When forgetting is hard..

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions….Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..

(Ps 51.1&4)

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

(Ps 130.1-4)

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel'” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people….For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

(Jer 31.33&34)

In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us…

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

(Eph 1.7; 6.16)

The enemy of God’s house and family, the so-called ‘accuser of the brothers and sisters’, is skilled in disguising himself and getting past our guard. How often have we had that mental shock when we catch ourselves going down a thought -path which seemed to start out well, but end up in places of bitterness, resentment, or flat out rebellion against God? We have been beguiled – as Eve was – by smooth and plausible words and ideas, and failed to recognise the personality of our companion.

This can be particularly painful when, as was my experience recently, the accuser takes our own lived experiences of sin and failure, and under the guise of our good conscience, stirs up a perfect storm of anxiety and grief over past hurts to others. The memories return too clearly – of hasty words; careless forgetfulness and selfish behaviour which have left a legacy in the lives of others. They may have forgiven us, but the damage was done and cannot be undone by all our tears and genuine repentance.

It was a dark time; swamped by awareness of my sin and the impact on others, I cried out to God for mercy and help as a drowning man calls for assistance. And the word came, the gracious reminder that this accusing voice did not come from God. My God has promised to keep no record of my sins, to make no effort to remember them and certainly not to use the memory of them to rob me of strength and joy for today.

What is the truth of our situation? Yes, we have sinned against others – and will continue to do so until we die. Yes, those sins have consequences. BUT, God in his mercy has provided forgiveness for our sins, so that we are released from guilt over our past, and it cannot define who we are anymore. AND, God in his grace promises that the consequences of our sin in the lives of others are all within his providential care for them – none of it is wasted, all is formed into part of the whole!

Even as God uses the consequences of other people’s sin in my life to teach me about his faithfulness, and my own need to depend on him alone – so he also teaches others through my failures. How wonderful, how marvellous; to know that even my most grievous wrongs are not able to thwart God’s purposes, and my loved ones are not somehow disqualified from God’s best for them by my sin.

As this year draws to a close, I rejoice in the daily mercies of forgiveness from God, and the ability which that gives me to forgive others. I praise him because nothing can separate us from his love – and that includes our sins against one another – because in Christ, we are securely adopted into his family. I choose to take up my shield of faith – faith in the effectiveness of Jesus’ blood to deal with sin, to quench the painful attacks of the enemy of my redeemed people, and faith in the Almighty God, who is working all things together for the good of those whom he has called.

God has forgiven me, let me never dare to refuse to forgive myself; but rather humbly and gladly accept that I can depend only and always on him to do what is right and best. I pray that I may never treat sin lightly, but I rejoice that forgiveness is always free, and I need not be crippled by fear of the consequences of my failures. I serve a great and awesome God, nothing is impossible with him!

Tell me the old, old story

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity….He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

(Mic 5.2&4)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth..to Bethlehem…to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…and there were shepherds living out in the fields near by…An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them..But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord..”  So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Lk 2.4-6,8-11,16&20)

You are to give him the name Jesus [or Messiah], because he will save his people from their sins..this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means “God with us”

(Matt 1.21-23)

Like a movement caught only on the edge of my vision; a whisper on the edge of my hearing; there are intimations of a glory unimagined in this beloved story. I cannot remember a time when I did not know the words, and yet I know that I will never tire of hearing it again.

This birth, in a small town in a dim corner of empire, is the culmination of centuries of God working out his promises and purposes. It is the focal point of a multitude of lives and events fashioned down the years so that at just the right time – in every sense of the words – this woman gave birth to this child in this place. How many hundreds and thousands of people played their part in the great drama? How many had any idea that their lives were of such eternal significance? Does this not give me courage and inspiration for my own small life – seemingly insignificant – that within the purposes of God, I matter! I may not see the big picture yet, but I can trust that my God – the God of Mary and Joseph, of Abraham and Isaac, of Ruth and Rahab, of David, Solomon and Isaiah – has me in exactly the place which he desires for his glory.

This birth, in a land under enemy occupation, to a people without power to govern themselves, a people divided against themselves and lacking leadership, was the beginning of a new kingdom – the rule of Christ the King of Kings. The circumstances suggested anything but such a future for this child, and yet the reality – the truth – was that God had inaugurated the reign of the Shepherd King, who in himself would bring true peace to his people. And that people would reach around the world and throughout time, until every nation, tribe and tongue will be represented in his flock.

