Seasonal labour..

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Ps 126.4-6)

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127.1)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to mourn and a time to dance..a time to search and a time to give up..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…

(Eccl 3.1-8)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

(1 Cor 3.7-9)

I was blessed this week to spend time with a wise woman – one who has walked long with God and proved his faithfulness – who encouraged and helped me as I wrestled with the heaviness of these days. God grant that I may be such a friend in turn to others in their need, as he uses us to bless one another! Two things in our conversation were particularly helpful and also connected with recent readings in the Psalms, and I share them with you now.

Firstly, the idea of seasons. As a gardener, I come close to the rhythm which God has placed at the very heart of our planet, and the mysteries of soil, water and life. I know that a seed must die if a plant is to live and bear fruit; I know that ground must lie fallow in between crops; I know that rain, cold and time must be allowed to do their work on soil which has been cleared and fertilised. There are activities which are proper to each season, and it is pointless and even destructive to engage in the wrong labour for that time – where would be the use in digging up daffodil bulbs to see if they are going to flower only 3 weeks after planting them? Those days call for expectant and patient waiting, not faithless digging!

As one who believes in a God who declares himself both Almighty and Sovereign, so that EVERYTHING that happens comes within the sphere of both his knowledge and great plan and purpose, I choose to trust him for this season in our world’s existence. I cannot know how long it will last, nor what will follow – perhaps there will be a time of glorious harvest as many find faith and hope in Jesus, what joy that would be! But this whole time – the political, economic, ecological, moral and social turmoil across the globe – is under his dominion, is part of his plan. I will only find peace in this season as I choose to accept that sovereignty, trust that He will prove his goodness and justice one day, and look for the ways He is already at work in it.

And this brings me to the second idea we spoke of – the choice to focus on what CAN be done in this season, rather than on what CANNOT be done! Yes, there are many restrictions on us, and our lives are not what we expected at this time. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless and aimless, that God has nothing for us to do! I cannot say what your particular tasks in this season will look like – each of us has a unique place and a particular calling as God’s fellow workers – but they will be there.

Listen – to God’s word, ponder and be open to correction and surprises..to the stories of God’s people around the globe, let the stories of your brothers and sisters inspire and encourage and motivate you.

Pray – talk to Him about everything and everyone, asking for direction to be active and in tune with His plans.

Live – act on what you read and hear – love those around you, reach out to encourage and bless; rejoice in the life you have been given, instead of resenting what is withheld.

We look to God, as to our master, to see where He would have us act; remembering that it is He who builds, not us, He who gives life and increases the kingdom, not us. We may weep as we sow, but God can still grant fruit and we may hope for joy in harvesting .

The relief of unconditional love….

How long, I Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?..But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

(Ps 13.5)

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me…do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me…I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

(Ps 27.7,9&10, 13&14)

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness..as a bride adorns herself with her jewels..

(Isa 61.10)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins…Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms..so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

(1 Pet 4.7-11)

As the tension level rises, my stomach churns and I want to both scream and fight, and also run away, I draw great breaths and cry out to God for mercy in my time of trouble.

As the atmosphere gets colder, conversation more and more awkward so that everything I say is somehow wrong and irritating, I cry out to God for mercy in our time of trouble.

As everything I am seems to be difficult for others to live with – both my strengths and my weaknesses, I weep in my heart and curl up small, trying not to cause more trouble. I cry out to God for mercy in my distress and beg his enabling for those who have to live with me.

I give thanks, starting with the little things that daily remind me of God’s provision for me and I am calmed. The provision for my bodily comfort which is more than adequate; the beauty of the land around me which ministers to my spirit; the exhilirating shock of cold sea water on my skin which reminds me of the precious gift of life itself.

I turn my thoughts to the gospel which is the greatest gift God gives to his children; I remind myself that I deserve nothing and yet receive more than I can imagine. I remind myself that I am just as deserving of judgement as those who may have hurt me, or whose reactions to me show how difficult they find me. I focus on mercy, on grace, on the totally free outpouring of forgiveness and the new birth into eternal life which IS mine in Jesus. I am humbled and ashamed of the critical spirit which has been raging in me against my fellow sinners.

My soul, hear this…the God of the universes desires your companionship. The maker of the stars in all their glory looks at you and is glad, delighting in the beauty and richness of all that you are. The Almighty, holy and pure and unable to look on sin, enjoys your delight in the world and all that each day and moment brings. Your quirks and bad habits do not exasperate the one who calls you ‘Beloved’; your lack of intellect and the narrowness of your interests does not bore or alienate the one who died to save you. Oh my dear wounded, rejected and frightened self, run to your Lord’s loving arms and take refuge there. In that secure clasp take comfort and breathe deeply, relax and be held by the one who has promised NEVER to let go of you.

