Category Archives: the life of faith

Just a bit..desperate, Lord!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

(Jn 15.5,7&8)

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Ps 2.1-3)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

(Gal 5.22&23)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.

(Eph 3.16-19)

Bare twigs, dead leaves, no sign of life or fruitfulness.

Barren life, bitter thoughts, wasted hopes and faded dreams, no signs of life or fruitfulness.

A spirit warped by self-centredness that cannot break free; a mind that is enslaved by its own small troubles and incapable of really embracing anything else.

Telling stories of my life that are full of darkness, pain, failure and inadequacy; as though my eyes are bound in dark and distorting spectacles so that I can see no other way. Weighted down by the shame of bringing burdens not blessings to those closest to me, of being so hard to live with and so little joy to be around. Above all, and underpinning it all, the utter awareness of failure to bear witness to the transforming power of the Christ whom I profess to be Lord of my life.

If I were truly rooted in Christ, his words living in me, dependent upon him hourly and daily for my life as the branch depends upon the vine….would I then be in this condition? Is it not a reproach to call myself a follower of Jesus and live with such a negative spirit? Where is the fruit? Where the joy, peace and patience? Where the love which boldly and tenderly speaks truth for the sake of the beloved, willing to suffer that they might thrive? Where the self-control that drives me to do the hard things – instead of the fear-driven withdrawal which allows wrong to continue for the sake of avoiding conflict?

Forgive my sins Lord – above all the sin of unbelief, which allows me to get stuck in my own small despair. Forgive me for living as though I alone were beyond your saving power! Take my distorted vision, and correct it by the lens of the gospel, so that instead of the negatives, I see the great positives of your love, mercy and grace – see you at work even in me, to bless others.

Let me believe that you are still at work, in me, that I am not a dead branch, withered and fit only to be flung away. Let me see buds which are your promises of life, of hope, of fruit that may yet be.

O Lord, make it real in me; this life of abiding in you, make it true and vivid and constant. I don’t know what to do, how to change so that your word takes root, transforming my thoughts and my attitudes. But I know that you are my only hope for the days that remain to me in this world – and for the sake of those who have to live with me, as well as for your glory, I pray you will bring new life to this branch, that I might yet bear fruit for you…

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Here..and yet not here

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will grant peace in the land…I will look on you with favour….I will put my dwelling-place among you, and …I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

(Lev 26.3,6,9,11&12)

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

(1Kings 8.27)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him…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..

(Jn 1.10&14)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me….And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18&20)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Rev 21.1-5)

No one can measure how long – in human years – the separation has lasted; how long the divine heart has yearned over the gulf which divides the creatures from their loving creator. But all down through history, the ache echoes through our cultures and our own hearts. There is truly an emptiness, which nothing can fill but the knowledge that we are at home with God.

All the strategies of humanity to banish God from their thinking are just so much posturing in the face of a brutal truth – because nothing and no one else can actually address the brokenness of our race, can truly bring healing, forgiveness, and hope. And those things are the products of a right relationship with God, of Eden restored, so that we walk with him in the cool of the day and have nothing to hide.

From the earliest times of God’s dealings with his people, there was an emphasis on a dwelling place, a promise of intimacy and permanence, embodied for a time in the temple. There was always a distance, a continued separation because no amount of animal sacrifice or ritual observation could permit the sinful people to enter boldly into the presence of an awesome and terrifyingly holy God. But the physical forms and festivals demonstrated God’s commitment to his own, to their welfare and his covenant promises.

And then, in Jesus, we find the first fulfillment of the promise that God will dwell with his people – are we so used to the phrase that we fail to recognise its power? It is a mystery beyond our comprehension, cause for exultant worship and silent adoration. While the world was yet flawed and polluted by sin; while humanity was yet bound in darkness; holiness took on flesh and blood, accepted the indignities of birth and childhood, and dwelt among his people, that they might know him..

Now we await his triumphant second coming, longing for the fullest fulfillment of the old promise, that God will dwell with us and there shall be nothing to separate us – because of the work of Jesus, the God-made-man, in dealing with our bondage and releasing us from the power of sin and death.

He is with us now, by his spirit; and yet how we desire that closer walk, that stronger experience of his presence, his voice, his love, which awaits us on the day when all things shall be made new..We celebrate the gift of God himself to us at Christmas time, and we long for more of him. That is not ungrateful in us, but right and proper, because we are made to enjoy more, made to dwell with him in eternal joy and unimaginable beauty and delight. Let us then be glad for the heavenly homesickness which keeps us looking forward, eager for the completion of Christ’s work and our final homecoming to our Father.

O Come, Thou key of David come, and open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

(12th cent, translated by JM Neale 1818-66)

Bland, boring and inoffensive…

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place 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 43.3-5)

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

(Matt 5.13)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

(Rev 3.14-16)

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(From: the Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity)

I am not by nature one of life’s optimists; not an entertainer, or source of endless jokes and funny anecdotes. Life to me seems a very earnest business, and while I love to laugh and be with people who are positive and funny, it would be wrong for me to aspire to be like them. I am, to put it very poetically, one of the darker shades in life’s tapestry!

