Category Archives: witness

Making good investments..

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.  I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it…. I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

(Ps 101 1-4)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.. rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.1-3,8-10,12-14)

As those who have put their faith in Jesus for salvation, and the hope of eternal life, we are now citizens of a new kingdom – the kingdom of Christ – and our loyalty is to a higher throne than any this world has known. We also belong to a people whose morality is radically other than those around us – it is grounded in the nature of God and as those who now live under his rule, we seek to honour his kingship by the way that we live.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul explores for his readers just what it should look like for believers to live as citizens of God’s kingdom in a fallen world. The crucial thing is to remember that our behaviour is not modified in order to earn our salvation, but rather the fact of Christ’s sacrificial death and the power of his forgiveness motivate us to love him so much that we long to emulate and model ourselves on him. As the note in my bible commentary says: “you are…. now be!” In other words, live as though you really are God’s beloved, redeemed and holy children, those who delight to be holy as He is holy, and to love as He loves.

This week, I just want us to notice that nowhere in Paul’s words does he refer to how we might feel on any given day, or how hard it might be to pursue godliness in any given circumstances. In the same way as the psalmist pledges his commitment to daily choices to pursue holiness, so also Paul expects us as believers to commit to pursuing lives which express the character of Christ who now lives in us and whose power is at work to shape us in that way. This is a matter of developing habits which will shape our thinking and behaviour in such a permanent way that when a crisis hits, we react in godly ways quite instinctively. Does my love for Jesus motivate this kind of commitment? Am I deliberately choosing to cherish those virtues which reflect him, or am I lazily drifting along and assuming that God will sort me out in the end?

The reality is that unless we are actively pursuing habits of virtue, and deliberately rejecting or avoiding habits of vice, then we will inevitably drift toward the latter. Our fallen nature, the world around us, and the devil who seeks our injury will all conspire to entice and entrap us by our own undisciplined natures.

O God, who in Christ saved us from our sins, and by the Holy spirit lives in us day to day: have mercy on our frailty and strengthen us in godliness, that we might worthily present you to the world around us. As we consider Christ in all his glory, and the work of salvation in all its indescribable love and generosity, may our hearts and minds be ever more committed to rejecting all ungodliness, and to embracing and cherishing all those things which reflect his goodness. 

To daily choose virtue, and to reject vice; to depend on your power at work in us to strengthen every feeble effort; to rejoice that we need not earn our salvation but rest in Christ’s finished work: O God, hear our prayer, in his name, Amen.

When the fight is worth it..

It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised :”If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.” Paul and Barnabus were on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem…

The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: “Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it – and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth. And God….. gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us… So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and us too? Don’t we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation. So what are we arguing about?”

(Acts 15.1-2,6-11; Message translation)

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you… The moment any of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered… When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace.

(Gal 5.1-4; Message translation)

Recent bible studies with our church in the book of Acts have brought us to this remarkable chapter at the heart of the story… The story of a massive, stand-up fight! We often associate the early church with generosity, lives being transformed and a general air of rejoicing and good will. So where does this battle fit in?

I want to consider today how some fights are not only inevitable, but necessary, and that as believers we need to be aware of this – ready to fight as Jesus’ disciples fought, for truth, for the good news about salvation by faith.

The church in Antioch, where the story begins, is the first non- Jewish or Gentile congregation to be established – ever. It was hugely significant in the onward spread of the good news across the known world, and must have been an exciting and sometimes chaotic place to be, with so many cultures coming together in faith. Into this heady environment of new life, hope and possibility, came a group of devout Jewish-believers who had come to faith in Jesus from their Jewish roots and out of a lifetime observing the laws of Moses.

This group asserted that the Gentiles couldn’t really be saved until they adopted Jewish practices – in other words, they argued that salvation came via the observance of circumcision and Mosaic law, in addition to faith in Jesus. Perhaps you can see why this argument was so very dangerous, and why Paul(himself an incredibly devout Jew) and Barnabus reacted with such vigour and concern. Such an argument implied that salvation was not by God’s grace alone, but that human actions – in this case law/ritual observance – were also necessary.

It was crucial to the ongoing spread of the gospel to Gentile populations that this false teaching be dealt with immediately and forever. If salvation is not God’s free gift, then grace is not grace, and we are still bound to sin and hopelessness!

