Category Archives: obedience

It’s not about the chocolate..

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8.34)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.. he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2.5-8)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2.21-23)

As followers of Jesus around the world take time over the next few days to remember particularly the events of the last week of his life, looking forward to his death for all who would believe in him, I have been thinking how easy it is to forget a very significant truth about how he lived for us first.

Before Jesus died to save us from the power and consequences of sin – to offer hope for all the brokenness that each of us carries and cannot by any amount of our own effort overcome – he died to himself.

He deliberately set aside his own desires, the urge for self-preservation, comfort and privacy, for a “normal”life and the freedom to grow old without pain, and in peace. He gave up his rights as the eternal Son, setting them aside in order to become as a servant, one to whom no honour was due; and whose life might be disregarded and set at little worth. He gave up his rights to have his needs met in the ways he desired; he gave up the right to justify himself and to have the last word in an argument; he gave up the right to seek justice on his enemies for the wrongs they did to him. He set aside any notion of status or human authority, and never fought for recognition for his gifts and talents. He did not sulk or scheme against others when their opinions prevailed and his was set at nought.

It is far too easy for us to read Jesus’ words about denying ourselves, and to take them in as 21st century people – immediately thinking of diets, or other forms of privation; as many people still do in Lent, even when they have no faith in the Saviour whose life and death that season is associated with in many church calendars. It is far too easy to confine self-denial to food, or tv, or our favourite social media, or some other relatively innocuous item which doesn’t touch the heart of the matter.

It is ‘self’, the root of all human rebellion against God which must be denied, and that goes so deep with us, that most of us will spend our lives discovering ever more ways in which it rules and must be toppled from the throne over again.

I have no rights. I can demand nothing from life which I am entitled to receive. As a believer, all that I am and have is a gift from God, freely given, for him to use or withdraw according to his purpose and pleasure – for a greater and more glorious future than I can currently imagine. Will I trust this God – as Jesus did? Will I choose to cling by faith to his goodness and his promises when all my dearest hopes are gone; if my health were to be chronically undermined, or my children materially to suffer? Will I choose to let him look after the honour of my name and reputation, if all around treat me like dirt? Will I choose to let the justice of my cause go undefended, trusting in God to see and know, and resting on his love and acceptance of me for all my peace?

Jesus did this. He calls me to follow, rejecting the self which weeps and cries, fights and resists, clinging to every last foothold in my spirit and mind with incredible tenacity and hiding itself behind so many specious arguments.

My precious Lord and Saviour, for whom every step along the road to Jerusalem, every word and deed that last week was an act of obedient submission to the Father, and of ruthless denial of self, may I receive grace to follow and to carry my cross as simply, humbly and selflessly as you. Put to death in me that fierce enemy of the King of my heart, so that he might reign alone, and be glorified by who he makes me.

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Keeping a clear spring flowing…

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

(Luke 6.43-45)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice….But among you there must  not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

(Ephesians 4.29,31; 5.3&4)

Finally, friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things..

(Philippians 4.8)

How is your mind furnished? What things of beauty are placed there to encourage and inspire you? What lurks in the corners, unwanted but somehow stuck there, and likely to roll right out into the centre of your thoughts just when it is least appropriate?

I have images, words in my head which I wish I could wipe right out, things that I read or watched in moments of weakness and now deeply regret. Because I agree completely with the diagnosis that Jesus gives, that what we say and do comes from what we think and imagine and cherish in our minds, in our inmost being. We are responsible, as believers, for the things that we allow to find room in our hearts, because they will imperceptibly come to influence how we think and act. We can become de-sensitized to violence, blasphemy, obscenity and cruelty if we expose ourselves to them too much. My preference is to avoid them at all costs, except where it is impossible – in the living of daily life in this fallen world. Where is the ‘entertainment value’ in revisiting such things, when they reflect and dwell on the pain and darkness which God weeps over? Is it not enough to experience the realities, to see lives being destroyed around us by the evil which stains every life, and warps every impulse towards good?

There is so much in the world that is worth celebrating, worth dwelling upon, so many things that reflect the goodness of God and the image of his character which yet lives in his creatures. I passionately believe that we are missing out on God’s highest purpose and desire for us when we choose to focus on the darkness instead of the light, allowing our view of the world to become skewed and in danger of losing hope. What are we modelling for young believers, for our children, if we allow the bad news, the dark stories, and the secular narratives of humanists and aetheists to dictate our thinking? We have a radical, transforming story to share, and a God who has filled the world with witnesses to his power and glory, whose church is growing and whose power is undiminished.

