial cheer. Christmas – the birth of God as a human baby, come to dwell among us, to die and rise again – is for the lonely and desolate; for the abused and the abuser; for the tyrant and the oppressed. Because He came, everything can be different, every heart re-born into hope and humility, grace and generosity, praise and perseverance.

I can sing and be glad because Jesus came; came for me and for you; came to make a difference for ever, and it depends not on my feelings about it, but on God’s truth and love and power and faithfulness to His own promises. This greatest of all gifts comes to set aside all human striving and delusion; comes and says, ‘Believe in me, and stop chasing peace in all the wrong places.’

Jesus is God’s hope for the hopeless; God’s healing for the broken; God’s forgiveness for all us sinners; God’s love for the unlovely; God’s home for the exiles; God’s light for the rest of our journey in this sin-darkened world.

Celebrating Christmas does not mean pretending that there is no pain, or that life is perfect. For some, and sometimes for me, Christmas has been viewed through tears, through a shadow of bereavement or other major source of pain and weariness. But I think that when we choose to give thanks through our tears, God is even more honoured than when we find it easy to be glad. No, we celebrate because the coming of Jesus makes all the difference to the pain and imperfection – we see their transience, see that under God’s providence they are not in charge. We are no longer alone in the dark, and it doesn’t all depend on us to make it right – what a burden that is, and how good to lay it down!

In Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the King, whose kingdom is now established among us in all who believe. I hope that for you and those you love, this coming King is welcomed as Lord and Light, Saviour and Friend, so that no matter what darkness is in your life at the moment, you can rejoice in Jesus and be encouraged and strengthened for the year that lies ahead. We do not know what the future holds, but – as the old song says – we know who holds the future, and we trust ourselves into his nail-scarred hands.

Whose headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgement. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

(Ps 9.7-10)

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(Jn 16.33)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(Rom 5.1-5)

It is some years since I stopped watching news programmes on TV, and I mean stopped altogether, not just the late night bulletin which would upset and depress me just in time to go to bed…. all of them. My preferred radio station has the briefest possible bulletins, and no chat shows or analysis programmes. Our family newspaper is only skimmed by me, and I pay more attention to the articles on rugby union than UK politics!

Why? Because I am fully aware of the impact on my attitude to life and to the world around me that the ‘news’ can have. How often do we hear really good news on the radio or TV? When did a headline in the papers last make you think, ‘How really wonderful!’? The sad reality is that bad news sells, attracts and keeps attention, and so our media news channels focus on that – on disagreement, on the dramas of international disputes, on natural disasters and the threats of more.

I know that some outlets are more reliable than others when it comes to an accurate and unbiased reporting; I know that some sources are more likely to take account of all the facts and avoid pursuing some political agenda of their own. But, I also know that since none can actually take a broad, complete picture, they will inevitably distort and fail to convey the full picture.

And so, as a follower of Jesus, I choose to place little weight in the news as reported. I choose instead to rely on the statements by the one who truly sees and knows all, who holds the nations in his hand and sees into every heart, discerning motives and desires which are hidden from the world. I choose to trust God’s headlines over those of the media, and to find in his viewpoint, my security and my analysis of the situation.

There is so much more going on than we ever hear about. There are so many things which are good, and true and beautiful that never make the news. God’s love is in action, all around me people are caring and giving and celebrating because He is, and has loved them. I believe that only eternity will show the full significance of all the apparently ‘small’ good things that are happening all the time. If I am to hold a balanced view, I need to make sure that the reality of God’s love and goodness, of his beauty and power are at the forefront of my mind, balancing the pain, evil and misery which is also part of our broken world.

And what are God’s headlines?

The Lord reigns for ever. He will judge in righteousness. He has overcome this world’s evil, and the victory is given to all who trust in him for forgiveness and eternal life. We are on the winning side! Whenever you are being overwhelmed by the latest tidal wave of bad news, dear friends, take a step back and remember what God says about this world and all that is happening and will take place.

