Category Archives: the life of faith

Famous last words…

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

(Ps 150)

“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)

Therefore, dear friends….be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen

(2 Pet 3.17&18)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”..Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life…He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

(Rev 22.16,17&20)

Intelligent writers and speakers know that their closing words will influence how people remember and respond to their messages. An effective summary, or an exhortation that follows from the content of a speech or written piece can enthuse, galvanise and equip for action.

All these scriptures close their respective books, and leave the reader in no doubt about the essential message intended by their authors. The Psalms close in a cacophony of celestial and earthly praise to the Lord who reigns on high; the perfect and ultimate King of his people, in whom alone lies security and where they find forgiveness, peace and wholeness. It is almost the Old Testament equivalent of the exhortation to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ which is found in the letter to the church in Thessalonica.

Matthew chooses to close his record with the commissioning of the church to make disciples, coupled with Jesus’ assurance that he will be with us to the end of all things. We are left in no doubt of our task, and of the resources – in Jesus – to accomplish it. The letters of the apostles often end in passionate exhortations based on theological teaching,  to make sure that their hearers are in no doubt about what it means to live as followers of the risen Lord – again combining comfort and encouragement with instruction. And Revelation itself ends in a glorious statement  of Jesus’ authority, of the gift of life which he alone can offer, and the promise that he will come soon – comfort for a persecuted church and to God’s people ever since as we wait in faith..

In church services, we refer to the ‘benediction’ – which might be translated as the ‘good word’ –  spoken over the congregation by the pastor or leader in closing public worship. These words  often remain in our minds and – if well chosen – can bring lasting blessing. I want to share with you two such ‘good words’, one which focuses on the immediate task of the church, and the other on its hope for the future.

We have a faith that is real, in a gospel that is true, about a Saviour who has come and is coming again, and has given us work to do. So let us go, and the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you, now and evermore…

May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest among you and remain with you until the day breaks and the shadows flee away…

Dear friends, we are called by the Saviour who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords to bear witness to him in a world of shadows, pain and darkness. He is the light, we the light-bearers; He is the healer, we the stretcher-bearers. We are able, because He is with us in the darkness and is the light within. We are weak, but He is strong and works in and through us. He will not rest until the dawning of the day when His kingdom comes in all its glory and all the shadows flee away; the day when he will come to dwell with his children in love and joy and fullness.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

[ my thanks to Stuart Smith for the first, and the late James Philip for the second benediction]

Broad and strong, warm and sheltering…wings

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

(Ruth 2.12)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

(Ps 91.1-4)

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…..Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

(1 Pet 4.10&11, 5.6&7)

While there are no perfect people in the bible – apart from our Lord Jesus – there are many whose lives are recorded so that we might catch glimpses of how God works through fallibility and frailty to achieve his sovereign purposes and to bless his children. This week I returned to one of the loveliest of these tales, known as the book of Ruth but which might justifiably also be called the story of Boaz, or of Naomi! It is a small-scale drama, and yet in God’s providence these three lives are woven into the great narrative which will in due time arrive at the Messiah. It speaks powerfully to me of the way that our wonderful God knows each of his children, working our own good into his own over-arching will, encouraging me that I do well to focus on obeying him and humbly handing over my own cares for him to handle.

Ruth has embraced the faith of her mother-in-law, and lives this out by returning with her to a land where she is a vulnerable widow with no prospects, except as the God who she now worships may provide. Ruth is loyal to her relative, and puts her own strength at Naomi’s service, labouring hard to provide for them both – and it is God who leads her into the fields of a godly man, Boaz. She demonstrates exactly what Peter is talking about in his letter – humbly trust God, and then work hard with the gifts and opportunities you have been given.

Through Boaz, God will work to provide not only for the immediate but also the long-term future of this young woman and her relative – but Boaz himself will find great blessing through the connection, as he puts his social position, wealth and authority at Ruth’s disposal as her husband and the guardian-redeemer of the family. In this sense, we might say that Boaz became the answer to his own prayer for Ruth (the opening quote of this blog), that she might be richly rewarded by the God to whom she entrusted herself!

I rejoice to know that the Almighty Sovereign and Holy God, whose power in creation is revealed to be so far beyond my imagination, is also the tender and strong one who calls me to take shelter – like Ruth – under his protection. His eye is on an incredible eternal plan for glory, but amazingly, is also upon me. Not one detail of my life as his beloved child is beneath his notice – and he is able to weave together the tiny details of my circumstances into the majestic work of redemption and new creation.

