Category Archives: the life of faith

The hope of the resurrection

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I and not another.

(Job 19.25-27)

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you..

(John 14. 2)

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each seed he gives its own body….so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a supernatural body…..then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

(1 Corinthians 15. 37,38, 42-44, 54&55)

There is so much that we do not know about what God has in store for us on the other side of death, so many unanswered questions and it can be tempting to indulge in speculation, seeking for comfort in bereavement and struggling to accept the absence of a precious companion.

But I believe that most of what lies ahead for us is simply beyond our understanding, and therefore God in his mercy has hidden it from us for the present. It makes sense, that even as we struggle to imagine the eternal present which is God’s presence, so we cannot begin to comprehend how humanity can exist within that context. We are utterly bound within time and space, and our future lies in a different realm!

I believe that we have been given as much as we need, grounds for hope and assurance, and glimpses of glory to whet our appetites. We see Christ, our Saviour and elder brother, going ahead of us through death into a resurrected body. His people could hold him and recognise him, and yet his body was – as Paul says – raised in glory, raised imperishable. This same body is in heaven now, a glorified and perfect human being is there in God’s presence – so we know that we too will dwell in recognisable form with God. That in itself is incredible to us, and wonderful!

A human form, imbued with eternity and perfectly equipped to thrive in the new heavens and new earth which are promised after God has wound up this era of suffering, pain and toil. Does this not thrill us? Are we not deeply conscious of a longing to explore all that humanity is capable of in its perfect state? We don’t long eagerly for a disembodied state, nor for annihalation – that is to reject the promise which God created in us, and is a rejection of his vision for humankind. We are broken and marred, yes indeed, but the solution is not the destruction of self for ever, rather it is the redemption and transformation of self by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

I believe that the piercing joys, the fleeting moments of glory and intense gladness which are our experience here are simply foretastes of what God has in store, in that home for which we are all looking and longing. There we will belong, there we will have tasks which inspire, enthrall and satisfy us – perfectly suited to our unique qualities and characters. We will not disappear into some bland uniformity, but rather become more intensely and gloriously ourselves, the “I” whom God saw in us from the beginning, now free of all weakness.

Oh, friends, may God give us patience and courage to wait for this, wait for his timing, and meantime to exult in the hope we have! These words express something of the ecstatic joy which fills me even as I write, perhaps they will lift you too for a moment, to glimpse the glory:

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship, when, at his bidding, every storm is stilled,   Or who can say how great the jubilation when all the hearts of men with love are filled.  But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture, and myriad, myriad human voices sing, And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth will answer: At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is King!

(William Young Fullerton, 1857-1932)

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A sweet, sweet incense…

What do I hold in my hands, but fractured dreams, and faded hopes? The shame-filled memories of hurts given and received, the hidden scars of wounds sustained at the hands of those from whom I looked for kindness.

Are these a fitting sacrifice to bring to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

What haunts my prayers, but the bitter knowledge of the many, many, too many times I have forgotten to look to Love, have refused to look to Love, have embraced self-pity and chosen to cherish resentment and despair.

Is this a fitting heart to open before the throne of a holy and just God?

What drains my courage, but the suspicion that while God could change things, he seems to be choosing to change me instead – and I am sometimes just so very tired of being the subject of his potter’s hand, of being re-shaped, of being pruned and disciplined. I don’t see the fruit of his labours….is there any?

Is this a fitting spirit in which to bear witness to an almighty, loving and redeeming God?

……………………………..

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51.8-12, 15-17)

What relief, what joy, to find in the words of the psalmist the answer to my cries! I am welcome before the God of heaven; I am called to be made clean, to be restored, to be lifted up. My brokenness and weakness, my inability to remember what I learn, or to put it into practice consistently, all is acceptable to God as a sacrifice.

Why? Because when I am broken and crying out to him, then I am fully relying on the finished work of my saviour, I am utterly without any pride or self-reliance, and am finally admitting that without God, I am helpless in my need..

In this world, the children of God will have trouble – Jesus promised as much – and the big question is what we do with it! Will we collapse under it, reject God and become bitter and alienated from him? Or will we seek to turn, and turn again towards him, begging for his strength, claiming the fulfillment of his promises to us – for his constant presence and enabling power, for his provision for our true needs? Even when I am on my knees, if I am crawling towards God, not away from him, then I am in the safest place and am assured that he is working for and in me.

Dear friends, let us encourage one another with the truth that we have been given; but let us also be gentle with one another as we limp together through the various trials with which God has entrusted us.

