Category Archives: promises

A new look?

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him…But..Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.

(Ephesians 4.17&18, 21-24)

Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

(Romans 12.2)

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will not longer live for themselves….This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

(2Corinthians 5.15&17)

No one carefully reading the letters of the apostles written to the early church, could make the mistake of thinking that Christian faith is simply a matter of being nice and having a warm, comforting feeling about life and the future.. Our faith is not a matter of instinct, habit or gut feelings; it is action, constant struggle and an endless ache for things we as yet do not see. It is a daily contest between the remnant of our sinful self – the voice that bewitchingly says we are “worth it”, when temptations come our way; that beguiles us into selfish behaviour and thought on the basis that meeting our needs is obviously the priority for our lives – and the new person we are becoming through the life we now live in Christ Jesus.

The apostles use a variety of images to help their readers – that’s us too – to understand what it means to live as believers in Jesus, as those who have been forgiven and restored to fellowship with God, who are being transformed into his likeness. One of the most striking is the idea of a garment being put off or on.

No one puts on clothes by accident; you don’t just wake up and find yourself dressed for a day in the office! It requires at the very least a routine of laundry, and a modicum of organisation to present oneself appropriately attired for the day. And this is the point for believers: we too have to be actively involved in our daily life of faith, in preparation and organisation, so that we are fit to be seen as God’s witnesses in the world.

The person who believes in Jesus, and desires to be actively growing in maturity as a believer has a job to do – God has given us the privilege of being his fellow-labourers, as he by his spirit works in us. We are given many promises, but what good are they to us if we do not – by faith – choose to act as though we believed them? It is all very good to read of the peace of God, but unless I actively strive to put off my anxiety and trust God, then peace remains only a dream.

I choose to believe that I am forgiven, to accept and rejoice in that forgiveness and therefore to put away, or cast off, any clinging and debilitating guilt.

I choose to believe that I have a purpose in God’s great plan for the world, and therefore look actively for ways in which he is already at work where I can offer myself in service, rejecting the self-pitying and discontented spirit which resents my present circumstances.

I choose to believe that God is indeed at work in me, that he will complete that work so that I shall be transformed into the Christ-version of myself which was God’s original purpose. And so I give thanks even in times of struggle, weariness and pain, trusting that he is forming treasure within me and none of it is wasted.

It is a battle..so often I am ambushed by my own thoughts and feelings, and find I have failed to put off the things which are not of Christ, but cling to them instead! I do not have that single-minded focus which keeps my eye on him – the author and perfecter of my faith – but, when I am thinking clearly, I know that God wants this focus for me too, and therefore even as I strive for it, he is strengthening my gaze.

All praise to him, who keeps us from falling, comforts and forgives us as we stumble and wander, and who provides such riches for our clothing – that we might be found arrayed in all the glorious, spotless robes of Jesus. Let’s get dressed!!

Advertisements

Leaning hard..

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

(Psalm 56.8-11)

O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord! He is your helper and shield. 

All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.

(Psalm 115.9-11)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what exactly some familiar phrase means? This happens to me often in my life as a follower of Jesus – sometimes in the middle of a sermon – so that I want to stand up and ask the preacher to unpack the expression, explaining what is meant in hard daily life by the familiar words! If we cannot translate the phrase into meaningful action and understanding, then it is no use to us, and may even be unhelpful. The attempt to understand and grapple for myself is one of the motivations behind this weekly blog – if I can articulate it, then I have in some measure begun to make it my own and put it into practice.

“Lean on God”, is one such phrase, and I have been wrestling over recent days to work out what it means – because it sounds attractive, comforting and something I want to do very much!

Recently, I was part of a group who went out to climb a mountain, on a day when the weather was less than friendly, greatly adding to our difficulty in scaling the steep slopes and navigating the sharp ridge at the top. I walked with my poles, occasionally finding that they were in my way, but more often finding that they were giving me confidence and some measure of security as I struggled along the hillside, trying to resist the gale force winds which were continually threatening to topple me over. Here was an example of leaning in action! I was literally putting all my weight on these slim rods, trusting that they could bear it and would keep me moving safely in a very dangerous situation.

The words of Psalm 56 had struck me sometime earlier, where the writer declares that he is praising God for what has been promised – NOT what has been already received! Is this what trust is? For the follower of Jesus, we are called to look to the promises, and to put our faith in them, because we put our faith in the God who makes them.

Promises may seem slender and feeble when we are in the midst of a storm of life, and our own promises are often compromised by our circumstances. But our God is not one to break his word, and the revelation of his character in the stories of the bible encourage us to trust him – literally, to allow all that we are and treasure to be held by him, because we know that of ourselves, we cannot keep them safe.

When I am using the walking poles, they do not transport me out of danger, but enable me to move through it. When I lean hard on them, I am held up, stabilised, made stronger than I can be alone. So it is as I ‘lean on God’. My circumstances do not change; the storm rages, my emotions threaten to derail me and events to overwhelm me. But I trust in a God who is greater than these things, who has promised to be with me through all my life and to bring me safe home at last.

When I turn to this God, when I deliberately contemplate his works and praise him for who he is; then I am choosing to trust myself to him, in other words, I am leaning on him for the strength I do not have in myself. When I call to mind his promises, turning my thoughts in spite of my feelings, to consider the truths which never change, I can move(albeit slowly!) forward through the troubles and trials, always towards him, sustained by his word.

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.

(Isaiah 46.3-4)

What a faithful God we have; Alleluia! and Amen.

 

Praying from the shadows

How long, o Lord, how long?

I stand here in the shadows, looking at the light of your power and might in creation; your boundless inventiveness and artistry; your generous provision for the physical needs of all that you have made and the sheer mind-blowing scale of your works. I consider the great dance of the planets in their galaxies, and am crushed by a sense of insignificance and transience. You, my God, are beyond telling great, and your works praise your name.