Not only this, but he also gifts me the opportunity to be an active part of this dual narrative – I am privileged to use the gifts and opportunities he gives in order to further his work in the lives of others. I am also one whose needs may be met by others as God directs and provides for me – if I will be humble and honest enough to allow them to care for me.

A friend recently shared a song which included these lines, and I share them here as a beautiful expression of the way that God often shelters and cares for his children as they obey him in putting their gifts at the disposal of their fellow believers – as we are his wings…

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

[R.A.M. Gillard: 1953-]

Divine discomfort..

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?…If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.

(Isa 58.6&7,9&10)

You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain…You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts….Seek good, not evil, that you may live…Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.

(Am 5.7,10,11-15)

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)

“Then the King will say..,’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…..whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matt 25.34-40)

Reading recently through the prophecy of Isaiah, I was overwhelmed time and again by the contrast between the glorious future prophesied for God’s chosen people, and the reality in which they lived –  in which we live now. We are in-between people; saved and assured of an eternal life in glory yet still living in a broken and pain-riddled world. We live with the tension between God’s promised rest, fulfillment and security, and the appalling suffering which exists across the globe.

It is tempting to withdraw into a shell of comfort, shutting out troubling pictures of reality and thinking of our own security and hope of eternal life. But..the majority of Christians in the world today cannot do that, since they live without most of what we in the prosperous nations take for granted. They endure that tension, as poverty, war, violence and climate change make each day an ordeal in survival – all the while believing that God’s promises are to them, for their peace, their flourishing too. If we who are wealthy proclaim a faith that does nothing to address the reality of suffering, and the agonising tension between the ‘now and the not-yet’ of fulfillment, then we have nothing to offer our world, we have no ‘good news’.

I would make so bold as to say that any Christian who can live without being profoundly disturbed by the state of the planet – climate, ecology, society, economy – is ignoring God’s clearly revealed message in scripture.

We serve a God of justice – where then is our concern to see justice for the oppressed, the ones who have no voices, who suffer at the hands of unfair trading systems and corrupt governance?

We serve a God of compassion and mercy – where then is our concern for the people who are being exploited and broken – the trafficked sex-workers, the debt-slaves, the prostitutes and addicts, the mentally ill, the abused children, and the confused and frail elderly?

We serve a Creator God, we are his stewards commissioned to cherish his good work – where then is our concern for the flourishing of the planet on which we live; for the climate systems on which our lives depend, and which human greed is gradually destroying?

I have been profoundly challenged in these days by my complacency – to argue that the problems are too big for me is no argument at all. God doesn’t ask me to fix it, but he does ask whether I care? If my faith does not issue in works, it is dead. I am called not only to be a child of God, but a servant, a witness, a worker.

I am praying that I might be willing to live with the divine discomfort caused by a restless spirit, one unable to do nothing in the face of the brokenness of our world. I am praying that I might find where God wants me to use the small gifts I can offer – time, intellect and anything else I can bring – in bearing witness to the love of God for this world and all its people. I am praying that I might be willing to serve in a very small way, in a great campaign where I may not see the outcome, but be content in having obeyed the call.

 

The beloved voice….

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”….the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake…the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. when Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

(1 Kin 19.11-13)

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic..the voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.The voice of the Lord shakes the desert..The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare, and all in his temple cry, “Glory”.

(Ps 29.3,4,7-9)

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.

(Ps 42.8)

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

(Zeph 3.17)

“..My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

(Jn 10.27-30)

A few weeks ago, I had the extraordinary experience of hearing – in quick succession – the voices of the three ministers who shaped my faith and life for my first thirty years. They had been recorded at a conference, and my husband was playing the recording to illustrate something to our daughter. I had to ask him to stop the recording, as I found that I was weeping and couldn’t bear to listen anymore – it had been such a surprise, and I was not prepared for it. Why should I cry to hear them? All three are now in glory with the Lord they served so faithfully, having lived long and rich lives to the blessing of untold numbers. And yet it hurt to hear them…

When people whom we love, and to whom we have owed a great deal are gone, any reminder of them is precious and also painful. Voices are such a distinctive part of personalities, and until they are silenced, we perhaps don’t realise how well we know them and how much they conjure up the speaker. And it is extraordinary how instant recognition can be, even for those we have not heard for a long time. Sometimes I wonder whether we shall sound the same in our new bodies in the new earth, so that we may recognise one another in a crowd again…

