Category Archives: Warfare

The glory is always there…

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.

(2Kings 6.15-17)

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

(Ps 96.1-6)

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white…then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

(Mark 9.2-7)

The bible narratives are full of reassuringly messy stories, showing how people have got it wrong about God for hundreds of years, and how he still chooses to be faithful to his promises, to be loving and forgiving, and above all patient with the work of his hands. He has a great plan for the realisation of a new creation – unmarred by sin, and eternally glorious – where we will be unashamed in his presence and finally free to be who he means us to be.

That purpose has been God’s aim since the beginning, and over and again he has demonstrated that he is utterly capable of fulfilling it, rock-solid trustworthy and reliable in the teeth of any and every challenge. The deliverance of Noah’s family through the flood-judgement; the gift of a miracle son to Abraham and Sarah; the astonishing miracle-soaked period of the deliverance from Egypt; the establishment of his people in the land promised to them, and their (brief)flourishing under a dynasty of godly kings. God spoke through judges and prophets, showed his power in miracles and battles, raised up leaders to cleanse the people and kept the line of promise intact through every imaginable threat. Ultimately, in virgin birth and holy life, Christ came to do the crowning work of redemption, and – as the miracles testified – God-in-man walked the hills of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. God’s credentials are unimpeachable…and yet, and yet…

All through the bible, and ever since the coming of Christ, we see the pattern of human doubt and mistrust, of chronic amnesia when it comes to the power of God to do his will, and the will of God to bless. We dictate terms to God, so that unless he shows up where we want, and in the way we choose, he has forfeited our trust in him. How utterly foolish, and ultimately self-destructive this is. It is our own peace which we forfeit when we refuse to recognise the oft-revealed truth of his power and glory and unimaginable goodness.

When Jesus took three men with him up the mountain, he was aware of all that lay ahead, and knew that this experience, this unveiling of his majesty, would be part of their preparation to be the leaders and teachers of the church – able to face the darkest days because they had seen the reality of glory which lay behind the human frame. They had seen what was always true about Christ – the glory of the Father revealed in the Son – and it was on that which their faith would be founded, not their own understanding and experience. All three would desert him before his trial, frightened and cowed by the religious and political powers. But that vision of glory remained, and in the days to come it would be embedded and become the foundation of their strength and calling.

Do I doubt God’s ability to deal with circumstances which darken my life, my community, my world? I need to ask for vision to see the glory which is always there, and be reminded that he is able to do anything he chooses. If, according to his perfect will, he chooses not to do what I desire, it is not because he cannot act, but because the ultimate goal is best served in another way, and I CAN TRUST HIM though I may never understand.

Lord have mercy on my forgetful soul, that I might remember your powerful works, above all that I might remember my complete security in Christ, from whom nothing can separate me, and in whom I am assured of your love and my eternal future.

 

Advertisements

What’s my uniform?

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you for ever.

(Ps 30.1-3,11&12)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

(Eph 6.10-18)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

(Col 3.12)

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress;

midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.

(Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf: 1739-, translated by John Wesley)

The hymn which I have quoted above was sung often at the church where I grew up, and it remains a precious source of comfort and reassurance to me – in spite of the antiquity of the language – pointing as it does to the great truth of our salvation…it is nothing to do with our own efforts and merit, or failings and faults but rather all to do with Christ! I have long exulted in the picture of being clothed, as with ceremonial robes, in his beauty and glory and then proudly standing as his beloved before my Creator and God. The thankfulness of the psalmist in his deliverance from death reflects this wonderful picture and sense of being wrapped all around in something that shouts “JOY!” for all to hear and see.

Ultimately, Christ’s perfections are what all believers wear before the judgement throne – we have nothing else! But the bible also uses the language of clothes, garments and even armour, in describing our lives as believers, and it can be very helpful to apply them to our daily living and interactions with  others. Think of them as our uniform, and consider why they might be important, even necessary…

In Colossians, Paul urges his readers to put on all these beautiful qualities of love in action, reminding them of all they owe to Christ as the fount of their blessings and that they ought to love one another as Christ loved them – patiently, sacrificially, humbly and gently. This is a uniform that will help us to do our appointed task as believers well; these are the qualities which we need to seek out, and cultivate with the help of the Spirit so that increasingly we don’t even need to think about putting them on – choosing to live in this way – but do it naturally.