I stand here, in the shadows, looking at the light of your salvation in the lives of millions around the world today. I see hope restored, purpose bestowed, forgiveness received, and the beauty of Christ shining in faces of so many races, tribes and tongues. Your power to save is marvellous in my eyes, and I join with all the redeemed in worshipping you.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, considering all the ways that I fall short of perfection in Christ, the good things I have not done, and the wrong things I have said or thought or done. I take hold of the forgiveness freely offered in Christ, that blessed washing away of stain and blemish, so that even as you forget my wrongdoings, I also may not be haunted and burdened by my past. I throw myself on your mercy, and for the sake of Christ, you declare me blameless.

I sit here, in the dark shadows, looking at answers to my prayers in the lives of others, and thanking you for them. Your hand is mighty to work all things together for the good of those who love you and who trust in you. It is a mystery and a comfort, this praying, this beseeching for and sharing of all things with you, our maker and Father.

I lie here, in the cold, dark shadows, wondering if I will ever feel the warmth of the sun and see the light upon myself again. I see it on others, and know that they feel the warmth, strong and healing, life-giving and sustaining, but I do not.

You know all things Lord, you know what it is that comes between me and your light, like a moon eclipsing the sun and causing darkness to fall upon all under its shadow! You know and see the things that blot out the warmth and while I know your power and your love are undiminished, yet I cannot seem to receive their benediction.

You are almighty, all-knowing, eternally good and loving to your children. I believe this, and believing it must somehow make sense of my darkness.

You promised never to leave me alone – therefore you are with me here and now, in spite of the deadness at heart which cripples me.

You promise to hear and answer my prayers – therefore you know what I am asking and what troubles me, and are chosing to answer in ways which I cannot see or understand. I must believe that you are planning blessing for me or other people through this, and that is why I must remain in the dark.

O Lord, give your word power to comfort me in the darkness, that I may have courage to remain.

Let me see that your strength is made perfect in my weakness, that you are a real refuge and fortress to your children when they are weary and sad.

Let my words come to you from the shadows, Lord, and be swift to answer me!

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

(Isaiah 61.1-3)

Amen, Lord let it be..

 

A gentle prod in the right direction..

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

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

(Isaiah. 30.18-21)

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

(James 1.5&6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

But Lord, you promised!

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

(Proverbs 13.12)

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

(2Cor 1.20-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whispers of wings?

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

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

(Genesis 12.1-3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t hear you Lord!

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The tempter came to him(Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God….” Jesus answered, “It is written:…”

(Matthew 3.16,17; 4.3,4) 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

(Mark 1.35)

The voices around me are deafening. They tell me that I am foolish, irrelevant, an irritation and a waste of space. A woman who has made nothing of herself, who has wasted opportunities and squandered abilities. They whisper in my ear that there is no hope of joy or fulfillment, that I am a doormat, weak and without courage or self-respect. Where is the career, the salary, the validation of self through work? Where is the assertion of self, and the fulfillment of goals which rightly belong to this stage of life?

They are silent voices – does that make sense? No one physically speaks the words, and yet by their actions, attitudes, and the way they treat me and talk to me, the message comes through loud and clear – tried, and found wanting…

It is my experience that the voices of those far off are never the loudest, and it is those around us every day, those closest to us whom we hear most clearly, and find it hardest to resist believing. The resulting chaos of our thoughts can be exhausting, nothing comes through except a weary resignation, an acceptance of this loudest and most urgently present message. Our own voice begins to say the same things, and we give up resisting.

But is it necessarily the truth? In all the muddle and confusion, I find a desire to believe that it is a lie, that I am neither hearing nor seeing reality as God sees it. Somewhere, beyond the cacophony, is a place where there is peace, health and wholeness, a place where I am worth something.

What did Jesus do, when immediately after his very public validation by his Father, he was taken away from all support, and exposed to a relentless attack on his identity by Satan? The loudest voice in all those weary days in the wilderness was that which cast doubt upon his very being, the truth which God had affirmed so clearly. And what did Jesus do? He turned to scripture, to the words given by God to his people for their instruction and foundation of faith. I have access to that same resource, if I will only use it! Three times, it is recorded that Jesus dismissed the attack on his identity with a rebuke from the words of the Old Testament. He knew his bible, and knew that it was his weapon for attack and a shield for defence against just this kind of assault. Do I?

The bible teaches so much more than the bare mechanics of our salvation – glorious as that is! We find there all the resources we need to understand who we are made to be, to grasp our identity as new creatures in Christ. When I am feeling worthless, I remember that the Son of God considered me worth leaving glory for, worth clothing himself in human flesh for, worth dying for! When I am tempted to consider my life of no account, I remember the promise that God has prepared good works for me to do, and that my faithfulness in small things will not go unnoticed. When I am forcibly reminded of my weakness and failures, I cling to the promise that God will finish the work he has begun in my life, and that I am being made into the glorious new creature who will be fit to share eternity with her Saviour!

It seems to me that if I am to hear the voice of my Lord through the turmoil which is so loud and close every day, then I need to make the effort which he did – so often it was recorded that he withdrew to a solitary place to pray, to restore his ability to hear his Father’s voice. Praying – the deliberate sharing of my thoughts with my Father all the time – is a sure way to discern truth from lies, and to break the power of those insidious and undermining thoughts. It is always hard to hear a single voice in the midst of a crowd, so if even Jesus felt the need to be alone, how much more do I?!

May I learn to hear his voice more clearly than any other; to let his truth about me be the foundation of my identity – then I will be able to hold up my head, as a daughter of the King of Kings, dressed in clean and beautiful robes, with a future brighter and more glorious than any ‘happy ever after’ can imagine!