Tag Archives: Colossians 3

Relationships, not rules..

..Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your god my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me , be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

(Ruth 1.16&17)

Therefore, I urge you, sisters and brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual or reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

(Eph 6.25-27)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds the all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

We recently completed a short study in the story of Ruth, and as I came to write this blog about sacrificial living, it struck me that she is the embodiment of what Paul wrote about. Ruth freely chose to embrace uncertainty, danger, poverty and alien status – why? She committed herself to loving Naomi, whatever it took. Her whole being was involved in that commitment, she left nothing behind in Moab, and so far as we can read in the story, never looked back in longing for her ‘freedom’. This was unconditional love in action, a rather one-sided relationship perhaps at times, where Ruth got virtually nothing in return. But she never seems to have wavered in her commitment and faithfulness, and as a result, her story is one of the most beloved of all scripture, her character held up as a pattern for us to follow and admire.

Ruth personifies for us the love of God, ultimately revealed in Jesus; the mercy which Paul speaks of in the letter to the Romans. It is a pattern of living which brings life and hope and love to those who need it so badly, and asks nothing in return but the privilege of serving. If our Lord and Saviour, who lived a perfect life which glorified God – and thus worshipped His Father- then why should not we follow that example. In this way, we too may worship God most acceptably. And this kind of worship has little to do with an hour in a building once a week, and everything to do with the kind of people we are every hour of every day in every place which we go.

What might sacrificial living look like for you and I today? There may be seasons in our lives where the needs of others will be clear – dependent children or relatives, neighbours who have a call on our time and abilities – and then out of love for them – not because somehow by serving them we gain credit with God – we give and serve in love. At other times it may be less obvious, but as we offer our gifts, money and time to God, he will show us where they are to be used – for the body of Christ in the church and in the wider world. We all have something to offer, and we can all receive from others as they serve us!

It can feel frightening to commit to unconditional love – and it goes against the grain of much contemporary culture. We fear being trodden underfoot, left behind in the race for self-fulfilment and success. But we are not called to measure success and fulfilment as the world does. When we look through God’s eyes, we see clearly that our human measures are false and temporary. True and lasting joy, fulfilment and success come as we follow the servant-King, looking to love, not merely obey rules. It is not in some ‘rub-my back and I’ll-rub yours’ sort of transaction that we live lives of worship and love. Rather it is as Christ lived – pouring himself out unstintingly, and trusting God for the outcome – for himself and for others.

Making good investments..

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.  I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it…. I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

(Ps 101 1-4)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.. rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.1-3,8-10,12-14)

As those who have put their faith in Jesus for salvation, and the hope of eternal life, we are now citizens of a new kingdom – the kingdom of Christ – and our loyalty is to a higher throne than any this world has known. We also belong to a people whose morality is radically other than those around us – it is grounded in the nature of God and as those who now live under his rule, we seek to honour his kingship by the way that we live.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul explores for his readers just what it should look like for believers to live as citizens of God’s kingdom in a fallen world. The crucial thing is to remember that our behaviour is not modified in order to earn our salvation, but rather the fact of Christ’s sacrificial death and the power of his forgiveness motivate us to love him so much that we long to emulate and model ourselves on him. As the note in my bible commentary says: “you are…. now be!” In other words, live as though you really are God’s beloved, redeemed and holy children, those who delight to be holy as He is holy, and to love as He loves.

This week, I just want us to notice that nowhere in Paul’s words does he refer to how we might feel on any given day, or how hard it might be to pursue godliness in any given circumstances. In the same way as the psalmist pledges his commitment to daily choices to pursue holiness, so also Paul expects us as believers to commit to pursuing lives which express the character of Christ who now lives in us and whose power is at work to shape us in that way. This is a matter of developing habits which will shape our thinking and behaviour in such a permanent way that when a crisis hits, we react in godly ways quite instinctively. Does my love for Jesus motivate this kind of commitment? Am I deliberately choosing to cherish those virtues which reflect him, or am I lazily drifting along and assuming that God will sort me out in the end?

The reality is that unless we are actively pursuing habits of virtue, and deliberately rejecting or avoiding habits of vice, then we will inevitably drift toward the latter. Our fallen nature, the world around us, and the devil who seeks our injury will all conspire to entice and entrap us by our own undisciplined natures.

O God, who in Christ saved us from our sins, and by the Holy spirit lives in us day to day: have mercy on our frailty and strengthen us in godliness, that we might worthily present you to the world around us. As we consider Christ in all his glory, and the work of salvation in all its indescribable love and generosity, may our hearts and minds be ever more committed to rejecting all ungodliness, and to embracing and cherishing all those things which reflect his goodness. 

