Category Archives: responsibility

Making holes in the dark…

In the beginning was the Word..In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 1.1,4&5; 8.12)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, ” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 4.6)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5.14-16)

By choosing to celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year (for dwellers in the northern hemisphere), the church has been able to explore so many ways in which the description of Christ as the “Light of the World” is a powerful and transforming one. When one lives for weeks with less than 7 hours of daylight, and much of that heavily shrouded in clouds and rain, the presence of light is a precious gift, and one for which we are profoundly thankful. Truly, it takes the darkness to make us appreciate light fully, and in particular to see how every pinprick shows up clearly – think of the old children’s hymn which speak of that bright distinctiveness – Jesus bids us shine, with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. No one is disqualified from their part in the witness of the church to the source of all brightness, Jesus himself, the light of the world.

We are called not to reflect the light – like mirrors, which have no power within them – but to shine with light, like torches, lanterns, or candles. So the light must dwell within us first! Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, even as he has taken that title upon himself – is that not amazing?! Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tries to explain what the light is – the knowledge of the glory of God, which was so full and complete in Christ, that he could say to his disciples, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father”.

It is as we learn to know God, to worship and appreciate him in all his glory, that we will shine more and more brightly in the world – making things visible, illuminating what is true and real, showing the need for salvation and the loving God who offers it freely in Christ. The sanctifying, transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives scrubs away those things which obscure the light and prevent it from shining – the selfishness, the fear, the grudging and bitter resentments which can build up. And it is God himself who gives us the light, as well as making us fit to shine for him! It is not by good deeds that we obtain light, rather that one of the ways in which the light is seen is by the godly things we are prompted to do and be in our world.

Here is the challenge for us; are we shining like this? Are we so afraid of the reaction of our dark world that we try to hide the light of Christ dwelling within us, and let it out only when we are in a safe Christian environment? We don’t need candles or torches when we are bathed in sunlight, but when night has fallen, when there are no windows in the room, when the trees crowd so thick overhead that light is blotted out.

We are to shine with Christ-light in those places, where there is darkness, so that the prisoners can see, so that freedom can be obtained by those who are in despair… As we have received, so let us give – freely, abundantly, joyfully.

What a gift we have to celebrate this Christmas time – light not only for our own lives, but for all who need it! May God in his great mercy continue to make us more like Christ, so that we might bear that light of the knowledge of his glory into the world which needs it so badly…

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Misplaced loyalty?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..

(Matthew 6.9)

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

(John 18.36&37)

But 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.

(Philippians 3.20&21)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 11.15)

Who is really in charge? Who truly wields power in the world today? On one level, the answers are obvious – money is power, our multinational corporations are virtually a law unto themselves; military might gives power, the threat of destruction creates domination and control; ideology drives men and women to act in ways which create power, they terrorise and destroy in order to realise their vision.. The ballot box, in a democratic society, is power surrendered to the people, but it depends on their intelligent approach to the use of their votes, on their willingness to vote, and on the integrity of those who are elected to represent them..

I am thankful to live in a society where military might is not abused, where ideology is still restrained from creating chaos, and where legal systems to hold money to account, to prevent the multinational corporations from getting away with any and every form of exploitation. But am I in danger of forgetting that all these are only by the providence of God? Am I at risk of putting my faith in the ballot box, in education and information as hope for the future of my children and neighbours? Our secular society would have us believe that all we have is the result of our own labours, and that we can, with the right tools and time, sort all the problems that remain.

The bible tells me differently, and I think that many would agree on a second look at the state of the world today. Humanity is improving the lot of millions, through technological advances, through education and development. BUT we continue to destroy our planet in our greed; to destroy one another in our selfishness, prejudice, and refusal to love and forgive. The scale of human suffering today is unimaginable, in spite of all the tools available to us to create prosperity, health and stability. Why? Because the problem lies in the heart of humanity, and no system, no power that ever existed can change the heart of man – only God in heaven, its creator, has addressed that brokenness and until we accept his diagnosis and his offer of saving, transforming life through faith in Jesus, we are ultimately hopeless.