This uniform will also help us to recognise one another as believers; these qualities of faith and love in action are the outworking of God’s promise to refine and shape us until we become like his son. As we are increasingly transformed, so that family likeness – the ‘uniformity’ of God’s people in spite of their wonderful diversity – is to be seen in us. We can encourage one another as we see these qualities more strongly and more often, urging one another to persevere through trials and trust God to be at work in and through them to clothe us increasingly with the image of his son.

And then there is the familiar image of the armour, beloved of Sunday school teachers and for good reason – it is simple and yet powerful in conveying both the dangers we face and also the resources we possess, the job we have to do and the way we are to do it. We have protective armour, because we are in a battle – how often do we forget this, and then wonder at the state we get into because we have not noticed how the evil one has drawn us away and robbed us of our peace? We are given armour in order to resist him – to deflect and quench the piercing arrows of old guilts ; to protect our thinking so that we reason and make good, godly decisions based on truth, not on lies from the Father of lies; to stand firm at peace in the midst of turmoil and to move with confidence because we know that wherever we are called, God is with us and the victory is his. And we have his precious word, our only weapon, with which to both defend ourselves – as Christ did in the wilderness temptation – and also to play our part in working out God’s victory over evil in the world.

We have all the promises, all the truth of salvation freely offered and completely achieved. God has promised to build his church, has promised that all the powers of hell cannot prevent it, and we claim that power and truth every time we pray in Christ’s name for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done….

We have so much to wear, are so richly provided for and equipped for the life which God has given us; let us rejoice daily and gladly wear our uniform, proud to be known as His and to be part of his amazing and growing church.

Let every head bow…

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth…How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.’ Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear; Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.

(Ps 94.2,3, 8-11)

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’….there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.., And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 3.11&12, 22-24)

 

Then I saw a ‘new heaven and a new earth’, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

(Rev 21.1-4)

All over the western world, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, people will gather to remember…to remember what? Facts from history books about a conflict which is now virtually beyond living memory? Snatches of poetry, prose and music which conjure up something of the horror of that particular war? Or perhaps more recent struggles – The second World war, the Suez crisis, the Spanish civil war,the Falklands war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf war, the struggles in Northern Ireland, campaigns in Afghanistan; or perhaps those many eruptions of violence in the name of nationhood and justice which have blighted our planet beyond the immediate involvement of our nation but with equally devastating consequences – campaigns in Central and Latin America; violence and bloodshed after the partition of India and Pakistan, civil wars and decade long unrest and destruction all over the African continent; or the current agonies unfolding in Yemen, dragging on in Syria, in South Sudan, in the Congo, Chad and Nigeria…

Humanity has an appalling prediliction for taking up arms in order to settle accounts; and there is no nation which can claim to have always been on the side of justice, nor to have avoided unnecessary bloodshed and harm. Humanity is equally complicit, equally guilty of inhumanity to others. Down the years, people have claimed to have God on their side, to be fighting for truth, justice, freedom..but even if some of this might have been true, in reality, when humanity starts fighting, dreadful things are done, and as the bible puts it, all creation groans in anguish until it is to be delivered from the burden of sinfulness which it bears.

For me, Remembrance Sunday is a time to confess before God that we have all truly fallen short of his perfection; a time to stand and grieve at the price which humanity has paid and is paying for this sinfulness; and a time to worship and adore the God who has freely provided forgiveness, redemption, and the promise of eternal peace to all who will accept it.

Let us remember and weep, repenting of our own sinfulness which is part of the world’s plague, and praying urgently for the return of our Lord to wind up the sorry narrative of history, and usher in the glorious new beginnings which Revelation speaks of. Let us remember the sacrifice of Christ, for all who will accept him, and weep in joyful thankfulness that such mercy should be shown to us. Let us remember the promise, that one day, redeemed humanity will be citizens of one city, whose gates will never be shut, and into which the glory and honour of the nations will be brought – all that is good and true and beautiful in God’s people from across the globe. And with that vision, that hope, and that assurance, let us go from remembering to living; living with purpose; that purpose to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who will receive it that they might share in the future which is without war, without grief, without death…

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!

