Category Archives: obedience

Passive or Active? – I have a choice…

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?…I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Ps 56.3&4,12&13)

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

(Ps 119.1-8)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….

(Phil 1.27, 2.12-16)

We are a resurrection people; we live in the light of an empty tomb and a risen saviour. Not only do we believe these things, but we live because of them! By faith in this Jesus, we live free from guilt and the burden of shame; free to love generously and expect nothing in return; free to pursue holiness and godly living not as a grim attempt to earn salvation, but a joyous expression of love and gratitude to the God who has saved us and called us to live with him….but sometimes it doesn’t feel easy, sometimes the temptation to indulge the old habits of thought and action are very strong. 

When I am faced with major challenges to my faith and trust in God, it is easy to succumb to the habits and attitudes of the world around me. Self pity, complaining, fearfulness and resentment at God for permitting these trials all come so easily. I am sorely tempted to indulge that weakness which consists of blaming God for making my life harder than I like or feel is reasonable.

The bible has no room for such self-deluded behaviour, but insists I recognise it for what it is – sin; a refusal to live as though I believed what God has revealed about himself and what He has promised to do. I don’t like being exposed as a willful sinner, but that is what I see in the psalmists words and in Paul’s words to his beloved Philippian church.

The gulf between God’s standards and my choices is stark, and I cannot take refuge in the claim that I can’t help myself, because the whole point of our new life in Christ is that I can, and must! I have a will, a conscience, and the common sense which God has given his children. All these things are now under the lordship of Jesus – as a beloved minister of my youth used to say, ‘use your sanctified common sense!’ Each situation that arises is another opportunity to live in ‘a manner worthy of the gospel’, to speak and act and think to God’s glory and the furthering of the kingdom. I have to ask myself, “Am I honouring the price which has been paid for me? Does my conduct here bring the reality of Jesus transforming power to view?” All too often, the answer would have to be ,’No’. When I choose to indulge my complaints, to feed my doubts, to wallow in self-pity, I dishonour the gospel. When I choose instead to exercise my will, and common sense by taking my troubles to Christ and acknowledging my weakness and doubt, and ask for his help to stand for him and walk by his light, then I honour the gospel.  Which is it to be?

Thanks be to God, who is working out in me the salvation to which he has called me; I am not a passive agent in my circumstances, but active. I have the capacity to choose obedience and trust, and as I pursue these things in every area of my life, so I will indeed walk in the ‘light of life’, in the fullness and peace which God promises to those who seek first his kingdom and glory.

On being worn thin…

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways…Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand…For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones..The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps and delivers them; he saves them, because they take refuge in him.

(Ps 37.1-8,23&24,28,39&40)

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

(Hab 3.17-19)

Do not let your hearts be troubled, Trust in God; trust also in me..Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid….In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world..

(Jn 14.1&27, 16.33)

Lord God, hear my prayer today…I am being fretted away by sorrow and trouble as  wind and sand fret away the rocks until they collapse and are no more. 

Lord God, hear my prayer today….I am being distressed by evil and human wickedness as the smooth polish of fine wood is destroyed by sandpaper and rough handling.

Lord God, hear my prayer today… I am being robbed of all my peace by the aggravation of unquiet thoughts, as the traveller is rendered furious by assault of biting insects.

Have mercy on your servant in this, her distress, as she hears your command, ‘Do not fret’, and would seek to obey it. 

How should we deal with these continual pressures which bear upon us in this sin-sick world of ours? By what means can we resist this erosion of spirit and hope? We choose to make full use of the protection which God in his mercy has abundantly provided for his children. We are not passive victims of this process, but active agents with(God’s) power to change the situation, and the psalmist lays out clearly – both what we should do, and what we can confidently expect God to do for us!

  • Trust in the Lord, and do good – choose to believe and then act on what we believe.
  • Delight in the Lord – making his glory, power, love and goodness our chief source of joy and the focus of our thoughts. 
  • Commit our way to the Lord – handing over rule of our lives to the One who knows and does all things well.
  • Be still and wait before the Lord – his timing is perfect and it is his power which will achieve his purposes. He longs for our worship, not our advice or fussing and rushing about!
  • Turn from wrath – choosing to give to the God of Justice, the business of judging and carrying out the appropriate sentence; accepting that we cannot judge aright, and are ourselves forgiven sinners.
  • Take refuge in God – literally hiding ourselves, clothing ourselves in his protection as the secure wall we need.