To daily choose virtue, and to reject vice; to depend on your power at work in us to strengthen every feeble effort; to rejoice that we need not earn our salvation but rest in Christ’s finished work: O God, hear our prayer, in his name, Amen.

for the helpers…

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Ps 121.1&2)

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, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it…. in the church God has appointed.. apostles, .. prophets, ..teachers, ..those having gifts of healing, those able to help others..

(1 Cor 12.24-26,28)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

Today, in my weakness and distress, I have known gentleness and compassion. In my confusion, there has been one who understands. In my weariness, there has been one to carry, and think, and do for me.

Thank you, Lord God, for the one who ministered to me, who brought your kindness and patience, clothed in human form, and gave what I needed.

How precious it is, when God’s loving kindness is brought to us by a person, a pair of hands and a gentle heart; a listening spirit and wise counsel; a strong arm and the fruit of experience; a generous gift of time, talents or money which meets the need of the moment. How good it is, to reflect on the ways by which we have been helped, in great or small ways, all the days of our lives, and to recognise God’s good hand in these things.

How humbling it is, to see ourselves as others see us, in our frailty and changeability. How sweet to know that we are loved and accepted, with all our faults and that the veil of their love is drawn over our shame and it is hidden in the hearts of our nearest and dearest. We cannot be all-sufficient; we must accept our limitations and gracefully allow others to do for us what we cannot do. God has placed helpers in our lives, how stubborn and foolish it would be to refuse them the privilege of serving us, even as we seek to serve them!

How marvellous it is, to know that others are praying for us, and that often the help that comes is because of their intercessions and the mysterious providence of God, working all things together through time, across geography and in all human intention, to fulfill his glorious purposes. We cannot be all-seeing, all -knowing, but must trust ourselves to God each moment of each day, and therefore we pray for his provision for ourselves and others – for his help and direction to undergird our ways.

Lord God, almighty and all-knowing, ultimately all our help comes from you and we praise and thank you today for your care for us, the least and lowliest. 

We thank and praise you for those by whom you so often send your help, for our families and friends, for our fellow-believers, and for the random strangers who appear at just the right moment to help us in our need. May we never tire of saying “Thank you”, to your human helpers, as well as to you.

We confess again the sin of pride and independence which causes us to resent or resist the help of others, to envy their gifts instead of valuing our own, and to doubt your wisdom in creating us in the unique way that you have!

Thank you, most of all, for the greatest help you give us, in our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who gave everything that we might be helped out of our hopelessness, whose aid never fails, and who remains with us by his Spirit. In Jesus Christ, you came to us in flesh and blood, and in his name, we praise and thank you for all your faithfulness and mercy. Amen.  

Like sunshine after rain…

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long….Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

(Ps 32.1-7)

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

(Matt 5.23&24)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

It’s not nice… that moment when your heart contracts and it feels as though there is a stone in the pit of your stomach as you realise that – perhaps with the best of intentions – you have caused someone offence, inadvertently hurting and rousing them to anger. A relationship is put in jeopardy, and the time that elapses until reconciliation can be attempted feels like an eternity. The most disastrous potential outcomes play through the mind like a horror movie, and the nagging voice of doom is the loudest one in your head.

I have a choice in this situation.. do I react defensively? Do I try to protect my pride by justifying my actions and insisting that the other person is over-reacting or deliberately misinterpreting me? Or, do I ditch pride and do all in my power to be reconciled – confessing my fault (which means calling it by the right name, not disguising it under less offensive titles)? It is clear that Jesus calls us to the latter, and insists that when someone has reason to be offended at us, we should make the restoration of that relationship a priority above all else.

Needing to be forgiven is a profoundly vulnerable situation to be in; and as I consider how much I dread being in that position, and how awful it feels to wait for the other person to be gracious to me, fearing irretrievable breakdown in relationship, I wonder how often my offences against God have made me feel that way?

Have I become so used to the incredible nature of grace, the depth of forgiveness won for me by Jesus on the cross, that I no longer dread to offend my God? Do I presume upon the divine mercy? I hope not, indeed I pray – like David – to be forgiven from hidden and unwitting sins, which do not trouble me because I do not even recognise them. My shortcomings as a believer are still grounds for grief, confession and repentance, even as I rejoice in the forgiveness which Christ continually offers. How sweet to the spirit, how deeply healing, to bask in the light of a love which has chosen not to remember my sins, and to enter into a relationship with me.

When we choose to forgive one another, we extend this healing power to one another. When we choose to renew and restore relationship, we invite someone to grow in love and humility and commit ourselves to faithful pilgrimage alongside them. Forgiveness comes from a place of love, a desire to be in relationship – with God and with one another. Friends, let us not withhold this great gift from one another, but offer the inestimable blessing of forgiveness when it is asked of us, and let the light of God’s love shine through us to one another.