And in time, you will find that you are able to return in his strength to the task appointed, to the people whom you are privileged to love in his name. And your first task is to forgive them, even as you are forgiven by your Father, so that they might receive from you that unconditional love which alone heals and restores and sustains. You cannot love perfectly, but you can keep on asking for divine help, and giving thanks for the divine grace and providence which works in and through you  in spite of your ongoing failures.

May God in his mercy be pleased to continue his work in and through each one of us, as we love and serve one another in his name, forgiving as many times as necessary and choosing love and loyalty over resentment and revenge. To him be the glory, as he fulfills his purposes so that in us, as well as in everything else, God may be praised through our Lord Jesus.

Not our will, but yours O Lord….

Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is not breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. …Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

(Hab 2.18-3.2)

“What about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you..for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

(Matt.16.15-18)

..You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Eph 2.19-21, 3.10&11)

One of the hardest lessons in the great narrative of the bible is that God consistently acts in ways which bewilder his people; they stumble and falter as time and again, he works through gross evil and hostility to accomplish his purposes. We consider the role which Pharaoh played in the great redemption story of the Exodus – how the adamant resistance and pride of that ruler played directly into God’s plan to reveal the full magnificence of his power to deliver the people of Israel. 

Perhaps most shockingly, and hardest to keep in focus for those like me who have known the story all their lives, is the role of the Jewish establishment and Roman authorities in crucifying Jesus and thus bringing about the salvation which God had ordained from the very beginning. The injustice, malice, and concentrated evil which was at work to overcome Jesus acted instead to achieve exactly what had been intended, and from apparent defeat, God drew absolute victory. 

What happened next? The sustained persecution of the new believers in Jerusalem sent them far across the known world, spreading the gospel as they went and bringing hope to every people whom they met. Our God IS working out his purposes – but how ready we are to assume that those must be the same as our own, and how wrong we may be!

The ‘church’ is the people of God – those privileged to be citizens of heaven, members of God’s family – and our ultimate purpose is to demonstrate to the heavenly powers that God is good and wise and powerful, not that we are! It is God who is building, not us. It is God who sustains and inspires, and his Spirit which breathes life into those who are dead in their sins – not our strategies, or missions, or institutional magnificence. We are being built up together in Christ – not into a human organisation – and our purpose is to be the place where God’s presence dwells in the new heavens and the new earth. 

We are not there yet….by a long way, and I am just wondering whether part of God’s purpose in these days of global turmoil is to shake us as believers completely out of the complacency which continues to trust in human institutions. Is it possible that all the trappings of Christianity which we still cling to – buildings, hierarchies of clergy, denominations, ritual and pomp – all these have been hindering us from seeing and obeying God’s call? As we are forbidden to meet together, and are forced to take responsibility for our own spiritual lives in unprecedented ways, is God pruning off dead wood? This trial is revealing whether people are putting their faith in God, or in the human institution which we call the church, but which perhaps never really merited the name…

Let us pray in these days that God will find us ready to listen to his direction; to obey his call; to put away those things which are hindrances to gospel living and loving. Let us cry to him for direction and above all for encouragement that through this trial, he will reveal his power at work in building his church – in spite of all the obstacles which our ‘church’ has put in his way. 

Standing firm, or hanging on..or being held?

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you….I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life… To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless.

(Ps 119.89-91,93&96)

Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please

(Isa 46.8-10)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

(1 Cor 1.18,20&25)

As I read this morning in Psalm 119, it hit me like a wave of relief….it is not what the world may say that matters, but rather what is true. What do I see around me? What does the testimony of centuries speak of? What above all does the book of Revelation assure me ? That the God in whom I am fighting to trust, that Almighty who reveals himself through the scriptures of the Old and New testaments, He is..He is good…and astonishingly, I am his beloved.

The darkness of the world has not changed; the bleak outlook in economic, political, environmental and social terms is the same. But – thanks be to the kindness of my Lord and the work of the Spirit – my eyes have been guided back to the only worthwhile truth, the eternal word of God. While the world continues to perplex and trouble me, I know deep in my heart that it makes even less sense if I try to leave God out of the picture. I rejoice with the psalmist, even as I call on God to fulfill his purposes in our broken world, even as I cry for his mercy on my doubts, and his active care for the untold millions in distresses without number.

The testimony of God’s people down the years – first his faithful among the Jews, and now those from all nations, tribes and tongues who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – is that God chooses to confound human pride and strength, in order to demonstrate our limitations and his own glory and might. Our God will not share his glory with another ; no state apparatus, no empire – however secure and impregnable it may look at its height, no power-hungry leader, no commercial system or social trend.. All human institutions come and go, but our God reigns and rules for ever and he will accomplish all that he pleases.

I want to be on the winning side! I want to stand at the end with Jesus, and say thank you for bringing me into your family, at such a cost and in spite of all you knew about how I would fail you – because all of this will resound to his glory and will magnify the love which planned from the beginning to redeem a fallen world. I want to be part of the new creation, to finally live as I was made to live in humble and glad service of God, and enjoying his presence without shame.

