Category Archives: worship

In the breakers

But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me..do not let me sink; deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up..Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

(Ps 69.13-17)

I cannot keep my footing, the waves come with such force that I am tumbled over and left breathless. I can barely stand, as the churning waters have stripped the sand off the shore and all is stone, bruising my feet and leaving me off balance. The wind sweeps my breath away, and the hailstones sting my skin like bullets. I am vulnerable and nearly in danger, but not quite, as I stumble out of the sea back to my clothes and head for home.

The sea this morning matched what was happening in my heart and mind – wave after wave rolling in, before which I have no defence, leaving me weary from the conflict, and longing for a place of security and peace.

What is the right response of a follower of Jesus in these circumstances? As I scramble to find my footing again, what restores my balance?

I follow the example of the psalmists, and all God’s people down the ages, as they cry out to God. I turn in all my bewilderment to my heavenly father, and like a small child, ask for his comforting presence, for his loving arms to be my shelter. I bring my grieving questions to him, knowing that there may be no direct answers but also that he understands my pain and I do right to speak first to him.

But in the same way that a chilled swimmer cannot feel the rope around their body to bring them to safety, I cannot feel the comfort. I know that God who promises to work through all my trials for my blessing and his glory will do what is right. But when the breakers have been over me, I cannot feel the security that this should give me.  I am chilled by hopelessness, by a sense that these waves will keep coming because I have caused them and cannot make them stop. I am wearied by the prospect which they present, year upon year of this pain and aridity.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves..I am confined and can not escape; my eyes are dim with grief..

(Ps 88.6-9)

Oh Lord, God of heaven, you are just and holy, pure beyond my conceiving and mighty in creation. What am I that you should consider me? Yet, you have laid your hand on me and called me to be your daughter, beloved and delighted in. How ashamed I am to confess the many ways that I have failed you, hurting others, myself, and setting up consequences which I must live with for as long as it may please you to sustain my life.

Lord, you promise not to leave your children in their troubles, but to sustain them and bring them through somehow purified and made more like Jesus. I want to believe this, but am so weary of the turmoil, and of seeing so little change! How long, O Lord, how long, before you say “Enough” and let me come home, away from the battle and the sin, the wearisome burden of years living with my sinfulness and that of other people?

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength..

(Ps 89.9,14-17)

I will praise your name, my God and my Salvation. Eternal hope is mine, regardless of what you permit for my temporal days, and that hope grows ever brighter in the darkness of the here and now. Only give me the ability to live day by day in that hope, and let me know your presence through the chillling cold of weariness, so that I might not disgrace my calling and bring your name into dishonour by despairing of life itself. Lord, have mercy, that I may know how to glorify you in these breakers, how to shout your name in praise over the winds, and to exult in the God who is sovereign and will do all things well – even in me!

A sovereign remedy…for self-pity

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I shall be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

(1Sam 27.1)

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord, ” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

(1 Kings 19.3&4)

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. …..You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.17-21,28&29)

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Cor 10.13)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your  requests to God.

(Phil 4.6)

I am profoundly thankful that my heavenly Father unveils my faults to me in very small doses, so that I am not overwhelmed by the truth and instead can lean hard on his grace, the truth of his forgiveness, and acceptance of me. I rejoice that he can use me in spite of those faults, but I know too that they are revealed and made plain for a purpose – I am being called to repent, by his power to change, and to grow in maturity and likeness to Jesus.

Each of us has predispositions towards particular sins, and away from others, for a whole host of reasons, but that predisposition is never an excuse for refusing to recognise them and repent. I have a strong tendency toward self-pity; it is frighteningly easy for me to end up in that particular place and I am thankful that God is pressing me in these days to recognise and address this – it is a sin. It speaks of a profound distrust of God, and a resentment of what he is permitting in my life.

