Category Archives: responsibility

Seasonal labour..

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Ps 126.4-6)

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127.1)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to mourn and a time to dance..a time to search and a time to give up..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…

(Eccl 3.1-8)

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.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

(1 Cor 3.7-9)

I was blessed this week to spend time with a wise woman – one who has walked long with God and proved his faithfulness – who encouraged and helped me as I wrestled with the heaviness of these days. God grant that I may be such a friend in turn to others in their need, as he uses us to bless one another! Two things in our conversation were particularly helpful and also connected with recent readings in the Psalms, and I share them with you now.

Firstly, the idea of seasons. As a gardener, I come close to the rhythm which God has placed at the very heart of our planet, and the mysteries of soil, water and life. I know that a seed must die if a plant is to live and bear fruit; I know that ground must lie fallow in between crops; I know that rain, cold and time must be allowed to do their work on soil which has been cleared and fertilised. There are activities which are proper to each season, and it is pointless and even destructive to engage in the wrong labour for that time – where would be the use in digging up daffodil bulbs to see if they are going to flower only 3 weeks after planting them? Those days call for expectant and patient waiting, not faithless digging!

As one who believes in a God who declares himself both Almighty and Sovereign, so that EVERYTHING that happens comes within the sphere of both his knowledge and great plan and purpose, I choose to trust him for this season in our world’s existence. I cannot know how long it will last, nor what will follow – perhaps there will be a time of glorious harvest as many find faith and hope in Jesus, what joy that would be! But this whole time – the political, economic, ecological, moral and social turmoil across the globe – is under his dominion, is part of his plan. I will only find peace in this season as I choose to accept that sovereignty, trust that He will prove his goodness and justice one day, and look for the ways He is already at work in it.

And this brings me to the second idea we spoke of – the choice to focus on what CAN be done in this season, rather than on what CANNOT be done! Yes, there are many restrictions on us, and our lives are not what we expected at this time. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless and aimless, that God has nothing for us to do! I cannot say what your particular tasks in this season will look like – each of us has a unique place and a particular calling as God’s fellow workers – but they will be there.

Listen – to God’s word, ponder and be open to correction and surprises..to the stories of God’s people around the globe, let the stories of your brothers and sisters inspire and encourage and motivate you.

Pray – talk to Him about everything and everyone, asking for direction to be active and in tune with His plans.

Live – act on what you read and hear – love those around you, reach out to encourage and bless; rejoice in the life you have been given, instead of resenting what is withheld.

We look to God, as to our master, to see where He would have us act; remembering that it is He who builds, not us, He who gives life and increases the kingdom, not us. We may weep as we sow, but God can still grant fruit and we may hope for joy in harvesting .

A turning of the tide..?

For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

(Isa 59.12-15)

Jesus replied:”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

(Matt 22.37-40)

Jesus…said to them, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

(Jn 8.7)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

(1 Jn 1.8)

Imagine…living in a society where no one assumed on the basis of a person’s colour that they were shiftless, dangerous, amoral or greedy.

Imagine…living in a society where the process of justice was applied fairly to everyone, regardless of their colour, background, education and wealth.

Imagine….living in a society where people were able to make fresh starts, to be forgiven and given grace to put the past behind them.

Imagine….living in a society where we could celebrate the marvellous things which make us different, because in every way they enrich us as a whole.

I believe in a kingdom where this kind of justice reigns; where this kind of love and forgiveness is available; where this kind of society can exist. And I recognise with deep sadness just how very far I am from being the kind of person who belongs in that kingdom – my place there is assured to me solely on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf. I acknowledge with shame that I am part of a nation and culture whose wealth and privilege is built upon the suffering and exploitation of other human beings, and that those people have been ignored in our telling of history – it has not been true. Hypocrisy, greed, pragmatism and disdain for the image of God in our fellow human beings has been the characteristic of so much national and individual behaviour. And I have chosen to ignore the stories which tell the truth, in order to avoid being upset by it – where is my love for my neighbour, that I cling to my own comfort at the expense of their pain being prolonged and disregarded?

The sin of suspecting, mistreating and exploiting my neighbour must be recognised, called out for what it is, and repented of. I know that it may take me the rest of my life to root it out, but I also know and thank God that I may be forgiven for this sin too, and enabled to live differently in the future. Racist thoughts and actions are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, and I believe that in my life – and perhaps at last in society at large – the tide may begin to turn and this gross offence against the image of God in each of his children will finally begin to be addressed.

