Category Archives: simplicity

Grace – it’s God’s gift to share, not ours to keep…

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Ex 34.5-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom 5.1&2)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God

(2Cor 5.13&15)

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 one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. 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)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..

(2 Pet 1.2 & 5.18)

What is this ‘grace’ of which the New Testament of our bibles is so full? Was it invented by the church retrospectively to explain what was going on, or is it part of the great narrative of time?

Grace is understood – in the context of God’s revelation of himself – to be the free and unmerited favour which He (as supreme and superior to us in every way) chooses to show us, mere creatures, and in rebellion against Him. That favour is compounded of many things, well beyond the scope of a brief piece of writing, but the word itself is basically shorthand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is represented in God’s choosing of Abram, and the making of a covenant with him – one in which all the promises were on God’s side, and which God kept in spite of Abram’s failings and sin. Grace is seen in God’s powerful deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt – and especially in his bearing with them all through their sulking, rebellious and uncooperative wanderings in the wilderness. Grace is seen in their establishment in a land which was rich and plentiful. Grace is seen in God’s faithfulness to David, in spite of David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Grace is seen in God reaching out to the people of Nineveh in their sin, with the offer of salvation. Grace is seen in God’s ministry to his people even in their exile in Babylon, where the prophets spoke of God’s presence among them and promise to restore them to their land.

Grace does not arrive with Jesus…but, John tells us that Jesus – as God’s perfect representation in the flesh – showed us more clearly than anything had done beforehand just what grace looks like.

Grace is to love people when they despise you; grace is to bear with people when they misunderstand and misjudge you; grace is to go to the cross, bearing all the appalling weight of a world of sin and grief, so that those who have rejected you might be saved from the consequences of their own sin. This is what God’s grace – in the person of Jesus – did. He did not wait for us to recognise his worth; did not wait until he was popular and liked; did not require that salvation be earned by lavish good works, acts of extreme piety or self-sacrifice. He died, while we were still utterly estranged from and hostile to him, so that we might live never to be estranged again from God.

If I, as a follower of Jesus, and one who calls him Lord, am not willing to show grace to others as it has been shown to me – not willing to allow the riches of God’s forgiveness and love to be offered – then I am not worthy to be called a christian. This free gift – encompassing all of God’s riches – was lavishly poured on me, and continues to be my daily portion. How dare I then choose to whom I will show it? I am no more worthy to receive God’s riches than anyone else – and no less worthy.

Lord God, forgive me when I judge that someone is not worthy of grace, when I choose to condemn instead of being compassionate; to hold a grudge instead of forgiving; to withhold love and kindness instead of reaching out. Your grace outraged the religious leaders of your day, because it was freely offered to the wheeler-dealer Zaccheus, to the disgraced woman who anointed your feet with her tears, to the lepers and the maimed, the socially marginalised. And it was offered to those who thought themselves above you, above needing forgiveness.

You invited everyone to come and receive grace, may I follow your example, and by my words and actions make it clear that all are welcome..

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Gifts overflowing…

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving towards all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

(Ps 145.16-19)

Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills…

(Ps 148.1-9)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 5.25,26&27,33&34)

I have been challenged recently about my ability to take each day and use it well, not borrowing tomorrow’s troubles and also not neglecting today’s opportunities. There are so many small and mundane things that go to make up my daily life, it is all too easy to see them as a drudge, instead of the service to which I am called by my Lord at this time and in this place. I want to choose contentment in each day’s allotted tasks, fulfilling my duties with a cheerful spirit, and trusting that God sees and is glorified in these small things.

But as well as daily duties, there is also the promise of daily provision for my needs – the physical needs for shelter and food; the emotional needs of connection and satisfying activity; the spiritual needs of communion with my Lord and the reviving power of time spent in praising and thanking him, and appreciating all the good things I have received. Because Jesus has died for me, I am a beloved child of the Almighty, assured of his care for every part of my life and his promise that I matter to him.

And sometimes, I seem to receive a bumper parcel of good things, so that the whole day becomes a celebration, a private rejoicing between me and my Father who has sent so much for me to enjoy; calling me to focus on his goodness and abandon myself to thankfulness and delight in what he gives.

