Category Archives: supremacy of Christ

All so much rubbish..

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

(1 Corinthians 13.2)

If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.. BUT whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

(Philippians 3.4-7)

For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

(John 5.36-40)

I have spent my Christian life in churches where the preaching of God’s word was paramount, where it was a matter of deep conviction that the whole of scripture was for our instruction and blessing, and above all that God speaks through the word to his people. I have perhaps not benefitted as much from all the teaching as I ought, but I am  thankful for it, and for the breadth of understanding and confidence in reading the scriptures which it gives me.

I am aware however, that this heritage, this proper emphasis on the teaching of the whole of scripture, can take me down a dangerous path; one where I pride myself upon my knowledge, upon the number of sermons or bible studies I have heard, and to put my faith in that instead of in Jesus himself.

Jesus addressed this weakness directly in the Pharisees – the most passionate religious scholars and devotees of Judaism at that time, people who prided themselves on an intimate knowledge of their scripture (all the books of the Old Testament), and a rigorous application of those details to daily life. In their passion to see God’s law upheld, and their own personal devotion to it, they have much in common with those in the church today who revere scripture, and who long to see society governed in accordance with the law of God it contains. And yet Jesus is utterly scathing in his condemnation of them, accusing them of stealing the key to life from those who seek it, while failing to enter into that life themselves.

In this passage above, he explains that in spite of all their boasted proficiency in the law, they have completely missed the point of scripture’s revelation. They have neither heard God’s voice, nor recognised his hand at work, and have completely misunderstood his revelation…because if they had, they would have responded to Jesus by falling before him and worshipping him as Messiah, God’s anointed, the long-promised Saviour. They are so besotted with their own achievements in head knowledge and passion for details, that they have never encountered the living God in his word.

Later on, in his letter to the believers in Philippi, the apostle Paul details all the grounds that he might have had for believing his eternal hope secure – grounds of birth, training, and above all zeal for the law, the word. Then, writing to this church of Gentile believers, with no hope of claiming such heritage as their grounds of faith, he shockingly says that he accounts all his learning as nothing, just so much rubbish, because it is of no value beside the true experience of knowing Jesus.

In the same way, those who are raised in the church, who can boast extensive knowledge and proficiency in handling the bible must take care, lest they begin to put their faith in mere head knowledge and rule-keeping. Mere proficiency in the word is lifeless and useless. I must encounter the risen Christ, be filled with his spirit and walk with him daily as my companion, my Lord and Saviour, if I am to have forgiveness of my sins and hope for the future.

NOTHING is of any value unless I have Christ, not knowledge about him, but himself. Faith is not an argument which I can win by my cleverness, it is a sure hope in a trustworthy person – the Christ I meet when I read the bible with an open heart and mind, expecting to hear his voice, and willing to obey.

Praise God, who has made our salvation so freely available, so readily accessible, so utterly complete in Christ!

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To arms, to arms!!

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light…..It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.

(Psalm 18. 28,33-35)

Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

(Ephesians 6.10-13)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

(1Peter 5.8-11)

It sneaks up on me, little by little, one cord here, another there. I stumble, something bruises me, my eyes are clouded by some distress and I lose sight of the path. Before I realise what has happened, I am struggling desperately in a trap, as hopeless and terrified as a child stuck in the dark of a strange room at night, unable to find the way out..

I am surely not the only follower of Jesus who has experienced such ambushes, oppression and assault, realising only too late that my adversary, the devil, is playing with me for his own devious and harmful ends. My failure to recognise and deal with him promptly has left me vulnerable to a tightening of the trap, a deepening of the darkness, and the emotional confusion makes it hard to think clearly.

I thank God that he opened my eyes to what was happening, that he showed me how the accumulation of small things was all part of an assault on me and on my family – and something not to be surprised at, since where God is at work, there the evil one will also come to undermine and oppose. My husband is a minister, he deals in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples – is it any wonder that his family should be in the firing line? We should not be surprised at such things, and yet all too often, I am; I fail to recognise the enemy until I am down and weakening.

Thank God, who opens our eyes to see and our minds to understand these things, and who graciously forgives all the times we failed to perceive soon enough what was going on! And thank God for the friend by whose conversation I was reminded of the call to arms, the call to strike in defence of who and what I am in Christ!

We shy away from the language of warfare which is used in the bible, but it is surely the best way to understand our part in God’s work in the world today. In Christ, we have ultimate victory over death, the wages of sin are paid and the devil has NO jurisdiction in our lives. But he is fighting a desperate rearguard action, and if he can, he will render us useless for Christ by binding us in traps of despair or even just indifference.