The words which I wrote so recently are ringing through my mind again….am I willing to thank God for trusting me with this long-term burden, thanking him for sustaining me thus far under it, thanking him for the ways it has driven me over and over again into his arms?

God grant me the ability to say “Yes, yes Lord, I thank you. I believe that you are working this out for my blessing and the blessing of your church, and the glory of your name…I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”

Spelling it out..

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?………..Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank-offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(Psalm 56. 3,4,8,12&13)

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God most high, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. He sends from heaven and saves me…God sends his love and his faithfulness…My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music….I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

(Psalm 57.2,3,7-10)

Turn to God, look up from your clenched hands, look up through your tears;

Reach out in faith, confess your lack of resources, that you might receive from him.

Understand that even in this trial, you are in his care, in his love, in his heart;

Submit willingly to the trial, and seek to lean hard and learn of him in it, and

Then make your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, to God most high…

 

I have been freshly convicted recently about the way in which so often my praise of God is purely thankful – not that this is inappropriate, we ought indeed to be filled with gratitude for all that we have and are receiving, and will receive! But the response of mature faith to the revelation of God – in creation and most especially in his word and in Christ the incarnate word – should also be adoration..

By this I mean that I need to move on from thanking God for his gifts, to worshiping and praising him for simply who he is.

I have fond memories of attending a weekly prayer meeting while a student, where the first 15 or 20 minutes of prayer were purely adoration and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s character and all his goodness. It was an excellent discipline, focusing our minds on God, lifting our eyes from our own preoccupations to the eternal realities, and keeping the “shopping list” of intercessory prayer in its rightful place.. But even the great prayer warriors assembled in that room often found it easier to express gratitude than simply to praise!

It is this ability to adore, to be enchanted by the holiness, power, wisdom and love of God which is most powerful in supporting me in the darkest times. These are unchanging realities, unaffected by my feelings, by the things which are oppressing me. I may feel I have little to be thankful for – although this is rarely true…But I can ALWAYS celebrate the goodness of God, rejoice in his utter purity and the perfect loving communion which exists within the trinity. He has spoken, and his promises must be kept, because his nature and character demand that he keep his word. Therefore, I can trust him.

When I feel that the particular purposes of God being worked out in my life through my current trials are obscure and improbable, that I can hardly bear to endure, I can contemplate the incredible love and commitment which planned my redemption in Christ. Such passionate engagement on my behalf by eternal God is not to be wasted! If he has said that he is working for my good, then he can be trusted, and all the weight of my grief, confusion and despair can properly be cast on him.

Let us learn to contemplate and rejoice in the God who has made us his own, let’s learn to spell out for ourselves what we know….

He is Abba(father); He is Beautiful; He is Compassionate; He is Defender: He is Enthroned: He is Faithful…

I leave you to continue the list for yourself… God bless us and give us clearer vision that we might glorify him!

Keeping a clear spring flowing…

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

(Luke 6.43-45)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice….But among you there must  not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

(Ephesians 4.29,31; 5.3&4)

Finally, friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things..

(Philippians 4.8)

How is your mind furnished? What things of beauty are placed there to encourage and inspire you? What lurks in the corners, unwanted but somehow stuck there, and likely to roll right out into the centre of your thoughts just when it is least appropriate?

I have images, words in my head which I wish I could wipe right out, things that I read or watched in moments of weakness and now deeply regret. Because I agree completely with the diagnosis that Jesus gives, that what we say and do comes from what we think and imagine and cherish in our minds, in our inmost being. We are responsible, as believers, for the things that we allow to find room in our hearts, because they will imperceptibly come to influence how we think and act. We can become de-sensitized to violence, blasphemy, obscenity and cruelty if we expose ourselves to them too much. My preference is to avoid them at all costs, except where it is impossible – in the living of daily life in this fallen world. Where is the ‘entertainment value’ in revisiting such things, when they reflect and dwell on the pain and darkness which God weeps over? Is it not enough to experience the realities, to see lives being destroyed around us by the evil which stains every life, and warps every impulse towards good?

There is so much in the world that is worth celebrating, worth dwelling upon, so many things that reflect the goodness of God and the image of his character which yet lives in his creatures. I passionately believe that we are missing out on God’s highest purpose and desire for us when we choose to focus on the darkness instead of the light, allowing our view of the world to become skewed and in danger of losing hope. What are we modelling for young believers, for our children, if we allow the bad news, the dark stories, and the secular narratives of humanists and aetheists to dictate our thinking? We have a radical, transforming story to share, and a God who has filled the world with witnesses to his power and glory, whose church is growing and whose power is undiminished.