Today is one of those days…there are few and small duties, no household tasks that require urgent attention, and in the brilliance of the sunshine over the snow-clad hills, the calm burnished surface of the water, the voices of the birds in the thickets and the warmth of the sun on my skin I receive a bounty of good things. So I shall make today a holiday – a holy day, set apart for special times with my Father, my heart full of thankfulness for the senses, health, security and freedom which allow me to absorb so much beauty.

We are known and loved intimately by our creator. He knows how to speak his love into each heart, knows exactly what will tell us most profoundly of his delight in us and his acceptance of us. No two people will react in the exactly the same way to what I can see around me today – such is the infinite variety of our God in his creative power! But in each and every one of us, there is the potential to respond in loving and joyful adoration, exuberantly or silently, but always giving him the glory.

Let me celebrate with my Father today, as simply and profoundly as a child who lives every moment as it comes, extracting all the joy from each experience and not worrying about tomorrow. Let his love and overflowing goodness towards me fill and strengthen me; his beauty in creation show me the beauty which is his nature; and let his peace rule in my heart so that I let all my tomorrows remain safely held in his hands.

to honour by trusting..

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God…my eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.

(Ps 25.1&15)

Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly..at the temple of the Lord and said: ” O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no-one can withstand you…If calamity comes upon us…we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress….We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

(2 Chron 20.5,6,9&12)2

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field..how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!….But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well….Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Luke 12.22,25&32: Matt.6.33&34)

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to honour and glorify God in everything I do – that is, to make his name great, to give him his rightful place and encourage others to acknowledge his worth and greatness. God has not promised his children that they will have an easy path through life in order to glorify and testify to his power, rather he makes it clear that we are to worship and lift him high in the midst of the trials of life, mundane though they often are, and extreme as they can be. How do we do this? Surely one of the ways most clearly commanded to us – explicitly by the words of Jesus quoted above, and implicitly in many other places – is by our trust in God.

Our God is an awesome God; he reigns from heaven above with wisdom, love and power, our God is an awesome God. Do I believe it? Do I live as if I were the apple of his eye, the one for whom he guides all things together for my blessing and his glory? Do I give God credit for all his promises, and even more, for all the things he has done which prove his faithfulness? Too often, the answer has to be that I do not; that my actions – my addiction to worry and anxiety, to controlling and manipulating circumstances – all speak of a heart which does not trust God to do as he has promised – to deliver me and keep me safe. If a jury of my neighbours and friends were to consider the evidence for my dependence upon God, my reliance on him to do all things well, what would be their verdict upon me? I fear they would declare the case ‘not proven’, in face of my fretful and discontented thoughts and words; my self-centred actions and attitudes.

May I be forgiven for dishonouring my Lord in this way; for disbelieving his word, and dismissing his historic faithfulness, and living as though no one was looking out for me, but myself.

May I learn to be more like the godly king Jehoshaphat, who in time of great national danger came publicly to claim the help and protection of God – boldly reminding God of all that had been promised, and leaving the matter entirely in his hands. This is what it looks like to seek God’s kingdom before our own needs – to come and say, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, but I am looking to you, not to anyone else and certainly not to myself, for your good will to be done.”

In every circumstance, may this be my experience, to turn towards and not away from God; to run to his word, his promises, his character and find there my grounds for peace, for hope and for the security of all that I entrust to him. May I learn, as the flowers and birds have never forgotten, that I am called to live and thrive for as long as my Lord shall decree, and to honour him by my absolute trust that he knows and does all things well.

Channels of blessings…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…

(Genesis 1.31)

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures..May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works…I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. may my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

(Ps 104.24, 31, 33&34)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1 Tim.4.4&5)

The evening sun is still high above the horizon, and its brilliance casts a path of silver onto the waves as they drive in across the bay. There is a strong breeze in my face, but I am warm in my coat and boots, and the winter bite has gone from the air. The air is full of the sounds of wind and sea; of little birds calling to one another as they forage among the stones and pools, of gulls mewing as they ride the wind and glide effortlessly high above me, of waves breaking and breaking, then hissing backwards over the shingle. I can smell and taste the salt scent of exposed seaweed and seawater, and the underlay of clean, soft west coast air. Under my fingers, the beach is not cold, but sun-warmed, the stones rounded by countless years of agitation under the waves, each one unique, from tiniest chip to weightiest boulder a creation of water and wind, every variety of colour and gentle in my hands.