I have a duty, as a citizen of my country, to vote, to act responsibly according to the laws of the land and to seek the good of my people as far as it lies with me to realise it. I have a responsibility to pray for those who are willing to shoulder the burden of elected representation – a thankless task, one which brings much frustration and can damage those who undertake it. These people need my support, and encouragment as they(broken and weak human beings) seek to do their best, in a situation where much is outwith their control.

But my ultimate loyalty is not to the nation of my birth, but the kingdom of which I am a member by faith in Jesus. It is the eternal security of that realm which gives me hope for the future, in spite of the growing darkness and unease of the world in which we live today. I believe in a God who is just and good, and who will never leave his people unaided.

Let me not allow political uncertainty, and the abuse of power – of any kind – to undermine my confidence in the absolute security which I have in Christ, my place in the kingdom of God, an eternal inheritance of which I have already received the guarantee. Because of him, in this world of fear, hostility and inequality, I can have peace as the flag flying high over the castle of my heart!

Therefore go!

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(Matthew 28.18-20)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle..for the gospel of God..regarding his Son who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace..to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Romans 1. 1-5 & 16-18)

An imperative, a command with no exceptions – the risen, glorified Lord commands his disciples to ‘GO’. His death and resurrection has ushered in a new era, has opened the door of heaven to broken and lost humanity, that they might come home; finding fullness and joy such as they have never known.

It is good news for the weary and grieving; for the proud and lonely; for the driven and unsatisfied – and a challenge to the self-satisfied, all those who rely upon their own righteousness and achievements. It is good news, because it addresses the deepest needs of humankind – whether they recognise and acknowledge those needs or not – and is the only guarantee of obtaining the security in this life, and hope for the next which we pursue in so many different shapes and forms apart from God.

This is the command which sends men and women across the oceans to serve as missionaries in lands where they are aliens; learning strange languages and submitting to challenging climatic and living conditions – all that their beloved Lord might be made known to people who have never heard of him. It is not personal glory that they pursue, but his glory and the growth of his kingdom; it is with Christ’s sacrificial love that they go, for the sake of those walking in darkness, knowing nothing of the beauty of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

This is the command which draws men and women into full-time and professional ministry in their homelands – that they might reach their neighbours with the good news of a saviour; might make disciples of young believers, seeing them grow in strength and understanding, persevering through trials and testifying to God’s power in their lives. It is not institutional glory they are pursuing, but the rescuing of as many as may respond from a bleak, black, hopeless future without Christ.

This same command is given to me, a housewife, with no formal theological training to undertake, no foreign mission field to go to, no difficult languages to learn or challenging climate to deal with. I am tasked with sharing the good news of Jesus with my natural neighbours, in my own tongue, from the comfort of a good home and with a strong support network of believing friends to help me… What possible excuse can I make for failing to do it?

None.. and I know that the desire of my heart is indeed to see those around me come to faith. I see how their lives are distorted and blighted by the lack of peace, the sense of worthlessness, the anxiety and fear which all stem from ignorance of God’s accepting and forgiving love. And yet it seems so hard to speak of that love in a way which will they will hear, and how I dread alienating them by a word spoken out of turn..

It is not that my words must be powerful in themselves, nor clever and persuasive like those of a clever lawyer or spin doctor; no, I believe that God can use simple and even clumsy speech to do his work. And this is perhaps the key which I need to grasp more fully – to pray that he will be at work by his Spirit in the lives of those around me; that I will discern that work, and then discern how to speak to them. All the labour of drawing a soul to saving faith is God’s labour, and my task is to be a willing agent in his plan.

May I walk more and more in step with him, so that I recognise his hand at work and know his prompting to speak – or not speak but act – so that the power of God which is the gospel of Jesus Christ might be revealed in the lives of those around me. May I be blessed by seeing men and women come alive in Christ in my community – perhaps through some labour of my own, but ultimately all through God’s gracious power and to his glory!