Our world is as dark, threatening, confused and pain-filled as it was then. The people of God today remain a minority, threatened on all sides, divided within themselves, and losing their way under false leaders. But shall we not find hope in the old, old story? Our God remains on the throne, and his arm is still mighty to save and establish believers, to build up the church and to keep it until the end. The circumstances remain unpromising – but I believe in the God who was at work in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.

The vision of glory which is our eternal future; dwelling in uninterrupted and joyous fellowship with Jesus our Lord, and finally realising our beauty as the unified church, the bride of Christ – this vision is no daydream. It is guaranteed to us by the God of Bethlehem, whose glory shone upon the shepherds, whose plans cannot be thwarted, and whose timing is perfect. Let us rejoice today in this old, old story and in the timeless truth which it teaches, for our encouragement and to the glory of God.

 

 

So much better than “best wishes”!

..a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests”

(Lk 2.13&14)

Finally brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

(2 Cor 13.11&14)

For [Christ] himself is our peace…he came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near..Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 2.14&17;  6.23)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Pet 1.3&5-8)

In this era of social media, and internet communication, it is rare to send or receive a tangible greeting from anyone, and the habits and conventions of letter writing are dwindling. At Christmas perhaps, we still expect to send and receive cards, and will take time to write to those precious folk whom we will not see to greet in person. And we will wrestle as we always do, with the inadequacy of language to express our love, our support and care for them. Our words cannot achieve what we desire in communicating all that is in our hearts, and certainly cannot make us present to one another!

How marvellous then are the words which we find in scripture, where time and again, God promises his presence with his people. God does not send greetings, does not make wishes for our blessing; He gives, He comes! Ultimately, the whole narrative of scripture is the tale of God’s work to restore perfect communion between himself and his people, to deal with the barrier of sin which keeps us alienated from Him. But even from the beginning, God’s promise to his chosen ones was of his presence; and all the blessings which that brings.

When Paul writes prayers for blessing – as so often he does – at the end of his letters, he is not simply expressing good wishes, but asking with confidence that God will do exactly what He has promised to do, and can do. The young churches were communities of believers, reborn in Christ and indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence was among them, and with that came his gifts – of peace and rest; of reconciliation with one another; of the glorious hope of resurrection and eternal life; of forgiveness for sins past, and grace for the day’s tasks. As Peter says in his letter, God has given all that we need to live in ways that bring Him joy – because we have life in Christ by the Spirit and are free from slavery to sin.

So my friends, let us consider what good gifts we have received from God our Father – the foundation of faith, that trust in the saving work of Christ through which alone we are rescued, and on which all else is built: peace with God, and thus with one another, as we live together as forgiven children, equally dependant upon mercy, and equally glorified in Christ: love for one another, because we are already totally loved by God and have nothing to prove, nothing to depend on others for.

We can follow Paul’s example as we greet fellow believers, and as we pray for them; we can claim God’s promised gifts for his children and know that since He is present with them, there is no danger that the gift will be withheld.

Peace to you, my brothers and sisters; love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are your inheritance and daily provision.

….with my own love in Christ to all who read and share with me in the riches of our inheritance as the beloved children of God.

Battling for the faith of others

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple…The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever…Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me…May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Ps 19.7,9,12-14)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed he remembers that we are dust….But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…

(Ps 103.13,14&17)

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal..The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

(Isa 26.3&4,7&8)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Rom 12.2)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Cor 10.5)

One of the most distressing trials which can come to God’s children is an assault upon their mental health – and we are told that most of us will experience such assaults at some point in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. How do we pray for those whose minds are clouded and confused by illness, so that they have been deprived of the full comfort of their faith?

We know from the bible that it is through our minds, our understanding, that we receive faith and learn about the love of God for us. We read his word, and in obeying it, serving his people, and allowing it to dwell in us, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. What then of those who cannot trust their minds, or control their thoughts? How can we pray for those who are under a darkness which twists and distorts truth into lies – lies about themselves, about others, and above all about God and how he regards them?

We can praise God, because it is not our faith and understanding which keeps us secure, but the power of his saving arms. The faith of little children, of those with learning difficulties, surely shows us that it is not intellectual capacity that qualifies us to be called followers of Jesus! We thank God for his compassion towards us, his creatures. He knows how we are made, knows our frailties, and although human understanding of the mind is extensive, yet only God truly sees how ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ we are put together, how delicate and intricate is the balance of our mental and physical health.

