Category Archives: perseverance

What’s my uniform?

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you for ever.

(Ps 30.1-3,11&12)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

(Eph 6.10-18)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

(Col 3.12)

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress;

midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.

(Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf: 1739-, translated by John Wesley)

The hymn which I have quoted above was sung often at the church where I grew up, and it remains a precious source of comfort and reassurance to me – in spite of the antiquity of the language – pointing as it does to the great truth of our salvation…it is nothing to do with our own efforts and merit, or failings and faults but rather all to do with Christ! I have long exulted in the picture of being clothed, as with ceremonial robes, in his beauty and glory and then proudly standing as his beloved before my Creator and God. The thankfulness of the psalmist in his deliverance from death reflects this wonderful picture and sense of being wrapped all around in something that shouts “JOY!” for all to hear and see.

Ultimately, Christ’s perfections are what all believers wear before the judgement throne – we have nothing else! But the bible also uses the language of clothes, garments and even armour, in describing our lives as believers, and it can be very helpful to apply them to our daily living and interactions with  others. Think of them as our uniform, and consider why they might be important, even necessary…

In Colossians, Paul urges his readers to put on all these beautiful qualities of love in action, reminding them of all they owe to Christ as the fount of their blessings and that they ought to love one another as Christ loved them – patiently, sacrificially, humbly and gently. This is a uniform that will help us to do our appointed task as believers well; these are the qualities which we need to seek out, and cultivate with the help of the Spirit so that increasingly we don’t even need to think about putting them on – choosing to live in this way – but do it naturally.

This uniform will also help us to recognise one another as believers; these qualities of faith and love in action are the outworking of God’s promise to refine and shape us until we become like his son. As we are increasingly transformed, so that family likeness – the ‘uniformity’ of God’s people in spite of their wonderful diversity – is to be seen in us. We can encourage one another as we see these qualities more strongly and more often, urging one another to persevere through trials and trust God to be at work in and through them to clothe us increasingly with the image of his son.

And then there is the familiar image of the armour, beloved of Sunday school teachers and for good reason – it is simple and yet powerful in conveying both the dangers we face and also the resources we possess, the job we have to do and the way we are to do it. We have protective armour, because we are in a battle – how often do we forget this, and then wonder at the state we get into because we have not noticed how the evil one has drawn us away and robbed us of our peace? We are given armour in order to resist him – to deflect and quench the piercing arrows of old guilts ; to protect our thinking so that we reason and make good, godly decisions based on truth, not on lies from the Father of lies; to stand firm at peace in the midst of turmoil and to move with confidence because we know that wherever we are called, God is with us and the victory is his. And we have his precious word, our only weapon, with which to both defend ourselves – as Christ did in the wilderness temptation – and also to play our part in working out God’s victory over evil in the world.

We have all the promises, all the truth of salvation freely offered and completely achieved. God has promised to build his church, has promised that all the powers of hell cannot prevent it, and we claim that power and truth every time we pray in Christ’s name for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done….

We have so much to wear, are so richly provided for and equipped for the life which God has given us; let us rejoice daily and gladly wear our uniform, proud to be known as His and to be part of his amazing and growing church.

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This is not all there is…

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

(Ps 2.12&4)

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

(Dan 3.16-18)

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.13&14)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen…Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen

(Rev 1.5-7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you….We each have different gifts according to the grace given us. 

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..

Walking not in my own strength..

Now, my brothers and sisters, I want to speak about the gospel which I have previously preached to you, which you accepted, in which you are at present standing, and by which  if you remain faithful to the message I gave you, your salvation is being worked out – unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all. For I passed on to you, as among the first to hear it, the message I had myself received – that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold.

(1Cor 15.1-5: JB Phillips)

So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice – and that not only when I was present to give it – so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility, for it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.

(Phil 2.12&13: JB Phillips)

..but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. ..Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees! “Make level paths for your feet “, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed…May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Heb 12.10,12&13; 13.20&21)

As I look ahead to a new year, with all it’s accompanying unknowns – good or bad – I am aware that I am by nature more pessimistic, than optimistic (I prefer to call it realistic), and am sometimes overwhelmed by the prospect! The past twelve months have yielded too many examples of my weaknesses, of how far I fall short of where I think I should be. The coming months will present new opportunities to mess up, to hurt people, to get things wrong and generally disappoint God – and myself. How can I find the courage to keep going? Perhaps to begin with, I need to recognise the false perspective which I adopt so easily – one centred on my opinion of myself, instead of the truth about me, which is God’s opinion!

