Tag Archives: Hebrews

His door is never shut…

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

(Ps 23.5&6)

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

(Ps 52.8&9)

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

(Isa 33.5&6)

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

(Heb 10.19-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not tame…but good!

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm…”Brace yourself..I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand…On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?..Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…”

(Job 38.1-4,6&7,16-18)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

(Ps 8.1)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

(Ps 19.1&2)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see….By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

(Heb 11.1&3)

I do not see the point of so many things – slugs and midges, the common cold, why hair has to turn grey or fall out, hiccups and stinging jellyfish..I don’t understand so much of God’s ways in the world – tyrants, war and misery apparently unchecked, human morality veering ever further from God’s principles, God’s apparent inaction in the face of people rejecting and reviling him. And I also don’t understand beauty, the persistent presence of goodness, truth, kindness and selflessness in the midst of chaos, pain and darkness.

But Jesus never said we would understand – he reminded his disciples that their faith should be like that of little children, who depend implicitly upon those who have power to protect and provide for them. Our faith in God is not because we understand what he is doing right now, or can predict what he will do next – we are not qualified to participate in the divine work at that level! Ours is a humbler role – which presumably is why humanity as a whole rejects it, our pride rebels against things we cannot understand and (by implication) control.

By faith, we depend upon God to be true to himself – the character revealed in creation, in scriptures and uniquely in Jesus himself. We do not and should not try to comprehend him, but rather recognise the wild, glorious goodness and power revealed in the Maker of this incredible world; who yet is also the crushed and bleeding man upon the cross.

In his Narnia books, CS Lewis cautions us against trying to fit God into our own image and understanding, as through the character of the great lion Aslan, he reveals one who is good, and yet not tame, one before whom we will rightly fall in trembling worship only to find ourselves utterly secure and safe in his presence.

When I am overwhelmed by the weight of the world’s troubles, tempted to doubt and despair, feeling helpless and ashamed that I cannot see God’s transforming work and have no answers to give to those who mock my faith – then I focus on two things. Firstly on the marvellous universe in which we live – God’s magnificent challenge to Job brings me such fierce joy as I share some of my Creator’s delight in the mysteries of the physical world. Secondly on the cross – the place where almighty power appeared in absolute weakness and conquered sin and death for ever, where the wild, unimagineable power of my God was fully revealed.

Let me be content to be mocked by more sophisticated minds, as I choose to make this God my foundation for life and hope. Let me be steadfast in reverent worship of the one who called the morning stars into being, and who has walked the recesses of the ocean! Lord, let me have total confidence in you; for although your ways are wild and strange to me, yet I believe in your goodness, because of Calvary. How I long for the day when  your name will be vindicated before all people; when your justice will be celebrated not derided and when faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see and live with you for ever….come Lord, come soon!

Observation..or celebration?

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath..for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.

(Ex 20.9&11)

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

(Ps 27.4)

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

(Ps 34.1-3)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath..

(Matt 11.28;12.8)

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.

(Rom 14.5&6)

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you ear or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however, is found in Christ.

(Col 2.16)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall..

(Heb 4.9-11)

One of the benefits of this strange time is the extra opportunity to learn from the bible, to think about what it means to live in a fallen world where I am called to witness and work for God’s glory and kingdom. It can be easy to let the preacher think for us, instead of learning in the life-changing way which comes by personally wrestling with the truth. There can be challenges, as the truth is not always obvious, perhaps not what we have always assumed it to be. But what riches are found when we put in the effort, as the whole of scripture begins to speak with a unified voice, all leading to Christ and glorifying him!

The idea of ‘rest’ is one of the unifying themes of scripture. Did you realise that from the very beginning, God designed us to dwell with him in a place where he had done all the work? That is what Eden and the first day of rest was all about. And with the Fall, that divine rest was lost to humankind – we are on a continual quest for it, unable to find it because ultimately until we are at peace with God again, we cannot rest.

The commandment to remember the seventh day (because on that day the Lord rested), was a call to lay aside all human labour, to recognise that God has made all things; is sustaining them, and ultimately only He will provide the rest for which they were designed. It was always meant to be a day pointing to God, to his great love and mercy, to his promise to save his people if they would only depend on him and not on themselves.