In David’s case, he had recently experienced a number of miraculous escapes from Saul, and could testify to God’s keeping, and yet suddenly he has had enough. He no longer feels able to trust God for the future – who am I to judge David in this, I who so readily make my own desperate little plans to protect myself and so easily forget all that God has already done on my behalf.

Elijah had just come from the triumphant defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, the Israelites had seen and acknowledged the power of the true God, and yet on receiving news of Jezebel’s threat against his life, Elijah goes to pieces and begs to die – has he forgotten God’s power on the mountain?! I forget too easily in my own life, and have no right to judge this great prophet for his temporary weakness.

So how should I respond when I find myself like Elijah, or David – at the end of my tether and tempted to give up on God, disbelieving and fed up? I believe that there is a sovereign remedy for this complaint, although sometimes it takes a great deal of self-discipline to apply it – thanksgiving, praising God for what is and has been and deliberately concentrating on gratitude and trust.

As Paul tells the Corinthian church, God never leaves us without a way out under temptation, so when I am tempted to wallow in self-pity I have a choice. Shall I choose to sin against my Lord’s love, faithfulness and promise, by sulking, harming myself and others, and frustrating his work in my life? Or will I choose to recognise the inherent sin of self-pity, and reject it? God’s plans for my life may include many trials, difficult times and painful experiences – but self-pity is not the fruit which he designs they should produce. Rather, a godly thankfulness, a humble awareness that I cannot understand his ways, but must and CAN trust him should inform my attitude.

May I commend this discipline of gratitude, and thanksgiving most earnestly to you? It has brought more consolation and help to me than I can begin to explain, and – I trust – will continue to be used by God to shape me into the likeness of my dear Lord Jesus.

Give thanks to our God, for he is so good; his love endures for ever.

His door is never shut…

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Ps 23.5&6)

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. For what you have done I will always praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good.

(Ps 52.8&9)

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

(Isa 33.5&6)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

(Heb 10.19-22)

A few months ago, I knew nothing about ‘social distancing’, COVID19 and ‘shielding’. I met friends in coffee shops, stayed in their houses in order to attend choir practice, visit the hairdresser and go shopping. I thought nothing of hugging, touching, expressing love through my hands as well as my words. And every week, I met with fellow believers to sing, pray and study God’s word in a variety of buildings around our parish.

So much has changed, we have learnt – through great upheaval and at the cost of thousands of lives and millions of pounds – just how powerful a virus can be, and how vulnerable we are. We have learnt that we can adapt incredibly quickly, discovered unexpected resilience, unlikely heroes have emerged, and at last we are discovering that true caring is priceless, and seriously undervalued in our society. And we have discovered just how much we are meant to live in community, how even a casual conversation in the street at an appropriate distance can sustain another day in isolation from family and friends.

But what of church? What difference has it made for me to be locked out of the buildings, to be forbidden to meet with others to sing, pray and study God’s word? I have been humbled and thrilled to discover that – just as the bible tells me – I am one who dwells for ever in God’s house. By faith in Christ, I am at home with my Heavenly Father and nothing can shut me out from his presence, or his arms. I can share every meal with him, every moment of my days is lived with him, and his word is my daily nourishment. I have been privileged in these days to experience what persecuted Christians around the world know in much harder circumstances, namely that I am never alone and God cannot be kept from me, his beloved child.

I don’t need to be in a particular building or even with certain people in order to worship God and delight in his presence. His word is with me, speaking to me and directing my thoughts. The wisdom and knowledge of God, the inestimable treasures of salvation, all these are mine, unlocked for me by Christ and providing a sure foundation on which I can depend when all around is uncertainty and fear. I can pray for my fellow believers even though I am not with them, because we are all united in Christ and stand before God’s throne of mercy together.

Great saints down the ages have known what it is to be deprived of their freedom and sent to prison or exile – and there they prove this truth, that God never abandons his children. While we are saved into a community of believers, and it is good to be physically present with one another, sharing praise and service and our lives, yet we are each directly united with Christ, and thus live always in God’s loving presence. When the distractions of ‘normal’ life are removed, we perhaps learn to think more of Christ and to see him more clearly – to celebrate the love which sent him to Calvary, and the goodness which informs everything that happens to us.