Not only is our Lord reigning already, but he is also present with his people in their journey through this place so painfully compounded of joy and sorrow, light and darkness, beauty and ugliness. This holiness came and lived with our sinfulness. Nothing that we encounter can shock or defeat him. Nothing that the darkness hides goes unseen by him. We never walk alone….

So much good news, from the most trustworthy source imaginable: my friends I pray that we might never lose sight of it, and might indeed discern it every day in the lives of those around us – the faithful love of a spouse for a failing partner; the committed work of missionaries, carers, healthworkers and emergency services; the unselfish generosity of neighbours and the positive community efforts to care for the weakest and least visible in their midst. God’s headlines may not always be the most dramatic, but they will always help me to walk more steadily through our troubled world, and to offer hope to all who will receive it.

Where are my wells?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar.. and he said,..”go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

…God said to Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant… I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink…

(Gen 16.9&10; 21.12-19)

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….the poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

(Isa 41.8-10, 17&18)

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

(Jn 7.37&38)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful..

(Heb 10.23)

Hagar, servant of Sarah, concubine to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, suffered greatly at the hands of those who could and should have known better. Abraham and Sarah, in their abuse of Hagar, did not honour the God whose call they had obeyed and whom they worshipped. God showed grace and compassion to Hagar, as the mother of Abraham’s first son, she entered a relationship with a covenant keeping God and this long story shows that faithfulness of God’s character at work. In all the machinations of Sarah, and complaisance of Abraham, yet God was at work for good for this slave woman and her unwanted child. And when the crisis came, Hagar found that God intended to do for her all that he had promised.

I was greatly moved by this story when it was preached in our church last week, as we were encouraged to recall that we too are those who have received God’s promises. As his chosen ones, called through Jesus to be his children, we are the object of his love and it is his purpose to bring us to glory. While the world may leave us tired and vulnerable, and those close to us may hurt or neglect us, yet God is at work and cannot be thwarted.

Friends, are you, like me, oppressed and feeling as though life is a desert? Can you see only the death of your hopes and no purpose in carrying on? Let me encourage you to be like Hagar, to cry aloud in your distress and to listen for the voice of the Lord who has promised that he will quench your thirst abundantly.

This way is the one in which God is leading and calling you. This, therefore, is the place in which he will sustain and bless you. This way is the one where you will find wells, springs of refreshment. There may only be small springs, rations for each day’s journey – but herein lies the challenge of faith. Will I accept today’s refreshment and trust for tomorrow’s, even though I may not see it yet? Will I choose to follow and rejoice, one day at a time?

What wells lie in your way today? As you cry to your Father who sees all things, what will he give for your thirst? Perhaps a song, or piece of music which brings His faithfulness to mind and allows you to express worship and trust, or to lament and lay your burden before him. Perhaps the companionship of a fellow traveller with whom you can share your situation, and whose own burdens you can lift to God in prayer. Perhaps an opportunity to serve, to use the gifts you have for the blessing of another. Perhaps a fresh awareness of his power and majesty in creation.

May we learn to trust him more fully for our daily needs, and to journey in faith, like Hagar. May we see the wells which God’s goodness has provided, and having drunk deeply, go on.

Out of hope…not fear

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled…You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour.. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

(Ps 65. 1,5,8-13)

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…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 deliverance and strength.'”

(Isa 45.18&19,22-24)

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

(Matt 6.9&10)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…..” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

The debate around climate change, and the very compelling evidence for the scale of the crisis now faced by humankind, is one of the most disturbing things which we face as believers. I am continually overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, and the seemingly inevitable suffering which lies ahead, especially for those already oppressed by poverty, disease and war.. When one adds a degree of realism – or is it undue pessimism? – about the capacity of the major global agencies to actually cooperate and act constructively and decisively, it is hard to find grounds for hope.