Yes, I am a sinner. BUT, I am a redeemed sinner – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about Jesus, the anointed one has changed my identity, my purpose and my future once and forever. His blood has bought my forgiveness, I have a fresh start with God, and the promise of his presence with me every step of the way home. Yes, I do continue to sin. BUT, that too is covered by the blood of Christ, and the increasing sensitivity to sin is a sign of comfort to me that I am – amazing thought – being made more holy, more Christ-like as the years go by.

When I consider the path that lies ahead of me, I do so as one who has the ultimate companion at her side – one who never leaves me, one who cheers every step of the way, one who can give me strength and the desire to continue simply by being with me. He is working in me to achieve those things which he has promised will be done – and my task is to say, “Yes, Lord; let’s keep going, let me tackle this day’s journey cheerfully and confidently because you are here.”

It is a wonderful paradox – that my salvation is to be worked out in my life simultaneously by God and by me. It does not depend upon my efforts, but without my active obedience and earnest endeavour, I may crawl by the wayside as one crippled. That is no witness to the glory of God, no proper response to the wonderful gift of life and hope which he has given me.

The scriptures, and the pages of history reveal so many followers of Jesus who can testify to this mystery, of their labours and of God’s striving within them, as they walk the path of discipleship and service. As they grow in holiness, and see their salvation being worked out – made real and effective in every part of life- all the glory and credit is given to God, and yet we know that they have embraced the work, have given their lives to it in awe and full of the responsibility of bearing their part well.

This, then, is my prayer for 2019, that I might indeed engage more fully with the responsibility of working out my salvation; rejoicing that it is God who is at work in me, and giving thanks that he has provided all the things I need. May my focus be on him, on the complete adequacy of Christ my Saviour,  so that I might rest as I walk, refusing to bear burdens of guilt which are no longer mine and quietly glad to be in company with one who loves me more than all.

 

 

Thank Offerings…..

Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank-offerings to God, fulfil your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.

(Ps 50.7-15)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever. Give thanks…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. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,23,24,26)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.6&7)

I suspect few of us are familiar on a day to day basis with the sacrificial system outlined for the people of Israel, in the text known to us as the book of Leviticus, but I would commend it to you as worthy of attention – with a good bible guide to help you along! The whole pattern for worship and life for God’s people is laid out there, with the aim of enabling the nation to live under God’s loving care and authority, to thrive as their lives were rooted and guided by him, and also to be a visible witness to the nations around them, demonstrating the glory, love and supremacy of the Lord Almighty.

The sacrificial system in particular is of great interest to followers of Jesus, because it is this system which his death replaced – in a supreme once-for-all act to address the consequences of sin. So in Leviticus we learn about how different offerings are dealt with in particular ways, depending on whether they address the impact our sin has on God in his holiness, or the impact our sins have on others, and on ourselves – guilt and the long-lasting effects of living with unforgiven sin.

Under that system, one special group of sacrifices had nothing to do with sin at all, and everything to do with spontaneous praise of God by the worshipper, expressing gratitude and rejoicing in the fellowship which his people enjoyed with him. These are called the ‘fellowship’ or ‘peace’ offerings, and the particular offerings for thanksgiving fall under this heading. They reflect the delight which we have as God’s creatures when we are in a right relationship with him – because of his faithful love, and forgiveness towards us as we depend upon his mercy and acknowledge his sovereignty over us.

When God calls his people in Psalm 50 to sacrifice thank offerings, this is what he means – and how wonderful it is to see the consequences of that sacrifice. When we live thankfully with God, acknowledging our total need of him, he delights to hear and answer our prayers for deliverance. Not only this, but our response to that assistance is more thanksgiving from us, and honour given to God – we worship him, give him his rightful position in the world, when we are at his feet, exulting in his deeds and character, giving glory where it is due.

I do not need to feel happy to be thankful; my situation may be grim, may appear without hope, but I can still choose to honour God by giving him his rightful place – the source of my life, my salvation and my eternal home. I can still be in fellowship with this great and holy God, can know that he delights in me – not because of all I give him or achieve for him, but because he loves and has saved me. Here is surely a great source of peace, a place of rest and nourishment for my soul, as I feast on all his goodness and the blessings which come from being his redeemed and beloved child.

His love endures for ever….Alleluia, Praise the Lord!

Making marks in eternity..

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

(Ps 34.1-3)

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33.20-22)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground….