And what does God undertake to do for those whom He loves?

  • God will fulfill the desires which arise in us as we rest in him.
  • God will display his righteousness in us, we shall shine as the sun at dawn because of his glory and strength at work in transforming us into the likeness of Christ
  • God will keep us from falling, steadying our steps as we lean on him.
  • God will be ever-present with us in love, delivering us from sin, protecting us from evil.

Jesus assured his disciples on the night before he died that their peace would be secure because the world which would seek to trouble them had been overcome. The One who came as light into our darkness has triumphed over it – that light CANNOT be quenched, and we stand in that light, clothed in that victory.

Thank you Father, that you have done all things needful, and that as I trust in you, I am at peace. Be glorified in my life, as your strength and love shield me from all that would wear me out and break my spirit. I will rest in you and be still.

Choices, choices…

Trust in the Lord and do good..Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait for him.

(Ps 37.3-7)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..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. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor 4.7,16-18)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet. 3-7)

“There are no throwaway moments in life; everything counts for eternal reward.” – Joni Eareckson Tada, in ‘A Spectacle of Glory’, 2016, Zondervan

Much of what I want to say today was inspired by these words from Joni, whose life and ministry among those with physical disabilities has shown us what God can do through suffering when it is yielded up for his work and glory. Since the diving accident which left her confined to a wheelchair in her teens, Joni has made choices every day to pursue God’s glory and to trust that He will use what she offers to that end. She is honest enough to say that it is never easy, but also urges us to believe that it is both possible and worthwhile to do.

If someone like Joni can commit to such choices, then surely I can too. Each day, I am faced with the normal trials, struggles and frustrations of human existence; from the large ones to the trivial. Each day, I have choices to make about how I will respond to what God has permitted for my life. It may be that my initial responses to trouble will continue to be instinctive – anger, fear, disgust, disappointment – but the bible teaches me that I have choices about what I do with those emotions.

Will I recognise the temptation to indulge feelings and attitudes which deny God’s goodness, providence and power? Or will I act as quickly as I can to bring those emotions to God and ask him for his help to think and act differently? I DO NOT say that this is easy, or that I am never guilty of giving in to the temptation to complain, indulge in self-pity, nurse resentment and hold grudges. But, I also believe that with God’s power at work within by the Spirit, I can choose to set aside the wrong responses and move on to the ones which will produce in me the godliness, holiness and God-glorifying qualities which I long to see. As Joni says, we have opportunities every day to make life count for eternity, to show the world, its ruling spirits, and all the heavenly realms, just what Jesus can do in us when we ask.

As I remind myself that my Lord is always near, that my purpose is to glorify God, and that I am a new creation in Christ, then my resistance to choosing God’s way is broken down, and I repent of my self-indulgent fits of temper or resentment, and find joy in acknowledging my need of him. I thank God that He is nurturing in us the self-control which enables us to do this, and that every such effort strengthens our faith and the right instinct of dependence.

The words of this prayer help me to commit my ways to the Lord, trusting that as He works in me to answer, so I shall increasingly shine with his glory.

Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.

Let me use disappointment as material for patience:

Let me use success as material for thankfulness:

Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:

Let me use danger as material for courage:

Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering:

Let me use praise as material for humility:

Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:

Let me use pains as material for endurance:

(extract from A diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, 1936)

Faith and politics…

The Lord enters into judgement against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”

(Isa 3.14-15)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city – and to fear your name is wisdom – “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it…Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false wights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.

(Micah  6.8-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matt 5.3-10)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

(1 Tim 2.1-2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority; whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

(1Pet 2.13-17)

Yes, that’s a lot of direct quotation from the bible, for the good reason that it is here that followers of Jesus find their guide and rule for living out those two great commands – love God, with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. As one living in a nation increasingly divided, recently divorcing itself from long-term allies in Europe, and facing growing calls for independence for Scotland from the rest of the Uk, I live with tension and uncertainty. I live with the consequences of decisions made within a particular political system, decisions I may not be happy with but must accept. As a believer, what is it my duty to think and do in this situation? What does it look like to love God, and my neighbour?