But that’s not my job Lord…is it?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel..

(Eph 6.19)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

(Col 4.2-4)

Finally brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.

(2 Thess 3.1)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.

(Heb.13.17)

I make no apology for the number and length of bible passages quoted this week, because they illustrate the theme which is very strong in my mind, namely our role as church members in supporting our leaders.

I was at a meeting recently where the speaker gave some insight into the ministry of CH Spurgeon, a great teacher of the early 20th, whose sermons and writings continue to bless the church today. He once told his congregation that the day they stopped praying for him, would be the day he hoped to die, since it was only in the power of God, released by prayer, that his ministry had any worth and effect. I was challenged, disturbed, wondering how many of those who bear the burden of leadership in our churches know that they are faithfully supported by the prayers of their people.

Have we any idea how lonely it must be for them? Week after week, disciplining themselves under the word; by study and meditation, wrestling to receive the message which God reveals to them for their people. How much do we take for granted the preaching and teaching which we receive week by week, the knowledge which is required to inform and instruct us in our faith? When did we last take time to talk to our teachers, to share the ways that God in his grace has used them to heal us, to correct us, to encourage and inspire us? They are human too, and while the satisfaction of obedience to their calling is their ultimate reward, they will thrill to know that God is using them. Sometimes it can be what seems a disastrous sermon to the preacher which turns out to be the greatest blessing to the people – but how much better if the preacher knows than if he or she goes home despondent and unaware!

But more than speaking even, is the real responsibility we have, to PRAY for our leaders. And Paul spells out what to pray for them – that they may preach fearlessly and clearly, that the gospel might go out with power, without restraint, and that the end result would be honour to God. When did we last pray, like that?

The point of Spurgeon’s comment was to emphasise that without prayer for the word of God to speak to hearts and transform lives in Christ, there was no point in his preaching. Sometimes the word will be a rebuke, it will hit hard and bring distress – that is why Paul asks us to pray that preachers might be fearless. They must be so submitted to the word that they are willing to deliver hard messages – think of the prophets in the Old Testament who brought dreadful warnings to their hearers! But if a preacher fears the reaction of his hearers, he will be tempted to soften the message, to avoid the hard things, and that will lead him to disobedience and his work will indeed become a burden to him. So let us pray for fearlessness for our preachers.

Clarity – how can we learn if we cannot understand? What a crucial prayer this is, that people might see and know exactly what the good news of Jesus is, that they might be saved and transformed into his likeness. Unrestrained power – praying that the devil will not hinder, distract or dilute the message by hindering the preacher! A pulpit or platform is a battlefield when God’s word is being faithfully proclaimed and we as a congregation can claim victory on behalf of our teachers, so that they are free to preach what they have prepared.

I hope that I will be able to take this challenge to heart in the years ahead, that I might commit to the discipline of praying for my preacher: – fearlessness; clarity; unrestrained proclamation, and above all, that God in his power will speak through the word to transform lives and bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ, our Lord and the focus of all that is said in his name.

 

Whose job is it anyway?

I may have done the planting and Apollos the watering but it was God who made the seed grow! The planter and the waterer are nothing compared with him who gives life to the seed. Planter and waterer are alike insignificant, though each shall be rewarded according to his particular work.

In this work, we work with God..

(1 Corinthians 3.6-9, JB Phillips translation)

This blossom is on the apple tree in our garden, borne by a carefully trained branch, on a well pruned tree which only last year gave its first real harvest of delicious eating apples. There is some relationship between the care given by the gardener, and the fruit of the tree, but ultimately, we recognise the truth of what Paul is saying in this extract from his letter to the Corinthians: it is God alone who brings forth the life and fruit of the plant in due season, and to him alone belongs the credit!

As I prepare to lay down my responsibilities in order to move to our new place of ministry, I find that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that the work which I am leaving is somehow ‘my work’. I find myself unhappy about leaving a less-than-perfect arrangement behind me, or not finding people to take over my particular role before I leave. And as I consider why I am so upset, I find some very unattractive things going on.