(Eph 5.10-13)

In all 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 the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet 1. 6&7)

It is easy to forget that our lives as followers of Jesus are acted out before a great audience of spiritual beings, and yet the bible makes it plain that this is the case – think of Job, and of how God calls Satan to witness the faithfulness and true quality of that much tried saint. Paul also, in writing to the believers in Ephesus, points out that they operate in spiritual realms, not just the physical; so that their enemies while appearing in human form, or in the guise of the troubles of the world, are actually spiritual.

This invisible reality is enormously relevant for our attitudes to our daily lives, so often seemingly mundane, with petty troubles, and common challenges to overcome, and nothing very significant going on. The truth is that every day brings us fresh opportunities to make choices which will glorify our God, causing the angels to rejoice in the power of Christ in a person’s life to transform them completely. We may not see or hear the joy, but that doesn’t mean that it is less real!

As we grow in faith and understanding, our lives will come to reflect the pattern of Christ-likeness which is God’s ideal for his children, but we will also increasingly be out of step with the spiritual tone of the world, which is still so much in thrall to evil. Our growth in faith may not even be evident to us, as we feel increasingly that we are struggling with many trials arising from our choices and our beliefs. In reality, the spiritual reality which we do not see, that very consciousness of struggle is a sure sign of growing faith – if we did not so ardently long for holiness, we would not react so strongly against all those things which would drag us down. It is therefore possible for a faithful saint to look back over many years of following Jesus, and fear that they have made little progress, when in reality, their continuing struggles to choose purity, honesty, faithfulness and integrity are a sign that they have never been closer to him. It is the very precious reality of our faith which makes the fight against sin most bitter and prolonged.

Since this is true, we can encourage one another with the fact that every time we make a decision for Christ in the midst of the trial – choosing to think, speak and act according to his pattern – we are making our own mark in eternity, our own contribution to the great structure of worship and praise to the Saviour which is the work of the church. It is indeed all by his grace and indwelling spirit that we are able to do these things, and so all the glory goes to him when his followers prove his strength and faithfulness.

Although we may feel that our trials are secret, ashamed that we continue to face the same troubles over and over, yet we may rejoice that in the eternal story, our part is valued, and our own small experiences of his enabling will be significant. It is all worthwhile, nothing is wasted! All will be to our blessing, and to his glory: Amen, so let it be!

What a faithful God…

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away..

(Song of Solomon 8.6&7)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col. 3.12-14)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

(Ps 103.1-18)

Twenty five years ago, I stepped into the dress of which this photo is a detail, took my father’s arm, and walked down to the front of my church to meet and take vows with the man who is my husband. Four homes, two children, and two congregations later, we are still here, still married, and still utterly dependent upon our faithful God for his power to keep us together.

It is one thing, in the rosy days of romance, to say that we will love the sinner to whom we have given our promise…it is quite another to learn to do this in practice, day in and day out, through the exhaustion of early parenting, through the doldrums of teenage angst, in the face of external and internal stresses and challenges. In every situation which we face as husband and wife, we have to remember that we also face our own sinful tendencies, and the not-yet-cleansed thoughts and habits and weaknesses which can cause so much pain. As I celebrate these twenty five years, I do so with a profound awareness that it is only by God’s grace that I am still here.

Over the years, the knowledge that my father God understands all that I am facing, and all that I am forcing my husband to face, has been probably the mainstay of my strength. There is one who knows and understands, who has compassion upon my weakness and who has, in his incredible providence, already provided for the ways in which my mess will be absorbed into his amazing plan to make everything work together for his glory and my blessing. This is an indescribable relief, to know that none of it is wasted, nothing is irretrievable, and that over and under and through it all, I am loved by a perfect, powerful, and present God.

Because I am loved by God, I can love my husband; I will seek his good, pray for his walk with God, show kindness and compassion.

Because I am forgiven by God, I can forgive my husband; I will extend to him the same grace which I depend upon daily, trusting in God to enable me to refuse to harbour grudges or grievances, even as God refuses to remember my sins.

Because I am delighted in by God, I can delight in my husband; I will choose to remember and celebrate that he is unique, beloved of God, one who in the days of the new heaven and new earth will be revealed as glorious.

Because I am accepted – as one made in God’s image, being made whole and Christlike – by God, I can accept my (also a work-in-progress) husband!; I will choose to encourage and support him, to be a place where he may rest and be refreshed, to hold him in honour, as one upon whom God has set his love.

We cannot tell how many more days, or years, the Lord may grant us to walk this earth together, nor what trials may come to challenge us – and what a mercy that we should be kept in such ignorance. But we choose to say now, that we have a faithful God, and that we will trust him for what will come. May we live to be a blessing to others, and to give glory to our God, in whatever ways he may direct.