Words, words, words!

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth…Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path….I have suffered much, preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word…Your statutes are my heritage for ever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end…You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word…

Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed….Ensure your servant’s well being; let not the arrogant oppress me….Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

(Psalm 119, taken from 103-136)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

(2Tim.3.16&17)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

(Heb.4.12&13)

Do you ever consider how wonderful it is that the words contained in our scriptures – old and new testaments, dating back over thousands of years – continue to be the foundation of living faith and hope in God, for people all around the world? These words, God-breathed as we believe, and coloured with the characters and gifts of the human authors, are as potent in 2018 as they were in 500, or 1050, to transform lives and bring people on their knees before God in repentance and faith. What a wonderful message is contained within them, what incredible power is made available through them, what a marvellous privilege is ours to be able to handle and read them for ourselves!

And they are a personal word; we hear the voices of the authors with such power as they bring their distinctive gifts and situations to bear on their writing. There is no such things as a ‘standard’ book in the bible, and even within broad groupings, there is rich variety – from the eloquence of Isaiah, to the brief and potent message of Micah; from the personal narratives of Ruth and Esther, to the detailed histories of Chronicles and Kings. The psalms themselves contain every human emotion, brought and laid bare before the throne of mercy, the only safe place for us to unveil our deepest thoughts and the only place to unburden ourselves of all desire for revenge, all our depths of despair, all the unfulfilled longings of our hearts..What a great treasure trove; surely as Paul wrote to Timothy, with this we can be fully equipped for the work and walk to which God has called us.

Our God is not constrained by culture, race or historical era, and his words are as powerful now in China and Chile as they were in ancient Colossae, or Corinth. Disciples today are learning from the suffering of Job and the lamentations of Jeremiah on the judgement of his people, just as the early church did when they faced persecution and death.

It is this fact, the “living” quality of God’s word to us, which lies behind the continuing drive to translate the scriptures into languages which may not even yet have their own alphabet, let alone books. It is this which allows missionaries to preach Christ with confidence in every nation, tribe and tongue, trusting scripture to speak as powerfully to new converts in 21st century Chad or Myanmar as it did in Philippi and Rome.

Let us praise God for his infinite wisdom and power in the gift of his word; let us rejoice in all the ways in which we have and continue to benefit from it – not taking the freedom to own, read and share the word for granted! May the example of the author of Psalm 119 inspire us to praise and celebrate the glory of God as revealed in his word. It is surely the foundation for our witness, our wisdom and our worship; it is sweeter than honey to our lips, and more precious than gold; light to our path and joy to our hearts. Let us, with the psalmist, treasure it and seek ever more faithfully to live by it.

A sacrifice…and a responsibility

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one knows but himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God….out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ” He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS

(Revelation 19. 11-16)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

(John 15.13)

Every year, it seems to me that the number and scale of events of remembrance grows, and I wonder why it is that although we are apparently more attentive to the sacrifice of so many on behalf of peace – and particularly on behalf of the freedom which was preserved for us from oppressive regimes – yet still the world teeters on the verge of war. Nations posture, leaders make grand statements, and we shiver in horrified anticipation of fresh conflict.

The brutal reality is that war really cannot change people, cannot make them peaceful. Centuries of conflicts have left humanity still unable to resolve difference in a generous and peaceful way. I do not in any way want to dismiss or diminish the sacrifices made by so many, and indeed find remembrance a very moving time, when I am deeply thankful to those who fought and fight on, that I and so many others might have freedom. But we have to face the truth..humanity is aggressive, selfish and unable to live at peace. It seems that the responsibilities we have to those who have paid such a high price – to find ways to compromise that all might thrive together – are somehow beyond us. We must make the effort, of course…but somehow I fear that it will never be entirely successful.

