Category Archives: witness

Which way lies wisdom?

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?…”To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom.

(Isa 40.13&14,25&26,28)

The message that points to Christ on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

“I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things!- to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle – and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

(1 Cor 1.18-25, in The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson)

There is reasonable evidence in historical sources to verify the existence, some 2000 years ago, of a man who caused a brief stir in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. He made some outrageous, even laughable, claims, alongside some persuasive moral teaching, and generally stirred up the Jewish religious establishment enough to provoke them to contrive an unjust trial and execution, with the connivance of the Roman governor of the day. The subsequent rumours of his resurrection and so-called ‘ascension’ are clearly nonsense, such things don’t happen. Nonetheless, his teachings, and the Jewish scriptures to which they frequently refer, have been preserved, translated and form the basis for a faith movement which continues to grow..Isn’t is all another example of the foolishness of human beings who can’t bring themselves to take full responsibility for their own lives and actions?..How on earth could the life, death and resurrection (if such a thing were even possible) of one man (and he deluded enough to believe himself divine), make any difference to humanity and the problems we face? It makes no sense…

That is one way of looking at the story…is it yours? Does this way give you peace, contentment, hope, ambition for change and the motivation to believe in better? Does this way deal with shame, guilt, all the messiness of living in a broken world? Does it account for what we see day by day unfolding around us as humanity in its pride continues to fail and plumb new depths? 

What if, just maybe, Jesus’ story is true? What if the ‘absurdity’ of a God who claims to reveal himself to the world he made, and the people whom he loves, is actually the absolute reality? What if the life, death and resurrection of the God-made-man, Jesus, is really the means by which our individual, inherent rebellion against God can be undone, and we can be made new, clean and wholesome, with hope for an unimaginable future of joyous life with one who loves us completely? What if those who choose to be considered foolish for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ are actually the wisest? 

They will not be able to give you answers to all your questions – they can’t answer all their own questions! But they will tell you that in believing that Jesus Christ is God, made man, who died to take the blame for all that they have done (and will do) wrong, they have been transformed. They will tell of a friend who walks with them through every storm; of a healer whose love and wisdom has dealt with wounds and scars from years of guilt and pain; of a champion whose strength defeats the enemy of their peace.

The good news about Jesus Christ takes the brokenness of this world, of humanity very seriously, and deals with it head on. Easter is when the church around the world remembers especially the fierce climax of the contest, and celebrates the absolute victory of her Lord over all the powers at work against him. The church affirms that the wisdom of an Almighty Creator cannot be grasped by the puny minds of his creatures, and rejoices in the mystery and majesty of the Eternal.

Is it wisdom, or foolishness? That depends on your perspective..from where I stand, the only way into the peace, joy and hope which I desire, to the healing of this precious world, is from the foot of the cross, where human pride dies, and in total surrender of human wisdom. I am glad to be counted a fool for Jesus, to set aside human wisdom, and to put all my faith in the ‘absurdity’ of Almighty God. What about you?

Praise unceasing…

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to your our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all people will come. When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple….Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.

(Ps 65.1-4,8)

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world..My prayer is not for them alone. 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.

(Jn 17.18,20-21)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men…For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died….. that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

(2 Cor, 5.11,14&15, 20)

..the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….and they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

(Rev 5.8-10)

The glorious evening light streaming through stained glass seemed to cast a benediction on our praise and thanks to God for the growth of his kingdom. The 19th century hymn, ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended..’, is an old favourite, conjuring a picture of the global church, a continuity of praise, as each faith community in turn is roused by the sun to a new day of love and service.

I grew up praying for the work of the church around the world, and have been privileged to continue doing so; to visit and take part in the work, and to meet believers from overseas when they came to share their stories. As a family, and a congregation, we have friends serving in India, Uganda, Mexico, Japan, China. God is building his church through aid and development work, medical work, direct gospel outreach, literature and translation work, church planting and theological education, broadcasting and publishing.

We KNOW that all over the world, God is building his church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, because we have met believers – people just like us – who are serving, praising, sharing the gospel with their neighbours in those far away lands. They tell of lives transformed, and of battles with ignorance, indifference and idolatry – and we recognise their struggles are ours too. As one family in Christ, their battles and ours are the same; their joys are our joys, and their needs are our privilege to meet. We need never wonder how to pray for them – we pray as we do for ourselves. They too face financial, physical, emotional pressures which we can understand and where possible, address – as we would hope to be supported ourselves in our own time of need.

