Category Archives: peace

Deep and healing rest

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

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

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

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

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

(Psalm 62)

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

The gift of peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

(Isa 9.6&7)

“And you my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

(Lk 1.76-79)

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

(Lk 2.13&14)

“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.”

(Jn 14.27)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Rom 12.18&21)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. For he himself is our peace, who has.. abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was.. in this one body to reconcile [us] to God through the cross… He came and preached peace to you… Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household..

(Eph 1.2, 2.14-19)

From that first fatal, deliberate act of disobedience in the garden, humanity has been in a state of rebellion against the Creator. Whether recognised or not, this is at the root of all the misery which has ever existed, all the pain, darkness, and heart-breaking ache which is our lack of peace.

We were made to live in fellowship with God, his co-workers and stewards of this beautiful planet in all its mind-blowing diversity. Instead, having chosen to define for ourselves what is right or wrong, and to claim the authority for ruling as our right, not our gift and privilege, we live in a constant state of hostility, unease and anxiety. We cannot trust one another, and we don’t want to trust God.

God spoke his plan for peace into the story at the very beginning, promising a time when one would come to strike against the seed of the serpent, and to destroy the power of sin in human hearts. Many aspects of God’s covenant life with his chosen people modelled the ideal peace towards which all history is moving – the sacrificial system to deal with the barrier of sin; the promise of a perfect King who would reign in justice; the establishment of the people in a land of plenty, under God’s protection, so that they could enjoy Him and all His gifts without fear.  

It was this peace which Jesus came to establish. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, foretold his son’s message, pointing to the one who had come to lead his people at last into ways of peace. He knew his prophets and history; knew that God’s promised deliverer would not simply abolish hostility, but would inaugurate a new kingdom, where real peace meant that God would dwell with his people and they would thrive in his presence.

Jesus came to make peace with us before God – to reconcile us to our Father. Jesus came to make peace for us with one another – as equally beloved children, as equally undeserving and forgiven sinners, we have no need to compete or fight with one another. We can love one another because Jesus loved us, and made us one family under God.

When we receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we receive peace with God. This is our anchor in the storms which lie ahead, and which cannot be stolen. God holds us fast, and our eternal future is secure. This is the deep, soul-holding, sanity-saving peace which looks nothing like the peace of the secular world. It endures, because it depends on the faithfulness of God, not our own strength, wisdom or circumstances.

Prince of Peace, I worship you this day and rejoice that you came to give us that enduring peace which one day will flower into eternal life in the new creation.

Prince of Peace, I thank you for the family into which you brought me by your redeeming death, where all are beloved and each unique creation is celebrated as yours.

Prince of Peace, help me never to depend on my own strength for peace in this world, but to hold fast to you – even as you hold so much more strongly on to me. In you, I have the peace that really makes a difference – there is no more striving or worrying about earning God’s favour, no more fear or guilt. Because I am at peace in you, I am free to love in your name and spend myself freely for your glory. Let it be so, Lord Jesus.

Pressing the ‘reset’ button…

A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day

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, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts! The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will for ever be destroyed.

But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever.

For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured upon me. My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries; my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

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)

One of the most sustaining, helpful disciplines which we can cultivate as followers of Jesus, is that of speaking truth to our own spirits – the truth about God as revealed in his word and especially in his son our Saviour, Jesus.

Our lives in this sin-stained and fractured world are continually exposed to the results of evil – in ourselves, through the actions of others, and through the impact humankind is having on our planet. If we dwell exclusively on what we see, or even more deadly, on how we feel on a daily and hourly basis, then we are lost to a turmoil which brings us no peace, and undermines our witness to the good news about Jesus.

God’s unchanging character, his attributes and glory, are a surer foundation on which to ground our daily lives. He has revealed himself as a powerful Creator, a holy and just Judge, and an intimately interested, involved and sufficient Redeemer. He has promised that his chosen people will dwell in his presence in an eternal, joyful and fulfilling relationship which is simply beyond our imagination, and which means that physical death is simply a gateway to glory.

