Category Archives: obedience

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.

When you pray….

..when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words…God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this –

Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.

(Matthew 6.7-13, JB Phillips – The New Testament in Modern English)

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

(1Thessalonians 3.12&13)

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2Thessalonians 1.11&12)

Do you notice anything about these prayers? Anything unusual in your experience of praying and hearing others pray? On a purely superficial level, we could note the complete absence of the word ‘just’, and also ‘bless’…both useful in their place, but perhaps too frequently on our lips to add much to the sense of our words!

Seriously though, what do we find? Our Lord Jesus in teaching his disciples to pray sends them straight to the heart of the gospel – that God might be glorified, lifted up, recognised and worshipped as God above all, mighty, merciful, holy and pure.

How is this to happen? By the coming of the kingdom which has been ushered in by Christ, and which will be fully realised when he returns from glory to wind up time and bring his people into the eternal joy of life with him. We can pray for this to happen – we are commanded to pray, to do our part in furthering God’s great plan for the world in this way. We may not see immediately how we are part of the process, but if we faithfully pray for it to be happening, we are obeying Christ and that is enough.

In order for us to play our part, we need food (and a few other necessities of life), so we ask in full confidence for God to provide these, but move on swiftly to a greater need – forgiveness (and the reminder that our willingness to forgive others shows the extent to which we are aware of our own great indebtedness to God). God’s work in realising his kingdom is accomplished through forgiven human beings, who know that all they are is God’s gift to them. It is right to continually remind ourselves of this debt. And finally to acknowledge our ongoing dependence on God to make any progress in our spiritual lives and to achieve anything in his service – it is his power which enables us to follow Jesus’ example and resist temptation; his power in Jesus which has defeated the Evil One and protects us in turn.

Do you find that we pray for one another like this? Or in the wonderful ways that Paul prayed for his young churches – who faced persecution and hardships that most of us will never know? He makes no mention of praying for their safety, or their health, the schooling of their children or the security of their jobs!

I am deeply challenged by these prayers, as I respond to the needs around me, and the challenges faced by friends and family.. Do I pray for their faith to grow, their love to be strengthened and for God to be glorified regardless of what happens in their lives? What is most important in the light of eternity? How do I pray for my children – that they might be successful, or that they might be godly, faithful, recklessly obedient servants of the King of heaven?

Is it not good to think before we pray, and put God’s priorities for his children at the top of our prayers for them too?

Oh Lord, let us become wiser in our praying, discerning those things which really matter, and praying your promises for one another that our lives might show more and more clearly your love, power and holiness, and bring you glory.

A gentle prod in the right direction..

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion, for the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. ..Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or the left.

(Isaiah. 30.18-21)

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.

(James 1.5&6)

I believe in a God who promises to guide and direct his children; a God who desires their ultimate good, which may lead through times of trial and suffering as well as times of ease, comfort and plenty.

I have experienced in my own life these last 18 months, the clear directing of that loving hand, as my husband and I were invited to consider this new place of ministry, and one by one, the objections fell away, and the doors opened even before we pushed them! As the days and months go by, we are deeply at peace here, absolutely convinced that God desires us to work and live in this remote place, within a small community, things we have never done before. He called, and He is enabling, generously!

On a personal level however, I am still seeking guidance and direction, since I am not the parish minister, only his backup team, and that is not a full-time job! I do not know yet, just what my life here is to consist of – whether paid employment alongside housekeeping and church work; or a small mosaic of voluntary occupations, serving as well as I can. I am waiting..a recent job application led to a clearly closed door – an answer of sorts for the moment.. and I wait.

I am getting to know people, using my own interests and things which bring me joy to make connections which might grow into relationships within which I can share Christ. But these are quite selfish ways to use my time, and it has been pointed out to me quite forcefully, that the relationships are principally with folk my own age or older, not the younger members of the community..

There are many good things which need to be done – both church and community based – but I don’t think awareness of a need constitutes a call that I should fulfill it – God knows that none of us can stretch that thinly. How am I to discern what to do? I follow the advice of James, the ever practical apostle, and ask – and keep asking, not only for guidance, but that I might recognise it when it comes! I wait, trying to use my time well, but not committing to anything permanently, testing out the different opportunities and asking for that voice to speak clearly.

