Category Archives: promises

Where are my wells?

The angel of the Lord found Hagar.. and he said,..”go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”

…God said to Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant… I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink…

(Gen 16.9&10; 21.12-19)

But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….the poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.

(Isa 41.8-10, 17&18)

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

(Jn 7.37&38)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful..

(Heb 10.23)

Hagar, servant of Sarah, concubine to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, suffered greatly at the hands of those who could and should have known better. Abraham and Sarah, in their abuse of Hagar, did not honour the God whose call they had obeyed and whom they worshipped. God showed grace and compassion to Hagar, as the mother of Abraham’s first son, she entered a relationship with a covenant keeping God and this long story shows that faithfulness of God’s character at work. In all the machinations of Sarah, and complaisance of Abraham, yet God was at work for good for this slave woman and her unwanted child. And when the crisis came, Hagar found that God intended to do for her all that he had promised.

I was greatly moved by this story when it was preached in our church last week, as we were encouraged to recall that we too are those who have received God’s promises. As his chosen ones, called through Jesus to be his children, we are the object of his love and it is his purpose to bring us to glory. While the world may leave us tired and vulnerable, and those close to us may hurt or neglect us, yet God is at work and cannot be thwarted.

Friends, are you, like me, oppressed and feeling as though life is a desert? Can you see only the death of your hopes and no purpose in carrying on? Let me encourage you to be like Hagar, to cry aloud in your distress and to listen for the voice of the Lord who has promised that he will quench your thirst abundantly.

This way is the one in which God is leading and calling you. This, therefore, is the place in which he will sustain and bless you. This way is the one where you will find wells, springs of refreshment. There may only be small springs, rations for each day’s journey – but herein lies the challenge of faith. Will I accept today’s refreshment and trust for tomorrow’s, even though I may not see it yet? Will I choose to follow and rejoice, one day at a time?

What wells lie in your way today? As you cry to your Father who sees all things, what will he give for your thirst? Perhaps a song, or piece of music which brings His faithfulness to mind and allows you to express worship and trust, or to lament and lay your burden before him. Perhaps the companionship of a fellow traveller with whom you can share your situation, and whose own burdens you can lift to God in prayer. Perhaps an opportunity to serve, to use the gifts you have for the blessing of another. Perhaps a fresh awareness of his power and majesty in creation.

May we learn to trust him more fully for our daily needs, and to journey in faith, like Hagar. May we see the wells which God’s goodness has provided, and having drunk deeply, go on.

When there seems no way out of the woods..

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you….I am God and there is none like me..I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do as I please.

(Isa 46.3,4, 9&10)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed…

(2 Cor 4.7-9)

..rejoice in the Lord..whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ..I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..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…

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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, 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 from me, or seen in me – put it into practice…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 3.1,7,14,20-21; 4.6-9,12&13)

The words spoken by Isaiah from the Lord came to a people who were on the edge of catastrophe, of military defeat and exile, from which many would never return. They were likely to spend the remainder of their lives under alien rule, far from the temple and all they knew of comfort and familiar ways. To these people, God speaks of his faithfulness, making no exceptions regarding their future place of residence or the impossibility of carrying on temple worship in Babylon.

Their departure from the land was entirely within God’s purpose, the Babylonian invasion would not take him by surprise, any more than the circumstances of our lives do. When believers find themselves called to hard places, we have this precedent to which we can turn, seeing God declaring his commitment to his children as they live in hard places, deprived of much which others take for granted, and consequently finding life a struggle.

I do not in any way intend to make light of the dreadful conditions in which many live, poverty, political and social persecution, violence and pain, the realities of disease and disability, of mental illness and abuse. But I do believe that the bible refuses us permission to treat these things as beyond God’s knowledge. We cannot understand why these things are permitted but we can know that we are never out of His sight or forgotten by His love.

