Category Archives: witness

For all the saints…

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.

Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding. The father of a righteous child has great joy; he who has a wise child delights in them. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice.

(Prov 17.6 & 23.22-25)

For none of us lives for ourselves alone and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

(Rom 14.7&8)

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. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Endure hardship as discipline.. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

(Heb 11.39-12.2 & 12.7,10&11)

Ten years ago this week, my mother died. It will be fifteen years this spring since my father died. Gone, almost as if they had never been. Their house is owned by another, and their belonging largely gone. There are no monuments or trust funds in their names, no awards or philanthropic projects to perpetuate their memory. There are three adult children and four grandchildren – the latter with very patchy memories of the grandparents who died while they were still young.

And yet, I know that because my parents were christians, followers of Jesus, they live. I know that they died in full assurance of their future resurrection, and that one day I will join with them and all the other dear departed saints as we rejoice with the Lamb at the great marriage banquet in glory.

They left family members in whom their genes are perpetuated – traits of character and shared physical attributes. But they also left a legacy of loving service and investment in the kingdom which will only be fully appreciated when the Lord comes to make all things new and to reveal what He is working by his Spirit in and through us.

They left a legacy in our lives, a priceless  model of faithful living. They weren’t perfect, and we saw the struggles from the inside. They faced many challenges, and we saw how at times they were near overwhelmed. BUT we also saw how they lived in dependence on Jesus, the saviour who had won both their hearts in early adulthood, and who remained Lord of their lives through all that followed. They showed us that God’s discipline was worth enduring, and his wisdom worth treasuring more than all that this world can offer us. I was and remain so very proud of my parents, so thankful for their lives and all they taught us. I want to be that kind of parent to my own children, and pray to be a blessing and not a stumbling block to them.

The last gift that both mother and father gave us was the acceptance of God’s timing and manner of dealing with them at the end of their lives. They completely submitted themselves to the Lord, reckoning death as nothing to fear, but something to be preparing for in faith and trust. There was no complaining, no “why me, why now?” And this has left me with a great peace and acceptance in my turn that my Lord knew what he was about – I was not somehow deprived of something I needed by their deaths.

In life, as in facing death, their desire was to glorify their Saviour. It is my prayer that I too might do this, to emulate all those dear saints who have gone before in trust and obedience. My best tribute to my own parents is to follow their example, to live for and die with my Lord. May he give me grace to serve him in this way, for his glory and my blessing. Amen.

On the way home

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock…. The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgements, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.. O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.

(Isa 26.1-4,7-9 & 12)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

(Jn 16.33)

As a follower of Jesus, I live in an in-between time, a waiting and watching time, and yet a time when my Lord commands my full commitment to living with and for him in the present and place where I am. For over two millenia, Christians have existed with this tension, and still we wait, reading history through the lens of God’s revelation of his ways with humankind, and discerning how as time goes by, the truth of that revelation is underscored again and again. Therefore, we wait in hope, as those who are confident in the fulfillment of their expectations and content to be busy meanwhile about their master’s business. I cannot know when he will return, but I want to be actively working and worshipping when he comes!

The passage in Isaiah is a meditation on what it is like to inhabit this now-and-not-yet state; to be saved and yet still live with temptations; to be on the victor’s side and yet still experience the pain and damage of warfare; to be transformed into God’s beloved children and yet still live in a world and with people who do not know him and with all the devastating consequences of sin. The believer recognises that peace is the gift of God, indeed, all that is needed for our salvation and eternal life is from God’s gracious hand. It is his choice to make us secure in his family and give us an inheritance in the city of salvation which he has made. It is by God’s grace that we are able to keep faith, in spite of sin and failing in this world, to go on desiring his glory and a better, closer, truer relationship with him every day.  

As we choose to live according to his judgements, accepting his definition of right and wrong, living within the boundaries which he lovingly appoints for us, we walk in his paths. As we choose to accept those troubles which he judges permissible, living in a fallen world, under all the consequences of our sins and those of others, accepting them by faith as his decrees and continuing to seek his glory and to obey him, then we walk in his paths. In both those kinds of walking, we are waiting for God to reveal himself through our lives to others – to demonstrate his grace and goodness and love and speak to them.

As I go into another year, with trouble on all sides and many voices clamouring for my attention, I pray that – with Isaiah – I might say the name and renown of the Lord is the desire of my heart, and that I yearn day and night to know and honour him more. I pray that I might trust that the peace which is my portion in Jesus is indeed fully mine – that I might face trials steadily and base my life in God’s promises and the knowledge that he makes my path smooth as I follow in faith where he leads. I am on the way home, to a glory, a love, a family all beyond my wildest dreams; let my heart therefore not be troubled as I walk through  this shadowy realm, waiting on the Lord in my spirit and finding him ever present as my unshakeable rock and salvation.

Looking through..

In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel.. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people …

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you .”

All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.. At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord…. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.