The pain and pleasure of those recollections set me thinking about all the ways the voice of God is used in Scripture. We have a communicating God, Hallelujah! We are not left to wonder what to do, or whom to worship, but hear from him in many ways…..God spoke with Adam and Eve in the garden, sharing in their life and enjoying their company. God spoke in dreams and visions, through angels and prophets directing his people and sharing his heart. God speaks in creation, in power and vision, in infinite detail and providential creativity for the sustaining of life. God thunders, and he whispers; and sometimes he is silent so that his people might learn to hunger for his voice again, and repent of their rebellion and rejection of him. God speaks intimately to the hearts of his children – singing lullabies over us, songs of deliverance and gladness in our relationship to him.

Do we know his voice well enough? When there is a cacophony of noise, competing claims on our attention and conflicting opinions on what is right, can we discern the Shepherd’s voice?

The three men of whom I spoke earlier ministered for decades here in Scotland, influencing thousands of lives for the gospel. I listened to them, submitted to the word lovingly preached and committed to share in the lives of their congregations. I learned to know and love them, and in their integrity saw that they were to be trusted as under-shepherds. Their voices came to be to me as the voice of God, and I gladly followed when they called.

Have I learned to know the voice of God in this way? Have I learned to love him? I see the work of creation; the tragedy of the Fall and all that has followed and I see the great redemptive work of Calvary where God said so clearly “I love you”, and I choose to trust him. I press on to know him better, not depending on the preacher but also wrestling with the word for myself, trusting that as I do so I may learn to hear the beloved voice more clearly and more often.

May I become more like Samuel, who listened attentively; like Jesus’ mother Mary, who listened submissively; like Mary Magdalene, who in listening discerned the loving voice of her beloved Lord and found resurrection hope, triumphant faith, and courage for life.

Overflowing…or running on empty?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

(Ps 25.4-7)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Rom 15.4-6&13)

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

(Heb 10.19-24)

What can I hope for, as a child of God? What can I reasonably expect and depend upon, based on God’s promises and the revelation of his character and his will? The letter to the Romans shows us that our hope is to be encouraged by the narrative of scripture, and refined through endurance – it is based on the absolute trustworthiness of God, who did not keep back his own son but gave him up to be a sacrifice of atonement for us. Such love, argues Paul, will not deceive us, will not let us down, but will fight to keep us safe until we are united with Christ in glory…He who promised, is faithful and so we may hope – stubbornly, desperately at times, but always.

While I may not hope for an easy life; I can and do hope that at every stage, I am in God’s eye, and he is working to bless me, and bring glory to himself through my circumstances.  I can hope that although I may not perceive it, I am growing in faith and maturity, and fruitfulness in God’s sight. I may hope and be at peace, knowing that nothing is wasted .

While I may not hope that I will never rebel again, never let my Lord down again, never hurt other people again; I can and do hope that for every failure there is abundant forgiveness, cleansing and a fresh start. I can hope for strength to try again, to move out in faith after failure, confident that I am not estranged from or forsaken by God. I may hope, and be at peace, free from guilt and resting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

While I may not hope for riches, good health and freedom; I can and do hope that in every situation, I am able to receive good gifts from God, tokens of his love for and delight in me. I can hope for continued grace to see these things, and for the ability to give thanks for them. I may hope and be filled with joy because nothing can separate me from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

My God is not some small pathetic construction of my own thinking, created to prop me up on bad days. He is the Almighty, the God of creation, the invisible and yet revealed Majesty who rightly claims the worship and homage of all things. He is not safe, doesn’t play by the rules of his creatures, and at times the mystery of his ways leaves us bewildered. But he is absolutely trustworthy, and so we cling to his promises, depend upon the salvation he offers us, and receive each day fresh from his hand.

Our God, who gives endurance and encouragement; Our God, who is the God of hope, by his Holy Spirit, will cause joy and peace to well up within us as we choose to trust him, as he enables us to trust him. All we need, he gives; and so we may indeed overflow with hope, because he will never fail us..

Thy kingdom come..

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all..