I am not proud of the truth of my nation’s history in abusing my brothers and sisters around the world. But I am able to boast of a gospel which comes to each of us with hope for forgiveness and transformation, and which will bring God’s children from every nation, colour and tongue to worship at his throne one day.

I have been privileged to worship with fellow believers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to receive their loving welcome and hospitality to me, to be loved and to love in return. They choose to receive me as a sister, not to make assumptions about me based on my race – and I humbly thank them for not re-telling stories of exploitation and oppression, or assuming that I will behave in the same ways.

May I be quicker to listen, and slower to speak; eager to learn and less willing to teach; keen always to honour God by loving his children and by doing what is in my power to change my culture and see the values of God’s kingdom being lived out.

I am enough…because I belong

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard.. for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

(Rom 12.4-6)

For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”…On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.13,21-23,24-26)

When people are saved by faith, made new in Christ and come into God’s family, they do not suddenly become different people. Instead, what happens is that their essential and unique qualities – weaknesses and strengths, gifts and limitations – are all brought into the community where they belong and thus find purpose, fulfillment and support. As creatures made in the image of God, we are formed for community and relationship, not independence. We are not made to be sufficient of ourselves, but to be needy! Is that not a huge relief?! It certainly is to me; to find that I am right to long for others to share burdens, to rejoice in the skills and gifts of those who tackle jobs which I am not fit for, to celebrate that when we serve one another, God is glorified, we are blessed, and his will is done! I am enough, because I belong to the family of God, and so I face nothing alone. I rejoice in my dependance.

God crafted each of us to play our own specific role, and no other. I have received my own specially chosen bouquet of graces or gifts from my heavenly Father, and I can rest in his appointing. The devil may tempt me with comparisons, so that I become discontent with my own graces, and envy those which are more spectacular or apparently more useful. But I cling to God’s promise that I am enough, that he delights in the complete package and simply desires that I make myself available to the rest of the Body of Christ, since who and what I am belongs to them. I withhold my gifts and graces to their detriment… I may be called to be the equivalent of some small or unseen part of the body – but since God has appointed me to the task, I seek to be content..Some of us may be feet, but others must be veins, kidneys or lungs, otherwise, where is the body!!

I am fully known by God – whose perfect love is in no way diminished by my past, present or future. He has known the end from the beginning, and set his heart upon me – I am accepted and he delights in me as his child. I am enough, because he is my Father, and his perfect love asks nothing of me in return. I do not need the approval of others, because the God of the universe, the greatest and most glorious being has called me his beloved daughter, and brought me home to live with him. I delight in being fully known, and can in turn give myself to others because my heart is secure in him.

I am enough because I am renewed daily through the spirit dwelling within me. As I continue to trust in Christ for salvation, and receive forgiveness and mercy in every time of need, I live and labour in the strength which God gives me. Because I am completely forgiven, I am enough – I have nothing to earn, nothing to prove, and nothing to boast about. My sufficiency is Christ’s and I can rejoice in being daily his debtor for all that I need.

God’s plan for his children in salvation is perfect, and we can be sure that he will carry it to completion. We can rest in the sufficiency of his provision for everything we need, and in the wisdom which puts us into a community where we are designed to thrive. God’s purpose for us as unique parts of the body of believers should bring an end to comparisons. Instead we live a life of mutual love, interest in and celebration of God’s beauty in each person. I am called to be 100% who I am for the good of my brethren – I am here for them, and they for me, and together, we are enough.

when the picture is not clear..

The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. 

(Ps 28.8)

Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire..Seek good and not evil, that you may live..Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts

(Am 5.6,14&15)

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?…He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

(Mic 6.6&8)

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth..

(1 Tim.2.1-4)

I am a Scot, I live in the United Kingdom, and for the last 47 years, I have been part of the European Union. Our laws and institutions, our culture, our political and social priorities, our very society itself, has been profoundly influenced by membership of this particular economic union, this family of nations, birthed in the aftermath of war with a vision of unity, peace and prosperity.

And now, my nation has decided to leave, to loosen the ties and pursue an independent course in the world. Some of our people are very glad, others deeply distressed, and many like myself unsure because the future is so uncertain. We all live with uncertainty – the bible makes it clear that none of us can presume on our tomorrows in any way – but political and economic change on this scale is particularly unsettling, and I want to reflect on my duty as a believer in this situation.

Ultimately, these great national events are a challenge to my perceptions of security – in what do I hope and trust? If it is democratic government, established institutions, economic prosperity and growth, then I have good reasons to fear what might happen. Our world is troubled; unresolved tensions are re-shaping political loyalties, and power is wielded by invisible forces beyond the influence of democracy.