Some are called to situations which – humanly speaking – are unlikely to change for the duration of their natural lives; always walking in what can feel like thick woodland, sometimes a very dark and frightening place, with little light upon the way, and no mountain top from which to see a clear path ahead. Each day can be a huge struggle, and the temptation to despair is real. The snare of comparison with others more fortunate than ourselves is equally fatal to our perseverance and joy, and for this reason it is good to remember Paul’s words to his churches as he exhorts them to persevere and find contentment through trials and uncertainty.

The only comparison Paul makes is between the trials which he is facing, and the glorious inheritance which is guaranteed to him by Jesus. He looks not to the relative ease and prosperity of other Roman citizens, but to the inexhaustible grace of God, to the goodness and beauty revealed in salvation and shining from Jesus to enlighten us. The ultimate in noble and good things to contemplate in our darkness, when the wood seems never-ending and our courage fails us, the Lord Jesus is within us by his Spirit, and therefore, we cannot be lost.

My path may be harder than I had hoped, but if it is the one to which I am called, then I can expect and  thankfully depend upon the sustaining of the God who put me here. I can trust in his power to provide each day’s resources, and can fully empty my load of care at his feet as often as necessary. It is his desire that I glorify him in my dark wood;  surely he will then provide me with all I need in order to prove him faithful.

Building site with great prospects!

For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling: “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

(Ps 132.13&14)

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

(Jn 14.23)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

(1 Cor 3.16)

I thank my God for you every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with  joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3-6)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

(1 Jn 3.2&3)

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

(CS Lewis, from Mere Christianity, 1952)

This quote from CS Lewis beautifully expresses the rather bewildering experience of the believer who – having come thankfully to God for forgiveness and restoration – finds themselves being increasingly challenged, disturbed and unsettled as their journey of faith unfolds. It turns out that God’s ambitions for us are so very much greater than our own, and the blueprint to which He is working – the very likeness of Christ himself – is beyond our comprehension.

I find it helpful to return to this image regularly as I ponder what God has done and is doing in my life, especially on those occasions when it felt as though I had been subject to a demolition order, when familiar supports were knocked away and foundations dug for a whole new framework. I am already secure as a child of God, and my place in His eternal glory is guaranteed – my prospects are truly marvellous, since I am to be at home in the new creation, where there will be no more imperfections, and all creation will be as He always intended it should be. I will be completely in harmony with my surroundings, and free from any shadow of guilt or shame.

In the meantime, it sometimes feels as though no progress is being made at all – the same basic sins recur, in different forms, over and over; new challenges arise in each stage of life which can feel insurmountable; doubts shake us, and grief near overwhelms us. But the bible asserts that in the midst of this apparent chaos and utter lack of progress, yet God is at work, and his ultimate goal is complete transformation. Each of His beloved, redeemed children is becoming a unique expression of Christ, a celebration of the beauty of the One and Only Son where God dwells and His glory is revealed and exulted in.

He has always intended that He should dwell with us in joy and mutual delight, and to that end, the whole of history unfolds. One day, we shall see that plan fully realised, and by then, in our perfected resurrection bodies, we shall be able to praise and honour him rightly – what a wonderful prospect that is. May we be strengthened in our faith as we undergo the labours of the heavenly builder, strengthened to trust that He knows what He is doing and enabled to co-operate with Him. Our prospects are glorious, and we shall be amazed when we see the final results of His great plan..Have you ever tried to imagine how it might feel to come before our Lord without a trace of guilt, regret or shame? It is an overwhelmingly wonderful thing that He is doing for us, and He WILL finish the task..so let us persevere with hope and confidence.

 

When it seems like nothing..

..the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai;”..who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong..Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you..this is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

This is what the Lord says:”In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine….the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house..And in this place I will grant peace”

(Hag 2.1-5,6-9)

After Jesus was born..Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star,..and have come to worship him.”..On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts..

(Matt 2.1&2,11)

the Holy City..shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel..The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city..were decorated with every kind of precious stone..The twelve gates were twelve pearls…the great street of the city was of gold..The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will  bring their splendour into it…The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it..