We cannot travel the globe as ambassadors for Christ, pleading with people to hear the good news and repent. But, united with them in Christ, we go in spirit with our brothers and sisters, to proclaim light in the darkness and freedom for all who will believe – what a privilege, and what a responsibility is ours! Because we believe that God is calling people to himself from every nation, tribe and tongue, it is right that we give to the work of witness and discipleship across the world. God gives to us, so that we might give to those who go; giving generously so that their labours are not made wearisome by a lack of support and constant worry about how to make the funds stretch far enough.

As we consider the glorious vision of God’s family of nations, of praise which never ceases, and a mind-blowing unity in diversity, let us be encouraged to persevere in praying and giving to our sisters and brothers so that the kingdom continues to grow. One day, in the new creation, we shall hear at last the stories of what God did with our contributions, however small. But even now, we are blessed in knowing that in giving we serve, love and cherish the family to which, in Christ, we belong.

We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light, through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

( The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.. John Ellerton, 1826-93)

Photograph courtesy of Elsa McTaggart – sunrise on Lewis, 2021

Give us this day…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.25,32-34)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

God has combined the members of the body ..so that there should be no division.., but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.24-26)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need you will abound in every good work….You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2 Cor 9.6-8,11)

Many years ago, I was challenged by a suggestion made by a well known Christian author and speaker to make a habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer for others. To my shame, it had never occurred to me before to use the beloved form of words in that way, but I can heartily recommend it. We may not know much about someone’s particular circumstances at a given moment, but everything which Jesus expressed in that prayer is always of value for his children.

I pray that God might be glorified in their lives, so that His name will be honoured – before this world, but also before all the unseen spiritual forces. I pray that His kingdom might come in their lives, their marriages, their communities – that His lordship might be real for them in all their decision making, and all their work and witness. I pray that they might be so thankful for God’s full forgiveness of their own sin, and so aware of God’s love for all his children that they can forgive those who offend against them in turn, and show that same love.

And I pray that God will meet their daily needs…whatever those may be, and especially that He will grant them that ability to leave the future in God’s hands, accepting that what He provides for each day is sufficient for that day. That prayer implies recognition that all good things come from God, regardless of the human agency by which they may be delivered, and also that He asks us to trust when the provision made does not fit our perceived need. May they have faith to believe in that hard place, and to honour God there.

And sometimes, in fact often, I believe that God calls us to answer those prayers for our brothers and sisters – to be the human means by which He meets their daily needs.

We are one body. The suffering and pain of one member calls for action and care on the part of the others – through this intimate connection, God’s love is shared among his people and their needs are met. I am called as a Christian to be responsive to my brothers and sisters – sharing my needs with them, and meeting their needs as my own means and circumstances permit. In this way, the good gifts which our generous God has lavishly bestowed upon us are used to provide abundantly for the whole body.

Sometimes, I can give money; sometimes practical assistance or the gift of presence, a listening ear, and burden-sharing shoulder. I can ALWAYS pray, commending others to the God who loves and knows their circumstances, so that He will meet their needs according to His rich resources, and through His church.

As the church pursues loving and practical unity, putting its resources at God’s disposal for the benefit of all its members, for His glory and our blessing, then indeed, His name will be hallowed and we will see his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So let us not hold back in fear, doubting God’s care and future provision for us, but rather give generously in every way we can, trusting that when it is our turn to be in need, His love and the care of His saints will not fail us.

You just never know…

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted…We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away…

(Isa 53. 4,6-8)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

(Matt 5.43-45)

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.. [they] were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death..Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?…” But Jesus remained silent. 

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?..What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

(Matt 26. 57-59,62-66)

We are so accustomed to the stories told of the life and death of Jesus that it may never occur to us to wonder just how all this information became available to the gospel writers, but we should! Following through on that question takes us to some interesting places – like the context in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have shared the intimate details of his conception and birth, and all the struggles which she and Joseph faced at that time. Did Jesus learn this as he grew up, or did Mary share it only when he embarked upon his ministry?

This week, I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found myself wondering just who it was in that council of the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who later told the story of that dark night. It can’t have been Peter, whose own sad tale of betrayal took place outside in the yard – and that tale too must have been revealed to later writers, for our blessing and instruction by Peter himself. It must have been one of the council themselves; somewhere in that gathering of hostile and frightened men (and it would have been an entirely masculine gathering), there was a heart which was already tender and open to God’s leading; a heart which would in time confess Jesus as Messiah and embrace the truth of the gospel.