With my own two hands…

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&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

A nourishing soil…

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked..But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

(Ps 1.1-3)

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure enduring for ever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are much more precious than gold..they are sweeter than honey..

(Ps 19.7-10)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(Col 3.15-17)

At a recent small group bible study, we were challenged to think just what it means for the word of Christ to “dwell richly” in us, and these thoughts are largely the fruit of that discussion. It is a phrase which I instinctively warm to, even though it takes some unpacking. This is something which I want to be true in my life, a prize which I covet..so what might it look like?

My first thought – as a gardener – was of the way in which plants either thrive or struggle in a given environment, and the difference which a little care and appropriate nourishment and attention can make to them. If we consider that the word of Christ has been planted in us – the source of our new life, and all those wonderful things celebrated in Psalm 19 – then we have a choice as to how we treat it.

Each person is unique, and each will respond more easily to certain parts of the word than others, depending on how they are made – for some reason, I find it easier to read and learn from the letters in the New Testament, than from the gospels for example. The letters readily bear fruit in my life, I connect with them easily. Does this mean that I neglect the gospels? No, it means I need to think like a gardener with a reluctant plant – I take time, I study how this particular species needs to be treated, and I approach it accordingly, confident that my actions will bear fruit. The results may not be spectacular, and this particular ‘plant’ may never come as easily and abundantly to me as the others, but I will be enriched nonetheless.

I can rejoice that God by his Holy Spirit stirs up within me an appetite for his word and a desire to be changed by it, so that I become rich in those things which matter – the Christ-likeness which is God’s purpose for me; holiness, love, discernment and courage to withstand evil and preach the gospel. The word dwells richly in my life when it is the most beautiful, the most dominant, the most desired thing I have – it is my prize because in it I find Christ and all the love of God for me.

As a singer, I especially rejoice in Paul’s suggestion that the word dwells richly in us when we sing just as much as when we speak together! I find immense blessing in singing the truths of faith, and in the way that the God-gift of music can embed the God-gift of gospel truth in my heart and mind. You may have heard people say that music ‘enriches their lives’, and surely for a follower of Jesus this is even more true, since our songs carry the word of Christ with them! Our emotions are a part of God’s making of humanity in his image, and while it is not wise to be driven by them, we are supposed to receive blessing through feelings – as we grieve over sin and rejoice in salvation; as we are eased by the beauty around us, and stirred by tunes which admirably fit the words to which they are set.

As we meet our fellow believers today, and as we live in a world which desperately needs to know our Lord, may his word be deeply embedded in us, bearing fruit and creating in us the beauty which is a faint mirror of his. May we speak and sing his truth, to his glory and the blessing of many..

Grace – it’s God’s gift to share, not ours to keep…

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Ex 34.5-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom 5.1&2)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God

(2Cor 5.13&15)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..

(2 Pet 1.2 & 5.18)

What is this ‘grace’ of which the New Testament of our bibles is so full? Was it invented by the church retrospectively to explain what was going on, or is it part of the great narrative of time?

Grace is understood – in the context of God’s revelation of himself – to be the free and unmerited favour which He (as supreme and superior to us in every way) chooses to show us, mere creatures, and in rebellion against Him. That favour is compounded of many things, well beyond the scope of a brief piece of writing, but the word itself is basically shorthand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is represented in God’s choosing of Abram, and the making of a covenant with him – one in which all the promises were on God’s side, and which God kept in spite of Abram’s failings and sin. Grace is seen in God’s powerful deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt – and especially in his bearing with them all through their sulking, rebellious and uncooperative wanderings in the wilderness. Grace is seen in their establishment in a land which was rich and plentiful. Grace is seen in God’s faithfulness to David, in spite of David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Grace is seen in God reaching out to the people of Nineveh in their sin, with the offer of salvation. Grace is seen in God’s ministry to his people even in their exile in Babylon, where the prophets spoke of God’s presence among them and promise to restore them to their land.

Grace does not arrive with Jesus…but, John tells us that Jesus – as God’s perfect representation in the flesh – showed us more clearly than anything had done beforehand just what grace looks like.

Grace is to love people when they despise you; grace is to bear with people when they misunderstand and misjudge you; grace is to go to the cross, bearing all the appalling weight of a world of sin and grief, so that those who have rejected you might be saved from the consequences of their own sin. This is what God’s grace – in the person of Jesus – did. He did not wait for us to recognise his worth; did not wait until he was popular and liked; did not require that salvation be earned by lavish good works, acts of extreme piety or self-sacrifice. He died, while we were still utterly estranged from and hostile to him, so that we might live never to be estranged again from God.