Sometimes, it is as though my senses are newly wakened – often it happens after a time of illness, or in this current case a time of intense labour and anxiety. The bright light of sunshine after a cloudy morning beguiled me out to walk in the evening and the empty beach called me down off the road. I sat- I don’t know for how long – and felt myself nourished, felt tension easing and peace restored, as I literally grounded my body in the reality of creation and allowed blessing to flow in through my senses.

What joy, to be a child of this world’s creator; to know to whom we owe the immeasurable debt of gratitude for all his provision for us – that it should be so much more than the bare minimum of necessities of life, but this incredibly bountiful experience. How wonderful to know that in providing us with senses by which we can navigate and exist safely in the world, our God also provided channels through which we can receive so much pure pleasure, and feel ourselves nurtured and loved. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

In one sense, beauty and pleasure are not necessary for life…but we know that without them, we are impoverished and suffer deep in our spirits. We know that Christ came to give us life in all its fulness, a rich and fruitful life which results in thanksgiving and glory to the author of our creation, our redemption and the new life which is in us. And in that context, the gifts which we receive by our senses are as much nourishment as the food and drink which we consume. Anyone may appreciate beauty – God gave that gift to all his children – but the believer has the particular blessing of knowing to whom thanks is due, and of sharing her delight in beauty with its author. Our joys are thus multiplied and deepened, and our lives enlarged and enriched.

May I never confuse the gifts with the Giver, nor pursue their pleasure at the expense of his will; may I allow him to decide when to bless me with that occasional ecstasy of delight which sends my heart soaring in thankfulness and praise, and not make it my goal in life to repeat the experience. I can live richly from day to day on the unnumbered pleasures of normal food and drink, sights, sounds, scents and touch, if only I will notice them and appreciate them as they come. Praise God, from whom ALL blessings flow, and who has given us so many ways to receive them…

 

All the little things

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

(Psalm 95. 1-5))

It has been an ordinary kind of Saturday, no special parties to go to or visitors to entertain; no heart-stopping drama or sporting event to watch. But oh what a day of glory it has been!

A cloudless dawn under a frosty sky, with the sea moving imperceptibly under a polished silver skin. A day of full sunshine, of October heat, with enough breeze to set the white shirts dancing on the washing line, as the late low sunlight glowed through them. A day spent out of doors, digging, painting, sorting out storage and finally putting some plants into the ground ahead of the winter. We drank coffee in the sunshine, and treated ourselves to a carry-out for tea, feeling the tightness in our skin that speaks of a day outdoors in idyllic conditions.

Across the bay, I see the mountains, rearing greenish grey velvet heads against the sky, great dramatically moulded monuments to my creator’s genius. The sea, after days of driving gales and huge waves, is like a silver or brilliant blue blanket, spread gently around the base of the hills and forming the perfect foil to their stark slopes. Closer at hand, the great swathes of bracken which have been invisibly green against the grass all summer have suddenly gone intensely fox-bronze, burning brightly in the sunset.

I continue to be astonished that it should have been our privilege to be called to live and work in a place where this world’s beauty is so lavishly displayed – I feel permanently stuffed with good things! And is it not so often the case that we do not need to look far to find things which speak of God’s greatness in creation, his passion for colour, texture and light, which he has made us able to appreciate and which feed our spirits so deeply? I am profoundly grateful, and delight in knowing to whom I owe my daily debt of thanksgiving!

The habit of recording these daily gifts of good things, received from the Father from whom all such come, has become very precious, creating in me a spirit which looks for and expects to find – in every situation- something to give thanks for. Days like today make it very easy, because although in themselves, none of the events of the day have been noteworthy, yet all the little details have added up to something priceless. I may not remember it all in vivid detail, but it has been very good for me to be fully aware of all that I have received, resting in and relishing every moment.