The prophets of the Old Testament knew all about these uncertainties, as did the apostles in the New Testament. Both groups call repeatedly for faithful people who know God to focus on him as their only true security, to seek to live according to his word and to represent his character in the world. What does this look like for God’s people?

We live lightly in the world – knowing that we have an abiding home with God in the yet-to-be-revealed glory of a new creation. The troubles and trials of this world cannot steal that inheritance from us, and so we are not cast into despair by them as those who have no hope. The looming giants of this world do not strike terror into our hearts, because we know that our God is on the throne, and Christ has triumphed over them. Their speech may be loud, but God’s still small voice is stronger.

We live responsibly in the world – knowing that we are stewards of creation, with responsibility to use all God’s gifts for the blessing of all his people. Our attitudes to our own consumption, our choices, the impact of our lives, should be driven by a desire for righteousness in every relationship, for justice, and with compassion for those who suffer because of the greed of others.

We live gladly in the world – rejoicing in the abundance and sharing our joy with the Giver of good gifts. We live as those who have good things to share – because we do! In addition to our material wealth, we have the infinitely greater treasures of the gospel itself to share with all mankind. We have been commissioned to speak good news – is not salvation our most precious possession, the best thing we can possibly share with our neighbours?

So as I in my small place consider how God calls me to live in the new, post-EU Scotland, I will remember my calling.

I will pray for those who rule; that we might have peace and freedom to proclaim the gospel of truth in our land. I will remember that our leaders are frail and sinning human beings, just as much in need of God’s love and forgiveness as I am.

I will raise my voice and use my words in support of justice, and the extending of mercy to the victims of oppression and inequality. I will remember that those who oppress are also broken people, sinners for whom Christ died.

I will remember that I am small, and that God is great; and I will boast only in Christ, not my own wisdom. I will remember that I am a sinner, and only God is perfect. I will pursue godliness, humility and faithfulness – not so that by these I may be saved, but because by them, others might see Christ in me, and find salvation in him.

I do not need to see the big picture, because God has given me a job to do which is within my reach, and I choose to trust him with all the rest!

 

A state of readiness…

 

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side….. whose name was Boaz.. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”….Then Boaz announced to the the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech..I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property…” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming in to your home like Rachel.. Ruth gave birth to a son..and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

(Ruth 2.1&20, 4.9-11,13&17)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him…Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns…

(Matt 24.42-46)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near..The Judge is standing at the door!

(Jas 5.7&8)

The book of Ruth focuses on an obscure family, at a time of national neglect of the things of God. The period of the Judges was passing, there was no king in Israel and everyone did ‘as he saw fit’ (Judges 21.25). It would have been easy for personal godliness and faithfulness to the law to slip away, as each looked out for their own interests and had little hope or expectation of change..

And in this situation, we meet Boaz, a man who lived day to day in the light of the law, even though there was no ruler – priest or king – to enforce it, and who stood ready to act rightly, to do justice, and have mercy on the widows and aliens in the land. The readiness of Boaz to respond to the opportunities which God opened, extending mercy and kindness where he could have chosen either to be cruel, or to exploit Ruth’s vulnerable situation, is a beautiful example of how we are called to live in these days between the first and second coming of Christ.

We are a chosen people, we have all we need for godly obedience, and we are called to live each day in expectation of the return of our Lord and Master – the one whose sacrifice on our behalf wins our loyalty and obedience in his service. He has tasked us with witnessing to him, faithfully proclaiming the gospel, serving one another, and labouring to model the life of the new kingdom in this old creation.

Like Boaz, we do not know what each day will bring, but we can choose to live on the godly principles, and to respond to the opportunities God gives. We may be surrounded by people and situations which are daunting, mocking the sovereignty and goodness of God. But we also have the truth of the gospel in our hearts, and the promise that in his good time, God will return looking to find his servants at their appointed tasks, patiently awaiting him.

Like Boaz, we have the privilege of serving a living God who works all things together and calls us into his purposes. The readiness of this godly man to fulfill his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer not only blessed him with a wife and family, but also furthered God’s plan and in due course, Boaz’s great-grandson David would be born – and ultimately, Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, as Ruth did to Obed.