If I, as a follower of Jesus, and one who calls him Lord, am not willing to show grace to others as it has been shown to me – not willing to allow the riches of God’s forgiveness and love to be offered – then I am not worthy to be called a christian. This free gift – encompassing all of God’s riches – was lavishly poured on me, and continues to be my daily portion. How dare I then choose to whom I will show it? I am no more worthy to receive God’s riches than anyone else – and no less worthy.

Lord God, forgive me when I judge that someone is not worthy of grace, when I choose to condemn instead of being compassionate; to hold a grudge instead of forgiving; to withhold love and kindness instead of reaching out. Your grace outraged the religious leaders of your day, because it was freely offered to the wheeler-dealer Zaccheus, to the disgraced woman who anointed your feet with her tears, to the lepers and the maimed, the socially marginalised. And it was offered to those who thought themselves above you, above needing forgiveness.

You invited everyone to come and receive grace, may I follow your example, and by my words and actions make it clear that all are welcome..

What’s my uniform?

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit….You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you for ever.

(Ps 30.1-3,11&12)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

(Eph 6.10-18)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

(Col 3.12)

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress;

midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.

(Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf: 1739-, translated by John Wesley)

The hymn which I have quoted above was sung often at the church where I grew up, and it remains a precious source of comfort and reassurance to me – in spite of the antiquity of the language – pointing as it does to the great truth of our salvation…it is nothing to do with our own efforts and merit, or failings and faults but rather all to do with Christ! I have long exulted in the picture of being clothed, as with ceremonial robes, in his beauty and glory and then proudly standing as his beloved before my Creator and God. The thankfulness of the psalmist in his deliverance from death reflects this wonderful picture and sense of being wrapped all around in something that shouts “JOY!” for all to hear and see.

Ultimately, Christ’s perfections are what all believers wear before the judgement throne – we have nothing else! But the bible also uses the language of clothes, garments and even armour, in describing our lives as believers, and it can be very helpful to apply them to our daily living and interactions with  others. Think of them as our uniform, and consider why they might be important, even necessary…

In Colossians, Paul urges his readers to put on all these beautiful qualities of love in action, reminding them of all they owe to Christ as the fount of their blessings and that they ought to love one another as Christ loved them – patiently, sacrificially, humbly and gently. This is a uniform that will help us to do our appointed task as believers well; these are the qualities which we need to seek out, and cultivate with the help of the Spirit so that increasingly we don’t even need to think about putting them on – choosing to live in this way – but do it naturally.

This uniform will also help us to recognise one another as believers; these qualities of faith and love in action are the outworking of God’s promise to refine and shape us until we become like his son. As we are increasingly transformed, so that family likeness – the ‘uniformity’ of God’s people in spite of their wonderful diversity – is to be seen in us. We can encourage one another as we see these qualities more strongly and more often, urging one another to persevere through trials and trust God to be at work in and through them to clothe us increasingly with the image of his son.

And then there is the familiar image of the armour, beloved of Sunday school teachers and for good reason – it is simple and yet powerful in conveying both the dangers we face and also the resources we possess, the job we have to do and the way we are to do it. We have protective armour, because we are in a battle – how often do we forget this, and then wonder at the state we get into because we have not noticed how the evil one has drawn us away and robbed us of our peace? We are given armour in order to resist him – to deflect and quench the piercing arrows of old guilts ; to protect our thinking so that we reason and make good, godly decisions based on truth, not on lies from the Father of lies; to stand firm at peace in the midst of turmoil and to move with confidence because we know that wherever we are called, God is with us and the victory is his. And we have his precious word, our only weapon, with which to both defend ourselves – as Christ did in the wilderness temptation – and also to play our part in working out God’s victory over evil in the world.

We have all the promises, all the truth of salvation freely offered and completely achieved. God has promised to build his church, has promised that all the powers of hell cannot prevent it, and we claim that power and truth every time we pray in Christ’s name for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done….

We have so much to wear, are so richly provided for and equipped for the life which God has given us; let us rejoice daily and gladly wear our uniform, proud to be known as His and to be part of his amazing and growing church.

To do lists…

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

(Ps 119.97-99)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

(Gal 6.9&10)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people..

(Eph 6.18)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

(Col.3.23&24)

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. ..always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1Thess.5.14-18)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves….whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

(Jm 1.22&25)

One of the most insidious weapons which the devil uses against me – and very possibly against many other believers – is to play on my desire to glorify God in my life, my desire to become more like Jesus.