What do our books, films, music and social media preferences say about how we see the world, about the view of God in the world that we have, about how we are furnishing our minds? We surely know enough already about the dark side of human nature from our own thoughts without needing adult movies, explicit literature – of sex or violence – and amoral song lyrics providing the soundtrack and moving pictures in our minds!

Or is it just me…am I naive and impractical?

As I grow older, I find I am more and not less sensitive, and this doesn’t trouble me in the least. It means that when I read of real suffering, or meet it in those around me, I hurt, I feel pain which prompts prayer, action, compassion and anger against the author of all this destruction – the devil, who, we thank God, has been defeated, but whose power in the world is not yet finally destroyed.

May God continue to help me to guard against all those things that might pollute and poison the new life, and pure spirit which he has caused to well up within me. There is enough remaining that needs cleansed without me adding more!

 

 

Doing what comes…. naturally?

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Hebrews 13.20&21)

How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

(Psalm 116.12-14)

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.

(Jeremiah 31.33)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men..For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died..that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Corinthians 5.11,14&15,17)

My parents made promises before God and their fellow christians when they brought me to be baptised as an infant, promises which bound them among other things to “teach the truths and duties of the Christian faith” to me, their child. I was blessed by their keeping of those promises, and grew up in a home where life revolved around the priorities of worship and service, primarily in their local congregation. It was entirely normal that the weekend should be dominated by the Saturday prayer meeting, and then two services on Sunday, usually with generous hospitality shown over a meal to visitors.

The sense of ‘duty’ extended beyond mere attendance, to personal devotion, professional integrity, sacrificial giving, opening their home and hearts to hundreds of people over the years, in addition to the hard work of parenting, discipline and patient forbearance with three children! They kept their promises, as far as they were able, and clearly demonstrated what Christian duty looked like.

That word ‘duty’ has come to bear a less than positive aspect, bringing with it a burden and a weariness which makes people avoid any sort of responsibility for fear they will be shackled to an unbearable weight! But is this how I should think as a Christian? Surely not!

My ‘duties’ as a follower of Jesus are an expression of my sense of indebtedness to him, recognising that his sacrificial love for me has placed me forever in his debt and that nothing I can do to serve and glorify him is too much to give! It is this which the psalmist puts so clearly in Ps116 above, as he boasts not in his ability to fulfill his vows, but in the greatness and worth of the God to whom those vows are made.

Those same ‘duties’ are also my privileged and appointed tasks, commanded by my King and Lord, who has the right to direct and spend my life according to his perfect pleasure and will. He has told me that these things are what he desires of me, that they are for my blessing, and will bring him glory – should I not be all eagerness to fulfill them?! What reasons could I give for rejecting his command, for denying myself the privilege of serving such a Master?

Our daily grief as believers is, that in spite of our best aspirations, and deepest sense of sweet obligation, we find it so hard to do our duty, to live according to the pattern which Christ commends to us. We are disappointed in ourselves and tempted to give up, to resent that God asks so much, instead of asking for his help.  Because the wonderful truth is that help is readily available, and we already have the basic provision that we need.

The bible makes it clear that as those who call on Jesus as ‘Lord’, we have been transformed, given a fresh start, made ‘new’ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians. Our nature has been renewed by the indwelling Spirit, and it is as though God had written his desires upon our hearts, so that our natural inclinations are now a mirror image of his own – although still badly clouded by the deceptive remnant of rebellion that haunts us!

That deep desire to honour God through fulfilling my duties as a believer – that is my new nature at work; those little victories over old bad habits and selfishness – that is my new nature, growing stronger under the influence of the Spirit; the increased ease with which I reach out in love to serve, and the joy which it brings – are the fruits of God’s gracious equipping of me with all that I need to do his will.

Instead of despairing over my failures, let me promptly bring them to God in repentance, and then set off in joy and renewed trust to try again, confident that his power and provision for me, the new nature he is nurturing in me, will bear good fruit. In doing my duties as a Christian, I express my debt to my Lord, and serve him with delight, exulting in the privilege of such a position and resting in his understanding love.

May God continue to give us daily the things we need, and strengthen his likeness in us, so that we may serve naturally and gladly, bringing glory to him and blessing to others.