Am I ready for what God may have in store for me? Ready to serve; ready to forgive; ready to love; ready to learn and to praise? I cannot tell how my prompt response in obedience might be used by God, but I can choose daily to be ready. I may not know this side of glory what purposes will be served by my small part in his great plan, but I can choose not to be preoccupied with what may be and instead discipline my heart to deal with what is in a way that glorifies him.

Growing old, or growing up?

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah….

(Ps 95.6-8)

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: should you not fear me?” declares the Lord.

(Jer 5.21)

“I could not address you as spiritual but as wordly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

(1Cor 3.1-3)

I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again….so come on, let’s leave the preschool finger-painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place…God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. but there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!

(Heb 5.11-6.3: The Message; Eugene Peterson)

Much as we may enjoy and even cherish the infant stages of life, we would be deeply disturbed if they never passed into something else – it would be a sign that something was wrong, and cause for great concern. We are designed to grow up, to mature, to become capable of bearing responsibility and in time, nurturing the next generation. This is just as much true in our spiritual lives, as in our human bodies, as these words from an understandably exasperated apostle illustrate!

Each of us must make our own response to God’s word – we are charged to work out what God is saying to us, and then to do it. We are commanded to meditate on the word, letting it dwell in our hearts so that our thoughts and actions are transformed. God’s word can be resisted, we can close our hears and minds to his loving command and if we do so long enough, we become unable to hear him.

Is this not a terrifying prospect? I don’t believe that I can fall utterly away from God’s safe keeping, but I long to be found responsible in my handling of all the good gifts which I have received, to know that I have glorified God by bringing every aspect of my life under his command to be used as he pleases.

The bible teaches us in so many ways, that God is continually seeking to draw his people closer to him in faith and obedience, and that it is through their witness that his name is honoured. The people of Israel brought dishonour on God when they doubted him in the desert after leaving Egypt; they dishonoured him when they turned again and again to the worship of idols; they dishonoured him when – in Jesus’ day – they worshipped the observance of the law and temple procedure instead of the holy One himself. Am I bringing dishonour on Jesus by refusing to let him work out his purposes in  my life, closing my mind to what he says?

As a ransomed, new-created and holy child of God, I am called to grow out of my infant diet; to progress from the early stages of understanding my new position to working out in detail just what difference God makes in my life, and how he does it. Mine should be a mature faith which can stand the test and grow, stepping forward to embrace trials as a means by which God shows his love and manifests his glory. It is maturing faith which can step into positions of responsibility, and be entrusted with the pastoral care of others. It is mature faith which can say with Job – “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

I know that the days, months and years which God has yet for me will include difficult times, pain and suffering – my own, that of my loved ones and of the wider world. I do not want to be like a vulnerable infant, dependant on the people around me to look after me, but rather a responsible adult, one who can do the task for which God has called and enabled me. I want to grow up in my faith as I grow old in my body, making the most of the time that I am granted to serve my gracious God as faithfully as I can.

May God keep my spirit soft to receive his teaching, and my ears sensitive to his voice. Although I may weary of my own imperfections and repeated failings, God does not give up on me, and I ask for a persevering spirit to continue to grow in faith and to press on towards the glory which he has promised.

Great riches..

He who covers over an offence promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends….A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov 17.9&17; 27.5&6)

Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…

“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

(Jn 13.1;15.13&14)

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

(Col 3.12-14)

One of the areas of our lives where we must be on guard against the foolishness of the world around us is in how we think about friendship…the word in our culture is not a strong one, and the emphasis on romantic and sexual love in our society has the effect of trivialising and devaluing the friendships which we may enjoy.

The bible makes no such mistake, although it celebrates the gift of sex as part of God’s good plan for his creation. Instead, we find celebrations of friendship, of the love which may exist between two people based on their common interests and missions. The deep love between David and Jonathon was part of God’s work in preserving the line of the future Messiah, as was the faithful commitment of Ruth to her mother-in-law which drew the young Moabitess into the line of promise so that her child was David’s grandfather. Above all, we see Jesus living and working with imperfect people, loving them and calling them his friends. He opened his heart to them, even though they so often failed to understand and would ultimately abandon him.

In my own life, the friends who have walked through life with me – some for many years – are incredibly precious because they see me and love me for who I am, and speak truth to me out of love. I have received rebuke, encouragement, advice and wisdom; I have laughed and cried with them; I have shared my passions with them, and pursued common goals with them. In our friendships, God gives us such great riches of emotional satisfaction, meeting so many needs through these fellow-pilgrims, broken as they are like me by their sin. They have modelled Christ to me, and helped me to learn to model him to others in compassion, patience and forgiveness.