For the moment, this means accepting the world’s judgement of me as foolish; it means living with the agonising tension between the dark and broken reality of the world, and the certainty of hope which is mine in Jesus – a hope which is offered to all who are willing to lay aside their pride and accept the ‘folly’ of the gospel.

Can I encourage anyone reading this who is struggling like me to live faithfully in this tension…it is God’s tenacious grip on me which is my security, not the assiduity of my bible reading or prayer life. It is God’s certain adoption of me into his family through Jesus which gives me peace, not the credit of my good works or exercise of the talents which I have been given. This is called foolishness in a world which preaches self-help, and rewards those who have confidence in themselves…

Keep on talking to your heavenly Father, keep bringing your grief and lament into his presence, keep putting yourself in the place where you can hear his voice – so many things have been used to help me this past week, the words of hymns, the prayers of others, remembered phrases from books..You honour him best in these trying times by clinging harder and harder to that eternal word, pushing into that faithfulness and covenant love.. There is no one like our God, we are on the winning side, and he will indeed accomplish all that is good and right – how we long to see that day!

Dust-bound…

I lie in the dust, completely discouraged; revive me by your word. I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your principles. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful miracles. I weep with grief; encourage me by your word. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your law. I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your laws. I cling to your decrees. Lord, don’t let me be put to shame! If you will help me, I will run to follow your commands.

(Ps 119.25-32)

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.

(Pr 15.31-32)

So get rid of all the filth and evil in  your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the law that sets you free – and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, than God will bless you for doing it. 

(Jas 1.21-25)

I am thankful that when we read the scriptures handed down to us, we find the people of God struggling with doubts, burdened in spirit and sometimes utterly discouraged. Their experiences – recorded for us in God’s mercy and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – are profoundly reassuring when we face our own periods of heaviness, doubt and despondency.

Here we find the saints of old pouring out their grief over the world, and over the state of their own hearts – the largest to the smallest matter is fit to bring to the mercy-seat of the Almighty when it comes burdening one of his beloved children. How wonderful to have such ready access to a loving, accepting heart; how amazing to know that when we come in near despair at the apparent inactivity of the God in whom we seek to trust, still he welcomes us and cherishes our tears and agonies. Our struggles to believe in the face of the barrage of reasons to doubt are precious to our Father, and our resolute clinging to his word as our source of security and strength is entirely the work of his spirit.

So today I am summoned not to hide my griefs away, to put on a brave face, but to come with all the mess, doubt and fear which stirs within me and robs me of my peace. To come and confess that I have deceived myself, harbouring false images of my own godliness. It is painful to be undeceived, to see that I had begun to take pride in myself, but it is necessary. Instead, I am forcibly presented with unpleasant truths about selfishness, indolence, and an unloving spirit.

O God, when shall I be free of this deceitful spirit? When shall I finally live as one with nothing to be ashamed of? Only when my resurrection body finally stands before you in glory shall I know that total freedom of which now I have tantalising glimpses. Only then shall I be free of this interminable battle to stand against my own weakness and the wiles of the evil one – make it happen soon, dear Lord your children are hungry for holiness and weary of war…

Only in Jesus’s death for me can I find comfort in these days – this is love; unmistakeable, inexplicable, unshakeable. My failure to grow in holiness; my self-centred and small-mindedness; my failure in loving and serving; my ineffectual living….all these things are somehow forgiven, and I am loved. I am ashamed to fail my Lord in so many ways, to bring so little honour to his name – and to know that this will be the case until he mercifully takes me home.

O Lord, encourage me in your word; teach me your ways and comfort my griefs.  I can do nothing worthwhile, think nothing good, believe nothing true, unless you enable me. May I receive your gentle and loving correction as you show me the truth of my own heart, so that your word and Spirit bear fruit in my life which does honour to you, and blesses those to whom you have sent me.

 

Longing and belonging..

When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens..the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

(Gen 2.4&7)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?..You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings..made him ruler over the works of your hands…all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(Ps 8.3-9)

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity

(Ps 98.7-9)

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God..”Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple…The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city..

(Rev 21.2&3;22, 22.3)

Almighty God, how I rejoice in your works today! I worship you, maker of so much more than I can ever comprehend or imagine, and I glory in my God.

The wonder of your creativity continues to astound us, from the tiniest sub-particles, to the apparent infinities of space – and all of this is by your design. This is the setting for your plan to create and enjoy fellowship with us – how could we ever have imagined such a destiny, such a glorious purpose?! Thank you for revealing yourself to us, for unveiling this glorious destiny, and above all for making it possible through Jesus for us to fulfill it.