I give thanks that ultimately I belong to a kingdom beyond this imperfect world, where truth, justice and peace flow from the perfect King on the throne. I recognise that no form of government devised and operated by fallen and sinful humanity, to rule other fallen humans, is ever going to be without its troubles, and that in every situation, God’s will is at work in spite of the problems. History relates the rise and fall of innumerable ‘empires’ and powers, some more peaceful than others, but none capable of producing the perfect justice and mercy which God requires.

I do not put my faith in a political system, but in the God who can sweep them all aside whenever He chooses. I do not put my faith in a political party or ideology, but in the gospel of Jesus, which alone is capable of the heart transformation which enables us to love one another. I can campaign for policies which I believe reflect God’s heart for creation, for his children, but until the state forbids me to practise my faith, I will submit to its rule and fulfill my duties as a citizen. I will not worry about these things as though they were the most important, because they are not – my citizenship in heaven, and the salvation of all God’s people matter more.

 I am called to pray for those in authority, so that we might live in peace and witness to our Lord without fear – am I doing that for those whose ideologies I don’t agree with? I must; that is loving my neighbour who represents me in authority. I am called to speak out for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed – am I doing that for people whose cultures and beliefs are alien to me? I must; that is loving my neighbour who lives round the corner, or on the other side of the world.

No human institution or ideology can claim a divine right to rule – that is blasphemy and rebellion against the King of Kings, denying his supreme authority, and utterly failing to acknowledge the depth of human depravity. I give thanks that the kingdoms of this world will not last, but the Kingdom of our God is eternal, and will soon be fully established. Meantime, I will seek with God’s help to show proper respect to everyone, to love my fellow believers, to fear God and honour those appointed to rule over me.

 

 

 

Selective memory!

God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God – beyond our understanding! 

(Job 36.22-26)

“..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,..he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

(1 Cor 11.23-25)

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus..our citizenship is in heaven. and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Phil 3.13, 20&21)

Therefore, ..let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Heb 12.1,2&3)

What is in my bag as I face the next year of my journey? Lord, what do you want me to carry onto the next stage of the path?

Should I take the burden of failures, of the ways I have disappointed myself and others this year? No; your love commands that I put these away, with thankfulness for your forgiveness, for your grace in restoring relationships, and your sovereignty which works even my failures and their consequences into your plan to bless us and glorify your name.

Should I take the encumbering cloak of hurts which others have caused me this year? No; your forgiveness of me requires that I extend to others that same mercy. So with thanks for your enabling, I forgive all my debtors – over and over again, every time the memory surfaces, I will do it again – that I may clear my feet of the ensnaring folds of bitterness, resentment and walk the path of love.

Should I take the map of expectations which the world presses into my hands, as a guide to my feet and a lamp to my path? No; your word will be my guide, my light, and I will trust that in compassion and mercy you will always lead me through the dark and hard places. You have promised to go with me, and that is indeed safer than any map or guiding light.

If I strive to look ahead, into the unknown, fear weakens me and tempts me to despair of ever reaching the goal. If I look back at how far you have brought me, through many troubles and in spite of all my weaknesses, then I am humbled in thankfulness and restored for the journey. So this is my ration for the journey – thankful remembrance of all God’s goodness to his people down the centuries; and specifically to me and those I know in our brief lifetimes.

This is no burden to carry. Indeed it is more like wings to my feet and strength to my knees, as I choose to consider Christ and all that he is and did for love of his people.- Christ who dwells within me by his Spirit; who goes before to prepare good works for me to do; who delights to share all of life with me..and who is keeping everything that really matters safe for me to enjoy with him through eternity.

Dear Lord, may I have the blessing of a selective memory! Remembering your goodness and faithfulness but forgetting -so gladly- all my past failures. Fill my mind with the truth of your word and grow my confidence in your promises. Stir up expectation within me, and bless me with daily encouragements and glimpses of your hand and your presence.

Whatever 2021 may hold for the world, Lord, your children await your return with confidence and eagerness. Bless and keep us faithful, cheerful and diligent in service, that we might have the joyful satisfaction of giving you our best.

A powerful testimony…

Then they [all the people] said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord..sends you to say to us. Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey..so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”

(Jer 42.5)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…The words I say to you are not just my own..the Father, living in me.is doing his work.

(Jn 14.6,7,9&10)

He [Jesus] said to them…”you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

(Acts 1.8)

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. for he received honour and glory from  God the Father when the voice came…, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

(2 Pet 1.16&17)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds,…Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. so be earnest and repent..