They were all steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, and perhaps for one or two the words from Isaiah that foretold the suffering of the perfect servant would come to mind as they watched this Galilean hold his tongue and refuse to defend himself. Jesus’ demeanor would have spoken so loudly and clearly to those who should have recognised him as their longed for Messiah, and it seems that for at least one of them (then or later), the evidence finally became too much to resist.

When we put this together with Jesus command to love and pray for those who persecute us, we have a powerful encouragement to never give up on those who seem most adamant in their opposition to the gospel.

We cannot tell which strident aetheist, or sceptical humanist; which campaigner for secularism or advocate for universalism might be under the hand of the holy and relentless God, whose love for them took his son to the cross to win their salvation. I think this is a very important lesson for us in these days of increasingly bitter hostility against the Christian faith around the world. Will I obey the command of Jesus to pray for those who hate what I believe and hate me for believing it? Will I follow his example so that my life speaks of the truth of the gospel, of a God whose love for the broken children of this world is so powerful, steadfast and passionate? The offer of salvation is made to all who will confess Jesus as Lord – am I pressing this offer on my ‘enemies’ in prayer?

Perhaps someone was praying for Saul the Pharisee, even as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen…someone loved him well enough to intercede with God for this young man who was consumed with hatred for the Jesus movement..and how God answered that prayer! Lord, let me be faithful in this, that I might love my enemies as you love them.

When it seems like nothing..

..the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai;”..who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong..Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you..this is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

This is what the Lord says:”In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine….the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house..And in this place I will grant peace”

(Hag 2.1-5,6-9)

After Jesus was born..Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star,..and have come to worship him.”..On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts..

(Matt 2.1&2,11)

the Holy City..shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel..The wall was made of jasper and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city..were decorated with every kind of precious stone..The twelve gates were twelve pearls…the great street of the city was of gold..The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will  bring their splendour into it…The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it..

(Rev 21.10-26)

Be strong…work..my Spirit remains among you…Do not fear.

As we contemplate the global pattern of church growth in the 21st century, these words are so important for us in the lands where the church appears to be dying. They were addressed to a group of discouraged folk, returned from exile and attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But how painful it must have been to compare the fruits of their labours with the memories of what was lost, how easy to mourn that departed glory as if it would never come again.

Does this not ring true for us in Scotland today? We remember fuller churches, an enthusiasm and confidence in ministry, and how christianity was welcomed within institutions like schools, hospitals, and public life. Today, we are marginalised, suspected of all kinds of bigotry, tainted by association with past wrongs, and our attempts to share the good news of Jesus meet largely with indifference, and occasionally with hostility. The glory has departed..

We are tempted to hopelessness by a sense of our own futility, and the apparent lack of fruit in people’s lives and in our communities. And into this, comes God’s word through the prophet to his toiling remnant – be strong, work, do not fear, I am with you!

God promises to be present with them – as he always is with his faithful servants, whether in exile in foreign lands, in prison, under oppressive regimes, prospering or suffering, we are never separated from him. He promises his power will accomplish what he intends – and the vision from Haggai is of all the nations of the world bringing their tributes to God in his glorious temple, it is his might and power – not the efforts of the people – that will fill it with majesty and honour. And God reveals to them his purposes – even though they may not see the fulfilment with their own eyes.

We share in the promise of a glorious future, where peace is established and flourishes according to God’s word. We share this fuel for hope in our own struggles, in our situations of discouragement. The vision of glory is for our encouragement, it is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s purposes to usher in a new heaven and earth, where redeemed humanity from every tribe and nation will reign with him in perfection, peace, joy and mutual delight.

Friends, look out at the global church, and behold, the glory of the Lord at work, in the farthest reaches of our planet. Look ahead and depend upon these promises and visions of what God is surely doing even now, and will surely complete. Even as the magi from the east brought treasures to the God-child, so today, people bring their own riches to lay at his feet – silver and gold, but also the priceless treasures of their unique identities, characters, cultures and qualities. Those travellers from the east represented an early trickle of that flood which will finally be realised. 

Let us not lose hope, but work on without fear. Our God is with us by his spirit, and in his strength, we obey, leaving him to put his power to work.

Nothing to be ashamed of?

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no-one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

(Ps 145.3-7)

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God..the Lord, who remains faithful for ever..