The gift of marriage is not given to everyone, and even those who have received it know that their spouse may well die before them, returning them to a single life. Before marriage (if it is given), throughout it and afterwards, friends are essential to our thriving as human beings. The bible teaches clearly that no one person can meet all our needs – we are formed by God and ultimately satisfied only in him – but also that God gives good gifts to his children, and that friendship is one such. Our spouse cannot fulfill every need, nor should we burden them with that expectation. Our friends cannot fulfill every need – no matter how many we have. But under God’s grace, as we invest in these relationships wisely, we may be kept in the faith, sustained for our mission, and used to bless others.

As I thank God for my friends – old and new – I also ask his help in being a true friend. I seek to love as Jesus did, putting the needs of others before my own. I seek to forgive as God has forgiven, and keeps forgiving me. I ask God’s help to be a responsible friend, refraining from gossip and unhelpful interference. I pray that I might have wisdom to know when to speak in love, when to share my fears about a course of action or decision. I pray that I might be sensitive to respond to the prompting of God’s spirit, so that he can use me to encourage, reassure or comfort his children. I pray that I might have a few trustworthy friends with whom I may be completely honest, and that I might be such a friend.

Above all, I thank God that in Christ, I find my truest friend, and pray that in all I do, I might honour and glorify him.

What are my priorities?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12. 1)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?.. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body..

(1 Cor 3.16 &6.19&20

 

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ…..Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?…These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence…

(Col 2.6-8,20-23)

There are many socially acceptable ‘sins’ which we tend to gloss over when we encounter them, and justify to ourselves in order to indulge in them – and there is a significant word…”indulge”. How ready we are to listen to the philosophies of the world which encourage us to ‘treat ourselves well’, to prioritise ‘self-care’ and make sure that all our needs are being met so that we can take care of others and fulfill our mission in life.

It is all plausible, and in some ways attractive and compatible with the gospel, with God’s love for us and his plans to do good for and through us. BUT, I become very uneasy with it, all too aware that we use this to justify behaviour which the bible would bluntly describe as shameful for one who professes to be a disciple of Jesus.

At what point does my proper desire to look after the body which God has given me tip over into idolatry? What do my habits of consumption mean for those around me – am I setting a good example of self-discipline, or encouraging others in slothfulness and greed – or the opposite evils of obsessive control over food and weight? I try to keep fit, to ensure that I am functioning well and able to do the tasks allotted to me and not burden my family with caring for me in preventable illnesses. But, I must not let that become a lifestyle based on the conviction that if I will eat/exercise etc in certain ways, then I can somehow avoid every ailment and attain long, healthy life! The Lord alone knows the span of my days, and having lost both parents relatively young to cancer, I know full well that healthy living doesn’t guarantee longevity.

Paul speaks many times of the sufferings he went through as a servant of Christ – he also speaks of living in a focussed way, of keeping himself ‘in training’ for the race of his life of service. He speaks of being content in every situation – that speaks of a mind and heart which rests in God, not in its own controlling routines of food and exercise. He knew how to enjoy the good things of life, but also how to keep all things in right relation to the priority which was his commitment to Christ and the spreading of the gospel. I wonder how Paul would react to the phrase “self-care”?! Not positively I suspect, and mainly because of the presence of the word “self”, which should sound alarm bells for every believer who has entrusted themselves to Christ, believing that he alone is the source of our security, purpose, and the only one who can meet all our needs. My focus must be on him, not on myself…

There is clearly a balance to achieve; and we are not called to neglect ourselves either – Paul exhorts young Timothy to look after his health, and we too should not be irresponsible. But the emphasis must be on this, that I am not my own boss anymore. All that I am and have is a gift from God, and is surrendered to his service when I confess Christ as Lord of my life. He bought me with his blood, and in loving response, I seek to use all that I am in his service, seeking only his approval and his direction.

May God help us to live joyfully, in whatever circumstances are allotted to us; using our bodies responsibly and honouring him as we do so, so that we might indeed – with Paul – complete our race and win the only prize that matters, when our Lord says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

 

Dare I look?..

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

(Ps 19.12-14)

Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I believe in your commands….It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

(Ps 119.65,66&71)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart…..God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

(Heb 4.12; 12.10&11)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and , after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1.22-25)

Why do we have mirrors? To show us ourselves – not our neighbours, nor our spouses and children – and to show us our context, the place where we are standing. In biblical terms, the “mirror” is the word of God, the sure source of truth amid the distorting lies which the fallen world, and our own weak natures spin to us about who we are, and what life is really all about. This mirror will not lie to us, to make us feel better about who we are, or to pretend that all is well. This mirror will also not fail to speak the truth about who God says we are, and have been made in Christ.