May these days of isolation and distance from one another bear this fruit in my life, and yours, that we learn to depend more and more upon Christ and find in him our satisfaction and refuge. The words of Samuel Rutherford – a Scottish minister of the 17th century who was imprisoned for his ministry and teaching beautifully express something of this :- “Let us be glad and rejoice in the salvation of our Lord, for faith had never yet cause to have wet cheeks and hanging-down brows…Faith may dance because Christ sings; and we may come in the choir and lift our hoarse and rough voices, and chirp and sing, and shout for joy with our Lord Jesus!” 

When the world shrinks..

Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and 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 6.31-34)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. …I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4 4-6,12&13)

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(Jas 4.14&15)

One of the most interesting lessons to come out of these strange days when the entire world is almost ‘on hold’, is the sense of learning to live one day at a time. For many believers in the developing world, this is a reality which they have no trouble inhabiting, since poverty, climate change, war and other factors make each day a fight for survival. Their faith in the God who loves and sustains them is humbling, a quiet rebuke to those of us whose lives are clothed in (to them) unimagineable luxury and security, and whose faith is perhaps less vigorous as a result.

Do I really mean it when I sing with the psalmist that ‘earth has nothing I desire beside you?’. Am I really choosing to live each day as if it were my last, and I am mindful only to be glorifying and enjoying God?

All of us are facing a very real grief for aspects of our lives which have been lost in the current situation. I think it is important to recognise and allow this to happen – the important thing is to bring the grief to God and ask him to keep the wounds healthy and clean, free of resentment. We will not get these days back again – days which should have been spent with loved ones, getting to know new babies, saying farewell to the dying; days set aside to be holidays and festivals, celebrations and joyous experiences; days which should have been spent away from home pursuing particular interests, opportunities for service.

We have a choice, in our confined condition, as our world has shrunk to our four walls, our immediate neighbourhood, to a future void of plans and only the shadows of anticipated pleasures which will not now be ours. We can choose to accept that since God is sovereign, good and just, he knows and is control of all that is happening. He knows our grief and loss, but he also knows that we can cope with his help, and find contentment – trusting that even our wounds can be a blessing. Or we can choose to resent all that we have lost, to disbelieve God’s goodness and faithfulness, and infuse our mourning with bitterness and self-pity.

Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you in our grief for all the many things which are not to be ours after all; for the days which cannot be recovered and which we had anticipated with so much pleasure. Thank you that you know how we are made, and you understand the wounds we carry and the temptation to resent what you are permitting in these days, to wallow in self-pity and choose sullenness.

Lord, in your mercy help us to choose instead to delight in what you have given – to remember our riches in Christ first and foremost, but then also to see so many other good things which are ours. Help us to accept with humble and reverent hearts that your will is the best place for us, even though we may not understand it, and even as we grieve, may we do so in a way that glorifies you and honours you. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

It’s not my job….

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord

(Pr 17.24; 20.24)

Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?..When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth..then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

(Eccl 8.7,16&17)

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear….Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

(Isa 2.17&22)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear..Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?….do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink, do not worry about it…your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well..

(Lk 12.22,25,29-31)

We are called to live in exceptional days, placed here for this time and purpose by God who holds all time and space in his hands and is at work to bring all things to their completion in Christ. The bible narrative encourages believers to continually consider what God has done, and to remember that all that happens is part of his great redemptive plan – each detail of our lives has a place, and in his hand nothing is wasted.

To me, the global experience of pandemic illness has been such a graphic demonstration of the truth which lies behind that instruction of Christ to his disciples – all our worrying achieves nothing, and our job is to trust God and instead look to our role in his work here and now. In the face of this ‘plague’, where governments, armies, wealth and privilege are powerless to  defeat an invisible enemy, we see most clearly that humanity is not in control, cannot be trusted for ultimate security, and must fail. We see our limitations written in the statistics of deaths, in the as yet unseen economic costs, the long term social costs, of this extraordinary time.

