Category Archives: hope

The rock on which we stand

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal….

The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you…

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us..You have enlarged the nation, O Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.

(Isa 26.3-4,7-9, 12&15)

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins..that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…for the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed..then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”….

Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1Cor 15.1-5,19-20,52&54,58)

One of the most wonderful things about the gospel which is the good news of our salvation, is that it is always true! It has nothing to do with our feelings, our circumstances, our confusion or misunderstandings, our theology (or lack of it it)..This ‘rock’ or foundation is the basis of our lives, of the freedom and strength and joy which God gifts to his children and it is reliable because it is the character of our God to be faithful.

We have received the gospel because God promised from the beginning that he would make a way by which fellowship between himself and his people would be restored. We have received the gospel because all through the bible narrative, God demonstrated his divine commitment to fulfilling that promise – in spite of the faithlessness of his chosen people, their idolatry and abandonment of his truth. We have received the gospel because it is entirely the work of an almighty, loving, just and gracious God. If any part of the good news depended upon human merit or ability, we would be utterly lost – praise God that he has done it all!

In spite of the two millennia of human failing which have characterised the church, still God continues to faithfully fulfill his promise, calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, and patiently waiting until all his own are gathered in before he winds up time and ushers in the glory of our eternal life with him. He has borne with the shame and dishonour which humanity(especially the church) continues to bring upon his name, as we fall sadly short of the example of Christ, and expose him to mockery and derision all over again. He continues to make people new, to call them to lives of loving service, of freedom from guilt, of wholeness instead of brokenness.

The gospel has not lost its power to transform, because God has not been diminished in any way by the increasing sophistication of our world. He is not weakened simply because certain leading thinkers and social influencers dismiss the idea of faith – nor because those who deny the divinity of Christ, and the truth of the gospel are shouting loudest. The Lord seated on the throne of glory laughs, and waits until the truth is revealed, and the folly of humanity in all its pride and self-confidence is laid painfully bare.

How necessary it is for me to return again and again to praising God for the gospel, to anchor my mind and heart in his unchanging nature, to rejoice by faith in what I cannot see – the steady completion of God’s kingdom-building work. Here is the only sure foundation for peace of mind in an increasingly troubled and God-rejecting world. How I thank the Lord for his mercy, and for his faithfulness to his people, and for the power by which I am held fast in Christ…’my heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.'(Ps 73.26)

This is not all there is…

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One…..The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them…

(Ps 2.12&4)

O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the god we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

(Dan 3.16-18)

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 peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped 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)

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…Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen

(Rev 1.5-7)

I don’t know if it is my age and stage of life, or if the world is really a good deal more threatening and fragile than it was when I was younger…But I have become aware that I am constantly being dragged down by a weight of anxiety, of fear for the future. This largely derives from the widespread understanding that humanity as a species is in the process of destroying the resources it depends upon for life, as a result of the ways we choose to use – and abuse -them. Depending upon whose point of view I listen to, the collapse of our environment and all that goes with it – food and water, drugs, security, health and stability – is unavoidable, and even likely to occur within my lifetime.

This is very uncomfortable stuff, and I am challenged about my reaction to it as a follower of Jesus – it should make a difference that I believe in God, in his power and goodness and desire to bless his people!

Yes, but all too often, I fall into a human-centered way of thinking about things, instead of remembering what the bible says consistently from beginning to end…God is the centre and foundation of this story, the main actor and the one who knows what is happening – I and all my race are the creatures, the rebels, the puny and ludicrously self-sufficient earth-dwellers, with no conception of the breadth and glory of the narrative in which we are playing a small part.

When I allow myself to be trapped into panic and despair about the future of this planet, I have forgotten what God says about my true purpose – which is to enjoy him in eternity, in a new earth, where there is no more sin-driven destruction, or exploitation, and all is well. I am not made merely for this world, but for a glorious future, with a resurrection body – and NOTHING that happens to me before my death can rob me of that inheritance.

I – and my children and dearest friends – may face climatic collapse, the end of all that we have known and loved; but does that mean that God is no longer on the throne? Our lives may become very painful, full of uncertainty and threats; but does that mean that God is powerless to save us, or that his promises are worthless? Certainly not! But how I struggle to trust when I do not understand, and when my sin-shadowed mind fails to fix itself upon the figure of my risen, victorious Lord.