In the bible narrative, we find another story of a sacrifice, of a life laid down for the sake of others, that they might have peace. The life of God himself, in his beloved son, was given up on the cross, so that hostilities might cease, and humanity might live not just in the absence of conflict with God, but in a wholesome, healthy and flourishing peace. I believe that it is through this sacrifice alone that peace will ultimately rule in our world – as the hearts of individuals are surrendered to and transformed by this sacrificial love.

So what makes the difference? A life is given up, for my sake, and I am called to live as one who no longer belongs to herself, but to the one who has paid the blood price which I owed to my just and perfect judge. I am not my own, and in love to the one who saved me, I respond with obedience and a continually growing desire to become like him. And, praise God for his great mercy and kindness to us, the power to change is from him, not from me. It is by his spirit, now dwelling in me, his heart now beating in mine, that the transformation is effected. This is what makes the difference – God has made my heart his home, and is making me new. Without this power within me, I could achieve only a barren and desperate adherence to rules, and – like humanity today – my desire to be worthy of the sacrifices made on my behalf would continually be undermined and betrayed by my human fallibility.

I will continue to pray for the cessation of war and all conflicts; I will pray for those who have paid a terrible price and lost limbs, sanity and hope as a result of the conflicts they have survived; I will pray for politicians and policy makers to pursue peace. But I will also pray and work and witness for the discovery by all peoples, of the true peace which has been purchased for all his children by our good and gracious God. This is my responsibility, and the very least that I owe to the one who sacrificed everything for me, my Lord Jesus Christ.

 

One Church, One Faith, One Lord!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-4)

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

(John 17.20,21&23)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

(Psalm 133.1)

It is a very sad reflection on the chronic brokenness of human hearts that down through the ages, the church of God has been marred by ferocious divisions and internal strife. The pride and stubbornness which marked our race from Eden have fractured the body of Christ again and again down the centuries, and we read the prayer of Jesus on the night he was betrayed (John 17, quoted above), with heavy hearts, recognising what a miracle such unity would be!

No physical body experiencing the breakdown in unity which has characterised the church could have survived, it would have died long ago. The miracle is that God has sustained his church thus far, in spite of all the quarrels and battle-lines, so that although divided, she continues to grow and to bear witness, and by his grace to minister to a world in desperate need of salvation. Praise him for his power, and his patience with us!

We may not be in a position as individuals to change this situation, but we are called to pursue unity wherever we can – by modelling ourselves on Christ in his humility and servant-heart, seeking the good of others, not putting ourselves first nor insisting on our own rights. Although we may – for whatever reason – belong to a different branch of the church from our neighbour, there is no excuse for failing in love towards them, or avoiding active service alongside them for the gospel.

Paul reminds us in Philippians that we are one in Christ, and that we share fellowship by the one Holy Spirit. From that starting point, we can have the same purpose and labour together, to reach our communities with the good news of Christ, so that people may be gathered into the kingdom of God for eternity, and begin to live the values of that kingdom here and now. Indeed, such united effort is itself a witness to the love of God, and draws people out of the darkness to the light of the gospel which has caused such transformation.

Our unity in wielding the weapons of faith against the spiritual forces which keep our communities from turning to Christ encourages us in the fight, and strengthens our hope and confidence in God. Like well-trained soldiers, we know that there is safety in numbers, and that together we are so much stronger and less vulnerable to attack when there are comrades at our back!

The challenge is to be willing to labour with others, to see fruit in another field, and to be content since all the growth is to the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom. It is a human weakness to want to get all the benefit of our labours in our own particular church family – but does it really matter, in the light of eternity and of the great extent of God’s amazing plans for his church? Is it not sufficient that souls are saved, discipled and grow to mature faith somewhere?

May I be willing to work faithfully alongside believers from every part of the body of Christ, to accept that differences are not necessarily barriers, and that God is so much greater than our artificial denominational boundaries. May I accept that true growth anywhere is to the glory of God and the praise of Jesus Christ, and rejoice in it without envy or resentment even if my own church is not blessed at this time.