What do our books, films, music and social media preferences say about how we see the world, about the view of God in the world that we have, about how we are furnishing our minds? We surely know enough already about the dark side of human nature from our own thoughts without needing adult movies, explicit literature – of sex or violence – and amoral song lyrics providing the soundtrack and moving pictures in our minds!

Or is it just me…am I naive and impractical?

As I grow older, I find I am more and not less sensitive, and this doesn’t trouble me in the least. It means that when I read of real suffering, or meet it in those around me, I hurt, I feel pain which prompts prayer, action, compassion and anger against the author of all this destruction – the devil, who, we thank God, has been defeated, but whose power in the world is not yet finally destroyed.

May God continue to help me to guard against all those things that might pollute and poison the new life, and pure spirit which he has caused to well up within me. There is enough remaining that needs cleansed without me adding more!

 

 

A singing faith…

 

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy!

(Psalm 33.1-3)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5.18-20)

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…and they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. 

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! 

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever! The four living creatures said, AMEN, and the elders fell down and worshipped.

(Revelation 5.6, 9-14)

 

Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad gay and the gay sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant or mollify the vengeful….this precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.

Martin Luther, on music…1538

Do I need to add anything more?! Dear friends, we may not think that music is our particular gift, that our voice is nothing special, that the serious business of learning from the bible is the principle reason for meeting together as believers… But none of that is to the point!

We are commanded by our God, the one who made us and knows what we are capable of and also what is to our benefit, to SING, to make a joyful noise, and to use whatever musical instruments come to hand in order to add to the experience. We are not told to sing only when we feel like it; to sing only using certain forms of words; to sing only in church; to sing only in four-part harmony; to sing only unaccompanied by instruments, or only with instruments. It is really quite simple…humankind is created with the ability to make music, we have an inbuilt instrument, and God says to us, “I gave you that voice for a purpose, USE IT! principally to glorify me, and also for your own pleasure.”

When his people sing, when we use the voices he has given us, I believe that our loving Father delights in our music – not because of our polished performance, but because it is our personal response to all that he is and has done for us. I believe that each individual voice is heard within the whole – and if we deliberately withhold our song, he misses us. I also believe that singing our faith is a powerful way of learning our theology – how often do I find myself remembering lines from hymns which speak of deep truths, bringing comfort and encouragement. Singing is good for us, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Let’s do it with enthusiasm, and be willing to learn to do it better!

I could write at length on this, but I want to let the words of scripture speak for themselves , so will just close with one last thing that has always puzzled me…why is it that so many faithful followers of Jesus seem unable to sing with feeling? I don’t mean that we should be constantly in a state of brainless ecstasy, but rather that the truth we are singing should be expressed and reflected in the way we sing… Folk have commented that I smile often as I sing – it never occured to me that this was peculiar; of course I smile, I am singing to my Saviour, I am full of thankfulness, I must smile! And equally, at times I weep, and can barely make a sound, as I am overcome by the message of a song.. And yet so many seem to sing as if there were no connection between the words coming form their lips, and their hearts….it’s odd.

This has been a rather long post, but it only touches the surface of a big subject. Let us indeed encourage and sing to one another, let us begin to rehearse in earnest for the great day when we join the chorus of the redeemed in the new creation, to give our hearts in praise to our glorious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ..just do it!

A new look?

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him…But..Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.

(Ephesians 4.17&18, 21-24)

Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

(Romans 12.2)

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will not longer live for themselves….This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

(2Corinthians 5.15&17)

No one carefully reading the letters of the apostles written to the early church, could make the mistake of thinking that Christian faith is simply a matter of being nice and having a warm, comforting feeling about life and the future.. Our faith is not a matter of instinct, habit or gut feelings; it is action, constant struggle and an endless ache for things we as yet do not see. It is a daily contest between the remnant of our sinful self – the voice that bewitchingly says we are “worth it”, when temptations come our way; that beguiles us into selfish behaviour and thought on the basis that meeting our needs is obviously the priority for our lives – and the new person we are becoming through the life we now live in Christ Jesus.

The apostles use a variety of images to help their readers – that’s us too – to understand what it means to live as believers in Jesus, as those who have been forgiven and restored to fellowship with God, who are being transformed into his likeness. One of the most striking is the idea of a garment being put off or on.

No one puts on clothes by accident; you don’t just wake up and find yourself dressed for a day in the office! It requires at the very least a routine of laundry, and a modicum of organisation to present oneself appropriately attired for the day. And this is the point for believers: we too have to be actively involved in our daily life of faith, in preparation and organisation, so that we are fit to be seen as God’s witnesses in the world.