The anxiety which I feel is showing me that my heart is not yet fully fixed upon the treasures which God has for me; my security still depends too much on being in control of my life, and on things going as I expect them to. It may be that the great lesson for so many believers in the days and years to come will be to really put our trust in God – when he permits everything else to be stripped away from us.

May we be given grace to trust him absolutely; ever-brightening hope to brighten our days; and urgent love for our neighbours, to share with them the Saviour who alone can sustain us through what may lie ahead into an unimagined future glory.

 

The fruit of the spirit is….self-control

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.

(Ps 56.3&4)

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing..My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

(Ps 101.1-3,6)

You are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. 

(Ps 119.57-61)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me…

(Jn 14.1)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

(Rom 15.13)

It is easy to think of self-control as a quality of restraint, of holding back and NOT doing those things which might be harmful or otherwise ungodly – for us and for others. But there is also a proactive quality, the ability to steel oneself to do right things – even if they are hard, making us apprehensive of rejection and conflict.

In his final address which is recorded by John, Jesus commands his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled – and they go on to express profound uneasiness and trouble in the following verses! But when I read the words recently, I was struck by this element of command – do not ‘let’ your hearts be troubled…and the subsequent ‘trust in God’

Jesus speaks as though by actively pursuing trust, we can also actively obey the command to keep our hearts untroubled, no matter what we are facing. This can only be achieved by the power of the Spirit in us, reminding us of the promises of Jesus, of the riches of God’s love and provision for us, and above all, showing us that we are part of a great and glorious plan which is fully under God’s sovereign control. When we can trust that God is working all things together for his glory and our blessing, then our heart-troubles subside and we find peace.

This isn’t about some supreme teeth-gritted, fist-clenched effort which we have to make, but rather a steady cultivation of our thoughts and attitudes; a learning to trust first. When the spirit of Jesus within us is active, when we are working with him to feed our minds with the word of God, we are choosing to believe that word is doing us good. When we exercise self-control to make sure that our spiritual nourishment is not neglected, by meeting to pray with others, by worshipping together and hearing from the word, then we are giving ourselves the equipment we need to trust God, in all that may come to us.

We will undoubtedly face circumstances every day which will challenge the tranquility of our hearts – we live in a world which is so broken by sin and evil that it is impossible to avoid trouble, whether from within or without. But we can choose what we do with those troublings…either we put up no defence, and allow them to take up residence in our hearts and minds, dictating that we are driven by fear and anxiety; or we exercise the self-control which the spirit enables within us.

We choose to remember God’s promises; we choose to trust that he is good, and true and loving, and powerful; we bring our fears and troubles to him, and choose not to dwell on them. This is not self-hypnosis, but faith in action. By actively pursuing trust in the God who has revealed himself as supremely loving, and intimately caring towards us, we learn to stand secure amidst troubling circumstances – not because nothing bad may happen, but because God is in control of everything for his glory and our blessing

 

 

Here..and yet not here

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will grant peace in the land…I will look on you with favour….I will put my dwelling-place among you, and …I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

(Lev 26.3,6,9,11&12)

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

(1Kings 8.27)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth..

(Jn 1.10&14)

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

(Matt 28.18&20)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…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 21.1-5)

No one can measure how long – in human years – the separation has lasted; how long the divine heart has yearned over the gulf which divides the creatures from their loving creator. But all down through history, the ache echoes through our cultures and our own hearts. There is truly an emptiness, which nothing can fill but the knowledge that we are at home with God.

All the strategies of humanity to banish God from their thinking are just so much posturing in the face of a brutal truth – because nothing and no one else can actually address the brokenness of our race, can truly bring healing, forgiveness, and hope. And those things are the products of a right relationship with God, of Eden restored, so that we walk with him in the cool of the day and have nothing to hide.

From the earliest times of God’s dealings with his people, there was an emphasis on a dwelling place, a promise of intimacy and permanence, embodied for a time in the temple. There was always a distance, a continued separation because no amount of animal sacrifice or ritual observation could permit the sinful people to enter boldly into the presence of an awesome and terrifyingly holy God. But the physical forms and festivals demonstrated God’s commitment to his own, to their welfare and his covenant promises.