(Isa 11.10,12&16; 12. 1-6; 18.3&7; 19.19&20,25)

Our ladies’ bible study is currently reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, and recent weeks have seen us immersed in foretelling disaster, destruction and suffering – grim stuff indeed. And yet, we have found much to encourage and inspire us as we get a better understanding of Isaiah’s double vision – of the immediate future for Judah, and also the long-term future of God’s purposes in the world. The realism of the prophet is comforting – echoing the world in which we live now, with human pride and power dominating the stage, and resulting (as it always has and always will) in misery. Isaiah never pretends that bad things are not going to happen to God’s people in this world, but what he does time and again is to remind them that what they are seeing is but a tiny glimpse – and a distorted one at that – of what is really going on.

God gave Isaiah many opportunities to intimate coming events which would validate his prophecy as from the Almighty. This encouraged the faithful in Judah to believe the bigger prophecies too, and to put their whole trust in God. In our turn, these prophecies encourage us to discern God’s purposes at work behind human actions, and the dazzling of power or the darkness of destruction. What is promised is wonderful beyond our imagining, a blazing vision of true power and authority wielded for good, by a perfect and just ruler, under whom all can dwell in perfect peace and fullness of life.

The One through whom God has appointed this deliverance to come is the Messiah – whom we know as Jesus, son of Mary, born into Joseph’s family and raised in Nazareth. He came to suffer and to die for us, to remove all the barriers that cut us off from God and to defeat the power which drives us continually away from God. BUT one day he will come again, this time as the Judge and King, as the banner to whom all the nations will rally and whose place of rest will be glorious! It is this future to which we look now, as we live between these first and second comings. And Isaiah’s prophecies still encourage us in this interim period, to look through our history and by faith to discern God at work.

We pray for the nations – like Egypt and Assyria – whose regimes resolutely oppose the revelation of God’s authority and power, because we see from the prophecies that their people too are God’s beloved handiwork, that they will worship him and find in him their salvation. There is no race or tribe or tongue which is excluded – not even our own godless nation!

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let us take courage from Isaiah’s prophecies. Let us press on in endurance as the darkness deepens in a world besotted by human power. Let us believe in that darkness that divine light has dawned, and cannot be extinguished. Let us pray and work for the sharing of the gospel with everyone and rejoice that it was given even to us. Our songs of gladness and thanksgiving are our witness to the hope we have, so let us sing them loudly and stand firm!

Choosing…

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  

In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

(Isa 12)

Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends – so loved by God! God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the spirit he invited you to through the message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our master, Jesus Christ.

So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech…. Because of the master, we have great confidence in you. We know you’re doing everything we told you and will continue doing it. May the master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.

(2 Thess 2.13-17; 3.4-5)

Against my fears, my doubts, my ignorance, I trust in thee, O father of my Lord!

The world went on in this same broken dance when, worn and mocked, He trusted and adored:

I too will trust, and gather my poor best to face the truth-faced false. So, in his nest I shall awake at length, a little scarred and scored.

(from: Diary of an Old Soul, by George Macdonald, 1905)

What will I do when my culture, my friends and some of those closest to me reject my faith and think me deluded? What will I do when the revelation on which my faith rests makes absolutely no sense in the thinking of my society – and in my heart I recognise how utterly alien it is? What will I do when my most earnest prayers, for God to glorify himself and transform lives, go unanswered?

I look over the brink at unbelief and tremble; I listen to assumptions of those who reckon it will all be ok, and wonder at how they get there. I turn again to the good news of Jesus, and find that he too faced mockery and unbelief, and yet held firm to his task, trusting absolutely in his Father’s love, power and purpose in and through his suffering and death.

I choose to hold fast – God helping me – to what I can know of Jesus; to what he told me about himself and his task; to what he told me about the character of my Creator and the place which is prepared for me in the age to come. It may seem nonsense to some, but it makes more sense to me than anything else has ever done.

I choose to believe, especially where I cannot understand and in spite of the mockery which such belief provokes in this sceptical age, that the God revealed to me through the Hebrew Scriptures, and affirmed as Father by my Lord Jesus, is absolutely just, loving, powerful and sovereign, and that when all things temporal are wound up and we enter into life eternal in glory, we will have no doubts left about him.

I choose to give thanks, for what I can know, can see, can experience here and now of all the good things which are poured into my life and which bring daily tokens of love from my Father’s heart. I give thanks for the revelation which I have in the bible, those parts which comfort as well as those parts which leave me baffled and uncomfortable – God forbid that I should ever think myself fully comprehending the mystery of his character, power and eternal nature! I give thanks for the global church, witnessing in so many places to lives transformed by Jesus’ love and sacrifice, which strengthens and encourages me to persevere in faith.

Master, take us by the hand and lead us along the path of the Father’s love and Christ’s endurance, by your Spirit at work within us day by day. May we glorify you, growing in faith and quiet trust, bearing fruit for Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.

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