(Ps 146.3-6)

How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! …He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds..the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love

(Ps 147.1,3&11)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..

(Rom 1.16)

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord..our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a hearald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him…

(2 Tim 1.8,10-12)

My readings in the book of Psalms have reached the closing section, an extraordinarily powerful series of songs exulting in the God revealed in creation, through his dealings with the people of Israel and his inspired word. I have found them deeply helpful and encouraging in these days when our lives continue to be restricted and the only certain thing about the future, is that it is completely uncertain!

What relief to know that I am not meant to put my faith in humanity, to rely on ingenuity, science, brute force or any scheme by which humankind seeks to find meaning and purpose, let alone to control this world in which we live. The multiple levels of crisis now occurring around the world are demonstrating so very clearly that as a species, we are our own worst enemies, in process of destroying both ourselves, and the planet on which we live. What hope can I have, if I must trust even the noblest of the species? They are mortal too, they suffer the same sin-fracture, which brings even the best lives to an end, and reduces their plans to nothing.

What a relief to know that my life in this world is not my sole chance for a joyful, fulfilling existence, and that injustice, pain, deprivation and loss are passing things. I am made for a greater life, perfect and rich, and my hope for that life is in the gospel of grace revealed in Jesus. In his death, and especially in his resurrection to new life, I see the guarantee and can look forward with confidence to a new earth where I will have nothing to be ashamed of anymore, and will be lost in wonder, love and praise of my Saviour.

So am I living as one who has such a glorious and assured future? Does my life testify to a mind-boggling grace, to daily renewal and cleansing, to a loving and close relationship with Almighty God? Or do I live as one ashamed to be known as a believer, apologetic and tentative about expressing hope, joy and adoration?

Oh dear Lord, forgive my hesitancy, and instead fill me with the strong current of praise, confidence and boldness like that of the apostles, and the psalmists. As I contemplate your creation, may I sing your praises, and commend you to all I meet. As I contemplate the deep suffering of your handiwork, may I trust in your righteousness, your promised justice and restoration. As I contemplate the matchless love which took you to the cross, may I in all humility accept your grace, reject all pride, and choose to make you my only boast.

Praise the Lord, who holds all things secure in his loving hands; who will act justly and vindicate his name before all beings and all time; in whose covenant-faithfulness his people can completely trust. May we honour and exalt his name by living-out-loud for him, telling the story of his love and mighty works to the next generation, and NEVER being ashamed of our God!

church…a work in progress?

So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly , which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand..Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord. The Levites..instructed the people..making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

(Neh 8.2,6-8)

Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

(Ps 149.1-4)

It was he[Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.11-13)

…Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Saviour…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

(Eph 5.23, 25-27)

Have you ever wondered at the gulf between the passionate, potent love we see in Jesus, and the qualities of the church which is his body in the world? Why does the community which is commissioned to witness to divine love, and incredible grace have such a record of intolerance, bigotry of every kind, division, coldness, selfishness and worldliness? Why do so many people outside the church view Jesus as someone admirable, and then reject the gospel because of those who claim to know and love him?

Our record as a people called to bear God’s name fruitfully, making disciples of all nations, rejoicing in our salvation and provoking the unsaved to envy of our peace, unity and hope is woeful. Our record as a people able to pick quarrels, hold grudges, mistreat, suspect, withhold forgiveness, abuse, lie, conceal and hoard on the other hand is quite impressive. How shameful, how heart-breaking, that the body of Christ in the world should be a source of such grief, pain and rejection of the gospel.

We have the incalculable riches of the word of Almighty God – his personal revelation of himself, his great purposes in creation and redemption. We have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, whose task is our daily transformation and enabling for the work of mission – whatever that may look like in our unique calling. We have Jesus, our salvation, our glory, joy and crown, by whom we stand in the the immediate presence of a holy God, with a guaranteed eternity in which to finally and fully live. What happens to us, that our lives fall so short of our calling, our identity?

From earliest records, we see that the body of Christ has been flawed, there was no golden age when everything went well. We are a community of sinners who have been saved, and who – this side of death – remain prone to every temptation known to humanity. The result is that the bride for whom Jesus died is far from pure, united and holy, and her continued existence is itself a cause for wonder and humble thanksgiving. Only God could have preserved a witness for himself in the face of so much weakness and failing. The larger our institutional churches get, the more they become like worldly institutions, with the same flaws. The tragedy is that Christ’s body in the world ought to be different. Unbelievers know this, and mock our faith; we know it, and grieve for the trap from which we seem unable to escape.