(Rev 21.10-26)

Be strong…work..my Spirit remains among you…Do not fear.

As we contemplate the global pattern of church growth in the 21st century, these words are so important for us in the lands where the church appears to be dying. They were addressed to a group of discouraged folk, returned from exile and attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But how painful it must have been to compare the fruits of their labours with the memories of what was lost, how easy to mourn that departed glory as if it would never come again.

Does this not ring true for us in Scotland today? We remember fuller churches, an enthusiasm and confidence in ministry, and how christianity was welcomed within institutions like schools, hospitals, and public life. Today, we are marginalised, suspected of all kinds of bigotry, tainted by association with past wrongs, and our attempts to share the good news of Jesus meet largely with indifference, and occasionally with hostility. The glory has departed..

We are tempted to hopelessness by a sense of our own futility, and the apparent lack of fruit in people’s lives and in our communities. And into this, comes God’s word through the prophet to his toiling remnant – be strong, work, do not fear, I am with you!

God promises to be present with them – as he always is with his faithful servants, whether in exile in foreign lands, in prison, under oppressive regimes, prospering or suffering, we are never separated from him. He promises his power will accomplish what he intends – and the vision from Haggai is of all the nations of the world bringing their tributes to God in his glorious temple, it is his might and power – not the efforts of the people – that will fill it with majesty and honour. And God reveals to them his purposes – even though they may not see the fulfilment with their own eyes.

We share in the promise of a glorious future, where peace is established and flourishes according to God’s word. We share this fuel for hope in our own struggles, in our situations of discouragement. The vision of glory is for our encouragement, it is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purposes to usher in a new heaven and earth, where redeemed humanity from every tribe and nation will reign with him in perfection, peace, joy and mutual delight.

Friends, look out at the global church, and behold, the glory of the Lord at work, in the farthest reaches of our planet. Look ahead and depend upon these promises and visions of what God is surely doing even now, and will surely complete. Even as the magi from the east brought treasures to the God-child, so today, people bring their own riches to lay at his feet – silver and gold, but also the priceless treasures of their unique identities, characters, cultures and qualities. Those travellers from the east represented an early trickle of that flood which will finally be realised. 

Let us not lose hope, but work on without fear. Our God is with us by his spirit, and in his strength, we obey, leaving him to put his power to work.

Overflowing…or running on empty?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

(Ps 25.4-7)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Rom 15.4-6&13)

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

(Heb 10.19-24)

What can I hope for, as a child of God? What can I reasonably expect and depend upon, based on God’s promises and the revelation of his character and his will? The letter to the Romans shows us that our hope is to be encouraged by the narrative of scripture, and refined through endurance – it is based on the absolute trustworthiness of God, who did not keep back his own son but gave him up to be a sacrifice of atonement for us. Such love, argues Paul, will not deceive us, will not let us down, but will fight to keep us safe until we are united with Christ in glory…He who promised, is faithful and so we may hope – stubbornly, desperately at times, but always.

While I may not hope for an easy life; I can and do hope that at every stage, I am in God’s eye, and he is working to bless me, and bring glory to himself through my circumstances.  I can hope that although I may not perceive it, I am growing in faith and maturity, and fruitfulness in God’s sight. I may hope and be at peace, knowing that nothing is wasted .

While I may not hope that I will never rebel again, never let my Lord down again, never hurt other people again; I can and do hope that for every failure there is abundant forgiveness, cleansing and a fresh start. I can hope for strength to try again, to move out in faith after failure, confident that I am not estranged from or forsaken by God. I may hope, and be at peace, free from guilt and resting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

While I may not hope for riches, good health and freedom; I can and do hope that in every situation, I am able to receive good gifts from God, tokens of his love for and delight in me. I can hope for continued grace to see these things, and for the ability to give thanks for them. I may hope and be filled with joy because nothing can separate me from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

My God is not some small pathetic construction of my own thinking, created to prop me up on bad days. He is the Almighty, the God of creation, the invisible and yet revealed Majesty who rightly claims the worship and homage of all things. He is not safe, doesn’t play by the rules of his creatures, and at times the mystery of his ways leaves us bewildered. But he is absolutely trustworthy, and so we cling to his promises, depend upon the salvation he offers us, and receive each day fresh from his hand.