(Rev 3.14,15&19)

Do you notice how the words in Jeremiah are mirrored by the words from Revelation? This struck me today as I considered how to write about the wonderful name Jesus takes to himself in Revelation, speaking to his church in sorrow and summoning them to repent and return to the covenant love which once they had known.

The Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) are a sorry tale of disobedience by the covenant people, to which God, by his prophets and by direct revelation bears witness. Time and again, the truth about their rebellion is brought before them, and repeatedly they fail to learn from the consequences of their actions. God calls them to repent and return, but in vain.

In Jesus, this act of witnessing to the truth – about God, about human depravity and helplessness, and about the gift of salvation – is brought to a climax. There is no more accurate revelation about God than that which we see in Jesus. He is the ultimate and utterly reliable word of truth on all these subjects. He is THE faithful witness, the only man who never failed to live and speak in ways which truly reflected God’s character and will. That faithfulness took him to the cross, but the truth to which he testified raised him from the grave again in triumph, and now he stands as eternal witness to the irresistible reality of salvation by grace, to a living hope in a new heaven and earth, a new body and an unimaginably rich future life.

The comfort to me from this wonderful name of Jesus is that I can fully rely on him; the challenge is that he has called me in turn to bear witness to the world. I am now to be one who speaks the truth – about God, about human hopelessness and the gift of salvation. I am called to suffer, as Jesus did, for being faithful to this message; speaking of the holiness of God, the depths of sin, and the wonder of grace. I know that I have failed in faithfulness, but also that by the Spirit at work in me I am being transformed into the likeness of this true and faithful witness, Jesus.

Lord God, may I rejoice in my calling to be in my own place a true and faithful witness – even when this brings me pain or rejection. Renew my trust in your truth, so that I may be steadfast in my testimony. Oh Lord, renew and revive your church, that we may increasingly embrace this calling to witness to you. Turn us from complacency, from mere institutional self-preservation and comfort-seeking, to  courageous witness to your holiness and saving power, and to the compassion and love of Jesus.

Living with imperfections..

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me..When..you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways…I will hold you accountable for his blood..Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! ‘”

(Ezek 33.7&8,11)

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God..”

(Acts 20.26&27)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.

(Phil 3.10&12, 4.9)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…

(Heb 13.7)

The apostle Paul is revealed through his words – recorded in the book of Acts, and in his pastoral letters to churches and leaders – as a passionate evangelist and church planter, consumed with one desire – to make Christ known across the ancient world. His single-minded pursuit of this goal took him through dreadful suffering and persecution, and enriched his life as he saw God transforming lives through the preaching of the gospel.

Paul was urgent, earnest, and fully aware of the responsibility which God had laid upon him – to call the wicked to repentance and faith through Christ. In his powerful final address to his beloved friends in Ephesus, he declares himself ‘innocent’, a watchman who had fulfilled his calling and warned of the coming judgement and present offer of salvation. No one could accuse him of withholding good news from them; their guilt would be on their own heads for rejecting God’s grace.

Paul knew that he was not perfect, indeed he refers on several occasions to his ongoing weakness and struggle. But, it is not that which defined his ministry, it was his tenacious obedience, and total dependence upon Christ for salvation and acceptance with God. When Paul invites his readers to imitate him, it is not because everything in his life was holy and without fault. Rather it is because he knows it is not, and he has sought on every occasion to model how the believer should conduct themselves in light of that knowledge.

As redeemed sinners, we are free from the fear of sin because we have full forgiveness whenever we need it, and the burden of guilt is taken from us. Our sin no longer defines us, and cannot hinder God in the working out of his purposes. We are on the winning side and although our enemy is powerful, our captain is victorious and our very struggles are – by his grace – working out for our blessing and his glory.

When the writer to the Hebrews invites the reader to imitate their leaders, it is faith which is mentioned, not perfect lives. What is faith? It is the assurance of things not seen – our promised eternal life at home in glory, our future perfection and the full realisation of the sanctifying work of Christ in us. Faith is depending upon God’s promises, and basing our lives on the truth of what he says about us – forgiven, justified, adopted, beloved, glorious. This kind of faith does not pretend that there is no sin left, nor is it obsessed by the fear of sin, but rather it knows the quickest way to the Father’s side, to the mercy-seat, to the fresh cleansing fountain of forgiveness and the strength of Christ in us to resist temptation and if we fall, to get up in confidence that God is with us and we can keep going.