It is for us to claim the victory we have in Christ – hence Paul’s rousing words to the Ephesians! We have the armour, and in Christ, we have the king who has dealt the fatal blow to our enemy. Christ is my king, the Lord of my life, and the evil one has NO right to interfere and no authority to destroy. I can and must take all the weapons given me and stand firm, resisting until he flees. My marriage is God’s calling of two into one, and the devil has no place in it; in Jesus’ name I can shut him out. Our congregation is God’s family in this place, and we can claim the protecting arms of the great Shepherd around his sheep.

Praise God, for in him we have a final victory; and also the strength to stand firm and claim that victory in each part of our lives. I do not say this lightly: we don’t presume that every difficulty will be removed, but rather that in Christ, we can and will bear suffering with hope, and confidence. There is – as Paul so famously says in Romans 8 – NOTHING, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is our victory!

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!

The scandal of grace

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus….God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

(1Timothy 1.12-14,16&17)

I had never really noticed this passage from Paul’s letter to the young man, Timothy who had been appointed as a church leader and who needed encouragement to persevere in that work against opposition from those who condemned him as too young and inexperienced. The whole letter is full of strong and yet tender exhortations from Paul, seeking to build up Timothy’s confidence – not in himself, but in the God who called, and who therefore will equip and provide all he needs for the work.

As he often does elsewhere, Paul uses his own life as an example of what he is teaching, and in this case it is that no one is beyond God’s grace when it comes to transforming lives! He is encouraging Timothy to believe that youth and inexperience are no obstacle to God’s appointment, and that God’s work in a leader’s life can be a powerful witness to others.

This is tremendously encouraging for us all, and should help us to avoid the mistake of trying to behave as if we were already perfect and that everything in our lives is wonderful. Paul certainly refuses to wallow in self-pity, or to allow his past failures to hold him back from undertaking God’s work, but he also clearly recognises that his personal holiness is far from complete, and that it is an ongoing work which God alone can do.

How do I behave when I am aware of sin in my life, of past griefs or failures that continue to shadow my thoughts, or painful struggles with present burdens of poor health, bereavement or other trauma? If I learn from Paul, then I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which I am affected, thanking God for all his grace in sustaining and saving me from the power of sin, while also asking for and expecting that he will continue to change me through this struggle. I also expect that God will use my own experience as an example to others – of his sustaining power; of his grace to sinners; of his leading and healing of his children. If I am not willing to be honest and open about my own life, then how can God use me in this way?

As I contemplate moving to a new congregation, a new church family, I need to be praying that God will indeed give me strength to do his work in that place. I also need to be asking that my life might be a witness to God’s scandalous grace – all the riches of life in Christ poured out on undeserving rebellious humanity. God chooses and blesses us regardless of our past. Paul, the vicious persecuter of the early church; Jacob, the deceiver who manipulated his brother and plotted against his father; Peter, the self-confident, impetuous blunderer…  and me, with all my weakness and doubt.

Am I willing to be open and honest with my sisters and brothers in Christ, so that my life story might be used by God for their blessing too? It is after all only another variation of the great theme of the bible, that without Christ, there is no hope for us. He is supreme; the one and only means by which we may be saved. All our hope is in him, and we can and should take great pride in telling all the world of his beauty, his power, his generous grace and his tenderness, so that others will join in praising his name.

This is my story, this is my song..

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures for ever. 

Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.

For he has gathered the exiles from many lands, from east and west, from north and south.

(Ps 107. 1-3)

On Christmas Eve, in our little corner of a big city, a group of christians from local congregations gathered on a street corner to sing carols, to pray and to hear again from God’s word the story of Jesus birth.

It was a filthy night of weather, we were wet, cold and buffeted by the wind. Barely anyone passed by, nor could they have heard much if they did! But it proved to be one of the most meaningful events in my celebration of Christmas this year, because we were free to do it. We can publicly declare our faith and tell the story of God’s love born into our midst.

No one called the police and reported us for ‘illegal’ activities, no one threw stones or even hard words at us. We are privileged to live under a system of law which protects our freedom to gather for public worship, and it truly is a privilege, a gift and blessing! As we enter a new year and look to the opportunities which may lie ahead, I am challenged by these words from the psalmist. Do I speak out?

I have a story to tell, of salvation and of life lived in the presence of my God. I have been given the good news of Jesus Christ to share; the best gift anyone could ever receive is mine not to hoard but to advertise! There are no legal restrictions on my witness, I need fear nothing from the authorities.