Father God, your child is  stumbling a little; unsure of her footing and of the way, she looks for your hand and strains to hear your voice: Fulfill your promise and guide her.

Lord God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: you spoke to your children so clearly at times, directed their ways and they knew what to do: Fulfill your promise, and guide this child now.

Delivering God, who confronted Moses in the desert from within the fire, speaking with power and then led your people by fire and cloud up from slavery, fulfill your promise, and lead this child.

You see her heart’s desire is to glorify you; and she longs to know how this is to be done, here, now, in this place; fulfill your promise Lord, and grant her heart’s desire.

Purify her heart and thought of all that would mislead her, tune her ears to hear your voice, strengthen her will that she might obey if the call is to some work which she finds daunting.

Above all Father, so fill her heart with love for her precious Lord, that any labour for him is a privilege, no matter how humble, and any sacrifice of selfish pleasure is worthwhile.

Only let her know that she is doing your will, for the blessing of her community and the glorifying of your Son’s wonderful name.

Amen

But Lord, you promised!

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

(Proverbs 13.12)

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

(2Cor 1.20-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whispers of wings?

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you ; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

(Genesis 12.1-3)

A perfect world, created to give a home to humankind, with whom God in his generous loving kindness has desired to share himself – not that he needs us, but his nature overflows with love, and the delight of the trinity in one another is to be shared with us! And in order that we might fully and freely enter into that love, we are made capable of rejecting it. In our folly, we chose to distrust our God and to put ourselves first.

So the beauty is broken, the relationship is fractured, and humanity learns the hard way that getting what we want is not always the good we expect it to be.. The earliest recorded stories of God’s dealings with humanity show that from the very beginning, he had a plan, an incredible scheme of rescue, which will ultimately bring into being the beautiful and satisfying relationship he always desired for us. Traces of it can be followed, like whispered hints of something wonderful yet hidden, through the old testament narrative, until it finds full expression in the gospels in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son and Saviour himself.

The readings at a Christmas carol service will often trace that thread, going right back to the promise given by God as Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, that the seed or offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – a picture of the victory which would ultimately be won by Christ on the cross, defeating forever the power of evil to separate humanity from God.

The steady focus and continuity of God’s purpose is a source of great encouragement to us, because it shows that he is never deflected from his plans, no matter what it may look like from our limited human perspective. Those who were caught up in the days of the Exodus – the long desert journeys, the threat of starvation and armed attack – had no idea that this part of their corporate history as God’s people would stand for the rest of time as a clear example of God’s power to keep his promises. The Midianite refugee who followed her mother-in-law home and found a welcome, and a new life with Boaz, had no idea that her small acts of love and service were part of the plan of God to create a king, David, who would bless the nation.

With hindsight, we can see that there are hints all along the way, as in the covenant promise made to Abram, that all nations would be blessed through him – through his great descendant, Jesus. But for those living the story as it unfolded, there was no such understanding. They were called to obedience and faith in the world as they could see it, without God’s blueprint for redemption and re-creation in front of them.

How much more should we be willing to serve and obey, since we have that plan, revealed in all its fulness in Jesus himself! God, in his mercy and loving-kindness to a helpless and forlorn humanity, has opened the way for us to come home, and has provided all that we need for the journey. The promise which was only whispered at the beginning, is now trumpeted abroad by the angelic heralds, who proclaim at Christ’s birth that here at last is the Saviour, the Anointed and promised one!

Let us rejoice this Christmas in the goodness of our God, in providing from the very beginning, a way for his estranged people to come home. And let us take heart, in the midst of a world which continues to be wracked by the consequences of sin, that we might be confident that God, who began this great work, will bring it to an end. He is faithful, and calls us only to be obedient in fulfilling our role in his plan. We have good news, the best gift anyone could receive, let us eagerly look for ways to share it in love, with our communities.

Food for the journey..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Corinthians 11.23-26)

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

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

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

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

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