And then, in Jesus, we find the first fulfillment of the promise that God will dwell with his people – are we so used to the phrase that we fail to recognise its power? It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, cause for exultant worship and silent adoration. While the world was yet flawed and polluted by sin; while humanity was yet bound in darkness; holiness took on flesh and blood, accepted the indignities of birth and childhood, and dwelt among his people, that they might know him..

Now we await his triumphant second coming, longing for the fullest fulfillment of the old promise, that God will dwell with us and there shall be nothing to separate us – because of the work of Jesus, the God-made-man, in dealing with our bondage and releasing us from the power of sin and death.

He is with us now, by his spirit; and yet how we desire that closer walk, that stronger experience of his presence, his voice, his love, which awaits us on the day when all things shall be made new..We celebrate the gift of God himself to us at Christmas time, and we long for more of him. That is not ungrateful in us, but right and proper, because we are made to enjoy more, made to dwell with him in eternal joy and unimaginable beauty and delight. Let us then be glad for the heavenly homesickness which keeps us looking forward, eager for the completion of Christ’s work and our final homecoming to our Father.

O Come, Thou key of David come, and open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

(12th cent, translated by JM Neale 1818-66)

A longing for justice…

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgements. 

(Ps 48.9-11)

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96.10-13)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”…”We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.”

(Rev 11.15&16)

The idea of rejoicing in judgement sounds rather peculiar as a subject for advent meditation, but many of the writings which anticipate the coming of Messiah, the promised redeemer of God’s people, attribute ultimate authority to him to judge – and it is clear that for those writers, this was sufficient cause to be joyful!

Where does their confidence come from? What is so attractive about this prospect? When we recall the narrative of Genesis, and the fact that humanity is made in the image of God, we begin to understand why as a species we have an inbuilt sense of justice and fair-dealing. We reflect – in a fractured and overshadowed way – the holy and just character of God, who cannot look upon evil and who embodies righteousness. Although we know that so much of the evil in the world arises from our own actions and attitudes, yet we continue to rebel against the resulting injustice and unfairness, insisting that things should be different. And God agrees….

This beautiful world, full of God’s creative genius and expressive of his glory and power, is suffering because of the ways that our sin has opened the door to evil, to powers of chaos, destruction and despair. The rules are being broken all the time, and everyone longs for it to be different. In the coming of Jesus, the Christ who would redeem his people, God undertook to destroy that power, to inflict a fatal wound upon the source of evil and break the bonds that enslave humanity to it.

The promise of Messiah, is the promise of the coming of one who is, firstly, fit to rule – because he is trustworthy, holy and true; and secondly, powerful enough to rule this world; to establish that order and justice which we all long for in our hearts. His reign, begun at Calvary, promises the restoration of right judgement and ordering of all things – for the blessing of not only God’s people, but the whole creation, which will in time be made new, revealed in all the glory that God designed for it.

We rejoice at the prospect of all things being restored and set to rights; we recognise that this must mean our own sinfulness has no place, and we dread being banished by the great and holy one whose rule we welcome. But, when we approach his throne, to praise his justice and righteousness, we hear words of welcome and love, because his judgement on us has already been carried – by Christ himself, the promised one, born of Mary at Bethlehem so long ago.

The promise of Christmas is indeed a source of joy to all those who have accepted the forgiveness and cleansing offered by Christ, and a source of hope to all who will yet hear and accept his offer; we have complete assurance of our place in his kingdom, where all shall be well, for evermore, to his glory and our blessing. Amen, Lord come soon and make it so!

 

..from a full heart, I sing!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up ….He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

(1Sam 7.12)

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord..”

(1Sam.1.27)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days….May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90.1,2,14,16&17)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1.16&17)

Throughout the bible narrative, God calls on his people to review the ways in which he has dealt with them, acted in love towards them, rescued and provided for them – even though they couldn’t always understand the methods he used! Through the ups and downs of their lived history as the covenant people, they were to learn that God was good, that God could be trusted – no matter what happened. The repeated message is to “remember…”, and we do well to follow their example.

Our family recently celebrated the graduation of our son from university, after four years of study. It was a day full of ritual – as befits an ancient seat of learning – and joy, as all the students rejoiced together, enjoying a final few days before their paths diverge into the next stage of life. Graduation is a major rite of passage for a family, marking the end of formal education and in large measure the end of the role of parents in supporting and providing for their children. It is a time for reflection and thanksgiving, and as I watched my son beaming enthusiastically at his tutors (and their faces shining back at him), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who gave us this precious charge, this child, to be raised for him.