But I do fear ridicule, rejection, giving offence and being misunderstood, driving someone away instead of drawing them near. I look back over many years of living as a christian and wonder just how many opportunities I failed to take through fear? It seems that so many of those around me who do not know God’s personal love for them are people who would be angry, insulted and hurt if I said anything which suggested their lives were somehow lacking. Many of them believe that Christianity is outdated, irrelevant to their lives, a source of hatred and violence down the years which should be discarded. They tolerate my faith because I refrain from offending them, but I know very well that I am not free to challenge their position.

So where is my witness? I try to live in a way which speaks of God’s forgiveness and love, his transforming power and presence in my life – hoping that this might somehow prompt questions. But it hasn’t, not yet, not to me…. And I fear that I am simply written down as a ‘nice person’ (if only they knew!!), who suffers from some misguided religious beliefs but is too polite to make a big thing of them.

The picture at the head of this post is of Galilee, the great lake which in Israel today is called Kinneret after the harp which it resembles in shape. The hills beyond are the Golan Heights, beyond which lies Syria, and a dreadful destruction from which the land may never recover. It is here that Jesus walked on the water; here that he sat by the lake and called fishermen to leave their nets; on these hills he prayed through the night and taught his disciples about the kingdom which he was inaugurating.

I believe in a historical Christ, who lived, died and rose again; whose death bought life for me and all who believe in his sacrifice for them; a Christ whose love and indwelling power can and does transform lives. He is my Lord, my Saviour, the lover of my soul and beloved in my eyes. He is my God, my Father, the source of life and power and the one who will someday make all things new so that I will be at home with him forever.

This is my story, my song; may I be given opportunities and courage to tell it, to sing it, and to be privileged to see God at work in the lives of others this year as He continues to work out His good purposes in this world for His glory.

The most important question..

When Jesus came to the region of Ceasarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

(Matthew 16.13-17)

I believe that our ultimate destination, our eternal future, is determined by our answer to this fundamental question, posed to us today as it was to Peter all those years ago. Who is Jesus? He himself was quite clear on the answer to the question – taking the names of Messiah or Christ, the Son of Man, the one promised down the years who would break forever the power of sin and death in human lives.

His whole ministry asserted his identity as one with God – power over natural and spiritual powers; authority to forgive sins and cast out demons; speaking with the words of God to woo the people of God. Those who rejected him, he stated quite clearly ‘will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.’ (John 3.36)

What then is our message as followers of Jesus in the world today? We are surrounded by the pain and struggle of mankind, fresh waves of upheaval and suffering arise weekly and our political leaders stagger from one crisis meeting to another. In Britain, our neighbours and colleagues have largely dismissed Christianity from their minds, dismissing it as so much nonsense, and embracing in many cases a rag-bag of ideas picked from many sources, which makes them comfortable with their lives.

I think it is very important that we keep clear in our minds the authority, power and providence of God – over and in ALL that is happening to individuals and our world at large. If we succumb to the temptation to think that our own words and deeds are the only things which can redeem people and transform society, we will sink into despair – either doing nothing because we feel powerless, or doing too many things because we can’t bear inactivity in the face of so much need and injustice.

The reality is that God is never mocked. He may appear inactive, but it is our vision which is faulty here, not His power. He cares more deeply than we can imagine for each and every one of His children, and desires that none should face eternity without Him. I believe that in every turmoil and trouble, God is at work to raise the minds of men and women to consider His claim upon their lives, and to recognise in themselves the ultimate sin, of putting self on the throne of their hearts.

In His grace, God may use those who already know and love Him to be part of the process by which He reveals Himself, but we have no power to force anyone to acknowledge Him as Lord. All we can do is to follow the example of the apostle Andrew, whose first action was to bring his brother Simon to meet the man whom Andrew already believed was the Christ, the promised one(John 1.41)

Since this is the case, as eager servants, it is our responsibility to be like the apostle Paul when he served the church in Corinth :-” For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1Cor 2.2). We have the treasure of forgiveness of sins, a fresh start here on earth and eternal life with Christ to share with people who need it so badly, and the best way we can do this is by pointing them over and over to Jesus. We lift him up, exalting him in our lives and our words, so that people will see and have the chance to consider properly for themselves who they think Jesus is. Their decision is not in our hands, but we can strive to ensure that our witness is faithful, loving, steadfast, and always focussed on Christ, so that God can use us in His work of drawing them to Himself.

May God stir up in us a deeper love for Christ, so that our lives shine for Him, and give us courage to speak of Him whenever the opportunity arises. May we be blessed to be used as the means by which others are brought face to face with Christ, and come to acknowledge him as Lord of their lives.