This is how we live with imperfections, by imitating Paul and others who have taught and modelled the christian life for us – as a persevering, a dogged and cheerful obedience which knows that we are not earning salvation, but living in it. This side of death, we cannot know complete freedom from our weaknesses, and from the pain of sin in the world. But we can live free from fear of those things, because Christ has conquered them, has promised that none of them can separate us from him nor prevent the completion of his work.

God grant us a burning desire to be holy for him, total dependance on Christ’s saving work and the Holy Spirit’s power so that as we press on, we will indeed be changed increasingly into the likeness of our glorious captain, to whom be all the praise and honour!

 

A state of readiness…

 

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side….. whose name was Boaz.. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”….Then Boaz announced to the the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech..I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property…” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming in to your home like Rachel.. Ruth gave birth to a son..and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

(Ruth 2.1&20, 4.9-11,13&17)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him…Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns…

(Matt 24.42-46)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near..The Judge is standing at the door!

(Jas 5.7&8)

The book of Ruth focuses on an obscure family, at a time of national neglect of the things of God. The period of the Judges was passing, there was no king in Israel and everyone did ‘as he saw fit’ (Judges 21.25). It would have been easy for personal godliness and faithfulness to the law to slip away, as each looked out for their own interests and had little hope or expectation of change..

And in this situation, we meet Boaz, a man who lived day to day in the light of the law, even though there was no ruler – priest or king – to enforce it, and who stood ready to act rightly, to do justice, and have mercy on the widows and aliens in the land. The readiness of Boaz to respond to the opportunities which God opened, extending mercy and kindness where he could have chosen either to be cruel, or to exploit Ruth’s vulnerable situation, is a beautiful example of how we are called to live in these days between the first and second coming of Christ.

We are a chosen people, we have all we need for godly obedience, and we are called to live each day in expectation of the return of our Lord and Master – the one whose sacrifice on our behalf wins our loyalty and obedience in his service. He has tasked us with witnessing to him, faithfully proclaiming the gospel, serving one another, and labouring to model the life of the new kingdom in this old creation.

Like Boaz, we do not know what each day will bring, but we can choose to live on the godly principles, and to respond to the opportunities God gives. We may be surrounded by people and situations which are daunting, mocking the sovereignty and goodness of God. But we also have the truth of the gospel in our hearts, and the promise that in his good time, God will return looking to find his servants at their appointed tasks, patiently awaiting him.

Like Boaz, we have the privilege of serving a living God who works all things together and calls us into his purposes. The readiness of this godly man to fulfill his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer not only blessed him with a wife and family, but also furthered God’s plan and in due course, Boaz’s great-grandson David would be born – and ultimately, Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, as Ruth did to Obed.

Am I ready for what God may have in store for me? Ready to serve; ready to forgive; ready to love; ready to learn and to praise? I cannot tell how my prompt response in obedience might be used by God, but I can choose daily to be ready. I may not know this side of glory what purposes will be served by my small part in his great plan, but I can choose not to be preoccupied with what may be and instead discipline my heart to deal with what is in a way that glorifies him.

Following…who?

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

(Ps 1.1-3)

Watch out for false prophets..By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 

(Matt 7.16&17)

As I urged you…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…these promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about…

(1 Tim 1.3-7)

If you point these things out …you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus..train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

(1 Tim 4.6-8)

The goal of God’s work in his children’s lives is their godliness, the creation of an ever clearer reflection of himself in them, showing his glory and beauty to the world. In the same way that a silversmith purifies the metal by fire, burning off impurities until he sees his face reflected in the liquid metal surface, so also our God is working out his good purposes in us.

We can choose to cooperate with this work, to embrace our destiny with faith and hope, trusting in God to be at work in all things, and seeking to learn in every situation what his will is for us. We can choose to hunger for godliness, choose to yearn after the fruit of the spirit above all worldly ambitions and make every effort to reject those things which frustrate our fruitfulness. The psalmist celebrates the power of the word of God to grow us into fruitful disciples, and when we meditate on it – chew it over, consider it from many angles, allow it to shape our thoughts – we are transformed indeed.

But we also make choices about what kind of people we admire and emulate, whose advice we take seriously and whose lives are our example. It is about choosing such people wisely that Jesus teaches when he speaks of looking for grapes on thornbushes! It is good to have role models, but what qualities should I look for?