So we can trust that although our beloved ones who are struggling may feel unloved, abandoned and hopeless, yet this is not the truth. All who have professed faith in Christ and acknowledged him as Lord, no matter how great their darkness, remain in his love. Paul reminds us that NOTHING is able to separate believers from this love – both external trials and assaults, and also surely the internal trial of mental illness. So we praise and thank God for keeping his children, for forgiving their sins, guarding them and preparing a place in heaven for them.

While we give thanks for the health of our own minds, we should pray to be kept humble, not to rely upon human wisdom as our salvation, nor to be proud of what we have learnt or can do in God’s service. We are well; good, so we put our health at the disposal of our brothers and sisters who are not – in prayer, service, and presence. For those in the darkness of mental illness, we can – by God’s help – be a constant loving reminder that God has not abandoned them, holding the truth before them even though their understanding is compromised. We pray that we might be the compassion of God in human form, patient, gentle and true.

And we can pray that – as with all our trials in this life – God will be at work to bring glory to himself, blessing to our loved ones, and good things for his kingdom. Healing so often comes, and perhaps lessons in living differently, using God’s gifts in new ways, being less busy and more restful. We cannot tell how these experiences might be part of God’s plan, but we can be sure that they are, and pray for fruitfulness in the future. He is faithful, strong and true; let us trust ourselves to him and keep praying!

In Everything….Give thanks!

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.

(Ps 1.1-3)

“The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

(Ps 35.27&28)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

(Ecc 7.14)

A wife of noble character who can find? she is worth far more than rubies…she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

(Prov 31.1, 25&26)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4.12&13)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share..

(1Tim 6.17&18)

My circumstances may change, but the God in whom I trust remains the same, and his purposes are eternal. He delights in the well-being of his servants, and only he truly knows what that consists in – I cannot know, but  may choose to trust his wisdom and knowledge of all things. Other people may be trusted to do their best for me, but only God can be trusted to do what really IS best for me, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Since this is so, I can also choose to give thanks in all circumstances, and to be content.

Perhaps when our lives are full of material blessings, we are sorely tempted to self-reliance, conceit and pride; to selfishness and indolence. In these circumstances, the danger is that our contentment develops into arrogance and we become distant from God. Here the wisdom of scripture teaches us to remember that all we have is a gift from God, certainly for our enjoyment, but also for use in his kingdom and the blessing of his children. We hold good things as stewards bear responsibility for another’s possessions, and we are accountable to the Lord of all for our use of his gifts.

It is imperative that we do not base our faith in God on the gifts we receive from him – or where should we be when troubles come and our gifts are gone? Our true security – the strength and dignity of the wise woman of Proverbs; the joy and peace of the Psalmist – come from the right-doing character of the unchanging God in whom they (and we) trust, revealed in his word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, the living Word.

When God chooses to bless me with health, how do I use it? When God chooses to bless me with wealth, how do I spend it? When God chooses that my loved ones should also enjoy these blessings, how do I pray for them?

I do not need to feel guilty when I am in pleasant pastures, and there are no storms on the horizon. But I must cultivate a spirit of humble gratitude, and open-hearted generosity, so that all the gifts entrusted to me are being used for God’s glory. I believe that for a mature follower of Jesus, the true enjoyment of God’s generous blessings is dependent upon this sacrificial attitude, this willingness to surrender all to God’s service. How is it possible to be glad in one’s own good things when others in the family of Christ are in need? Or to relish my own rich inheritance of faith when there are so many around me who know nothing of salvation and the free gift of forgiveness? I may not be in a position to make a big difference, but I can be willing to do my part!

So as well as thanking God for his many material and physical blessings, I thank him for a tender conscience, and the gift of wisdom to see that unless all these things are held by me on behalf of the body of Christ and for the mission of God, then they will be spoiled for me.

And I also choose to thank him for the overwhelming gifts of love which I receive every day – the personal touches from the Lover of my Soul, which are given to gladden my heart and strengthen my faith. They prompt me to praise, and encourage me in striving to live for Christ and with Christ.

In everything dear friends, let us rejoice in the Lord who does all things well!

There is a time…

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

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.

(Ecc 3.1-11)

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

(Ps 31.14-16)

Jesus…prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…

(Jn 17.1)

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

(Rom 5.6)

When my spirit is filled with an ache of longing, and wearied with the unruly, ugly and frightening deeds of humankind, dear Lord, let me remember that you have set eternity in my heart, and that is why I am homesick.