Looking around…

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath..Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

(Psalm 39. 4-7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. so don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10.29-31)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16.24-26)

For many people, the end of a calendar year is a time of reflection, a time to reassess their lives and discern patterns, changes, new opportunities which might be opening up. There is also much – often hidden – pain at this time of year, as people remember those whom they have lost, to death, to breakdown in relationships; and also recognise disappointments, dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. Look around, and all the people you know will be experiencing this potent cocktail of emotions to varying degrees. We carry joy and pain simultaneously; anger and bitterness alongside thankfulness and appreciation.

Those who follow Jesus are human too, not immune to this annual malaise, and we need to think carefully about how we deal with these feelings. The bible shows us humanity in all its variety, expressing every emotion under the sun; and in the book of Psalms particularly, we find such transparency and honesty as should give the lie to any idea of the “stiff upper lip” and brave smile being the correct Christian response to life!

We have a perfect loving Father, and a great Saviour who is also a man. We have nothing to hide from our God; no emotion which can shock or make him turn away. Indeed, I believe that it is when we refuse to recognise and name our feelings before God that they begin to rule us, and that is so dangerous.

Our feelings change like the weather – and in my part of the world, that means from minute to minute! But our God is unchanging, and as followers of Jesus, we have a relationship with him which is grounded and held in his character, his promises, his love – not our feelings. The truth about our lives is not how we feel about them, but what he says about them!

So I bring my sometimes toxic cocktail of feelings to my Father, pouring it all out as I sit close and then I listen for his voice. In the place of my sense of failure and loss, I hear the loving voice which says that I am precious, that in him I can do all he desires for me – and all that he knows is good for me. I hear his repeated forgiveness for my failures and sins, and the promise that I have a fresh start. I hear the heartbeat of his love which is the only thing that matters, and which drowns out the clamour of the world around me, to measure and value myself on the basis of my looks, my status, my talents, my connections and achievements.

As I sit there, I receive confidence and courage to go on living quietly, living for him, living without worldly acclaim and trusting that this portion is all I need. My days are brief, but in his eyes they are not wasted; my voice is small, but he always hears me; the hairs on my head are increasingly white, but his hand is still over me in loving and tender protection. I am indeed worth more than many sparrows!

My life surrendered into his hands, is lost to me, but given back to be lived for him and in that transaction, I am the winner, the prize of eternal life is mine. A soul saved, a child brought home, who can look around her beautiful and troubled world, and be at peace because she knows the one who keeps her in it. May this be your experience in the year ahead..

What’s on your Christmas list?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth….From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

(John 1.1,14&16)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgivenness of sins..

And he made known to us the mystery of his will…to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen..in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory…Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1.3-14)

At Christmas time, we remember the birth of the one who has been, and is and ever will be…and whose existence is Blessing, Goodness, for us.

Our Lord as the Word, was with God before ever we were thought of, and through him, all that we know was made. Made solely in order that we might exist, might live and discover him, and come into eternal relationship with him.

Our Lord as the incarnate Christ, abandoned the glories of the heavenly realm, and all the rights of Sonship, in order to be good for us. He is the only one who could give what we needed, could be what the law required, could be love in action for us.

Our Lord as the risen Saviour, reigns now over all the powers of evil, having defeated them for ever, and standing between his children and that grasping, destroying darkness to keep them safe until the very end.

What more could we wish for this Christmas? What more could we look for under the tree than we already have received?

Ah, the Lord and our Father know that we are but children, that we always love to unwrap new things; and that although we have received so much, we can only somehow appropriate it one day at a time!

So the prophet could write in Lamentations,“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”(Lam 3.22,23). Each day is a gift, every breath that wakes me is another opportunity to live and love and serve and enjoy the abundance of life; each person is made in the image of God and is a gift to me; each situation is experienced in my Lord’s company and he waits to see how I will enjoy it with him. Dark days are a gift too, because it is then that I see more clearly and lean more fully on my Lord’s strength and love, in my total need of him.

There are unsought gifts – those moments and experiences that surprise and delight us – chosen and prepared for us as the best gifts always are, by those who know us best. Then there are also the gifts we ask for, knowing that we will appreciate them, knowing perhaps that we need them! Our good God gives us both, every day.

So we live in happy anticipation of what surprises the day will bring from our loving Father’s hand; and also in quiet confidence, that whatever we find ourselves needing, will also be provided. We can say with the writer to the Hebrews,“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”(Heb.4.16)

Let us then celebrate with great joy the gift of God to his people, the light of the world which is life, hope, forgiveness and new-birth to us. Merry Christmas to you!