A discerning person looks to wisdom – which in the bible is described as the fear or proper respect of the Lord – rather than scanning all the range of human achievement in search of meaning and solutions. When we rightly fear God, recognising that we are mortal, limited and flawed while he is holy, almighty, just and good, then we regain some perspective on all that happens in the world. We STOP thinking that it is our job to fix things, or even to understand why they are happening. We ARE NOT GOD – and what a relief that is! When there is so much pain and suffering to be borne, who could be sufficient for this? Only the Lord Almighty, whose thoughts are emphatically not our thoughts, but whose love can be utterly depended upon.

So in these days, I rejoice that it is not my God-appointed task to find the reason for this pandemic – or any other source of suffering. I give thanks that I can trust God through all my unanswered questions, and instead ask what my job is. While mankind is not meant to know the answers to “Why?”, we are incredibly gifted in finding out “How?”, and so I give thanks and do what I can to support the efforts to address the consequences of the virus – in prayer, in financial and practical support, and by obeying the instructions of our own government.

I pray that God will be at work to fulfill his own mysterious purposes, and that along the way, we will see God’s love in action as people care for one another; as churches reach out in new ways to show Christ; as scientists race to find vaccines and medical professionals put their lives on the line to save others. God will do all that he plans through this great trial…will I do what he asks me to do?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)

In caring, praying, speaking and acting, may I do what the Lord requires of me in these days, and may I be given grace to let God be God, to leave the unanswered questions at the foot of the cross, where the blood of Christ silences them.

Cultivating wonder…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.. and the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food..

(Gen 1.31: 2.9))

‘God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?..Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it…How great is God – beyond our understanding!..He draws up the drops of water..who can understand how he spreads out the clouds..? God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding’

(Job 36.22,24,26&27: 37.5)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons…

(Romans 8.19-23)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away….And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them..”

(Rev 21.1&3)

After what feels like weeks of wind and rain, I walked this morning in a calm brightness, the sea unruffled and the distant mountains gleaming white in the sunshine. There was almost no sound at all in all the great amphitheatre of the loch, and the quiet chirruping of unseen birds carried far in the still air. Brightness, light, and saturated colours met my eye in every direction, and my soul rejoiced in my Creator, the great Artist and maker of all beauty.

I believe that God made everything good, in fact very good – not only useful, but beautiful. I exult in the magnitude of space – so far beyond my comprehension – and in the infinitesimal details of ecosystems and living beings – so far beyond my perception. I am glad to worship and yield myself to the hands of this God, whose power and infinite variety have expressed themselves in this incredible world which we perceive with all our senses.

We neglect our sense of wonder at our peril, because with it we lose a great source of encouragement and delight in our daily pilgrimage. Our glorious God has placed us in a world, a universe, which shouts his praises; and although the bible tells us that it is flawed and suffers the consequences of human rebellion, yet we also see that it remains truthful in reflecting God’s glory. We are also told that we were originally called to be faithful stewards of the garden – nurturing and tending for the benefit of all who live there – so that our fall from grace must have implications for our task as well as for ourselves.

Our garden is suffering because we are in rebellion against our maker, and ultimately that agony will only come to an end when Christ makes all things new – when our defiled and weary planet is transformed even as our mortal bodies will be transformed for immortality. This doesn’t mean we should abuse it further, but rather return with great energy to the task we were originally given, and seek to fulfill it as redeemed servants who believe in a glorious future. There is an added incentive to this labour, since we now know so much about the impact which human exploitation has had upon the whole earth’s systems – and in turn upon the creatures which depend upon it. God cares about his creation, as his children, we should care too. If by our labours now, we can create a healthier, fairer life for our poor neighbours, those affected by drought, floods, soil erosion, then let us do it – cultivating the garden for the benefit of all…