Jesus makes it clear that he came to fulfill the law, to offer the promised rest  in himself. This rest is founded on peace with God, and Christ alone as the perfect sacrifice could create that peace. As Lord of Sabbath, he proclaims himself the king of rest, the one with absolute power to introduce a new creation where his people could live in the reality of that ‘rest’-ored relationship with God. The old regulations about Sabbath observance were now redundant, because the promise or fore-shadowing of rest had been fulfilled in Christ.

When we enter God’s offered rest, in Christ, we in turn rest from our own works – all our attempts to gain salvation and peace through rule-keeping; rituals and rites. To turn again to rigid ‘sabbath observance’ is therefore a dangerous nonsense! I am free in Christ to celebrate every day as a gift from God, graced with forgiveness and the liberating truth that it is all by his work that I am saved and welcomed into the Sabbath-rest which is the heritage of God’s children.

I am free to especially mark a particular day in appropriate ways in order to focus on the rest which is mine in Christ – but I am not free to impose on others or to judge them for their choices. I am free to celebrate – and for many of us this will be on a day when we can meet with other believers, and take extra time to enjoy God’s good gifts, perhaps Sunday, but perhaps another day depending on our culture!

I am also free to serve, expecting nothing in return, because God is all in all to me, and has promised to care for me. And significantly, I am free to sacrifice – to forgo my expressions of freedom if they cause another to stumble in their faith.

I do not observe the Sabbath. I celebrate the day which the Lord has made; the salvation which he has won; the sure hope of eternal life with him which is mine; and the daily reality that – no matter what is happening to me, within me, and around me – I am at rest with God forever. I have peace, Thanks be to God!

 

Overflowing…or running on empty?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

(Ps 25.4-7)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Rom 15.4-6&13)

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

(Heb 10.19-24)

What can I hope for, as a child of God? What can I reasonably expect and depend upon, based on God’s promises and the revelation of his character and his will? The letter to the Romans shows us that our hope is to be encouraged by the narrative of scripture, and refined through endurance – it is based on the absolute trustworthiness of God, who did not keep back his own son but gave him up to be a sacrifice of atonement for us. Such love, argues Paul, will not deceive us, will not let us down, but will fight to keep us safe until we are united with Christ in glory…He who promised, is faithful and so we may hope – stubbornly, desperately at times, but always.

While I may not hope for an easy life; I can and do hope that at every stage, I am in God’s eye, and he is working to bless me, and bring glory to himself through my circumstances.  I can hope that although I may not perceive it, I am growing in faith and maturity, and fruitfulness in God’s sight. I may hope and be at peace, knowing that nothing is wasted .

While I may not hope that I will never rebel again, never let my Lord down again, never hurt other people again; I can and do hope that for every failure there is abundant forgiveness, cleansing and a fresh start. I can hope for strength to try again, to move out in faith after failure, confident that I am not estranged from or forsaken by God. I may hope, and be at peace, free from guilt and resting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

While I may not hope for riches, good health and freedom; I can and do hope that in every situation, I am able to receive good gifts from God, tokens of his love for and delight in me. I can hope for continued grace to see these things, and for the ability to give thanks for them. I may hope and be filled with joy because nothing can separate me from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

My God is not some small pathetic construction of my own thinking, created to prop me up on bad days. He is the Almighty, the God of creation, the invisible and yet revealed Majesty who rightly claims the worship and homage of all things. He is not safe, doesn’t play by the rules of his creatures, and at times the mystery of his ways leaves us bewildered. But he is absolutely trustworthy, and so we cling to his promises, depend upon the salvation he offers us, and receive each day fresh from his hand.

Our God, who gives endurance and encouragement; Our God, who is the God of hope, by his Holy Spirit, will cause joy and peace to well up within us as we choose to trust him, as he enables us to trust him. All we need, he gives; and so we may indeed overflow with hope, because he will never fail us..

It was the only way..

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals…I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

(Ex 12.12&13)

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement..

(Lev 17.11)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me…All who see me mock me…”He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.”….they pierce my hands and feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment

(Ps 22.1,7,16-18)

I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight….I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

(Am 8.9&10)

But when Christ came..he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption..without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness..Christ..appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself..

(Heb 9.12,22&26)

‘Like mourning for an only son and the end of a bitter day…’Those words jumped out at me recently when taking part in a bible study on Amos, as the Lord spoke through his prophet of the pain and anguish of the day when the full price for human rebellion against God would be paid.