We have to take responsibility for our own personal witness, and pray for the reform of our institutions, pray for our leaders and confess our failures and sins. We also have to continue to work at being a community of believers. Each of us has a role to play in the body, in addition to our own willingness to give reason for the hope we have. We look to love, to build up, to encourage. We look to unite in praise and in learning from the word – reverencing the revelation and hungry to learn for ourselves what it means for us.

Lord of the church, for whom you died, have mercy on us. Fill us afresh by your Spirit, so that we shine for you – as individuals and as a body. Cleanse us from our persistent sins so that we honour you, and show how we treasure the blood shed to make us clean. Do not give up the work of building your church in our day, in our land, but in your mercy let us see your power poured out and a new generation of people coming to new life in Christ.

Music ..while we wait?…

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.  I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

(Ps 130)

Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord, you who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name for that is pleasant..

(Ps 135 1-3)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is..be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-19)

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

(Ti 2.11-14)

The concept of ‘waiting’ recurs throughout the bible, as a major part of our relationship with God and his purposes in creation and redemption. Consider the way that Abraham was called to wait upon God’s timing in fulfilling the promise of a son by Sarah – and the unintended consequences when Abraham became impatient and acted on his own (and Sarah’s) initiative. Consider the years which lay between David’s anointing as king of Israel and his final accession to the throne, while he waited for God to deal with Saul, and tried to keep out of trouble. Consider the generations who lived and died, ‘waiting’ for God to deliver the people from exile back to Israel, and those like Isaiah who prophesied of a glorious future for the land and people, but died before seeing it..

God himself waited, until the time was right for the birth of Jesus, and even now is waiting patiently, extending the offer of grace and the good news of Jesus to all who will believe, because he is unwilling that any should perish. He is still waiting, until just the right time comes to finally wind up this broken creation and make everything new – including us – so that his rule and reign can be fully realised. Jesus himself, as a human being, waited for decades before embarking upon his short ministry, trusting God’s timing and willing to submit to the years of quiet, hidden faithfulness and training.

It is so hard for us to wait, especially when what we are longing for appears to us to be entirely in accordance with God’s revealed purposes – perhaps the salvation of a loved one, the establishment of a new ministry to particular people, the creation of a new resource to share the gospel, the end of particularly bloody, destructive warfare or oppression, the restoration of the planet’s resources…whatever your particular longing is!

In my own struggle with this ‘waiting’, with unfulfilled hopes, I find Psalm 130 particularly comforting in its honesty and encouragement. The psalmist reminds himself- and me – of God’s qualities, encouraging trust and confident hope. With God – my God, your God – there is forgiveness of sin, so that we can know and serve him without fear of judgement. With God – your God, my God – there is unfailing love,  that rich promised reliability and intent to bless which underlies the covenant promises on which God’s people rely down the ages. We look at the evidence, and as we see Jesus on the cross, at the empty tomb, and ascending into glory, we see the lengths to which unfailing love will go for me, for you, and we can have peace in the face of trouble.

I cannot know just how long my waiting will last – will I trust the one who has said ‘Wait, and see what I will do’?. With God – my God, your God – there is perfect redemption, so that I can respond to his love, unburdened by guilt, and free to make the most of the time I have to share the gospel, live a life worthy of his name, and praise him in all I am and do.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on your child in her impatience. Grant that profound trust in your ways, and your timing, which is your gift and her desperate need. Set her free to give thanks to you for everything, singing as she waits and doing good in your name to your glory and the blessing of your work in this needy world.

It all depends who you are talking to…

” I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me?…”

(Job 10.1-2)

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.

(Ps 104.31-35)

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..

(Phil 2.14&15)

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..and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

(1 Pet 5.6&7, 10)

‘Do everything without complaining…’, do you ever feel with me that this is an impossible instruction from the apostle Paul? It is so easy for us to moan and grumble, to argue that we will feel better if we get things off our minds, to look for sympathy and support from friends. And yet, the command is there, quite explicitly and without any loopholes. I am convicted and silenced, and realise that I make a habit of complaint – dressing it up as ‘sharing my burdens’, but actually I am talking to other people in a negative way about how God is choosing to deal with me. And that speaks of a lack of trust, a shortfall of faith, an unwillingness to accept his will as my best.