There is wonder in the coming of spring, as new life erupts in every plant, from the tiniest weed to the greatest trees; as buds swell and new leaves and flowers unfurl miraculously from tiny beginnings to extravagant displays of colour, shape and texture. There is wonder in the effortless gliding of seabirds as they ride the wind; in the ceaseless movement and energy of hedgerow birds as their tiny forms flit from thicket to tree and back to hedge. There is wonder in the the unfurling of an infant’s face and hands as they begin their journey of life. There is wonder in the soft skin of age, the strong and worn hands which have laboured and served, the patient and loving eyes which have wept, laughed and seen so much of life.

God made us to worship him, and not his creation. When I cultivate wonder, I am not worshipping the trees, the people, the sunset or the mountains, but I am reminding myself that I worship a magnificent God, who is utterly beyond my comprehension, and who yet has made all this so that I might live and know him.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Ps 95.6&7)

Stumbling across glory…

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary…worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord for he comes…

(Ps 96.4-6,9, 11&12)

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him..Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

(Ecc 3.10-14; 5.2)

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…

(Jer 17.7&8)

Beautiful in its time…which means that beauty will come to an end, will pass away, and that ache in our hearts which is briefly assuaged by it must return. The writer of Ecclesiastes explains just why the fleeting quality of beauty is so painful for us to bear – because God has set eternity in our hearts, that reflection of his nature which is designed for an everlasting expression and experience of love.

We seek to prolong our experience of beauty – by trying to capture it in a photograph; finding words to convey it others; creating methods of remembering and reproducing it in the case of music – and even by trying to prolong our own lives in order to increase the amount of beauty we may experience! But ultimately, none of these can satisfy the eternal appetite which is placed within us by God, an appetite which can only be appeased when finally we find in the new creation the full expression of all those things of which beauty in this world is only a shadow.

The author, academic and christian apologist, CS Lewis gave his biography the title “Surprised by Joy”, because it was through these ecstatic, and fleeting experiences of beauty (which he calls ‘Joy’), that he first hungered after an other-world, a place from which this joy came and to which he belonged. It was in the gospel of Christ that he finally found the source of joy, and his adoption into the kingdom where the great Author of joy, the source of beauty and glory reigns. And in many writings, especially his ‘Narnia’ series, he reflects on the purpose of these moments when the beauty of this world grabs us and take our breath away.

God’s creation must reflect his power and character, his essential beauty is revealed in so many ways in his handiwork. Is it not natural that those whose hearts are formed to mirror this divine nature should thrill in response to such glimpses of glory? We are not the Creator, but the creatures, and our own attempts to generate true beauty can never satisfy in the same way as the real thing. So we respond in celebration to the glories around us, and we gladly acknowledge our inability to match God in creation. We remember that God is in heaven, and we on the earth, so that our words – and our ambitions – should be few!

When I stumble into the presence of glory, I worship with a full heart. When my heart aches in contemplating the beauty of this broken world, I rejoice because one day, Lord make it soon, I shall be at home in the unimagineable beauty of a perfect, re-created world, and I shall be sharing my joy with the Author and Creator himself, face-to-face. When I have to pass on, when the beauty is gone, I do not grieve as those who have no hope, but allow the experience to feed my home-sickness for heaven, and to nourish my soul with fresh hope and expectation.

My God knows my need; and I choose to trust him for the supplies I need along this journey – especially for continual discoveries of glory along the way, as his power, splendour and majesty are revealed in his creation, and my appetite for my glory-home grows stronger. Let us worship along the way, and press on towards the goal!

Sweet fragrance…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices..and make a fragrant blend of incense..It is to be salted and pure and sacred..place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.

(Ex 30.34-36)

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(Jn 1.29)

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent with life. 