(1Chron 29.10&11)

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matt 6.9-13)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit…You must be born again”

(Jn 3.5&7)

 We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1.9-13)

Now and not yet – a kingdom come and coming.. The Old Testament stories are full of references to God as ruler, sovereign in his glory and a call to the people of Israel to live as loyal subjects of that kingdom. Their loyalty was designed to set them apart from other nations, so that they might demonstrate to the world just how wonderful their God was and so glorify his name. Sadly, the OT is also full of stories of how his people rejected his sovereignty and instead lived like people of other nations, loyal to other gods, giving lip service to their covenant God, and trusting in deeds and ritual instead of depending by faith on his love for them.

When Jesus came, preaching that the kingdom of God was near, many thought he meant a military power that would overthrow the tyranny of Rome. But once again, they had got the wrong idea, as Jesus taught repeatedly in his parables and directly, showing that God’s kingdom is not like a human kingdom. Its values are totally different, and ultimately we can enter that kingdom only by new birth, by becoming new creatures with a nature and life designed for that kingdom. Thanks be to God that in Christ Jesus, we are offered that new birth, that new life, and that God does everything necessary to establish us securely in his glorious kingdom of light!

This kingdom – inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus – continues to grow in the world today, but not as human kingdoms grow. Not by conquest, not by political or popular campaigns, not by adroit financial investment, bribery or coercion. Rather, this kingdom grows as heart, after heart recognises Jesus as Lord, and accepts his sovereignty in their lives. As this happens, that life becomes a place where the kingdom of God is realised in this world. My life, and yours, are to be lived examples of the values and atmosphere of the kingdom of God – where he reigns, our loving Saviour.

While we will not see this kingdom fully realised until God winds up time and ushers in the newly re-created earth and heaven, we are living in its light, by its time, and by its values. In effect, we are part of the answer to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say – “thy kingdom come….”, and we are also part of the work in realising the kingdom as we witness, pray and serve the Lord in our own turn.

Thank you Father, that by the gift of faith in Christ, I live now under his sovereignty, a subject of your heavenly kingdom. Thank you that a glorious day is coming when that kingdom will be visible, tangible and supreme, wiping out all trace of this shadowland where your reign is still disputed.

Let my life truly be a little part of that heavenly rule – a place where the Spirit dwells as honoured sovereign, unquenched, active and in charge. Let me live as one honouring my inheritance, delighting in my name and stake in your promised land. Let me in all things acknowledge and exalt my king, treasuring his word, engaging with his work, delighting to introduce him to those who have never met him, and resisting his enemies.

Even as the seed sown bears fruit a hundred fold, Lord so may your kingdom seed be fruitful in many lives; invisibly taking root, and then bursting forth in newness of life to your glory and the hastening of the day when all shall be finished and Christ return in glory!

 

Outlook..changeable!

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the pace where you dwell.  Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

(Ps 43)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor.4.8&9, 16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

(Phil 4.4&6)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

One of the many effective ways in which our enemy, the devil, can cause us to stumble in our walk with God is by making us doubt our salvation. And one of the easiest ways for him to do that is to tempt us to focus on how our lives in this world continue to be dogged by difficulties – suffering of every kind. If he can once begin to direct our thoughts down the line of “if I were a real christian, surely I would not find life so hard, I would triumph over all my difficulties”, then he has got us trapped in a mire of self-reproach, self-preoccupation, and lies.

I say lies, because if we actually take time to look at the stories of believers’ lives – both faithful Old Testament followers and disciples in the New Testament – what we find are very familiar patterns of struggle and despondency, in a world that looks as dark and difficult as our own. The psalmists wrote of great joy, and also of deep despair – even of a sense of abandonment – but always from the conviction that God was listening, and powerful to act. They freely expressed their troubles, but had learnt that their experiences were not to be relied upon as an indication of God’s presence, absence or favour.

Time and time again, we find their darkest hours are underpinned by the rock-solid belief that God is, that He is good, and that somewhere, somehow, He is at work in this situation. They pressed on, in faith, not pretending to be perfect, not imagining that the world should be kinder to them than it was, but trusting God to keep them and use every trial for his glory and their blessing.

The same picture is painted for us in the lives of the saints, the believers of whom we read in the New Testament. They have the full revelation of Christ, knowledge of God’s saving love for them on Calvary, and yet they continue to struggle with the reality of life in a broken world.  Not only do they suffer persecution from non-believers, but also internal divisions within the churches. They experience illness, bereavement, personal disagreements and alienation, famine and natural disasters. All of human experience continues to be their experience – the joyous and the troubled – as it is ours. And nowhere do we find believers rebuked for their suffering, as if it were somehow the result of a lack of faith.