The narrative of the Bible makes it so clear that humanity is incapable of keeping to the covenant which God has made with them; our hearts are unable to remain faithful to God, even when we are most in earnest. If we do not sin by falling away from God, we sin by trying through our own efforts to remain close to him – as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day, and making legalism and ritual a means (as they thought) to salvation. From the beginning, God made it clear that sin would have to be dealt with, and his righteous anger satisfied before true peace could exist, and we could once more enjoy fellowship with our creator.

God’s anger against sin is an expression of his holiness, it is absolutely just (unlike most human anger), and he cannot simply set aside our sin because he loves us without violating his nature. If God is to love and welcome us into his presence again, then his perfect wrath must be satisfied – the full penalty for sin must be paid. While this may sound extreme to many in our day, the bible makes it clear that the problem is our lack of understanding of God’s holiness, not his anger with sin.

The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice – of the perfect Passover Lamb who would take God’s wrath so that we might be protected, provided for. Blood had to be shed, and in Christ, the only spotless person who ever lived, a perfect substitute for humankind was provided. But as well as our perfect Passover Lamb,  he is the only begotten of the Father, the beloved one. And so on Good Friday, when the full weight of sin was finally laid upon the son, what agony entered the heart of the Father, and what grief into the son, as they endured that separation which was the proper fate of humankind.

We cannot ever fully comprehend the pain of that hour, and indeed this is cause for humble thanksgiving, since we could not have borne it. Christ did all for us, and then offered it freely as his love-gift, and so we should surely fall in worship and praise as we accept him. God mourned for his only son, and endured the bitterness of that dreadful and glorious day – because of his unfathomable, unaccountable, unstoppable love for humankind.

Surely, our praise this Holy Week should glorify the Father who loved us; the Son who died for us, and the Spirit by whom we receive the faith to believe in and accept the freedom and new life which have been bought for us at such a price.

There is a green hill far away, beside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear; but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too; and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do.

(Cecil Frances Alexander 1848)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living with imperfections..

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me..When..you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways…I will hold you accountable for his blood..Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! ‘”

(Ezek 33.7&8,11)

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God..”

(Acts 20.26&27)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.

(Phil 3.10&12, 4.9)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…

(Heb 13.7)

The apostle Paul is revealed through his words – recorded in the book of Acts, and in his pastoral letters to churches and leaders – as a passionate evangelist and church planter, consumed with one desire – to make Christ known across the ancient world. His single-minded pursuit of this goal took him through dreadful suffering and persecution, and enriched his life as he saw God transforming lives through the preaching of the gospel.

Paul was urgent, earnest, and fully aware of the responsibility which God had laid upon him – to call the wicked to repentance and faith through Christ. In his powerful final address to his beloved friends in Ephesus, he declares himself ‘innocent’, a watchman who had fulfilled his calling and warned of the coming judgement and present offer of salvation. No one could accuse him of withholding good news from them; their guilt would be on their own heads for rejecting God’s grace.

Paul knew that he was not perfect, indeed he refers on several occasions to his ongoing weakness and struggle. But, it is not that which defined his ministry, it was his tenacious obedience, and total dependence upon Christ for salvation and acceptance with God. When Paul invites his readers to imitate him, it is not because everything in his life was holy and without fault. Rather it is because he knows it is not, and he has sought on every occasion to model how the believer should conduct themselves in light of that knowledge.

As redeemed sinners, we are free from the fear of sin because we have full forgiveness whenever we need it, and the burden of guilt is taken from us. Our sin no longer defines us, and cannot hinder God in the working out of his purposes. We are on the winning side and although our enemy is powerful, our captain is victorious and our very struggles are – by his grace – working out for our blessing and his glory.

When the writer to the Hebrews invites the reader to imitate their leaders, it is faith which is mentioned, not perfect lives. What is faith? It is the assurance of things not seen – our promised eternal life at home in glory, our future perfection and the full realisation of the sanctifying work of Christ in us. Faith is depending upon God’s promises, and basing our lives on the truth of what he says about us – forgiven, justified, adopted, beloved, glorious. This kind of faith does not pretend that there is no sin left, nor is it obsessed by the fear of sin, but rather it knows the quickest way to the Father’s side, to the mercy-seat, to the fresh cleansing fountain of forgiveness and the strength of Christ in us to resist temptation and if we fall, to get up in confidence that God is with us and we can keep going.