I am profoundly thankful that Paul and Barnabus saw the danger, and with the support of the Antioch church, headed for Jerusalem to get it sorted out at once. Their willingness to confront wrong teaching – and the respect and gentleness with which the church leaders eventually responded – is an example to us of how we should behave when confronted with plausible but dangerously false teaching. Anything that detracts from God’s grace in Jesus, anything that suggests it is by my own effort/observance/tradition, that I earn the right to salvation is to be rejected with steady determination.

After this great debate – with all the discomfort and tension that such occasions produce – the message of the gospel could go forth with greater clarity, and the whole body of believers now knew that the observance of Mosaic law and ritual was unnecessary for Gentile believers. It was this event which ensured that the message which spread continued to carry the full power of God’s offer of forgiveness, salvation and transformation in Jesus.

Almighty God, we praise you today for those who were willing to be unpopular, to upset established systems and to challenge the influential parties. Thank you that through this great confrontation, you brought new clarity and commitment to the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus. Thank you that this same grace, undeserved goodness to us, continues to be made available to all and any who will today receive it and confess Jesus as their Lord. Give us courage to proclaim that message, and also to defend it against wrong and dangerous teaching. Be glorified through your church we pray O Lord, Amen.  

Measuring ministry…

He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.” But I said, “I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due to me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” And now the Lord says – he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength – he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

(Isa 49.5&6)

Jesus called [the disciples] together and said,”.. whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matt 20.25-28)

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death..

(Phil 2.5-8)

Followers of Jesus, people of the Way, called to a life, not merely an intellectual creed or habitual observances. My faith, unless it be manifest in works – in ministry and a godly life – is dead. But do you find it difficult to discern sometimes what your ministry is? It may not involved anything explicitly evangelistic, no teaching and training of disciples over text books and bible commentaries. You may not be the one who leads children’s work or speaks boldly at every mission prayer meeting… that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a ministry, a role to which God has called you and for which you are given strength, insight and perseverance each day. In fact, there may be several things going on at once!

The work of child-rearing; of house-keeping; of integrity and compassion brought to the daily tasks of your employment; of volunteering  among your community; of caring for elderly relatives and neighbours; of cleaning up toilets and washing dishes; of doing DIY and gardening chores for others; of praying in private, again and again and again for the lost sheep of the Great Shepherd. All of these are ministries, and there will be so many more, reflecting the gifts, situations and opportunities of God’s children around the world. Let us pray for one another, and encourage one another in these less visible ministries, where our service for the Lord is not under a spotlight, but is nonetheless our opportunity to delight in copying Jesus’ servant heart and humility.

In our human frailty, we long to be rewarded, praised and recognised for our contributions, and to see fruit for our labours. I think our Father knows this, and therefore he also understands when our particular ministries don’t seem to bear fruit and we are tempted to be discouraged. We can pray for one another here too – let’s be honest about our discouragements, in order that we may serve one another faithfully by restoring our focus on Jesus. We are called to serve, but we are not promised an experience of the outcome of our service. We may never see fruit for our labours – does that mean they are worthless?

By no means (as Paul would say!). As the passage from Isaiah says, our reward is surely in the Lord’s hand – to be kept for us until his good time. He decides what fruit will come, and whether we should see it or not. Perhaps it is better for us – sparing us the danger of pride and self-conceit – to be delivered from success in the world’s eyes. Perhaps we couldn’t cope with the potential shipwreck of our faith on the admiration and praise of other people!

Loving Heavenly Father, thank you that in Jesus we have a perfect example of life and ministry to follow. Help us to sacrifice our pride, our desire for human praise, even our natural hunger for fruit for our labours, at the feet of Jesus. It is our privilege to serve in his name, to love in his strength, and to seek his glory. When others see fruit, receive praise and even perhaps take credit for our labour, let us humbly rejoice that you are over all, and that you have a greater reward than we can possibly imagine awaiting us in glory. Make us content with whatever you choose to give, or withhold, so long as you fulfil your purpose in us. For Jesus’s sake, and his glory we pray, Amen.

Going deeper..

The heavens tell God’s glory, and his handiwork sky declares.

Day to day breathes utterance and night to night pronounces knowledge.

There is no utterance and there are no words, their voice is never heard. Through all the earth their voice goes out, to the world’s edge, their words.

For the sun He set up a tent in them – and he like a groom from his canopy comes, exults like a warrior running his course. From the ends of the heavens his going out and his circuit to their ends, and nothing can hide from his heat.