Given that temperamental foundation, what does my Lord ask of me, as his witness and a channel of his love and messenger of the gospel to my community? I am to be as salt – that which brings savour, has a strong taste and cannot be ignored. I am to be noticeable, one whose life and message provoke thoughtful response. I am to be fruitful in works which glorify God, and bless others. He does not ask for a change in temperament, but he does look for a passionate, committed life, one which at every level reflects my dependence upon and delight in him; a life which speaks clearly of a close and loving relationship with the Lord Jesus.

I don’t know how my community would judge me on these things at present; but I fear that I am far more like the lukewarm, bland and nauseating church at Laodicea, who were condemned in such strong language by the faithful and true witness of Revelation. I am ashamed of my lack of passion, of the way in which I seem so often to fail in witnessing to the transforming and life-sustaining power of Christ.

Is this because I have never known it truly for myself? Surely, once a believer has come into that relationship with Christ they are for ever after going to be on fire for him? Actually, I believe that our lives as believers do ebb and flow, and that while we cannot but be ashamed of the times when we feel so utterly lacking in passion, yet we dare not condemn ourselves. The devil would love nothing more than to see saints write themselves off as a result of feelings; when the reality of our salvation and our hope is not our feelings about them, but the truth of God’s power and promises.

So in my shame and coldness of heart, I cling to and echo the prayer of the psalmist, begging that God will send his light and his truth in power, to guide me – by that truth which cannot change – back to his sanctuary, to the place of intimate fellowship with him; the place where I am filled with joy and passion again in praising him. And I echo the old words of the prayer book, asking God to stir up my soul, by his Spirit to reawaken my desire for him. It is his work, and he alone can accomplish it. I want to be so full of the beauty and wonder of the gospel that it spills out continually in all my conversations; I want to be so attuned to the Spirit within me that I can discern where God is working in other people’s lives and so align myself with that work; I long to be part of seeing his kingdom grow in this place…

Even the darkest shades in a tapestry have depths of colour and make a significant contribution to the beauty of the picture; let me be content to be a dark shade, but Lord, fill me with the intensity of colour and depth of passion that comes from a growing understanding of the wonder of your love for me.

Making marks in eternity..

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

(Ps 33.20-22)

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….

(Eph 5.10-13)

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet 1. 6&7)

It is easy to forget that our lives as followers of Jesus are acted out before a great audience of spiritual beings, and yet the bible makes it plain that this is the case – think of Job, and of how God calls Satan to witness the faithfulness and true quality of that much tried saint. Paul also, in writing to the believers in Ephesus, points out that they operate in spiritual realms, not just the physical; so that their enemies while appearing in human form, or in the guise of the troubles of the world, are actually spiritual.

This invisible reality is enormously relevant for our attitudes to our daily lives, so often seemingly mundane, with petty troubles, and common challenges to overcome, and nothing very significant going on. The truth is that every day brings us fresh opportunities to make choices which will glorify our God, causing the angels to rejoice in the power of Christ in a person’s life to transform them completely. We may not see or hear the joy, but that doesn’t mean that it is less real!

As we grow in faith and understanding, our lives will come to reflect the pattern of Christ-likeness which is God’s ideal for his children, but we will also increasingly be out of step with the spiritual tone of the world, which is still so much in thrall to evil. Our growth in faith may not even be evident to us, as we feel increasingly that we are struggling with many trials arising from our choices and our beliefs. In reality, the spiritual reality which we do not see, that very consciousness of struggle is a sure sign of growing faith – if we did not so ardently long for holiness, we would not react so strongly against all those things which would drag us down. It is therefore possible for a faithful saint to look back over many years of following Jesus, and fear that they have made little progress, when in reality, their continuing struggles to choose purity, honesty, faithfulness and integrity are a sign that they have never been closer to him. It is the very precious reality of our faith which makes the fight against sin most bitter and prolonged.

Since this is true, we can encourage one another with the fact that every time we make a decision for Christ in the midst of the trial – choosing to think, speak and act according to his pattern – we are making our own mark in eternity, our own contribution to the great structure of worship and praise to the Saviour which is the work of the church. It is indeed all by his grace and indwelling spirit that we are able to do these things, and so all the glory goes to him when his followers prove his strength and faithfulness.

Although we may feel that our trials are secret, ashamed that we continue to face the same troubles over and over, yet we may rejoice that in the eternal story, our part is valued, and our own small experiences of his enabling will be significant. It is all worthwhile, nothing is wasted! All will be to our blessing, and to his glory: Amen, so let it be!

to honour by trusting..