The person who believes in Jesus, and desires to be actively growing in maturity as a believer has a job to do – God has given us the privilege of being his fellow-labourers, as he by his spirit works in us. We are given many promises, but what good are they to us if we do not – by faith – choose to act as though we believed them? It is all very good to read of the peace of God, but unless I actively strive to put off my anxiety and trust God, then peace remains only a dream.

I choose to believe that I am forgiven, to accept and rejoice in that forgiveness and therefore to put away, or cast off, any clinging and debilitating guilt.

I choose to believe that I have a purpose in God’s great plan for the world, and therefore look actively for ways in which he is already at work where I can offer myself in service, rejecting the self-pitying and discontented spirit which resents my present circumstances.

I choose to believe that God is indeed at work in me, that he will complete that work so that I shall be transformed into the Christ-version of myself which was God’s original purpose. And so I give thanks even in times of struggle, weariness and pain, trusting that he is forming treasure within me and none of it is wasted.

It is a battle..so often I am ambushed by my own thoughts and feelings, and find I have failed to put off the things which are not of Christ, but cling to them instead! I do not have that single-minded focus which keeps my eye on him – the author and perfecter of my faith – but, when I am thinking clearly, I know that God wants this focus for me too, and therefore even as I strive for it, he is strengthening my gaze.

All praise to him, who keeps us from falling, comforts and forgives us as we stumble and wander, and who provides such riches for our clothing – that we might be found arrayed in all the glorious, spotless robes of Jesus. Let’s get dressed!!

Try resting..

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night..For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands…The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Psalm 92.1,2,3,4&12-15)

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 my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

(Psalm 91.1&2)

Twenty four years ago this week, my husband and I arrived in the little village in this picture to spend the first days of our married life, and we attended the church during our visit. We had no particular reason for choosing this place, other than that we thought no one would recognise either of us! This village is now one of three centres of worship in our parish, and I come here every Sunday evening to meet with fellow believers (in a different building), to worship the God whose ways are truly beyond our understanding! This is a place where I now delight to be at home, to be known and recognised.

It is marvellous to me to look back, and to acknowledge that my Heavenly Father knows so much better than I do what is right and good, so that all the ways he has led us over the years have brought us to this place at the right time. Two city born folk, finding themselves utterly at home in this remote seaside parish; adjusted completely to the intricately connected community way of living, and thankful for the slower pace of life. Truly, our God is wise in all his ways, and his works are a source of gladness to his grateful children.

It is good for us, when in times of uncertainty and adjustment, or seeking God’s way for our lives, to look back and consider all the paths he has led us down to reach this current resting place. It is good to catch the racing thoughts, the anxious internal conversations, and to bring them still into the moment, the present, and turn them into thankful prayer to God for his untiring, unfailing goodness.

As I consider the pattern of my life here, and continue to seek God’s guidance as to how my time is best spent, I am tempted to worry and fret – and that achieves nothing, while making me at the same time very unhappy and unpleasant to live with. When I give in to this temptation, the devil wins and peace is lost.

Thanks be to God, that he uses many things to catch our attention and draw us back to himself, unflagging in his determination to bless us and help us to grow in resilient, obedient faith. So today, as I laboured in my garden, I was able to silence the relentless internal complaint, and to rest in the moment that the Lord was giving me; sunshine on my back, strength in my arms and legs, soil to dig and plants to nourish and enjoy. I can even rejoice that I have leisure in which to become anxious – not for the anxiety but for the luxury of unhurried days, and the growing sense that I can enjoy my Lord’s company without rushing from one good work to another!

May I learn to rest more peacefully in his shadow; may I be deaf to voices that drive me to compare myself to others, and hear only his voice saying ” Darling child, I love you so much, spend time with me, tell me your thoughts, tell me how you love what I give you.”

I want to trust him for everything, and he sees my heart and knows this. If there are things that he wants me to do, is he not able to show me? If I see no clear signs, and have asked and looked and waited, then for the moment I can perhaps rest more deliberately in his presence, allowing his love to refresh me, and trusting that when the time comes, the God who has been the author of all my life story will reveal the next chapter and lead me gently into it..

 

 

One Church, One Faith, One Lord!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-4)

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

(John 17.20,21&23)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

(Psalm 133.1)

It is a very sad reflection on the chronic brokenness of human hearts that down through the ages, the church of God has been marred by ferocious divisions and internal strife. The pride and stubbornness which marked our race from Eden have fractured the body of Christ again and again down the centuries, and we read the prayer of Jesus on the night he was betrayed (John 17, quoted above), with heavy hearts, recognising what a miracle such unity would be!