I am behaving as though my worth and value depend upon the work I do instead of upon the identity I have as a child of God.

I am assuming that I will be judged upon the work I do, and if it is found wanting, then I am afraid of the condemnation of other people – instead of entrusting myself to God as my sole judge.

I am resenting the fact that other people are not willing to step up and take on jobs which can be demanding and time-consuming; when I know that I sometimes resent those same demands! I am being unloving, lacking compassion, and above all, not trusting God to provide for the work which he wants to do in his own way.

It is a painful grace when God shows us what is really going on in our hearts and minds, because we are ashamed of the reality – the ugliness and depth of pride which are revealed. But it is still grace, because he is giving us the chance to repent, to learn, and to move forward into a new way of living.

As I considered this, I thought of the great apostle Paul, who was required so many times in his ministry to pack up and leave – sometimes after very short periods – and who must have learnt very quickly how to handle this experience of relinquishment. In these verses from the first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul lays out very clearly his understanding of his role in God’s work – he describes himself as ‘insignificant’ and ‘nothing’. Now we know that in other places Paul describes his labours on behalf of the churches in great detail, and encourages them to follow his example of service and sacrifice. So he is not claiming to do nothing, but rather that in comparison to God, his role is ‘as nothing’.

God has chosen to give us, his children, the privilege of serving him, of working with him as he prepares for the return of Christ and the coming of the new creation. This is our great purpose in life, and one which we can be rightly proud of. But, we are not responsible for its completion. In fact, we only ever play a passing role, and must always be ready to be moved on and let God deal with what we leave behind. So it comes back to trust again..

Am I willing to trust God for the jobs I used to do? Am I willing to let things get messy, or even stop altogether and still believe that he is in charge and that I have not failed him? Am I willing to put to death the pride which longs to hear the praise of people for the ‘successful’ things I have done?

As I begin to see how deeply my pride is dragging me down into anxiety, frustration and resentment, I long to be free of it, and gladly confess that I need to be changed.

May God who honoured me by allowing me to serve him give me grace to let go and not fret, but recognise that obedience is what I am called to. May I be content to rest in his approval alone, and not look for affirmation anywhere else. May he continue to expose the roots of pride which disguise themselves so effectively, and cause me to stumble.

To him be the glory, in all things, for ever and ever, Amen!

Thought-police?

For though we live in the world, we do  not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Corinthians 10.3-5)

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. and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 3.8&9)

 I wonder if you are sometimes deeply disturbed by the thoughts that percolate to the surface of your mind, when the voice you hear is bitter, angry, vengeful or simply loaded with the lead-weight of self-pity?

This has been and continues to be my experience, much more often than I care to admit, and it is easy to fall into despair over the apparent lack of change in one’s innermost attitudes, even after years of walking with Jesus.

I was therefore greatly encouraged in a recent brief conversation about these depressingly frequent, and totally ungodly thoughts, to be reminded that it is not so much that they come which should concern me, as what I do about them!

Let me explain.. In his words from 2 Corinthians 10, quoted above, the apostle Paul talks about “taking every thought captive”, as part of a longer passage about the war which we wage as believers against the powers in the world which oppose our faith. A soldier in a battle situation, seeing an enemy appear on his horizon has a choice – to oppose, to avoid, or to welcome him! To welcome the enemy is to be a traitor to one’s own cause, and to avoid doing anything to him is almost as bad, since it leaves him free to attack again another time. But to oppose, to do battle and struggle, to subdue and take him captive, is to be loyal to one’s own cause, to act in obedience to the orders received, and reduce the risk to oneself.

So when I apply this picture to the whole business of my thoughts, of what comes into my head as daily life with all its challenges comes my way, what do I find? Why that I also have a choice! When I find angry thoughts in my heart because of the way I have been treated, I recognise them as an enemy, and choose – with God’s power at work in me – not to speak or act upon those thoughts. I choose to follow the example of Christ who turned the other cheek to his persecutors, and to forgive them as I remember how much I have been forgiven by God.