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

(Ps 25.1&15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing hide and seek…

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden…

(Gen 3.8)

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night you hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding-place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

(Psalm 32.6&7)

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, may stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

(Psalm 18.1-3)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.

(Psalm 27.4&5)

The narrative of the bible is clear that the effect of sin from the very beginning was to cut humanity off from the one who loved them, and created them to share life with him. And it was their shame, and consciousness of having done wrong which drove Adam and Eve to hide from God when he came seeking them.

As a follower of Jesus, one who has admitted her need of a saviour, and who claims to be forgiven by God because of the sacrifice made for me on the cross, I know in my head that I no longer need to hide from God. The whole point of my Lord’s death and resurrection was to re-open the way for me – and every other sinner who accepts the offered grace – into the welcoming arms of my heavenly Father. I am free from guilt, sin no longer has power over me, and the devil himself cannot pluck me out of God’s hand.

But it is clear from the words of the psalmists, and of the apostles themselves, that as believers we are vulnerable and forgetful, and so often try to tackle the enemy of our souls in our own strength. We act as though we had to deal with sin before we can come before God again – we hide away from him, ashamed of what we have done, thought, or failed to do; we allow sin to become a barrier again between ourselves and the freedom and peace which are our inheritance and birthright in Christ.

Forgive us Lord,  for our short-sightedness, and misplaced confidence. We needed a saviour in the first place because we do not have the power to defeat the enemy who wages this war Рagainst you, in our lives. We needed a saviour to destroy that power for ever, and he did it, on Calvary! But we still need that saving power, every day, to fight and win the battles in our lives over and over again. We will NEVER in our own strength, be big enough to defeat evil in all the devious and persistent ways which it tries to draw us away from Christ.

So instead of hiding from God as we struggle with persistent and secret sins, with all those things of which we are so ashamed, we need to run to him, and hide in him! It is only from the safe stronghold of his arms that we can look upon evil and have confidence; only in the name of Christ that we can claim the victory; and only in the blood of Christ that we receive forgiveness for our ongoing failures, setting us free to persevere and even to hold up our heads with pride in the one who has loved and chosen us.

Who is on the Lord’s side? I am! By his grace I will remain here; by his strength secured from harm. He fights for me, let me cling ever more closely to him and cry ever more readily for help, so that I may rejoice ever more in the deliverance which he delights to give.

Bible colouring exercises..?!

You must go on steadily in those things that you have learned and which you know are true. Remember from what sort of people your knowledge has come, and how from early childhood your mind has been familiar with the holy scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work.

(2 Tim 3.14-17: JB Phillips, the New Testament in Modern English)

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ¬†to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness….Teach the older men…teach the older women..so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men…set them an example..so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us…Teach slaves…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

(Titus 1.1; from 2.1-10, 2.11-14)

I am part of a group of women in my community who meet together to study the bible regularly. We use DVD’s, books, and occasionally an approach which I find hugely enjoyable, called Inductive Bible Study. It requires us to print out the bible passage with plenty of space on the page to scribble on, get hold of coloured pencils and start… there are a few key questions, but no study guide and no formulaic answers.

What is so good about this technique is the way it builds confidence in the follower of Jesus, confidence in their own capacity to hear God speaking through his word without a preacher explaining it to them! I love to listen to sermons, it is my favourite way of learning about the bible and receiving the word. BUT I also know that I need to be able to read and learn from the scriptures on my own and in a small group, so this technique for bible study is very encouraging.

Perhaps you can guess from the texts quoted above that our study recently was the book of Titus – all three chapters in one session. It was fantastic fun! We traced the key ideas which cropped up all through the book, and all of a sudden, something which we had initially read rather mechanically, became enthralling and relevant to us here and now. If you are not familiar with Titus, and assume that since Paul wrote it, there must be some difficult arguments and hard concepts in it, please think again! The book is a delightful exposition of what it looks like to grow in the ‘knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness‘, basically a handbook of practical christian holiness.

In Titus, we are reminded over and over that God is trustworthy, his word is true and comes to us through the scriptures and the preaching and teaching of that word. In our culture where everything is relative and the devil would have us believe that there is no such thing as truth, how we need to remember and affirm the truth about Jesus, about God, holiness and judgement. We are warned to be on guard against those within the church as well as in our culture, whose beliefs and actions are deceitful and self-promoting. And we are reminded that our growth in godliness, in purity and the lovely qualities of Christ-likeness to which we aspire, should speak as loudly as our words in showing Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation to those around us.

What a challenge Titus gives us: is my life self-controlled, upright and godly? Am I reverent, eager to do what is good, not a gossip or a glutton? Am I encouraging others to grow in their faith, and waiting in confident hope for the glory to come? None of these things are a means of earning the salvation which God’s grace gives; rather they are all manifestations of my response to that free gift.

May God stir up within me a spirit of thankfulness, dependence and eagerness to grow in godliness, so that I too might ‘make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’.