This is how we live with imperfections, by imitating Paul and others who have taught and modelled the christian life for us – as a persevering, a dogged and cheerful obedience which knows that we are not earning salvation, but living in it. This side of death, we cannot know complete freedom from our weaknesses, and from the pain of sin in the world. But we can live free from fear of those things, because Christ has conquered them, has promised that none of them can separate us from him nor prevent the completion of his work.

God grant us a burning desire to be holy for him, total dependance on Christ’s saving work and the Holy Spirit’s power so that as we press on, we will indeed be changed increasingly into the likeness of our glorious captain, to whom be all the praise and honour!

 

Dare I look?..

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

(Ps 19.12-14)

Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I believe in your commands….It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

(Ps 119.65,66&71)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart…..God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

(Heb 4.12; 12.10&11)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and , after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1.22-25)

Why do we have mirrors? To show us ourselves – not our neighbours, nor our spouses and children – and to show us our context, the place where we are standing. In biblical terms, the “mirror” is the word of God, the sure source of truth amid the distorting lies which the fallen world, and our own weak natures spin to us about who we are, and what life is really all about. This mirror will not lie to us, to make us feel better about who we are, or to pretend that all is well. This mirror will also not fail to speak the truth about who God says we are, and have been made in Christ.

This mirror tells us that without Christ, we are hopeless sinners in a broken world under the judgement of a holy God, and with a future of eternal separation from Love himself. It tells us that with Christ – as we are found by faith in him – we are redeemed, beloved children of God; there is no sentence of judgement hanging over us any more, and at heart, we are new creatures – no longer sinners by nature, but holy ones, or saints, who sometimes sin but not in settled rebellion against our creator. As we look into this mirror, we should come away filled with confidence and gladness, thankful for the new life we have received and the security that God is keeping us safe for an eternal future with him.

So yes, I should indeed dare to look into the mirror, and often! But it also shows me truth about the hidden and wilful sins which I – as God’s holy child – still commit so persistently, and this can be very painful to see. Too often, I come with my own idea of how I look – self-righteous, patronisingly long-suffering, martyred in my own eyes as other people let me down…

The mirror of God’s word has particularly revealing powers, bringing into sharp and painful definition all the ways in which I am committing those same sins which I attribute to others; full of pride instead of humility, and cherishing endurance instead of loving generously. God does not ask me to be the guardian of another person’s soul, but only to be accountable to him for myself – nothing excuses my unloving spirit; there is always good reason to forgive, because in Christ I am forgiven; I am given life and breath each day in order to bless others, to show God’s love to them, to give in the face of indifference and rejection and not count the cost.

No excuses, no special ‘make-up’ to cover the blemishes, only the searching gospel-light of scripture directed by the Holy Spirit which is designed to bring me daily to my knees in repentance and confession, then to my feet in rejoicing as I go in Christ’s strength and love to do the work in hand.

May the grace of God cover all those ways in which I let others down, and may he continue to show me where I am wilfully sinning, and to uncover hidden sins, that I might repent and be cleansed. What a faithful God we have, who having sealed us for eternity, also gives us all we need to live joyfully and with ever purer hearts for him each day!

Words, words, words!

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth…Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path….I have suffered much, preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word…Your statutes are my heritage for ever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end…You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word…

Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed….Ensure your servant’s well being; let not the arrogant oppress me….Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

(Psalm 119, taken from 103-136)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

(2Tim.3.16&17)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

(Heb.4.12&13)

Do you ever consider how wonderful it is that the words contained in our scriptures – old and new testaments, dating back over thousands of years – continue to be the foundation of living faith and hope in God, for people all around the world? These words, God-breathed as we believe, and coloured with the characters and gifts of the human authors, are as potent in 2018 as they were in 500, or 1050, to transform lives and bring people on their knees before God in repentance and faith. What a wonderful message is contained within them, what incredible power is made available through them, what a marvellous privilege is ours to be able to handle and read them for ourselves!

And they are a personal word; we hear the voices of the authors with such power as they bring their distinctive gifts and situations to bear on their writing. There is no such things as a ‘standard’ book in the bible, and even within broad groupings, there is rich variety – from the eloquence of Isaiah, to the brief and potent message of Micah; from the personal narratives of Ruth and Esther, to the detailed histories of Chronicles and Kings. The psalms themselves contain every human emotion, brought and laid bare before the throne of mercy, the only safe place for us to unveil our deepest thoughts and the only place to unburden ourselves of all desire for revenge, all our depths of despair, all the unfulfilled longings of our hearts..What a great treasure trove; surely as Paul wrote to Timothy, with this we can be fully equipped for the work and walk to which God has called us.