It can be a great struggle, never under-estimate the power of your thoughts to drive a steam-roller through your good intentions! But rely instead on the power which God supplies, by his spirit within us, to claim the victory which Christ has won over the power of evil in his children’s lives. We are, in him, sweeter than our bitter thoughts; more forgiving than our grudges; more patient than our intolerance and more securely grounded than our doubts.

Ultimately, it is as we look upon Christ, absorbing more and more of his life and likeness, that we find our victory over our rebellious thoughts. As we allow the word of God – the person of Christ as revealed in the words of Scripture – to soak into heart and head, we are transformed. And be sure the devil will make every effort to undermine that work in you, in me. If he can tie us up in despair over our ungodly thoughts, he has disabled us, and instead of us claiming a victory for God, we become a casualty, a prisoner-of-war who needs to be rescued all over again and meantime is of no use in at the frontline!

So let us embrace Paul’s good advice to the Philippians, to direct our thoughts to all the goodness and beauty which God has revealed – in the world, in his people, and ultimately and most clearly, in the person of His Son, our Lord. In him, we have the victory, let us claim it!

Practical, purposeful living

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

(2 Peter 1.5-9)

I think we all like to believe that our lives can be of benefit to someone, that we are making a positive difference by being here – it gives us a sense of value, of purpose in our daily routine. In fact, the bible tells us that we are designed for a purpose – to know and be known by God, to enjoy the world he has made for us and to share with one another the love he shows us.

Although that original purpose has been frustrated in part by the rebellion of humanity against God’s authority, still as followers of Jesus, with his life quickening our spirits, we are called to live to share the gospel, by word and deed, and to declare God’s glory until Christ comes again.

Peter’s words in the passage at the top of this blog are a challenging piece of instruction for early believers in how they might become more and more equipped to fulfill God’s purpose in their lives – and they apply equally to me today.

It is all very well to be transported through music and meditation into a state of rapture as I worship God, but if my faith only ever produces private pleasures, then it is not something to be proud of. I may be comforted in times of weariness and loss by the knowledge of Jesus love for me, but if that same love is never shared by me with others, then I am being utterly selfish and un-Christlike in my response to His grace.

Yes, indeed, God has been pleased to call me His own, to grant me faith, to forgive and restore me to His family. But the story is so much bigger than that! I am a tiny little part of a great Redemption narrative that includes all of creation and all time, and in which I have a role to play in the lives of many other people. My personal salvation is NOT the end of the story, but only a little sub-paragraph, which should see me joining in with a great multitude of God’s people to fulfill His purposes and ultimately to fall in worship before Him.

I am saved for a purpose; to be – in whatever situation He chooses to place me – the person He calls me to be. I am to accept that what might feel like very hard situations for me personally, will ultimately be for the blessing of others – and I am especially to accept that I may never know how God chooses to use me in those situations.

I am not God, I cannot see all the implications of every situation, and so I cannot possibly see how He is working all things together for His purposes – but I can choose to trust His word when He promises that He is doing that very thing.

And so I come back to the list which Peter wrote, of qualities of Christian character which can be deliberately cultivated, and which will help me to be productive for Jesus – in whatever ways He chooses to use me. I need all of these, need to grow in cheerful perseverance, in knowledge of God and His word, so that I might serve Him faithfully and steadily.

I thank God that it is by His power at work in me, that these qualities are developed – although I certainly need to play my part. I thank God that He sees my desire to be more like Christ, and forgives my frequent failures to do so! I pray for the steadiness of spirit which will allow me to travel on, a pilgrim on a quiet path, trusting Him to be with me and for me at every step of the way. May John Bunyan’s beautiful words be more and more true for each of us in the days ahead:

Who would true valour see? Let him come hither;

One here will constant be, come wind, come weather;

There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

(John Bunyan 1628-88)