(2 Cor 2.14-16, The Message)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

(Heb 13.15&16)

In the regime of temple worship which God instituted with his people, there was a special incense – to be used only within the confines of that building, and for one purpose only. This particular smell, composed of rich spices, would instantly alert the worshipper to the fact that they were in a place set aside for meeting with God.  This building would smell different from every other, a perfume different from any flower, shrub or spice they knew in daily life, a building set apart for a special purpose. The scent would speak immediately of a holy place, one where God was pleased to encounter his people, where they were put right with him through the sacrificial system.

I believe that it is this instant recognition factor which is so significant about the incense in the temple. Even those who only occasionally made the journey to worship there would carry in their sense-memory that particular scent, and each return visit would bring a sense of homecoming, as the smell of incense reached them. Here, in this place, God is..

Our sense of smell is amazing, and scents are strong triggers for memory and recognition. How often have you been jolted from your present situation by a smell, pleasantly or painfully reminded of another time, place or person? My daughter inherited the end of a bottle of perfume which my late mother used for years. I find myself confused by the scent, worn by the one and reminding me so powerfully of the other. In a less serious vein, how many of us treasure the smell of freshly mown grass?! Reeking of spring and summer, of school games fields ready for lunchtime games, it speaks of heat, life and freedom.

What then is the significance of the aroma, or scent which Paul attributes to believers as they follow Christ? Is there something here of the unique fragrance which belongs to the place where God and humankind are reconciled – the cross of Jesus, which once for all replaced the sacrificial system of the temple?

The bible tells us that as we receive Christ’s sacrifice for us, by faith, so we receive new life – his life in us. We are now welcomed into God’s presence because we are ‘in Christ’, and all his triumphs and blessings are counted as ours. This surely means that we are to God as an acceptable fragrance too – we speak of atonement for sin, of reconciliation, of peace. As we seek to live faithfully, increasingly transformed by the Spirit into likeness of Christ, our lives yield the unmistakeable scent of grace. In the same way that the hyacinth fills a room with its fragrance – simply by fulfilling its nature and coming into flower – so also as believers, in obeying and trusting God, we are spreading the scent of the gospel to all with whom we come in contact.

Some will react against it, finding all that the gospel stands for abhorrent, and condemning all that we hold most dear. But even as the hyacinth cannot change its scent simply because some people find it unpleasant, so we as believers cannot change the truth about us – that we are saved, because we needed to be rescued, because sin is a reality which humanity alone cannot deal with. The gospel is indeed a stumbling-block to many, but we as believers are not accountable for how people react to it, only to for sharing it.

As I live by faith in Christ, depending on his once-for-all sacrifice, and representing in myself the place where God by his Holy Spirit dwells with his people, I pray that the aroma of grace might be the most noticeable thing about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do I give…?

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men 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.

(Ps 65.1-4)

A generous person will prosper; one who refreshes others will themselves be refreshed.

(Prov 11.25)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us..If [a person’s] gift is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously…share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

(Rom 12.8&13)

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one 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.

(2Cor 9.6-8&11)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

(Eph 1.3)

The question is not “will I give?”, or even “what will I give?”, but rather “How will I give?”. I am rich in so many of the world’s good things, and have health and peace and security beyond the dreams of millions….what am I doing with them?

Am I tempted, like a miser, to hoard what I have for my own use – my space; my time; my energy; my intellect; my resources…because I am somehow worth it? As a follower of Jesus, one whose life is now under the sovereignty of the Lord of Life and King of Love, this is not an option! When I consider that everything I have is a free gift, part of God’s provision for His world, His church, it becomes clear that I have no right to hold onto anything He has given. I am merely a steward and the question is what kind?

So, I am commanded to give, to give generously – and cheerfully – of all I am and have for the blessing of God’s people and for his glory and work in the world. Some things are easier to give than others – less costly in terms of time, effort, privacy – but that doesn’t mean that I can put up a security fence around those things and refuse to part with them! Everything comes from God, the breath which keeps me alive, the beating heart which sustains my body, the mind which makes sense of it all; the family, friends and community which surrounds me; the money which buys food, clothes, insurance, fuel for the car, heating for the house. God asks me to withhold nothing from his service but to give when He asks, and gladly, how dare I hold back?!