The journey to this point has had its fair share of challenges – for one thing, he didn’t want to be born!! – and I have wept and agonised over his choices, and endured the torrid teenage years like other parents. There has been a measure of kicking over the traces, and he has his own particular palette of weaknesses – some of them mine, which is such a shame… But, but, but….God has promised, and has blessed us by fulfilling that promise while we are alive to see it, and our son professes a lively faith in the God to whom we committed him as an infant. Nothing else really matters, and I am so thankful that I can entrust my beloved child to my heavenly Father, who loves him with such a passion.

Here, I raise my Ebenezer; here I say, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us!’; will he not continue to do so?! Let me learn from the years of child-rearing, let me remember that through it all, my God never abandoned us, never left us or broke his promises. Let me hold even more firmly to those promises as we look to the future, so that no matter what comes, I will be willing to trust God with my children.

Today, my heart is full of thankfulness, singing songs of praise to my heavenly Father, the source of all good things; today, my life is bursting with good things, and there are no clouds in the sky. When tomorrow comes, things may change, but my God never changes; and all that is permitted to touch me and mine comes within his sovereign will for us, and for his glory.

Let the possibilities of future troubles not cloud the celebrations of today; let me take in full measure, the joy and satisfaction which my Lord is pouring into my lap in so many ways. This is a time for singing the songs of fullness, of gratitude for good gifts and answered prayers; a time for storing up reasons to be thankful against the days when I am in the dark. My God will prove faithful then, and I can rest in his unchanging love and nature, come what may…

Consider the stars..

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

(Deuteronomy 33.26&27)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

(Psalm 91.1,2, 4-6)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose….Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8.18,28,35-37)

Consider the stars in the sky;
When it is darkest they shine out the brightest
Consider the stars in the sky
In every anguish, Oh, child take courage

Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
He who made all of this, and who holds all of this,
Holds you in his hands

(Keith & Kristyn Getty, 2015)

 

We have a bad habit of re-casting God’s promises into our own terms, to suit our own circumstances, and then expecting Him to fulfill them according to our understanding of what is best.. We take the words such as those from Psalm 91 above, and decide that should mean that we are to be kept miraculously safe from every physical threat to our bodies – always! Sometimes, there are instances where God has indeed created supernatural protection for his children, hiding them in plain sight from their enemies, or healing them from fatal illnesses, and we do well to rejoice in such deliverances. But they will always be part of a bigger picture, and a higher perspective that we cannot see. God does nothing at random, and nothing is ever wasted, so that a miraculously preserved life will have some particular call upon it which is yet to be fulfilled.

But our experience, in a broken world, is surely not that which might be expected from a superficial reading of Psalm 91 – everyone suffers from illness, assault, weakness, fear, and eventually the debilitating effects of age. So where do God’s promises come into the picture? In what sense are we supported by the everlasting arms, pictured in Moses’ wonderful final song in Deuteronomy?

I believe that Paul puts it best for us, when he affirms that there is NOTHING which can separate the child of God from the love of the Father, because of the redeeming work of the Son. In one sense, we may be vulnerable to the effects of human suffering, but in another, we are invincible! The grasp of the everlasting arms upon us is unbreakable, and our eternal future, in transformed bodies, in glory and joy and fulfilment, cannot be taken from us. In that ultimate and most essential sense, nothing can touch us!

If we can take hold on that truth – a process which I find I have to go through repeatedly, as new trials come along – then we are indeed sheltered from the storm, as under wings, because our heart is at rest. It may be in agony, but in recognising that there is one who loves us and bears with us, who knows our pain, and above all who knows that the future glory is worth it, there, we find we can hold firm.

I often walk at night by the sea, and the stars throng the sky above me, a source of wonder and awe. They speak of the utter ‘otherness’ of the creator, of my utter insignificance, and cause me to stand in adoration again of the God who “made all of this, and who holds all of this,” yet holds even me in his hands.

Friends, let us pray for God to stir up our faith, when all around seems darkest, that his presence and promises will shine brightly, and we will hold fast, trusting him, and rest in the everlasting arms.

 

Photograph of the stars, courtesy of F. Wotherspoon.