Rather, the apostles are concerned that they be wise, mature in their understanding, and above all grounded in faith in the nature of God. Just as for the Old Testament followers, it is not emotional experience which is the basis of reality and truth, but what God says – about himself and about us as his children. We WILL have trouble in this world – Jesus promised that! But we WILL also have his presence with us always, until the very end, when all troubles will cease and the need for obedient perseverance will finally be over.

We must encourage one another, through the ups and downs of our lives, to remember that while the ‘weather’ of our situation may change dramatically, the God who is in charge does not change. We will always feel cold when it is icy, get wet when it rains, and struggle when it gets too hot – those are normal and right reactions to our conditions. In the same way, we will grieve, feel fear or anxiety, anger and horror, depending on what is happening. We bring those feelings to God – as the psalmists did – and with thanksgiving (as the psalmists and the apostles did) we rejoice that He does not change, that He is in control, and that He will prove faithful through it all.

A fighter…me?

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him ……and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth…..Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

(Isa 11.1-5)

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice…He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head…

(Isa 59.15&17)

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Eph 4.22-24)

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…Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.

(Eph 6.10-13)

I serve a warrior King. My Lord is the ruler of heaven’s armies, the victor in a cosmic battle for the soul of humankind and the glory of God.

My King has given me a new heart – his own heart, beating in time with the heart of God, filled with God’s passionate, persistent, sacrificial love for the world.

My King has given me a new nature – his own nature, his righteousness for my sinfulness; his purity for my pollution; his eternal life, for my living death.

My King has work for me to do – his work, for his glory, in calling sinners to repentance, acting as a responsible steward of his resources, enjoying all the good things he supplies by sharing them with his children and giving him the praise and thanks.

But, I serve a warrior King. And his new nature in me, is also that of a warrior. I am made new to be a soldier in heaven’s army; to obey orders, to put forth my strength in obedience for the sake of my brethren, for those who are in peril, and for the glory of my King. I cannot choose to be a conscientious objector in this conflict, and I cannot choose to dictate a compromise with the enemy.

My King has won the victory, but his enemies continue to wage fierce and merciless war against him, even as they see their final defeat approaching. I am called to stand my ground, to wield my sword in defence and in trust that the foe cannot overturn the victory which is won on my behalf. Christ in me is always and everywhere my strength – I must choose to believe it.

Therefore, when I ‘put on’ my new self – that is, when I choose daily to live out of the truth of my new nature, to act on the basis that I am God’s new creation in Christ – then I must put on the full armour of God. It is not an optional extra for believers who are particularly interested, it is who I am and how I must live.

The biblical imagery of the new life of believers is not meant simply to entertain or amuse us, it is teaching us about the way in which we should live once we have accepted Christ and been adopted into God’s family. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, like bridal garments – a picture of how God now sees us, pure and worthy to be called his children. We are priests in his kingdom – a picture of how we now reflect God’s holiness to others, intercede for them and offer spiritual sacrifices. We are different parts of one body – a picture of how we depend upon and should honour one another, serving in love, and sharing in the common life we receive from our head, Jesus the Lord.

And we are warriors, enlisted under Christ our captain to the privilege of serving him in maintaining the prize which Christ has won – the church – against the onslaught of evil. If I choose to hold back from this task, and refuse to recognise my place in the battle line, I become a weakness, a place where the devil can attack – harming not only myself, but the wider community of faith.

I praise God that the victory is won, and that in Christ I have all the resources I need to be a faithful and obedient soldier. I thank God that I am called only to ‘stand’, and that as in prayer I appropriate this armour, making these resources my weapon and defence, so I am inspired and guided by the Spirit, and do my duty. The outcome of the battle rests with God, let me only do my part and leave my safety and the final victory in the hands of the one who has cried “It is finished!” All hail to the King.

So much better than “best wishes”!

..a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests”

(Lk 2.13&14)

Finally brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(2 Cor 13.11&14)

For [Christ] himself is our peace…he came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near..Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 2.14&17;  6.23)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Pet 1.3&5-8)

In this era of social media, and internet communication, it is rare to send or receive a tangible greeting from anyone, and the habits and conventions of letter writing are dwindling. At Christmas perhaps, we still expect to send and receive cards, and will take time to write to those precious folk whom we will not see to greet in person. And we will wrestle as we always do, with the inadequacy of language to express our love, our support and care for them. Our words cannot achieve what we desire in communicating all that is in our hearts, and certainly cannot make us present to one another!