This psalm, which the Jews use especially to celebrate the ‘rest’ of the Sabbath – when they anticipate the complete rest from striving which God has promised his people – is a marvellous meditation on God’s character, works and promises, and acts as a ‘reset’ button. By that I mean the idea of restoring the original settings in a device, so that it functions as it was designed to do – a clearing away of unhelpful and distracting activities/actions. When the mind is fixed on truth, when ambitions, will and desire are continually directed and redirected towards godliness and obedience, towards the glory of God, the whole person is refreshed, sustained and able to thrive as they were designed to do.

As a follower of Jesus, I celebrate the Lord’s Day, when the resurrection proved with great power that his work of salvation had been completed, and God declared my debt had been paid in full. I celebrate the ‘rest’ into which I have entered, where I need not strive after perfection in order to be saved, nor wallow in self-pity and remorse in order to be forgiven. Instead, I rest entirely on what Jesus did for me, and worship Father, Son and Spirit – the author and agent of the great plan to restore human fellowship with a holy God. This psalm speaks for me as it did to the people of the Hebrew bible – of the greatness of God’s works, which include the atoning death of Jesus; of the sure judgement and final defeat of evil which will be accomplished and which sustains my faith as I walk in a darkened world.

As I take time regularly to ‘reset’ my faith, clear my thoughts of distractions, remembering Jesus and all he has done for me, I am refreshed, and – please God – come to resemble more and more those wonderful flourishing trees which continue to bear fruit down the years, because their roots are deep in the truth.

My Lord is my Rock; He has dealt with my sin and I sing for joy at the work of his hands. Jesus has vanquished every enemy, and I have seen their defeat at his cross and empty tomb. 

O Lord, my Lord, be exalted for ever!

Observation..or celebration?

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath..for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.

(Ex 20.9&11)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

(Ps 27.4)

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath..

(Matt 11.28;12.8)

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.

(Rom 14.5&6)

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you ear or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however, is found in Christ.

(Col 2.16)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall..

(Heb 4.9-11)

One of the benefits of this strange time is the extra opportunity to learn from the bible, to think about what it means to live in a fallen world where I am called to witness and work for God’s glory and kingdom. It can be easy to let the preacher think for us, instead of learning in the life-changing way which comes by personally wrestling with the truth. There can be challenges, as the truth is not always obvious, perhaps not what we have always assumed it to be. But what riches are found when we put in the effort, as the whole of scripture begins to speak with a unified voice, all leading to Christ and glorifying him!

The idea of ‘rest’ is one of the unifying themes of scripture. Did you realise that from the very beginning, God designed us to dwell with him in a place where he had done all the work? That is what Eden and the first day of rest was all about. And with the Fall, that divine rest was lost to humankind – we are on a continual quest for it, unable to find it because ultimately until we are at peace with God again, we cannot rest.

The commandment to remember the seventh day (because on that day the Lord rested), was a call to lay aside all human labour, to recognise that God has made all things; is sustaining them, and ultimately only He will provide the rest for which they were designed. It was always meant to be a day pointing to God, to his great love and mercy, to his promise to save his people if they would only depend on him and not on themselves.

Jesus makes it clear that he came to fulfill the law, to offer the promised rest  in himself. This rest is founded on peace with God, and Christ alone as the perfect sacrifice could create that peace. As Lord of Sabbath, he proclaims himself the king of rest, the one with absolute power to introduce a new creation where his people could live in the reality of that ‘rest’-ored relationship with God. The old regulations about Sabbath observance were now redundant, because the promise or fore-shadowing of rest had been fulfilled in Christ.

When we enter God’s offered rest, in Christ, we in turn rest from our own works – all our attempts to gain salvation and peace through rule-keeping; rituals and rites. To turn again to rigid ‘sabbath observance’ is therefore a dangerous nonsense! I am free in Christ to celebrate every day as a gift from God, graced with forgiveness and the liberating truth that it is all by his work that I am saved and welcomed into the Sabbath-rest which is the heritage of God’s children.