Our God, who gives endurance and encouragement; Our God, who is the God of hope, by his Holy Spirit, will cause joy and peace to well up within us as we choose to trust him, as he enables us to trust him. All we need, he gives; and so we may indeed overflow with hope, because he will never fail us..

So much better than “best wishes”!

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

(Lk 2.13&14)

Finally brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(2 Cor 13.11&14)

For [Christ] himself is our peace…he came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near..Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 2.14&17;  6.23)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Pet 1.3&5-8)

In this era of social media, and internet communication, it is rare to send or receive a tangible greeting from anyone, and the habits and conventions of letter writing are dwindling. At Christmas perhaps, we still expect to send and receive cards, and will take time to write to those precious folk whom we will not see to greet in person. And we will wrestle as we always do, with the inadequacy of language to express our love, our support and care for them. Our words cannot achieve what we desire in communicating all that is in our hearts, and certainly cannot make us present to one another!

How marvellous then are the words which we find in scripture, where time and again, God promises his presence with his people. God does not send greetings, does not make wishes for our blessing; He gives, He comes! Ultimately, the whole narrative of scripture is the tale of God’s work to restore perfect communion between himself and his people, to deal with the barrier of sin which keeps us alienated from Him. But even from the beginning, God’s promise to his chosen ones was of his presence; and all the blessings which that brings.

When Paul writes prayers for blessing – as so often he does – at the end of his letters, he is not simply expressing good wishes, but asking with confidence that God will do exactly what He has promised to do, and can do. The young churches were communities of believers, reborn in Christ and indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence was among them, and with that came his gifts – of peace and rest; of reconciliation with one another; of the glorious hope of resurrection and eternal life; of forgiveness for sins past, and grace for the day’s tasks. As Peter says in his letter, God has given all that we need to live in ways that bring Him joy – because we have life in Christ by the Spirit and are free from slavery to sin.

So my friends, let us consider what good gifts we have received from God our Father – the foundation of faith, that trust in the saving work of Christ through which alone we are rescued, and on which all else is built: peace with God, and thus with one another, as we live together as forgiven children, equally dependant upon mercy, and equally glorified in Christ: love for one another, because we are already totally loved by God and have nothing to prove, nothing to depend on others for.

We can follow Paul’s example as we greet fellow believers, and as we pray for them; we can claim God’s promised gifts for his children and know that since He is present with them, there is no danger that the gift will be withheld.

Peace to you, my brothers and sisters; love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are your inheritance and daily provision.

….with my own love in Christ to all who read and share with me in the riches of our inheritance as the beloved children of God.

When it all goes dark…and silent

..yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead.. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Surely God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household…Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

(Job 1.18-22: 13.15: 16.7&22-17.1)

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death..You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.1-3,6,8&18)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

(Isa 53.5)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(1 Cor.10.13)

 

Sooner or later, it comes to each one of us. The pain of the world suddenly becomes our pain, the tragic headlines become our headlines, our lives, and our future. There are some trials from which there can be no return – the premature death of a beloved child, a fatal diagnosis, a destroyed relationship. These things in themselves are painful enough, but when those involved had not professed faith in Jesus, when we fear that they had no hope for eternity, the loss becomes unbearable.

These things are common trials to mankind down the centuries, not unique to us here and now – this is not some new thing which God is doing. It is a mystery which his children have wrestled with since Cain murdered Abel and broke his parent’s hearts, since Job’s children were destroyed, since Jeremiah was broken and despised by those to whom he was called, since Hosea’s tragic marriage to Gomer.