Our God is not constrained by culture, race or historical era, and his words are as powerful now in China and Chile as they were in ancient Colossae, or Corinth. Disciples today are learning from the suffering of Job and the lamentations of Jeremiah on the judgement of his people, just as the early church did when they faced persecution and death.

It is this fact, the “living” quality of God’s word to us, which lies behind the continuing drive to translate the scriptures into languages which may not even yet have their own alphabet, let alone books. It is this which allows missionaries to preach Christ with confidence in every nation, tribe and tongue, trusting scripture to speak as powerfully to new converts in 21st century Chad or Myanmar as it did in Philippi and Rome.

Let us praise God for his infinite wisdom and power in the gift of his word; let us rejoice in all the ways in which we have and continue to benefit from it – not taking the freedom to own, read and share the word for granted! May the example of the author of Psalm 119 inspire us to praise and celebrate the glory of God as revealed in his word. It is surely the foundation for our witness, our wisdom and our worship; it is sweeter than honey to our lips, and more precious than gold; light to our path and joy to our hearts. Let us, with the psalmist, treasure it and seek ever more faithfully to live by it.

But that’s not my job Lord…is it?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel..

(Eph 6.19)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

(Col 4.2-4)

Finally brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.

(2 Thess 3.1)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.

(Heb.13.17)

I make no apology for the number and length of bible passages quoted this week, because they illustrate the theme which is very strong in my mind, namely our role as church members in supporting our leaders.

I was at a meeting recently where the speaker gave some insight into the ministry of CH Spurgeon, a great teacher of the early 20th, whose sermons and writings continue to bless the church today. He once told his congregation that the day they stopped praying for him, would be the day he hoped to die, since it was only in the power of God, released by prayer, that his ministry had any worth and effect. I was challenged, disturbed, wondering how many of those who bear the burden of leadership in our churches know that they are faithfully supported by the prayers of their people.

Have we any idea how lonely it must be for them? Week after week, disciplining themselves under the word; by study and meditation, wrestling to receive the message which God reveals to them for their people. How much do we take for granted the preaching and teaching which we receive week by week, the knowledge which is required to inform and instruct us in our faith? When did we last take time to talk to our teachers, to share the ways that God in his grace has used them to heal us, to correct us, to encourage and inspire us? They are human too, and while the satisfaction of obedience to their calling is their ultimate reward, they will thrill to know that God is using them. Sometimes it can be what seems a disastrous sermon to the preacher which turns out to be the greatest blessing to the people – but how much better if the preacher knows than if he or she goes home despondent and unaware!

But more than speaking even, is the real responsibility we have, to PRAY for our leaders. And Paul spells out what to pray for them – that they may preach fearlessly and clearly, that the gospel might go out with power, without restraint, and that the end result would be honour to God. When did we last pray, like that?

The point of Spurgeon’s comment was to emphasise that without prayer for the word of God to speak to hearts and transform lives in Christ, there was no point in his preaching. Sometimes the word will be a rebuke, it will hit hard and bring distress – that is why Paul asks us to pray that preachers might be fearless. They must be so submitted to the word that they are willing to deliver hard messages – think of the prophets in the Old Testament who brought dreadful warnings to their hearers! But if a preacher fears the reaction of his hearers, he will be tempted to soften the message, to avoid the hard things, and that will lead him to disobedience and his work will indeed become a burden to him. So let us pray for fearlessness for our preachers.

Clarity – how can we learn if we cannot understand? What a crucial prayer this is, that people might see and know exactly what the good news of Jesus is, that they might be saved and transformed into his likeness. Unrestrained power – praying that the devil will not hinder, distract or dilute the message by hindering the preacher! A pulpit or platform is a battlefield when God’s word is being faithfully proclaimed and we as a congregation can claim victory on behalf of our teachers, so that they are free to preach what they have prepared.

I hope that I will be able to take this challenge to heart in the years ahead, that I might commit to the discipline of praying for my preacher: – fearlessness; clarity; unrestrained proclamation, and above all, that God in his power will speak through the word to transform lives and bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ, our Lord and the focus of all that is said in his name.