Tag Archives: 2 Corinthians

Outlook..changeable!

Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the pace where you dwell.  Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

(Ps 43)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor.4.8&9, 16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

(Phil 4.4&6)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

One of the many effective ways in which our enemy, the devil, can cause us to stumble in our walk with God is by making us doubt our salvation. And one of the easiest ways for him to do that is to tempt us to focus on how our lives in this world continue to be dogged by difficulties – suffering of every kind. If he can once begin to direct our thoughts down the line of “if I were a real christian, surely I would not find life so hard, I would triumph over all my difficulties”, then he has got us trapped in a mire of self-reproach, self-preoccupation, and lies.

I say lies, because if we actually take time to look at the stories of believers’ lives – both faithful Old Testament followers and disciples in the New Testament – what we find are very familiar patterns of struggle and despondency, in a world that looks as dark and difficult as our own. The psalmists wrote of great joy, and also of deep despair – even of a sense of abandonment – but always from the conviction that God was listening, and powerful to act. They freely expressed their troubles, but had learnt that their experiences were not to be relied upon as an indication of God’s presence, absence or favour.

Time and time again, we find their darkest hours are underpinned by the rock-solid belief that God is, that He is good, and that somewhere, somehow, He is at work in this situation. They pressed on, in faith, not pretending to be perfect, not imagining that the world should be kinder to them than it was, but trusting God to keep them and use every trial for his glory and their blessing.

The same picture is painted for us in the lives of the saints, the believers of whom we read in the New Testament. They have the full revelation of Christ, knowledge of God’s saving love for them on Calvary, and yet they continue to struggle with the reality of life in a broken world.  Not only do they suffer persecution from non-believers, but also internal divisions within the churches. They experience illness, bereavement, personal disagreements and alienation, famine and natural disasters. All of human experience continues to be their experience – the joyous and the troubled – as it is ours. And nowhere do we find believers rebuked for their suffering, as if it were somehow the result of a lack of faith.

Rather, the apostles are concerned that they be wise, mature in their understanding, and above all grounded in faith in the nature of God. Just as for the Old Testament followers, it is not emotional experience which is the basis of reality and truth, but what God says – about himself and about us as his children. We WILL have trouble in this world – Jesus promised that! But we WILL also have his presence with us always, until the very end, when all troubles will cease and the need for obedient perseverance will finally be over.

We must encourage one another, through the ups and downs of our lives, to remember that while the ‘weather’ of our situation may change dramatically, the God who is in charge does not change. We will always feel cold when it is icy, get wet when it rains, and struggle when it gets too hot – those are normal and right reactions to our conditions. In the same way, we will grieve, feel fear or anxiety, anger and horror, depending on what is happening. We bring those feelings to God – as the psalmists did – and with thanksgiving (as the psalmists and the apostles did) we rejoice that He does not change, that He is in control, and that He will prove faithful through it all.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Getting practical..

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

(Ps 119.97-104)

Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

(Rom 6.17-19)

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. ..we even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

(2Cor 10.3-5, JB Phillips)

I praise you, Almighty God, because in your mercy you set me free from the law of sin and death; I am no longer bound by a power too great for me to resist, which compels me to do that which is opposed to Christ. I praise you, Merciful God, because in your compassion you dwell in me by the Holy spirit, whose power is great to transform me, and overcome evil. I praise you, Loving God, because in your wisdom, you have given me your word – and in it I find the Word of Life by whom I am sustained.

I bring to you every part of my being – limbs, mind and spirit. I bring to you every area of my character – strength and weakness, interests and abilities. I bring to you every relationship of which I am part – intimate and distant, easy and difficult. I offer all these things to you as my worship, and also, dear Lord, to reflect and manifest your righteousness – that Christ-likeness which is your goal for my life.

I confess – and you already know it, so why should I hide? – that so many of my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways not your ways. I am still often in rebellion against Christ’s lordship – but how I rejoice in the truth that you have made me new, whole and clean, and that those sins I continue to commit are forgiven, not counted against me. How glad I am that you see my heart, and there you see a growing sensitivity to sin which is a guarantee of your Spirit’s working and purifying – you have set my heart to desire you, and in spite of my failings, I know it does. Thank you!