I am free to especially mark a particular day in appropriate ways in order to focus on the rest which is mine in Christ – but I am not free to impose on others or to judge them for their choices. I am free to celebrate – and for many of us this will be on a day when we can meet with other believers, and take extra time to enjoy God’s good gifts, perhaps Sunday, but perhaps another day depending on our culture!

I am also free to serve, expecting nothing in return, because God is all in all to me, and has promised to care for me. And significantly, I am free to sacrifice – to forgo my expressions of freedom if they cause another to stumble in their faith.

I do not observe the Sabbath. I celebrate the day which the Lord has made; the salvation which he has won; the sure hope of eternal life with him which is mine; and the daily reality that – no matter what is happening to me, within me, and around me – I am at rest with God forever. I have peace, Thanks be to God!

 

The glory is always there…

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.

(2Kings 6.15-17)

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

(Ps 96.1-6)

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white…then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

(Mark 9.2-7)

The bible narratives are full of reassuringly messy stories, showing how people have got it wrong about God for hundreds of years, and how he still chooses to be faithful to his promises, to be loving and forgiving, and above all patient with the work of his hands. He has a great plan for the realisation of a new creation – unmarred by sin, and eternally glorious – where we will be unashamed in his presence and finally free to be who he means us to be.

That purpose has been God’s aim since the beginning, and over and again he has demonstrated that he is utterly capable of fulfilling it, rock-solid trustworthy and reliable in the teeth of any and every challenge. The deliverance of Noah’s family through the flood-judgement; the gift of a miracle son to Abraham and Sarah; the astonishing miracle-soaked period of the deliverance from Egypt; the establishment of his people in the land promised to them, and their (brief)flourishing under a dynasty of godly kings. God spoke through judges and prophets, showed his power in miracles and battles, raised up leaders to cleanse the people and kept the line of promise intact through every imaginable threat. Ultimately, in virgin birth and holy life, Christ came to do the crowning work of redemption, and – as the miracles testified – God-in-man walked the hills of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. God’s credentials are unimpeachable…and yet, and yet…

All through the bible, and ever since the coming of Christ, we see the pattern of human doubt and mistrust, of chronic amnesia when it comes to the power of God to do his will, and the will of God to bless. We dictate terms to God, so that unless he shows up where we want, and in the way we choose, he has forfeited our trust in him. How utterly foolish, and ultimately self-destructive this is. It is our own peace which we forfeit when we refuse to recognise the oft-revealed truth of his power and glory and unimaginable goodness.

When Jesus took three men with him up the mountain, he was aware of all that lay ahead, and knew that this experience, this unveiling of his majesty, would be part of their preparation to be the leaders and teachers of the church – able to face the darkest days because they had seen the reality of glory which lay behind the human frame. They had seen what was always true about Christ – the glory of the Father revealed in the Son – and it was on that which their faith would be founded, not their own understanding and experience. All three would desert him before his trial, frightened and cowed by the religious and political powers. But that vision of glory remained, and in the days to come it would be embedded and become the foundation of their strength and calling.

Do I doubt God’s ability to deal with circumstances which darken my life, my community, my world? I need to ask for vision to see the glory which is always there, and be reminded that he is able to do anything he chooses. If, according to his perfect will, he chooses not to do what I desire, it is not because he cannot act, but because the ultimate goal is best served in another way, and I CAN TRUST HIM though I may never understand.

Lord have mercy on my forgetful soul, that I might remember your powerful works, above all that I might remember my complete security in Christ, from whom nothing can separate me, and in whom I am assured of your love and my eternal future.

 

When it hits someone you love…

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

(Jn 11.1-3)

Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this..they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat..into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

(Lk 5.18&19)

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

(Jn 16.33)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. …so then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

(1Pet.4.12&19)

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord….The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

(Jm 5.13,14&16)

Like a dark stain spreading across all of life, comes the news that one whom we love is sick, struck down in mind or body, and suffering. The thoughts of their trouble colour everything else we do, and so we do as the bible shows us others have done – we tell our Lord all about it, bringing the beloved to him in prayer as trustingly as those men brought their paralysed friend on his mat.