So when I am called upon to set aside my schedule for the day in order to sit with someone who needs to be heard, I think of Christ, who always made time for people; when I forgo peace and privacy in order to give someone hospitality and invest in their refreshment and encouragement, I think of Christ who saw the needs of those around them and poured himself out in availability and vulnerability.

The testimony of God’s people down the years is clear, that when we give of ourselves and all we have received, we are more than repaid in the fellowship of the body of Christ, and in the joy of seeing God at work. This giving is a large part of our worship of God – a returning to Him in thanksgiving of the things we have received, and celebrating the privilege of using them in His service. Contrary to all that the world’s wisdom would tell us, Christ calls us to be poured out in service and giving, and to trust that here lies our true ‘self-fulfillment’. When a follower of Jesus loses ‘self’ in this way, we find our new ‘self’ within the body of Christ – an intimately connected, mutually enriching and enabling community where we are free to live, serve, love and be loved.

May we never forget to be thankful for all we have received, and to respond in obedient, trusting faith, by offering ourselves unreservedly and confidently for God to pour out in His work – let us be cheerful givers!

What’s in a name..?

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who …Choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.

(Isa 56.4-7)

The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.3,14&15)

Greet Priscilla and Acquila..my dear friend Epenetus..Mary, Andronicus and Junias, Ampliatus, Urbanus and Stachys..Apelles, the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas…

(Rom 16.3-15)

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

(3Jn.14)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

(Heb 12.22&23)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name..

(Rev 3.11&12)

Deep down in our spirits, we know that each one of us matters; uniquely, eternally, matters. Our very existence has significance, and we strive to honour and respect the memory of those who have gone, as if the act of forgetting somehow wipes them out forever, and makes them of no account. This came home to me most recently at the sombre and moving memorial on the site of the twin towers in New York, where the names of those who died are recorded – not on some inaccessible wall or behind screens, but on plinths where they can be read and touched.

Each name represents a person made to reflect God’s character in the world; represents so many experiences, hopes and achievements – and above all a person for whom the world was made. We do well to remember that the terror and destruction of that day – and of so many other dark days in human history, like the Holocaust, the genocides of Africa and the Balkans, the purges of Stalin, Mao Tse tung and the Khmer Rouge, the great world wars and the invisible and forgotten conflicts that drag on today – all of these happened to ordinary people like us. In remembering, we express our own fear of being forgotten, swept away like dust with nothing to show we had ever lived.

Memorials are a cry against annihilation; a plea for it not to be true that after we die, there is nothing!

The bible teaches very clearly that the spirit in us is speaking a truth – that we are made for more than a few years of mortal life, and that our lives do have eternal significance. We have an inheritance – literally a place with our name on it – in the new heaven and earth which God is unfolding. No one can take that from us, no matter how short, troubled and apparently insignificant our mortal lives may be.

The shepherd king knows each of his sheep by name – he knows the very number of hairs upon our heads, and every detail of every day appointed for us to live. We matter to him, to the Lord of the universe, to the sovereign over every power and authority and the judge who will at last see righteousness rule over all things. He notices our little struggles and also our little victories; and he appreciates all that we seek to do in his name and for his glory. Even if our names are not recorded in some list of thanks by an apostle, we can be sure that our shepherd sees and values our labours, and we can truly rejoice because our names are written indelibly in heaven.

And there is this promise of a new name, to be given when at last we embark upon our new life with the redeemed in the perfection and joyous freedom of resurrection bodies and complete fellowship with Christ – a name which will maintain both our unique identities but also clearly show that we belong utterly to him.

I rejoice, O Lord, to know that my name is written in your book of life; and I praise you that one day, I will receive the new name which will proclaim to all the congregation of your people that I am your beloved, perfect and accepted, come into my inheritance and at peace!