Firstly, I need to find people who at least claim to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, our sacrificial Lamb, the Risen and returning Judge – a tree that looks like one which ought to bear good fruit. Secondly, I need to consider what fruit their lives actually bear, since this may give the lie to their claims. Paul warns Timothy about those who claim to be christians, but who bear bad fruit in disputes, divisions, doubts and pointless speculation. The effect of their ministry is not growing godliness – in themselves or their hearers – and this is a sure sign that they cannot be trusted.

So if I am looking to be inspired and encouraged by others in my journey of faith, I need to find those who bear good fruit after the manner described by Paul – lives of godliness, showing peace and self-control, faithfulness and patience, love, joy and kindness. It may well be that those qualities are in lives which are small and quiet in the eyes of the world, and even those considered foolish – so be it, these are the things which I desire. Let me learn humbly and reverently from God’s servants wherever they may be found, recognising in them a means by which I may be drawn further into godliness.

It is also good to find teachers who can educate us in the things of God, and we can serve them in praying for their protection – the history of the church is littered with sad tales of prominent saints who were led astray, and whose status proved a temptation to which they seemed to have no defences. We are all vulnerable and none should judge another for falling, but rather pray God’s keeping from sin and deliverance from temptation for ourselves and all those called into public service for the gospel.

Lord God, I thank you for all those who teach and lead me in your ways. Keep us all from sin, and make us quick to run to you when tempted to go astray. Keep your name in honour among us, that we might above all things fear bringing it into disrepute, and strive with all our might to be found increasingly in the image of Christ. For your glory and our blessing we pray, Amen!

on having wise expectations….

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God….

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice….

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength…and my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.4-6,8-9,11-13&19)

One of the most important lessons we can learn  as Christians is how to handle the bible wisely – in the sense of reading it with intelligence, taking advantage of the tools which are there to help us, and especially, of not taking things out of context! When Jesus was tempted by the devil, the latter used scripture to entice our Lord to act in certain ways. Jesus did not react in doubt or confusion, but used other parts of the word to counteract the false interpretation which was being put on God’s word. We must always be wary of letting verses or passages come to mean things in our minds which were not intended, and which can cause enormous problems for us.

This chapter in Philippians contains one of the most frequently quoted verses – and I believe one of the most easily misunderstood….Paul claims that he can “do all this through him who gives me strength”. What does he mean? Are we to understand that believers will be given power to do anything they like?

Look at the rest of the chapter, what is Paul talking about here? He is exhorting the believers to rejoice in God all the time – not necessarily in their difficult circumstances, but in the God who never abandons them and has plans to bless them. We are to give thanks for all the things about us that God says are true, and on that basis, to trust him to look after us – his beloved, redeemed, holy and equipped children.

We are to furnish our minds with all those things which are most characteristic of God, to take control of our thoughts and actively resist all that might pollute, distract and deceive us. This is never easy in a world where temptations abound, to indulgence and to despair; to self-dependency and pride. God calls us to remain loving, vulnerable, hopeful, available, humble, and obedient to him – drawn always by the beauty of Christ.

Finally, Paul exults in the gift of God which has enabled him to be content in every circumstance – the gift of faith in the God who will meet all his needs (not his wants!), so that his service of God may continue.

So what is Paul claiming that he can do by God’s strength? – rejoice in every circumstance; give thanks and pray about everything, trusting God to work in and through it; renew his thinking so that his mind increasingly mirrors Christ, and his words and life are transformed; enjoy contentment regardless of his wordly circumstances, because he believes that God will not withhold anything which is absolutely necessary (whether material, or spiritual resources). It’s quite a list!

With God’s strength, I can choose to dwell on the good qualities of those around me, loving them with God’s love, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, refusing to hold grudges and cherish bitterness.

With God’s strength, I can remain content in difficult situations – not necessarily finding it easy, but with deep assurance that God will enable me to do what Christ would do in that situation, and that whatever happens, God is at work to glorify himself and build his kingdom in and through me.

I am already the object of God’s deepest love, redeeming mercy and transforming power; the task in hand, of living for Christ in this sin-sick and broken world is daunting enough! Let me not seek power to do things beyond my calling, but be profoundly thankful that I am already receiving all I need for the great task which is mine – showing the world that God loves sinners, even such as I…