We are made to call God our Father, to trust in him and to receive all the good things which are our inheritance, most of all to be in intimate loving fellowship with him. When we are wounded in these ways, we feel betrayed, and abandoned; we become angry because we are scared and alone in the darkness of our suffering. We cry out for answers;  we long for the suffering to be undone, for the bad things not to have happened – and in Job and Jeremiah’s case, we wish that we had never lived to experience such depth of trouble.

God doesn’t give us answers, nor – with a handful of exceptional miraculous interventions – does he restore the dead to us. He promises that he will never leave us, and that he is sovereign to rule over all that happens, working it out for his glory – and our blessing. And he gives us his son, to suffer betrayal, injustice, physical pain and ultimate agonising separation from the Father – a darkness which we will never know, because Christ endured it for us.

Let us be merciful to one another, we are all living with unanswerable questions –  like open wounds, amputations or paralyses which impede our every function for the rest of our lives, and at times make us feel permanently cut off from joy, light and hope. Let us be filled with compassion for those whose burden of grief is inexplicably heavy, and refrain from offering easy comfort.

We pray for others, as we would be prayed for: that they might be kept from the temptation to despair of God, He is powerful to protect his children; that they might be spared the aggravation of comforters such as Job’s so-called friends, but instead receive compassion; that they might be upheld by God, and able to cast all our cares on him, over and over again; and that they might know – even in such agony – the peace which only he gives.

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…

 

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 fruit of the spirit is….self-control

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.

(Ps 56.3&4)

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing..My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

(Ps 101.1-3,6)

You are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. 

(Ps 119.57-61)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me…

(Jn 14.1)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

(Rom 15.13)

It is easy to think of self-control as a quality of restraint, of holding back and NOT doing those things which might be harmful or otherwise ungodly – for us and for others. But there is also a proactive quality, the ability to steel oneself to do right things – even if they are hard, making us apprehensive of rejection and conflict.

In his final address which is recorded by John, Jesus commands his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled – and they go on to express profound uneasiness and trouble in the following verses! But when I read the words recently, I was struck by this element of command – do not ‘let’ your hearts be troubled…and the subsequent ‘trust in God’

Jesus speaks as though by actively pursuing trust, we can also actively obey the command to keep our hearts untroubled, no matter what we are facing. This can only be achieved by the power of the Spirit in us, reminding us of the promises of Jesus, of the riches of God’s love and provision for us, and above all, showing us that we are part of a great and glorious plan which is fully under God’s sovereign control. When we can trust that God is working all things together for his glory and our blessing, then our heart-troubles subside and we find peace.

This isn’t about some supreme teeth-gritted, fist-clenched effort which we have to make, but rather a steady cultivation of our thoughts and attitudes; a learning to trust first. When the spirit of Jesus within us is active, when we are working with him to feed our minds with the word of God, we are choosing to believe that word is doing us good. When we exercise self-control to make sure that our spiritual nourishment is not neglected, by meeting to pray with others, by worshipping together and hearing from the word, then we are giving ourselves the equipment we need to trust God, in all that may come to us.

We will undoubtedly face circumstances every day which will challenge the tranquility of our hearts – we live in a world which is so broken by sin and evil that it is impossible to avoid trouble, whether from within or without. But we can choose what we do with those troublings…either we put up no defence, and allow them to take up residence in our hearts and minds, dictating that we are driven by fear and anxiety; or we exercise the self-control which the spirit enables within us.

We choose to remember God’s promises; we choose to trust that he is good, and true and loving, and powerful; we bring our fears and troubles to him, and choose not to dwell on them. This is not self-hypnosis, but faith in action. By actively pursuing trust in the God who has revealed himself as supremely loving, and intimately caring towards us, we learn to stand secure amidst troubling circumstances – not because nothing bad may happen, but because God is in control of everything for his glory and our blessing