BUT, as a believer, I must wrestle with this, and recently in my struggle I have been greatly helped by being reminded that we are not in this alone. There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that God simply set up creation and then abandoned it to the mercies of human beings. Rather, there are multiple indications that God is intimately involved with the ongoing life of our planet; sustaining its laws, caring for its creatures and also celebrating and appreciating his own handiwork. We are also told very plainly, that God is in the business of ‘making all things new’ – of realising his purposes in a perfected creation, where He can live with his redeemed and glorified people, enjoying everything as it was always meant to be. 

So what can I do as I seek to live as God’s child, God’s representative, in this troubled time?

I can be sure that God is still involved in this world; and that as his child, I am called to follow his example of caring for and celebrating the beautiful, abundant creation around me. God’s hands are still on his handiwork, for good.

I can be sure that God will fulfill his purpose for all creation; to deliver it from the effects of sin into a place of abundance and thriving which I cannot even imagine, but which one day I will delight in as my eternal home!

I can pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ and then expect that God will answer, and that I can be part of that answer – even though I may not understand the paths He chooses to take. I can be part of that answer, by looking at my own life and the opportunities I have to do things differently; and also by encouraging other people to see the goodness of this earth and to cherish it. 

I can encourage others to hear how creation shouts aloud of God’s love and generosity; celebrating all his greatness and power, and responding in loving stewardship of those things which it is in our power to influence. I can encourage them to believe that since we are working with our God in a world which is precious to him, for a purpose which is glorifying to him, then our efforts will never be altogether futile, no matter how small. 

God is with us, now and always, therefore we need not fear – though the oceans rise – but can work with him in hope and expectation. May we be strengthened to live in this way in these days, that our hope might cause others to seek Jesus, and find salvation for themselves.

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On feeling very, very small…

[God] spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens quake…By his breath the skies became fair;… and these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?

(Job 26.7-14)

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

(Ps 139.1-6,17&18) 

Can you spot the boat in the picture? It is almost invisible, lost in the sheer expanse of the horizon as the sea opens beyond the mouth of the loch. Every wise sailor knows that they must go carefully into open waters, the forces arrayed against them are huge and must be reckoned with. How then do we – as tiny craft upon a great ocean of life in this world – venture with confidence?

Many years ago, a dear saint in my congregation gave me a little card, a bookmark and remembrance which I still have, bearing the words, “My boat is small, your sea so vast: Dear Lord protect me.” We do well to be lost in admiration and worship as we consider the scale of God’s creative powers as displayed in our world and the unimagineable reaches of space beyond. We do well to feel how very small and insignificant we are on this little green planet, lost among billions of other human beings, present for a tiny moment in time and then lost to sight and memory, leaving no trace of our passing.

This sense of our transience and irrelevance is one of the things that God uses to call people to seek him – since the eternal likeness to himself which is implanted in every person cries out against it. Somewhere deep within, we believe that we matter, that we have purpose and value, and yet…behold how great the ocean, how unmoved by humanity are the mountains and the great winds. 

This is one of the many blessings we receive in the gospel, as we join God’s covenant family and share in his promises and purposes in the world. We discover that while our sense of inadequacy and smallness remain, we now know that God the creator and sustainer of all things knows and cares intimately for us. We have been brought into a personal, loving relationship with the one who keeps the stars in their courses, who sees and rules the great beasts of the deep and who holds our planet in its life-supporting place in the universe. How marvellous to realise that although we are as dust on the ground, yet we belong to the awesome, holy and good God who made all things. Our frailty no longer defines our future – He does. Our past sins, and present failings no longer define our future – He does. Our tiny efforts to please him, to labour for his glory and the building of the kingdom do not define our future – He does. 

My friends, as we today consider how small we are, how easily lost within the vastness of creation and humanity, let us rejoice that we are never lost to the God who made us, who saved us in love to live for and with him. Let that knowledge bring peace and freedom to venture out with courage into the smooth or turbulent waters that lie ahead, trusting the great navigator to keep us just where we should be, right under his eye and in his hand.