Sometimes, it will be harder to find something to be grateful for, but the habit of looking has helped me to trust my Father’s faithfulness and grace towards me, as so often even the hard days prove to be full of gifts – whether of the kindness extended to me by others because of my distress, or the relief of bringing the whole horrid mess before my God. At times, there will even be the precious experience of finding an oasis in the midst of trouble, when for whatever reason, the burden lifts, the darkness is pierced by light, and we experience respite, refreshment and heart’s ease. If it were not for the trials, these times would go unnoticed, and we would have missed the chance of learning more about God’s faithfulness to us through every part of life.

Our lives are like a mosaic, so many individual little parts making up a whole, and as yet we cannot see it, we only guess at the final picture which will be unveiled as part of the new creation. But, we can choose whether we take the different pieces from God with confidence, or with fear; trusting the loving Father’s plan or fighting against all he desires to create in us. Today has been a day to build my confidence, a little shiny piece of golden stone which may stand out clearly because it is surrounded by darker pieces – but I will choose again to believe and say with the psalmist:

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.

(Psalm 95.6&7)

A divine substitute?

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,

Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

(Isaiah 53. 4&5)

The mystery at the heart of the Christmas story, is the mystery of who this miraculous child really was? Why was he foretold by God’s prophets hundreds of years before his birth, and what is the significance of the way he was described in those ancient writings?¬†Babies were born regularly, frequently, it was nothing new, so why all the fuss about this one?

We have the testimony of the gospel writers, who must surely have had the details directly from Mary herself – who else could have told of the visit by the angel to her home in Nazareth all those months before the trip to Bethlehem? That testimony refers again and again to the prophecies given over the years, which pointed to a coming saviour, one who would save his people, would dwell with them, would bring justice, an eternal rule of peace, and real healing of our sin wounds.

We have Jesus own testimony about himself, coming as the fulfillment of all the old testament scriptures, coming as the one who would reveal God to his people, and would lay down his life for his sheep.

We have God’s direct testimony, at Jesus’ conception, birth, baptism, transfiguration, and ascension into heaven. This was God’s own son; beloved, sent, broken and blessed – for the redeeming of the world.

So on the one hand we have a very simple story; a young woman conceives and gives birth to a son. On the other hand we have a mystery which enchants and inspires us even as it perplexes us; God himself is enclosed in embryo, the creator of the universe submits to the process he himself devised, and takes on human flesh. When he was finally born in Bethlehem, the angelic host could contain themselves no longer, and burst forth in praise and adoration to announce to the shepherds that something absolutely unprecedented was going on!

All through his life, the paradox continued to develop. He was fully human, and lived a sinless life; He was sent to save his people, yet never raised a sword or led an army; He came in fulfillment of all the scriptures, yet the religious leaders opposed and hated him, utterly failing to recognise him. And ultimately on the cross, his death in disgrace and shame was to be his greatest triumph and the means by which his mission was accomplished. By his sufferings for our sins, all those who trust and believe in him are set free from the consequences of sin. His death for us, conquers death for us. His life laid down for us, births new life in us. What a mystery, what profound depths are these to consider!

This is the child whose birth we anticipate and celebrate over again each year; this Christ, the helpless baby who was also the eternal, all-powerful word of God. I am so thankful that at the heart of the story of Christmas is this great mystery, from which every year I am freshly blessed and find new cause for praise and thanksgiving. It is no empty sentimental excuse for a party, but the only gift which could ever really do me good, given by a God whose love I have every reason to trust.

The best songs are the ones which focus my thoughts on this truth, the simple, stunning reality that in Christ, God sent someone else to take my place; and this week, I have been singing one of the simplest and best of them. I close with it, and pray that for all of us, this truth will shine like the light in our darkness in the days ahead.

Child in the manger, infant of Mary;

Outcast and stranger, Lord of all!

Child who inherits all our transgressions,

All our demerits on Him fall.

( Mary Macdonald, 1817-1890; tr Lachlan Macbean, 1853-1931)