The Lord’s teaching is perfect, restoring to life. The Lord’s pact is steadfast, it makes the fool wise. The Lord’s precepts are upright, delighting the heart. The Lord’s command unblemished, giving light to the eyes. The Lord’s fear is pure, outlasting all time. The Lord’s judgements are truth, all of them just.

More desired than gold, than abundant fine gold, and sweeter than honey, quintessence of bees. Your servant, too, takes care with them. In keeping them – great reward. Unwitting sins who can grasp? Of unknown actions clear me. From wilful men preserve Your servant, let them not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and clear of great crime.

Let my mouth’s utterances be pleasing and my heart’s stirring before You, Lord, my rock and redeemer.

(Psalm 19, R.Alter trans. 2007)

I am learning to read the bible… which may sound a ridiculous thing for a middle-aged woman to say, one who grew up in churches with outstanding preaching and teaching every week.

But, it is true. I learnt so much and am forever grateful to those who fed me so richly, and inspired me to persevere in faith – my debt to them is incalculable. Nevertheless, I am only now learning to read for myself, to listen to my own thoughts, to trust that as I seek and study, God will teach me; and as I learn in community with others, we can discern truth even though there is no written booklet or ‘qualified’ teacher present!

A few months ago, a group of local women began meeting together weekly, reading from the book of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, and using resources like their bible commentaries and cross-referencing systems to begin exploring the connections, themes and lessons contained in that book. Much to our own delighted surprise, we not only found enough to talk about each week, but we were continually stimulated to think deeply, to learn from one another’s traditions and approaches, to refresh our understanding and to even change our ideas! The freedom to dig into the word, to wrestle with its obscurities, to juggle the paradoxes and revere the mysteries was intoxicating. We proceeded to study Philippians, are now in Ruth, and next plan to tackle Isaiah – which is not a small book!

As we read in community, we trust God to guide us, we pray for the Spirit to lead us, and we pray for humility to listen to each voice. We have had some entertaining pursuits of red herrings, followed some devious rabbit holes and stumbled upon impenetrable mysteries. We have grown in love for one another, and more significantly, in confidence in God’s word to us and for us in 2022.

There will always be so much more to learn, but rather than letting that make us feel overwhelmed, we choose to praise God for the inexhaustible riches of his word, and for the many resources which are available to us now to support our learning together. I can testify that my delight in meditating – or struggling! – with the bible is so much deeper, more satisfying, than ever, and would hope that this makes me more responsive to God’s leading and transforming work in my life… that is for others to say.

Don’t give up reading, thinking, exploring the riches of God’s word to us. Find a community where the word is honoured, and where people will honestly face it with their doubts, willing to learn and to grow. We will never reach the end of God’s revelation, but we can choose whether to drift along on the surface, malnourished and vulnerable, or to take every opportunity to make truth our own, to stretch our minds and strengthen our confidence in the word. It is for each one of us!

May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Finding my voice…telling his truth

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

to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures for ever..

to him who led his people through the desert, His love endures for ever…

and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures for ever…

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever….

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever…

Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures for ever.

(Ps 136.1,4,16,21,23&24,26)

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.

(Jos 23.14)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Rom 1.16&17)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2 Cor 1.20-22)

We were challenged at bible study recently to consider how we might answer someone who asked, ‘What have you gained since coming to know Jesus Christ?’

I didn’t find it easy to answer, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. The first one, and perhaps the most significant, is that I have been a follower of Jesus virtually all my life, having grown up in a genuine Christian home, and made a commitment early in my teens. I simply have no ‘before-and after’ experiences by which to assess the difference which knowing Jesus as Lord has made. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to try and live without him. 

Another reason is that I think as Christians, we are so determined not to get full of ourselves, but to remain aware of what Jesus did for us on the Cross – as sinners, we had to be died for – that we struggle to articulate benefits of faith beyond forgiveneness! Of course, that is important, but if we are trying to witness to our faith to people who barely believe in sin, then forgiveness isn’t an easy thing to start with.

As we go on in our lives as Jesus followers, we often find ourselves becoming ever more aware of residual sins, pet habits which we cherish, or weaknesses which we abhor but cannot overcome yet. These things rightly loom large, because they show us how we still grieve the Lord whom we love and truly desire to honour. But in witnessing to non-believers, is this a place to start? How many of those around you will be impressed with your faith if it appears to drive you to continually bemoan and wrestle with faults which they regard as ‘natural’ and unimportant, and certainly not worth making life a misery over!