For this reason, I was intrigued to find that the word used by the psalmist in psalm 104 for ‘meditation’ is actually used in other parts of the bible for a complaint! The same word is used by Job as he lamented his sorry condition – the complaint to which he gives free rein in God’s presence. The same word is also used when Hannah bewails her childless condition in the temple, lamenting her barrenness and calling on God in her distress. It is this kind of pondering, meditating, which the psalmist commends to God – the same God in whom he rejoices!

It appears then, that if we take our legitimate complaints to God, then we are doing something right; while if we take them to other people, we are failing to grow in faith and Christ-likeness. What makes the difference?

The context of the word in Psalm 104 suggests that the writer has taken time to consider the God of creation; the sustainer of life and worthy of reverence and praise. As one who has put their trust in this God, depending upon divine love and faithfulness, the psalmist comes with confidence as well as awe to lay all his burdens down. This commitment of everything that concerns him to the Almighty takes God’s promises and character seriously, and constitutes acceptable worship. In his own letter, Peter puts this same message very simply – tell God about EVERYTHING, because he cares for you (and by implication, is the one who in his loving wisdom will act for your best interests).

When I choose to honour God by bringing my complaints and sharing them completely with him, I am demonstrating a trusting and humble spirit, acting as though I believed that he has my best interests at heart and has good purposes for every situation in which I may find myself. In sending Jesus to die for me, God demonstrated the depth of his love and how much he wants to bless me – so shall I not honour him by refusing to complain to others about his dealings with me now?

Job was not rebuked for bringing his complaint to God; Hannah was answered in a wonderful way after pouring out her heart; Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed, but he received wisdom and grace to accept it as God’s best for him. I pray that I might learn this lesson for myself, learn to think before I grumble or moan and instead to talk honestly with my loving Father about what I am experiencing. May I choose to accept life from his hand with an expectation of blessing, and the assurance that I can always rejoice in him. May this be my worship and witness, and God-honouring choice in the days ahead.

Mind-bending and magnificent..

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

(Dan 7.13&14)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

(Gal 3.26-29)

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls our, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

(Gal 4.6&7)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ..And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus..

(Eph 2.4&6)

It is probably not possible for us to fully realise the impact of the gospel of Jesus on the cultural institutions of the Roman empire, but it is nonetheless worth trying. The exercise will help to illuminate the radical nature of the kingdom of God, and challenge us to look at our own attitudes to those around us.

Jesus’ life and ministry was – among other things- a revelation of the new kingdom which God was inaugurating, where human beings would be able to live as God intended, in direct, loving fellowship with him and with one another. The values of that kingdom challenged social structures, religious legalism, exploitation and oppression, and generally turned everything the Jews thought they knew about God and faith upside down! That is why the ministry of Jesus was finally perceived by the establishment to be so threatening that he must be killed. It is by faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus that human beings enter into the kingdom, and are made new; spirit-born and heart-transplanted so that we now live by his spirit not our own – finally both willing and able to choose God’s ways over our own.

The young churches bore witness to the power of gospel and radical nature of kingdom – in the practical eradication of social boundaries, whether based on class and status, gender or economic power. They lived the truth of who we are now in Christ – not only free from slavery to sin but adopted into the same family – of whom? Our Father is the greatest king, the eternal ruler. Our status derives from our family, and believers claimed that in Christ they were all equally valued, all significant, all loved, all worthy of honour not on grounds of social status, gender or power but because we all belong to a royal family. God has put us into place as part of his new creation, and that place is as the younger brothers and sisters of the Prince of Peace. The ultimate coming of the kingdom of God will see us realise our full potential as rulers, in God’s name, of his new creation.

While the boundaries in our own culture may not be exactly the same as they were for the early church, the challenge remains. We must not destroy our witness to this transforming gospel by despising or discriminating against our sisters and brothers. We must guard against everything which might cause division in God’s family – racial difference, cultural clashes, age or gender. There should be nothing which makes us stand aloof from a fellow believer, or – crucially – refrain from offering the gospel to another human being as if somehow it was not for them. We pray for honesty to discern in our hearts where we struggle to accept others, but also rejoice with repentance that God has accepted us too, has forgiven our sins and is at work to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – even prejudice and a critical spirit.

The unity of the early churches – breaking boundaries as they did – was not perfect, but it made a huge impact for the gospel and offered real and solid proof that God could change people, and that his kingdom was a place worth being in. Let’s pray that we too in our christian lives might mirror that loving acceptance of others, and exalt our God by our unity and welcome to all whom he is calling into his family today.