In my heart, I know that I was made for this world, and yet for so much more. When I read that I am a dust-child, frail as grass and easily perishing, I recognise the truth of my transience. And yet, I also know that I live by the breath of God, my very being protests against the idea of annihilation, and thrills at the prospect of a life more vivid, fulfilling, glorious and perfect than any this world can offer. I was created to know, and to be known by eternal love, to be at home in a place where heaven and earth embrace, where God dwells with his children in joy and peace

I love this world; it is my home, the place was made to be just right for humankind by the author of all good things, and he does not make mistakes. So I can find a proper joy in the world which God has gifted to us, rightly reluctant to leave it and delighting to recognise the fingerprint of my master in every detail. Creation itself has so much to teach us – even though we have spoiled it so badly. Praise of the maker rises at every point of the compass, in every reach of every universe, directing honour and glory to God and obedient to his commands. Would that my own life more and more did the same, pointing others to my creator and saviour, prompt in obedience and satisfied with his providence for me! I make it so complicated, and long for a purer, steadier faith.

I am at home here and yet homesick for something more..and how precious to us are those visions and promises in God’s word which give glimpses of that home for which we are ultimately destined! Our resurrection bodies will belong in our new-made earth, in the place where at last God will live with his beloved children and they with him – with no shame, no pain, no fear – every longing satisfied and the constant presence of our beloved Lord to enjoy.

So what does all this mean for my daily walk, the round of duties, opportunities and occupations which fill my time? Primarily, it is something which I talk to my Lord about – a great deal – bringing the tension between now and not yet to him. What sweet relief to share the burden, with one who made me and knows me, and gives daily gifts in love to sustain me! I find great joy in the world around me, and choose to trust that although I cannot begin to imagine a new-made earth, that my God knows how it is going to work and it will be PERFECT.

When the sinister, sickening and pathetic realm of human affairs threatens to overwhelm me, I take courage for the day from this. God, who made all this to give us a home, who sent Christ to make me right in holiness and purity, is not going to fail in the end. Truth, justice and love will see to it that every promise is fulfilled, and I can trust his ways and his timing.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Pressing the ‘reset’ button…

A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the  morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts! The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will for ever be destroyed.

But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever.

For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured upon me. My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries; my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Psalm 92)

One of the most sustaining, helpful disciplines which we can cultivate as followers of Jesus, is that of speaking truth to our own spirits – the truth about God as revealed in his word and especially in his son our Saviour, Jesus.

Our lives in this sin-stained and fractured world are continually exposed to the results of evil – in ourselves, through the actions of others, and through the impact humankind is having on our planet. If we dwell exclusively on what we see, or even more deadly, on how we feel on a daily and hourly basis, then we are lost to a turmoil which brings us no peace, and undermines our witness to the good news about Jesus.

God’s unchanging character, his attributes and glory, are a surer foundation on which to ground our daily lives. He has revealed himself as a powerful Creator, a holy and just Judge, and an intimately interested, involved and sufficient Redeemer. He has promised that his chosen people will dwell in his presence in an eternal, joyful and fulfilling relationship which is simply beyond our imagination, and which means that physical death is simply a gateway to glory.

This psalm, which the Jews use especially to celebrate the ‘rest’ of the Sabbath – when they anticipate the complete rest from striving which God has promised his people – is a marvellous meditation on God’s character, works and promises, and acts as a ‘reset’ button. By that I mean the idea of restoring the original settings in a device, so that it functions as it was designed to do – a clearing away of unhelpful and distracting activities/actions. When the mind is fixed on truth, when ambitions, will and desire are continually directed and redirected towards godliness and obedience, towards the glory of God, the whole person is refreshed, sustained and able to thrive as they were designed to do.

As a follower of Jesus, I celebrate the Lord’s Day, when the resurrection proved with great power that his work of salvation had been completed, and God declared my debt had been paid in full. I celebrate the ‘rest’ into which I have entered, where I need not strive after perfection in order to be saved, nor wallow in self-pity and remorse in order to be forgiven. Instead, I rest entirely on what Jesus did for me, and worship Father, Son and Spirit – the author and agent of the great plan to restore human fellowship with a holy God. This psalm speaks for me as it did to the people of the Hebrew bible – of the greatness of God’s works, which include the atoning death of Jesus; of the sure judgement and final defeat of evil which will be accomplished and which sustains my faith as I walk in a darkened world.

As I take time regularly to ‘reset’ my faith, clear my thoughts of distractions, remembering Jesus and all he has done for me, I am refreshed, and – please God – come to resemble more and more those wonderful flourishing trees which continue to bear fruit down the years, because their roots are deep in the truth.

My Lord is my Rock; He has dealt with my sin and I sing for joy at the work of his hands. Jesus has vanquished every enemy, and I have seen their defeat at his cross and empty tomb. 

O Lord, my Lord, be exalted for ever!