This mirror tells us that without Christ, we are hopeless sinners in a broken world under the judgement of a holy God, and with a future of eternal separation from Love himself. It tells us that with Christ – as we are found by faith in him – we are redeemed, beloved children of God; there is no sentence of judgement hanging over us any more, and at heart, we are new creatures – no longer sinners by nature, but holy ones, or saints, who sometimes sin but not in settled rebellion against our creator. As we look into this mirror, we should come away filled with confidence and gladness, thankful for the new life we have received and the security that God is keeping us safe for an eternal future with him.

So yes, I should indeed dare to look into the mirror, and often! But it also shows me truth about the hidden and wilful sins which I – as God’s holy child – still commit so persistently, and this can be very painful to see. Too often, I come with my own idea of how I look – self-righteous, patronisingly long-suffering, martyred in my own eyes as other people let me down…

The mirror of God’s word has particularly revealing powers, bringing into sharp and painful definition all the ways in which I am committing those same sins which I attribute to others; full of pride instead of humility, and cherishing endurance instead of loving generously. God does not ask me to be the guardian of another person’s soul, but only to be accountable to him for myself – nothing excuses my unloving spirit; there is always good reason to forgive, because in Christ I am forgiven; I am given life and breath each day in order to bless others, to show God’s love to them, to give in the face of indifference and rejection and not count the cost.

No excuses, no special ‘make-up’ to cover the blemishes, only the searching gospel-light of scripture directed by the Holy Spirit which is designed to bring me daily to my knees in repentance and confession, then to my feet in rejoicing as I go in Christ’s strength and love to do the work in hand.

May the grace of God cover all those ways in which I let others down, and may he continue to show me where I am wilfully sinning, and to uncover hidden sins, that I might repent and be cleansed. What a faithful God we have, who having sealed us for eternity, also gives us all we need to live joyfully and with ever purer hearts for him each day!

Whose body?

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133.1&3)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf…So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves

(1 Cor 10.16&17, 11.27-29)

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body…after all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.

(Eph 4.25&5.29-30)

On the night before he died, and after he had celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, showing in the wine and bread what lay ahead for him, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would believe in his name for their salvation.

He prayed this way after commanding his disciples to love one another as he had loved them, namely patiently, perseveringly, selflessly and sacrificially. This unity is therefore not something which comes easily as a feeling, but rather one which is a deliberate acting out of foundational truths, and it requires our commitment and continual focus of attention.

The remnants of our brokenness, even after we have become followers of Jesus, are at war with this desire for unity and fellowship – honesty compels us to recognise within our own church families that we are divided from one another, hiding behind polite facades of competence, nursing grudges, unable to embrace change for the sake of others because it makes us uncomfortable. Our weakness undermines our fellowship, and yet, through those very things, God chooses to demonstrate his power. When we recognise Christ in the believers around us – seeing their inestimable value as his redeemed children – then we find we can love as we want to and ought to! God’s grace is seen as we learn to forgive, to serve (and be served), to bear with one another and to keep lifting up those who stumble. It isn’t about feeling, but about doing and putting ourselves in God’s hands for the good of our neighbours.

As we celebrate the Lord’s supper, communion, or whatever we happen to call that wonderful time of remembrance, Paul is advising us (through his letter to the Corinthians), to see the body of Christ around us, the people for whom Jesus died. We are all equally hopeless without Christ; dependant upon Christ; and gloriously transformed by Christ – and we belong together. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. Christ’s sacrifice is not for me alone, but for all those who call him Lord, and as I take the bread and wine, he calls me to remember that and to consider just how much I am dwelling in loving unity with my brothers and sisters. We do this ‘in remembrance of him’ – whose human body was broken for us, and of whose spiritual body we are now a part.

He died, that we might be his and be one. Am I actively undermining that purpose, am I hurting one of his children, withholding love? Am I neglecting opportunities to build others up in their faith? I am called into the body of Christ to serve him by loving others – what am I doing to fulfill my part in that purpose?

We are the body of Christ – gathered, redeemed, precious and holy to him. Our unity is beautiful in his sight, and as refreshing and blessing to us as divine dew on dry ground. May our celebrations of communion be times to remember and discern the body of which we are part, so that his love for us becomes our motivation to love others, undergirding and informing our conduct so that we do all for and with one another.