In my mothering, dear Father, let me love as you love. Let me release my children into your care – over and over, as often as it takes; affirming again that it is not for me to dictate your ways with them.

In my worrying, Almighty, Omnipotent and Omniscient God, let me instead turn to praise that it is not my job to fix everything, or even carry part of the burden, but rather to cast all my cares on you, and to praise you in the midst of my troubles.

In my studying, Giver of every good and perfect gift, let me enjoy the gifts you have given me, the passions and interests I have, and reject all anxiety and godless fear for the task ahead. Let this process show me, and others, that you give your servants peace as they serve for your glory and not their own. Let me reject all the foolish pride in achievement which drives me, and instead remember that your delight in me depends all on Christ.

As a citizen of a world facing uncertainty in politics, climate and every other sphere, let me not be crushed by hopelessness for the future. You are making all things new, and calling us to work with you for the new kingdom of God. Let me take those despairing thoughts captive to the glorious promise of Christ’s return and the day when we shall see the new heaven and earth and find our God dwelling in the midst of his people.

In every part of me, Lord, be glorified as you enable me to recognise where you are calling me to repent of old ways of thinking and doing, and to submit them – one by one, over days, and months and years – to the lordship of Christ and the truth of your word.

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you….We each have different gifts according to the grace given us. 

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..

Thought-police?

For though we live in the world, we do  not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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 Corinthians 10.3-5)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or  praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 3.8&9)

 I wonder if you are sometimes deeply disturbed by the thoughts that percolate to the surface of your mind, when the voice you hear is bitter, angry, vengeful or simply loaded with the lead-weight of self-pity?

This has been and continues to be my experience, much more often than I care to admit, and it is easy to fall into despair over the apparent lack of change in one’s innermost attitudes, even after years of walking with Jesus.

I was therefore greatly encouraged in a recent brief conversation about these depressingly frequent, and totally ungodly thoughts, to be reminded that it is not so much that they come which should concern me, as what I do about them!

Let me explain.. In his words from 2 Corinthians 10, quoted above, the apostle Paul talks about “taking every thought captive”, as part of a longer passage about the war which we wage as believers against the powers in the world which oppose our faith. A soldier in a battle situation, seeing an enemy appear on his horizon has a choice – to oppose, to avoid, or to welcome him! To welcome the enemy is to be a traitor to one’s own cause, and to avoid doing anything to him is almost as bad, since it leaves him free to attack again another time. But to oppose, to do battle and struggle, to subdue and take him captive, is to be loyal to one’s own cause, to act in obedience to the orders received, and reduce the risk to oneself.

So when I apply this picture to the whole business of my thoughts, of what comes into my head as daily life with all its challenges comes my way, what do I find? Why that I also have a choice! When I find angry thoughts in my heart because of the way I have been treated, I recognise them as an enemy, and choose – with God’s power at work in me – not to speak or act upon those thoughts. I choose to follow the example of Christ who turned the other cheek to his persecutors, and to forgive them as I remember how much I have been forgiven by God.

It can be a great struggle, never under-estimate the power of your thoughts to drive a steam-roller through your good intentions! But rely instead on the power which God supplies, by his spirit within us, to claim the victory which Christ has won over the power of evil in his children’s lives. We are, in him, sweeter than our bitter thoughts; more forgiving than our grudges; more patient than our intolerance and more securely grounded than our doubts.

Ultimately, it is as we look upon Christ, absorbing more and more of his life and likeness, that we find our victory over our rebellious thoughts. As we allow the word of God – the person of Christ as revealed in the words of Scripture – to soak into heart and head, we are transformed. And be sure the devil will make every effort to undermine that work in you, in me. If he can tie us up in despair over our ungodly thoughts, he has disabled us, and instead of us claiming a victory for God, we become a casualty, a prisoner-of-war who needs to be rescued all over again and meantime is of no use in at the frontline!

So let us embrace Paul’s good advice to the Philippians, to direct our thoughts to all the goodness and beauty which God has revealed – in the world, in his people, and ultimately and most clearly, in the person of His Son, our Lord. In him, we have the victory, let us claim it!