The reality and irrationality of suffering are one of the greatest trials which we are called to bear as followers of Jesus. We know from the bible that in God’s plan for his children, there should have been no such thing – and that is why at the very root of our distress, lies the sense of outrage that such things should happen. This is what God feels about all the consequences of human rebellion, all that has come upon us and our world since the fall. It is wrong, it goes against the grain of God’s blueprint for creation, and we were never designed for this. It is right and proper that we should be appalled and agonise over these things – and this can in some way help us when the bad news comes, because we know our reaction is not ungodly, but right and true.

But all too often when we have prayed…and prayed…and trusted..the illness does not lift. The world is full of believers who are living with chronic conditions of pain and disability; living with the crippling effects of mental illness, all in spite of faithful prayer for many years. The disability campaigner and noted Christian writer, Joni Earicsson Tada is perhaps the most famous of these faithful believers at this time, having suffered not only paraplegia but also depression and cancer, and all the side effects which arise from life in a wheelchair. Sometimes it must seem that God is mocking his children, when those who are already weak and suffering are knocked over again by a new trial.

The bible is adamant that God loves his children, that everything he does and permits is wholly designed for their blessing and his glory. But the bible also reminds us that God’s ways are so far beyond ours that we cannot begin to comprehend them, and we will probably never get answers to the bewildered plea of our hearts ; “Lord, why should this happen to them? How can this possibly be good for anyone?!”

So what is my reaction? How do I pray? I remember Job, in all his sufferings and recall that the silent companionship of his ‘comforters’ was more precious than all their words – so I offer my presence and love-in-action to the one in need (and to their family who are suffering too). I note that Job’s trial gave great glory to God, and pray for this to be the result for my loved one – may they too acknowledge and praise God in spite of all that is happening to them. I think of the laments of the psalms and prophets, and bring my sense of outrage against these things to God, acknowledging that they are part of sin’s consequences in the world, and weeping with him for the suffering they cause to his precious children. I consider Jesus’ example of truly undeserved suffering, borne in humility and faith and obedience so that God’s will might be done – and I pray that I might learn to trust God’s ways more completely, and that the suffering beloved might be given grace also to see that even in the midst of their trial, Jesus is an utterly trustworthy Lord.

And ultimately, I thank God that my beloved one knows Jesus as Saviour, so that no matter when or how healing and deliverance may come, their future is not dark but radiant; not defined by a failing body or fractured mind, but whole, beautiful and flawless, thriving in eternity in intimate communion with the Lord. This life is not the end of our story, but in him, only the beginning! Halleluia, to him be all the glory, and to us his most bountiful grace.

Consider the stars..

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

(Deuteronomy 33.26&27)

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

(Psalm 91.1,2, 4-6)

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

(Romans 8.18,28,35-37)

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

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

(Keith & Kristyn Getty, 2015)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photograph of the stars, courtesy of F. Wotherspoon.

My heart is full of thankfulness..

Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart..

(Ecc 5.18-20)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1Tim 4.5&5)

As someone who lives in a relatively very rich country (in world terms), and who has not been required to find paid employment in order to keep a roof over her head and food on her table, I am well aware that I occupy a very privileged position – and as a follower of Jesus, it is not a very comfortable position! What am I to do with all I have? What is it for? I can’t send away everything I possess, it is not solely mine to give, and much of my riches consist of things which cannot be physically shared – good health, loving friends, the beauty of the natural world, the gift of music, and above all my salvation and heritage as a child of God.

For this reason, I was delighted in the course of a recent time of preparation for a bible study, to come across this passage in Ecclesiastes, a challenging but ruthlessly truthful portrayal of the futility of human existence apart from God. It seems to sit very comfortably alongside Paul’s advice to Timothy, the young pastor, exhorting him to accept and enjoy God’s  generous provision – and to teach his congregation also to do so.

God has indeed made and given us lavishly of good things, how ungracious and foolish it would be if we were to reject them! Imagine presenting someone with a carefully chosen gift, reflecting your love for and relationship with them, only to see them shrink from accepting it, because they had already received a gift from someone else, or because they felt they did not deserve it..