I want to be able to say, with Paul, that I am not ashamed of the gospel and yet I know that all too often I don’t take opportunities to boast about my Lord. I am praying – and would encourage you to pray too – that He will prompt us to see more clearly all the good things which we have as believers, things which our world badly needs and desires, so that we might make others want to come and find out more about Jesus.

Heavenly Father, I want to thank and praise you for all the many good things which I have because I am your child. I have significance, and an identity which cannot be taken from me – I am your beloved daughter, a royal princess, and priest in your name. I have a purpose, and the ability to fulfil that purpose, because you will enable me to do the job which is appointed to me in being part of building your kingdom – whether like Tabitha it is small, quiet acts of kindness, or like Peter in teaching and leading your people. I have a security which nothing in life or all creation can take from me, which allows me to face life with peace, and to give it up with anticipation.

Let my words as well as my deeds speak of your goodness, power and love, so that others may see and hunger after Christ, and in finding him, may find life, Amen.

 

A position to live up to..

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, an how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’..”

(Ex 19.3-6)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Pet 2.9&10)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…

(Eph 1.18-20)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press onwards to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus….Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

(Phil 3.10, 12-14,16)

..and what have we already attained, what do you and I have to live up to? My friends, take thought for who God has made you today, now, through faith in Jesus Christ. We are those to whom Peter writes as the chosen people of God; those who have received mercy and are now a royal family with a mission to show God’s love and character to all nations.

Hold up your head, you bear a crown and a royal name. No one can take that from you, ever. No one can cut you off from the King of Kings, your elder brother, or from God on high, your heavenly, holy, and eternal Father.

Hold up your hands, you lift on high the glory of a risen Saviour, a perfect and complete Redemption and victory over sin and death. You can never praise him too highly, or too much. Your calling and privilege as his priest is to make him known in all you do.

Hold up your courage, you are indwelt by that same power by which Christ was raised from the dead; that same power which God now exerts for you, at work in and through all your circumstances to bring you to his side in glory and to fulfill all his good purposes for you.

Your daily life is God’s daily invitation to live in the full power and glory of who you now are, by faith in Christ. Your duties and responsibilities, your leisure and your service, are equally part of what delights him when it is offered up in praise and thanksgiving. Nothing is left out or unwanted, nothing is too small or insignificant to be valued by our God, when we direct our minds daily to live for his pleasure.

Past failures and regrets; past triumphs and achievements – all are equally put behind us each day as we come to the Lord and offer up all we have – the day before us and the breath in our bodies today. Sins are forgiven and cannot hold us back, victories are to be thankful for and to fuel faith for the future.

Father God, enlighten my heart to grasp the hope which is mine in Christ; the wealth which I inherit together with your people; and your incomparably great power at work in and for me. You are transforming me so that one day I will come home to new life with you in the new creation – sinless, painless, deathless. For the glory of Jesus my Lord, keep me pressing forward and living up to all that he has done for me. Amen

Dust and ashes..

God, my God, for You I search. My throat thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You in a land waste and parched, with no water…. Yes, I recalled You on my couch. In the night-watches I dwelled upon You. For You were a help to me, and in Your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song. My being clings to You, for your right hand has sustained me.

(Ps 63.1,7-9. translation by R Alter)

Jesus said to them, “…He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding out the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(Jn 8.44)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…. 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. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Pet 2.9; 5.6-9)

“How are you?”

Do you ever dread that question? I don’t like to tell lies, and sometimes, the honest answer to that question is not one which I think my listener really wants to hear, so I end up fudging it, answering with a question of my own.. anything to turn the focus away from my own unsatisfactory condition!

As one who has been following Jesus all her adult life, and been blessed to be in loving and nurturing church fellowships all that time, I have so much to give thanks for, and so many reasons to trust God and be zealous in sharing the good news, encouraging others, and generally engaging in gospel labour. However, as a human being I am also as vulnerable to emotional disturbances, hormonal upsets, physical ailments and stressful life-events as you are. These things colour my days, as I am sure they do yours. At the moment, for whatever reasons, there is little zest for faithful living and obedient, expectant labouring for Christ. All my allotted tasks are like so much dust and ashes – dry, unappealing and lifeless.

I say this not to evoke pity, or to brag about my ‘sufferings’. There is nothing uniquely painful about my state, and I am not proud of it. But I do believe that as christians we must not pretend to be other than we are – never with God, and preferably also not with each other.