How marvellous then are the words which we find in scripture, where time and again, God promises his presence with his people. God does not send greetings, does not make wishes for our blessing; He gives, He comes! Ultimately, the whole narrative of scripture is the tale of God’s work to restore perfect communion between himself and his people, to deal with the barrier of sin which keeps us alienated from Him. But even from the beginning, God’s promise to his chosen ones was of his presence; and all the blessings which that brings.

When Paul writes prayers for blessing – as so often he does – at the end of his letters, he is not simply expressing good wishes, but asking with confidence that God will do exactly what He has promised to do, and can do. The young churches were communities of believers, reborn in Christ and indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence was among them, and with that came his gifts – of peace and rest; of reconciliation with one another; of the glorious hope of resurrection and eternal life; of forgiveness for sins past, and grace for the day’s tasks. As Peter says in his letter, God has given all that we need to live in ways that bring Him joy – because we have life in Christ by the Spirit and are free from slavery to sin.

So my friends, let us consider what good gifts we have received from God our Father – the foundation of faith, that trust in the saving work of Christ through which alone we are rescued, and on which all else is built: peace with God, and thus with one another, as we live together as forgiven children, equally dependant upon mercy, and equally glorified in Christ: love for one another, because we are already totally loved by God and have nothing to prove, nothing to depend on others for.

We can follow Paul’s example as we greet fellow believers, and as we pray for them; we can claim God’s promised gifts for his children and know that since He is present with them, there is no danger that the gift will be withheld.

Peace to you, my brothers and sisters; love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are your inheritance and daily provision.

….with my own love in Christ to all who read and share with me in the riches of our inheritance as the beloved children of God.

Learning in serving

[Moses] said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day…they are not just idle words for you – they are your life!”…”The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword”..since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.. 

(Deut 32.46&46; 33.27&29; 34.10)

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts..so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body..God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be..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..If one part suffers, every part suffers with it

(1 Cor 12.12&13,18,24&26)

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there..on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands..and mark that you do this with humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences…..Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift..working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive in Christ.

(Eph 4.1-3,712&13: The Message)

I know of very few things which are as effective in showing me the true state of my soul as the necessity of serving my fellow-beings, and more to the point, serving as Christ would do – in love. I can gloss over my weaknesses when alone, or when in congenial company with no challenges to my pride and sense of self-satisfaction, but it is a different matter on the frontline of fellowship.

An opportunity for service may initially strike me as a way to bless others, to do God’s work in a particular sphere, and in a myriad of ways, to feel good about myself and what gifts I bring to my community. Those things may be true – God prepares good works for us, so that his body, the church, might be built up in every way and it is right that we should seek to use the gifts we have to that end. BUT, it is also true that I am not perfect, far from it in fact, and that God has much to teach me and to change in me. Did Moses, that great servant of God, not discover many uncomfortable truths about himself as he obeyed God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and through 40 years of desert wandering? His final words to the people ring with the authority of one who has been tested, and has proved the faithfulness of God – and also the forgiveness of God – as the only basis for our lives, but that authority came from years of learning about his own weakness, and crucifying his pride as leader.

Christ is always my example in my dealings with others, but how easy to forget when we are frustrated by another’s failure to be and act in the ways we want – when ‘our’ project is not being carried out as we planned it. How readily we give up on those who do not share our gifts, energy, intelligence or talents but who nonetheless are alongside us in serving the body of Christ. It is never my job to condemn, ridicule, undermine or lose patience with my fellow-believer – but how often I am tempted to do so. May God have mercy on me, show me the places where pride still reigns, and love is smothered by self.

Father God, thank you for the privilege of being part of the body of Christ; let me never forget that this is all by your gift, not my merit.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the privilege of serving the Church, your body; let me never rate my gifts too high, but in continual humility see the value of what you have given to others. Let me always be willing to repent of pride, and learn to cherish each unique child of God.

Holy Spirit, thank you that you are the lifeblood, the oxygen in the veins of the body of Christ, bringing continual fresh supplies of grace, and healing, transforming power, so that I – along with my fellow believers – am being renewed in the image of Christ himself.