Does that sound like a contradiction? I can assure you it is not. This very good and proper thing – like so many other good things – can be manipulated and twisted into a weapon which disables the believer and causes them endless trouble. I know, because it happens to me so often.

The great love of God for me, his grace in forgiving and making me a child in his family, call forth a response of love, of a hunger to please him and show how much I value all that I have been given, and also how amazing he is. This is very right and proper…but then with a very clever twist, the devil gets me to begin thinking about just what that right response should look like in my life – what is the “right” thing to do here and now? For an over-thinker, a perfectionist, and one who hates to upset anyone, that question is a lethal, paralysing power that goes straight to my heart and destroys my peace.

Firstly, the list of things which we are called to ‘do’ in response to our calling as redeemed children of God is quite daunting – so much to be prayed(continually?!) for, so much scripture to be meditated on (day and night!); so many people in physical and spiritual need to be reached out and ministered to. How does anyone manage to hold down a full-time job, run a family, pursue their God-given talents and skills in recreation, as well as doing these things which are commanded? How can I hold conversations with people at the same time as praying continually? How can I study and write essays, or take part in meetings and make business decisions at the same time as meditating on scripture?

When I put it that way, you can see it is nonsense, and since God has called us to interact with people, to serve him in our labours, to be godly parents, spouses, siblings, then these things also must be right. But just how does it work in practice? Perhaps now you see why I described it as a ‘paralysing’ question?!

Secondly, when I begin to think about prayer and scripture meditation, about serving others and sharing the gospel, I am invariably overwhelmed by the awareness that I do none of these things ‘as well as other people’. That is a dangerous phrase – when you hear it in your thoughts, take warning and realise that the devil is needling at your peace of mind, at your acceptance as a child of God and perfect in his sight.

I do not have answers to this challenge, I live with the questions; what does God desire that I should do with the limited time, talents and opportunities he has given me?

But I take great comfort from the word given to the Colossians – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” – and from the sure knowledge that God sees my heart, and understands my weaknesses. Let me learn to trust his grace to be sufficient – I can never be ‘right’ in what I do, and that is ok with him, because his strength is made perfect, seen most clearly, in all the ways that he does things ‘right’, weaving all my best efforts into his beautiful whole.

What a faithful God…

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away..

(Song of Solomon 8.6&7)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col. 3.12-14)

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. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

(Ps 103.1-18)

Twenty five years ago, I stepped into the dress of which this photo is a detail, took my father’s arm, and walked down to the front of my church to meet and take vows with the man who is my husband. Four homes, two children, and two congregations later, we are still here, still married, and still utterly dependent upon our faithful God for his power to keep us together.

It is one thing, in the rosy days of romance, to say that we will love the sinner to whom we have given our promise…it is quite another to learn to do this in practice, day in and day out, through the exhaustion of early parenting, through the doldrums of teenage angst, in the face of external and internal stresses and challenges. In every situation which we face as husband and wife, we have to remember that we also face our own sinful tendencies, and the not-yet-cleansed thoughts and habits and weaknesses which can cause so much pain. As I celebrate these twenty five years, I do so with a profound awareness that it is only by God’s grace that I am still here.

Over the years, the knowledge that my father God understands all that I am facing, and all that I am forcing my husband to face, has been probably the mainstay of my strength. There is one who knows and understands, who has compassion upon my weakness and who has, in his incredible providence, already provided for the ways in which my mess will be absorbed into his amazing plan to make everything work together for his glory and my blessing. This is an indescribable relief, to know that none of it is wasted, nothing is irretrievable, and that over and under and through it all, I am loved by a perfect, powerful, and present God.

Because I am loved by God, I can love my husband; I will seek his good, pray for his walk with God, show kindness and compassion.

Because I am forgiven by God, I can forgive my husband; I will extend to him the same grace which I depend upon daily, trusting in God to enable me to refuse to harbour grudges or grievances, even as God refuses to remember my sins.

Because I am delighted in by God, I can delight in my husband; I will choose to remember and celebrate that he is unique, beloved of God, one who in the days of the new heaven and new earth will be revealed as glorious.

Because I am accepted – as one made in God’s image, being made whole and Christlike – by God, I can accept my (also a work-in-progress) husband!; I will choose to encourage and support him, to be a place where he may rest and be refreshed, to hold him in honour, as one upon whom God has set his love.

We cannot tell how many more days, or years, the Lord may grant us to walk this earth together, nor what trials may come to challenge us – and what a mercy that we should be kept in such ignorance. But we choose to say now, that we have a faithful God, and that we will trust him for what will come. May we live to be a blessing to others, and to give glory to our God, in whatever ways he may direct.