When the accuser of God’s children is at work to obstruct the divine purpose, then discouraging those children is an obvious and devastatingly effective means of doing it. If the evil one can persuade us that our labours are in vain and that we might as well stop trying, then we become useless to the Lord and a danger to our fellow believers. Our christian family is weakened by our arid and inert condition – in exactly the same way that a human body is weakened when any part fails to partake of the life-giving flow of blood and oxygen.

I thank God for the painfully acquired wisdom of years which has helped me to recognise that my perception is not a true one – that the father of lies is at work to distort my understanding and paralyse my faith. I thank God for the faithful friends who are willing – yet again – to come alongside me in prayer and encouragement as I share my need and predicament with them.

Above all, I thank God that as I follow the example of the psalmist – recalling truth and reaffirming past blessing – I am strengthened. I bring the weapon of the word of God – what does He say about me? – against the lies of the accuser. I measure my thoughts against God’s revelation of grace and mercy and redemption, and see where I am being deceived and misled by my enemy.

I am one of God’s chosen people, I belong in his holy nation and am called as a priest to proclaim the praises of the One who brought me out of darkness into light. None of these things depends on my feelings, my health or any other factors which influence my daily living. They are based entirely in God’s character and finished work in salvation. I can serve him regardless of how I feel about my fruitlessness. I can praise him regardless of how barren our labours as believers seem to be – because he is always worthy of honour.

In obedience and trust, therefore, I labour on. May God be merciful to me, one of the least of his servants, restoring my joy in the service of the King and giving me a glimpse of his great power at work in this world to save sinners and bring them home to glory.

Trusted to be truthful..

And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies… I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

(Job 27.1-6)

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry…

(Ps 34.11-15)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us… Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.

(2Cor 1.8-10, 12)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Phil 2.12)

Can I be trusted to be truthful? Can God have any confidence that his reputation and character, the great narrative of his work in creation and redemption, are honoured by me in word and deed?

When Job came under extreme trials, he clung to his belief that God was good, was just and righteous, and also that Job himself had not committed sins which ‘deserved’ the judgement under which he suffered. In all these things, we are told that Job did well, speaking truth and not lies. Job proved himself trustworthy under his sufferings, honouring and rightly fearing God.

In fact, it is Job’s integrity which holds him right in the centre of the storm, wrestling with the unanswered questions, wondering what God is doing and why, longing for a chance to argue it out but never doubting that there is some hidden purpose. Such mature faith comes only as we in turn wrestle with our circumstances, refusing to speak lies about God – his holiness and justice, his love and mercy – or about ourselves, as his people and those on whom his favour rests.

In his letters to the churches in Corinth and Philippi, Paul speaks truth about his trials too – both their severity and also his conviction that they were part of God’s work in  spreading the gospel and in glorifying his power through his servants as they depended on him for deliverance and hope. Paul reassures the suffering saints in Philippi that as they ‘work out’ or discover in practice, what it means to be saved by Christ in the midst of trials, their experience will be of God working in them by his Spirit to fulfill his glorious purposes.

Job did not know that the advocate in whom he trusted was Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, but he clung to that hope and was sustained through his trials. We have the great revelation of the Son, of our loving Saviour who always lives to intercede for us and the Spirit who minsters to us continually. Why then should we not find that whether prosperity or trials come, we can be trusted to speak truth about our God, in all his holiness and the mysteries of his providence?

In plenty or in want, in sickness or in health, in time of peace or time of war, I am in Christ. I am redeemed, justified, and adopted into the family of God. My circumstances do not define me; my sins no longer define me; my own strengths or weaknesses do not define me. By grace, I am a child of the Most High, and whether he appoints my path to peace or troubles; to bright calm days, or the darkness of suffering, I will speak truth about him, and about what he has done for me.

May God grant each of us grace to accept prosperity or trial from his hand with humility, and with the desire to use all that he sends as means to glorify him and serve others.

On being filled..

And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(Jo 2.28-29)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…. [He] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

(Jn 14.15-17,26)

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

(Acts 1.4&5,8)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… [when] we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

(Rom 8.16&26)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-20)

God’s gift to the church, to his representatives on earth, so that we might continue the work begun by Christ, and spread the good news to all people and glorify our Lord – this is the Spirit promised by Joel and realised at Pentecost. In a recent bible study, it was pointed out that the Spirit is always ‘sent’, always a ‘gift’, never manufactured or summoned by people for their own ends. We may resist or reject him, but we cannot control or direct him. We may choose to ignore his promptings, and grieve him by our stubborn pride, but we can never presume to summon him.