None of what we have is earned, or deserved. All is a gift from our good and gracious God, given that we might enjoy it, and return thanks to him as the source, all the while recognising that our ultimate satisfaction is in the Giver, not the Gift. When I am receiving God’s gifts with a thankful heart, using them to return glory to him and to bless others in any way which I can find, then I find I can accept and be content with the life God has called me to. A disposition of thankfulness is a great aid to a cheerful and contented heart, and in keeping a godly perspective on life and “stuff”! Perhaps that is what is referred to at the end of the quote from Ecclesiastes, where the gladness of a man’s heart in what God is giving him now, enables him to live very much in the present, not dwelling regretfully on the past, or anxiously on the future.

The faithfulness of God in providing good things for us to receive thankfully, and enjoy generously, gives us confidence that at every stage of life, we can trust his care. He is our Father, who loves and knows how to give us good things – even though we may not at the time see in what way they are good for us!

Such contentment is indeed a gift from God, and one which we might usefully seek, by learning to rejoice in what we have and receive daily, so that there is a deep wellspring of joy – of delight in the God who gives so lovingly and personally to each of his children. When to this daily provision we add the unspeakably precious gift of forgiveness, redemption and hope which we receive through Jesus Christ, we have a continually refreshing source of thanksgiving. Let us say with the Psalmist:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures for ever….

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever;

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever,

and who gives food to every creature. His love endures for ever..

(Psalm 136. 1-3,24-26)

Whispers of peace

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. may the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.’

(Numbers 6.22-26)

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf…then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honoured around the world. And he will be the source of peace.

(Micah 5.2-5)

Our world has been tormented and scarred by warfare and disharmony between individuals and nations ever since the beginning; we are incapable of living peaceably together. But the kind of peace which is being promised all through the bible narrative is much more than simply that absence of conflict for which we long. The Hebrew word which we translate as peace, is ‘shalom’, and it has a much richer meaning including a sense of completion; health; thriving and fulfillment. All the barriers to fullness of life will be gone, and every created being will be able to rejoice without fear or restriction in what and who God made them to be.

The story of how the people of Israel should have entered and conquered the land promised to them is for us a picture of the unfettered, fruitful living which God desires for all his children. If the people had obeyed and driven out all the nations living in the land, they would indeed have dwelt in peace, receiving all the blessing God intended for them. Instead they compromised, chose to live alongside the other nations, and in time, were led away from worship of the living God into idolatry, with its disastrous consequences of destruction and exile. It is a warning to us to be aware of those things in our lives which we know pull us away from God, and which we yet cherish. Where then will our peace go?

This side of the winding up of time, we cannot hope for complete peace, the power and consequences of sin in our broken world are too much present. But as followers of Jesus we can trace this promise of peace, of wholeness and freedom to thrive, with confidence that it  applies to us. We live between the first coming of the one who – as Micah said – is the ‘source of our peace’, and his triumphant return, when all the opposing forces will be finally swept away.

In his letter to the Roman church – which experienced appalling persecution and had little hope of ‘peace’ in the sense of being free from assault – Paul writes these incredible words:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

(Romans 5.1-4)

We have peace, that freedom from grinding fear, because we are already regarded by God as right with him – no longer at enmity with him – all through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. None of the the things that ultimately matter can be damaged or stolen from us – our Saviour has made us secure for ever and we will share God’s glory.

And not one of the difficulties which yet lie ahead, or which have dogged our lives for years, can undermine that peace. In fact, Paul seems to be saying that because we are safe in Christ, our very difficulties can be received as sources of blessing because God is at work through them to make us more like Christ – more like the glorious original he had in mind when he conceived us!

We need not worry, or fret that our struggles or sufferings will endanger our relationship with God because NOTHING can do that, and so we can accept each one with a peaceful heart. What a wonderful reason for celebration as we look forward to celebrating again the birth of the Prince of Peace, and praying once more with fervour for his speedy return!