When it seems that the pride of man, and the prince of this world have frustrated all potential for good, for redemption, for hope, dear Lord, let me remember that you are the eternal God, and they are nothing in your sight.

When the pattern of my own life is not what I had hoped, or expected; when it holds gashes and stains, rough and dark streaks, when the threads are weak and like to break, dear Lord, let me remember that all my times are in your hands and none of this is wasted.

When my own persisting sinfulness, the temptations within and assaults from without would bring me to despair, dear Lord, let me remember that you have died for me, declaring forgiveness and cleansing, and that nothing can prevent you from bringing me triumphantly home at last.

 

We are creatures burdened with a divided loyalty – to our own time and place within an earthly span of years; but also to the place which God is preparing for us at his side in the new earth, where time has no meaning, and in a glory which our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend.

To this time, belong the peculiar mixture of gladness and mourning; building and tearing down; living and dying. In this sphere, we are given the privilege and opportunity of receiving all things from God as opportunities to glorify him, even as Christ prayed on the eve of his greatest ordeal.

The times of plenty, of peace, of fulfillment – these are an opportunity to push past the gift and to glory in the Giver. I need not be ashamed of the blessings I receive, but rather hold them thankfully, humbly, and seek to share them. Our suffering too, in its own small way, is a platform on which – by his grace – God may be exalted. I do not write this lightly, for I know that God’s children have experienced incredible trials, and yet the testimony of the saints remains – God is good, and worthy of our trust. All that happens to us can be surrendered to this supreme purpose, and our obedience, submission and sacrificial praise are an acceptable, fragrant offering to God. Will I not, in my turn, seek to honour my beloved Lord when he chooses that I should suffer?

May I choose not to question what my God may send me in the days ahead, but accept all things as from him – rejoicing in the hope which Christ has birthed in me; fortified by the presence of the Spirit; and resting in the tender love of the Father who may be trusted to do all things well.

Learning in serving

[Moses] said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day…they are not just idle words for you – they are your life!”…”The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword”..since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.. 

(Deut 32.46&46; 33.27&29; 34.10)

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts..so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body..God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be..God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body..If one part suffers, every part suffers with it

(1 Cor 12.12&13,18,24&26)

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there..on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands..and mark that you do this with humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences…..Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift..working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive in Christ.

(Eph 4.1-3,712&13: The Message)

I know of very few things which are as effective in showing me the true state of my soul as the necessity of serving my fellow-beings, and more to the point, serving as Christ would do – in love. I can gloss over my weaknesses when alone, or when in congenial company with no challenges to my pride and sense of self-satisfaction, but it is a different matter on the frontline of fellowship.

An opportunity for service may initially strike me as a way to bless others, to do God’s work in a particular sphere, and in a myriad of ways, to feel good about myself and what gifts I bring to my community. Those things may be true – God prepares good works for us, so that his body, the church, might be built up in every way and it is right that we should seek to use the gifts we have to that end. BUT, it is also true that I am not perfect, far from it in fact, and that God has much to teach me and to change in me. Did Moses, that great servant of God, not discover many uncomfortable truths about himself as he obeyed God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and through 40 years of desert wandering? His final words to the people ring with the authority of one who has been tested, and has proved the faithfulness of God – and also the forgiveness of God – as the only basis for our lives, but that authority came from years of learning about his own weakness, and crucifying his pride as leader.

Christ is always my example in my dealings with others, but how easy to forget when we are frustrated by another’s failure to be and act in the ways we want – when ‘our’ project is not being carried out as we planned it. How readily we give up on those who do not share our gifts, energy, intelligence or talents but who nonetheless are alongside us in serving the body of Christ. It is never my job to condemn, ridicule, undermine or lose patience with my fellow-believer – but how often I am tempted to do so. May God have mercy on me, show me the places where pride still reigns, and love is smothered by self.

Father God, thank you for the privilege of being part of the body of Christ; let me never forget that this is all by your gift, not my merit.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the privilege of serving the Church, your body; let me never rate my gifts too high, but in continual humility see the value of what you have given to others. Let me always be willing to repent of pride, and learn to cherish each unique child of God.

Holy Spirit, thank you that you are the lifeblood, the oxygen in the veins of the body of Christ, bringing continual fresh supplies of grace, and healing, transforming power, so that I – along with my fellow believers – am being renewed in the image of Christ himself.