No physical body experiencing the breakdown in unity which has characterised the church could have survived, it would have died long ago. The miracle is that God has sustained his church thus far, in spite of all the quarrels and battle-lines, so that although divided, she continues to grow and to bear witness, and by his grace to minister to a world in desperate need of salvation. Praise him for his power, and his patience with us!

We may not be in a position as individuals to change this situation, but we are called to pursue unity wherever we can – by modelling ourselves on Christ in his humility and servant-heart, seeking the good of others, not putting ourselves first nor insisting on our own rights. Although we may – for whatever reason – belong to a different branch of the church from our neighbour, there is no excuse for failing in love towards them, or avoiding active service alongside them for the gospel.

Paul reminds us in Philippians that we are one in Christ, and that we share fellowship by the one Holy Spirit. From that starting point, we can have the same purpose and labour together, to reach our communities with the good news of Christ, so that people may be gathered into the kingdom of God for eternity, and begin to live the values of that kingdom here and now. Indeed, such united effort is itself a witness to the love of God, and draws people out of the darkness to the light of the gospel which has caused such transformation.

Our unity in wielding the weapons of faith against the spiritual forces which keep our communities from turning to Christ encourages us in the fight, and strengthens our hope and confidence in God. Like well-trained soldiers, we know that there is safety in numbers, and that together we are so much stronger and less vulnerable to attack when there are comrades at our back!

The challenge is to be willing to labour with others, to see fruit in another field, and to be content since all the growth is to the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom. It is a human weakness to want to get all the benefit of our labours in our own particular church family – but does it really matter, in the light of eternity and of the great extent of God’s amazing plans for his church? Is it not sufficient that souls are saved, discipled and grow to mature faith somewhere?

May I be willing to work faithfully alongside believers from every part of the body of Christ, to accept that differences are not necessarily barriers, and that God is so much greater than our artificial denominational boundaries. May I accept that true growth anywhere is to the glory of God and the praise of Jesus Christ, and rejoice in it without envy or resentment even if my own church is not blessed at this time.

What on earth is going on?

Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”  The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

(Luke 18.31-34)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?…All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:..I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me….They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing….

(Psalm 22. 1, 7, 1, 14 &18)

Bewildered, but loyal; unable to see what was in store beyond the certainty of trouble for the man whom they loved and had followed for years, yet willing to go with him for a little longer. Do you ever wonder how the disciples made sense of the last weeks of Jesus’ life, what did they tell themselves was happening? The methodical author of Luke’s gospel leaves us in no doubt, and presumably he has it on good authority from one who heard the disciples themselves tell the story… They had no idea what Jesus was up to, it simply made no sense to them at the time! I doubt whether we would have done any better in their place given our limited understanding of God, and poor grasp of his big plan for the world.

The disciples had all the clues – as Jesus reminds them when he points out that all which is to come had been foretold – and yet they remained so wedded to the popular Jewish idea of a military and political deliverer as their Messiah, that it all passed them by. How patient Jesus continued to be with his foolish followers, and how lonely it must have been..When we face great trials, are we not much comforted by sharing our apprehension with trusted friends and praying with them? There was no one who understood, no one except his Father. As it says elsewhere in Psalm 22..”Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no-one to help.”

 For love of his friends, for love of all those who would one day follow their journey into faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, for love of me, he chose to walk that lonely road. Each day brought the final trial closer, more clearly into focus. Each step of the journey that was gradually drawing him closer and closer to Jerusalem was a triumph of his will to obey his Father, and a demonstration of the power which is available to us now, his followers, as we live in him.

Even in their confusion and ignorance, Jesus’ disciples were still so dear to him, so precious, and he knew that their participation in the events which were to unfold was crucial. These men would be the witnesses, the recorders and preachers of all that they had seen, and in time would found the church, that body of redeemed humanity which is Christ’s beloved and for whom he died. He was full of compassion for their weaknesses, and bore with their foolish, misguided ambitions, and above all, he loved them well enough to complete his work. His presence alone would never have been enough to atone for their sins, or ours; we needed his death – what a humbling thought. His teaching alone cannot change our hearts or avert the right anger of a holy God against rebellious people. We needed his death, and he knew and determined to love us to that uttermost extent.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who from the beginning of the world had purposed to pursue his fallen children and to restore them, spotless and pure, to fellowship with him.

Praise be to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who submitted himself entirely to the planned work of redemption, for love of his people, and held nothing back in meeting our utmost needs. 

May we be found fully submitted to Christ, to his transforming power in our lives; so moved by and indebted to his love for us that we hold nothing back in our turn, as we seek to live for and glorify him.