The Spirit is sent from God the Father, to do many things for the church in the world, not least to empower every single one of God’s children for the task appointed to them. In a world where women were of little significance, and no legal standing, the thought that God’s Spirit might come to them as powerfully as to their brothers was shocking. But so it was to be – all would receive this gift as their inheritance, as the pledge of their eternal home, as the assurance of their adoption into God’s family and their security there.

By the Spirit, we are empowered for the mission of the church – the task of kingdom building and gospel sharing wherever God is pleased to place us. By the Spirit, we are enabled to grow in understanding of God’s work, of his character, of how we might live wise and godly lives in a broken world. By the Spirit, our prayers are brought acceptably before God; even our most inarticulate expressions of need, and of worship, are assured of being heard on high. By the Spirit, the body of Christ ministers to itself and to the world – we encourage and bless one another, exalting Christ at all times and in all circumstances as the Spirit continually points to his supremacy in power, love and faithfulness.

Friends, how could we not want to be filled with this gift? And yet, I wonder if sometimes I keep parts of my life shut up, unwilling to allow the transformation which may come as I surrender to the Spirit’s teaching and leading and illuminating work. We don’t always want to see the truth about ourselves, or to surrender control over our lives.

Will I resist? Will I remain full of myself, my aims, my false confidence and stubbornness?  Or will I accept the gift which my Father is pouring out on his church continually, for our refreshing and his glory? May God, in his mercy, not leave us shut up, but help us to open fully to his power, to the indwelling and daily refreshing Spirit.

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

But the Lord said to me, “.. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you… See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.. Today I have made you a fortified city.. to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you”

(Jer 1.7,8&10,18&19)

“O remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’…when Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God.. all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!.. Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you to hand us over to the Babylonians, so that they may kill us or carry us into exile.” So.. all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command .. and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah.. and Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord.

(Jer 42.19; 43.1-3,5-7)

‘This is what the Lord says [to Baruch]: ‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’

(Jer 45.4&5)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

So I finished reading Jeremiah: at 52 chapters it is quite an undertaking and full of fearful prophecies of judgement. As a follower of Jesus, who would have known this book all his life as part of the Hebrew Scriptures, I must trust that there is truth here for me as a disciple, wisdom that can help me to live in the world as a faithful witness and remain steadfast.

There is much that grieves, as we read Jeremiah’s deep lament both for the way his people reject him and the message that God has given him, but also for the wayward people themselves as they face a dreadful reckoning at the hands of the Babylonian armies. There is much to bemuse, as slaughter, starvation, humiliation and the destruction of the temple come to Judah because they have broken their covenant with God over and over again. I am not able to unpack the whole business of God’s judgement on his people in this time, so instead I have been reflecting on what I can learn from Jeremiah.

God takes sin very, very seriously. His covenant people cannot break their pledge to him without consequences, and the price to be paid is so high.

God is full of compassion towards his people, and the grief which their rebellion and subsequent sufferings cause him is unspeakable. He views separation from them with horror, and yet cannot dwell with their sin.

God is sovereign over all the nations, and in holiness and justice will act to fulfill his purposes in and through them. His ways are beyond my finding out, and I am called – like Jeremiah and the people of Judah – to trust that when it looks as though all is lost, yet He is still at work for good and for His glory.

God calls us to faithfulness in difficult places, among rebellious people, where we may experience rejection, mockery and persecution.

God goes with us when – like Jeremiah and Baruch – we are unable to resist the tide of history around us and are carried off into the land where God had commanded the people not to go.  In such days of judgement, it would be counted a great blessing to escape with one’s life, a sure sign of God’s favour and protection.

It is our personal faithfulness, so far as we are able to live it out, which matters most. Our relationship with the living God, and not our geographical location, or the trappings of ‘religion’, are what keep us safe in the ultimate things.

God calls his servants to apparently fruitless ministries, to death in exile, to suffering and hardship endured in faith.

There is surely much here from which we can learn in these days for the body of Christ which is the church in our world, a world where the gospel and its messengers are often rejected and mocked, or else actively persecuted and attacked. We can pray for those who are called to lead and teach, but also for one another as believers.

Heavenly Father, let us be like Jeremiah, living by faith, trusting in your love and provision for us in what appear to be fruitless situations. Encourage us to be faithful in the places where we are called to live, blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, whether they want to hear of his love or not. In obedience, may we be content, trusting that very soon, we will hear the trumpet sounding for your return, and the dawning of the day when all your faithful servants down all the ages are made perfect and united in your presence. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory, we pray these things. Amen