Tag Archives: Jacob

The scandal of grace

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus….God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

(1Timothy 1.12-14,16&17)

I had never really noticed this passage from Paul’s letter to the young man, Timothy who had been appointed as a church leader and who needed encouragement to persevere in that work against opposition from those who condemned him as too young and inexperienced. The whole letter is full of strong and yet tender exhortations from Paul, seeking to build up Timothy’s confidence – not in himself, but in the God who called, and who therefore will equip and provide all he needs for the work.

As he often does elsewhere, Paul uses his own life as an example of what he is teaching, and in this case it is that no one is beyond God’s grace when it comes to transforming lives! He is encouraging Timothy to believe that youth and inexperience are no obstacle to God’s appointment, and that God’s work in a leader’s life can be a powerful witness to others.

This is tremendously encouraging for us all, and should help us to avoid the mistake of trying to behave as if we were already perfect and that everything in our lives is wonderful. Paul certainly refuses to wallow in self-pity, or to allow his past failures to hold him back from undertaking God’s work, but he also clearly recognises that his personal holiness is far from complete, and that it is an ongoing work which God alone can do.

How do I behave when I am aware of sin in my life, of past griefs or failures that continue to shadow my thoughts, or painful struggles with present burdens of poor health, bereavement or other trauma? If I learn from Paul, then I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which I am affected, thanking God for all his grace in sustaining and saving me from the power of sin, while also asking for and expecting that he will continue to change me through this struggle. I also expect that God will use my own experience as an example to others – of his sustaining power; of his grace to sinners; of his leading and healing of his children. If I am not willing to be honest and open about my own life, then how can God use me in this way?

As I contemplate moving to a new congregation, a new church family, I need to be praying that God will indeed give me strength to do his work in that place. I also need to be asking that my life might be a witness to God’s scandalous grace – all the riches of life in Christ poured out on undeserving rebellious humanity. God chooses and blesses us regardless of our past. Paul, the vicious persecuter of the early church; Jacob, the deceiver who manipulated his brother and plotted against his father; Peter, the self-confident, impetuous blunderer…  and me, with all my weakness and doubt.

Am I willing to be open and honest with my sisters and brothers in Christ, so that my life story might be used by God for their blessing too? It is after all only another variation of the great theme of the bible, that without Christ, there is no hope for us. He is supreme; the one and only means by which we may be saved. All our hope is in him, and we can and should take great pride in telling all the world of his beauty, his power, his generous grace and his tenderness, so that others will join in praising his name.


Crushed?.. no just hard-pressed!

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….

Therefore we do not lose heart. 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 far 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.

(2Cor 4. 8,9,16-18)

For some of our christian brothers and sisters in the world today this passage is a physical reality, as they suffer oppression, injury and death as a result of their faith. Here in my homeland, I know nothing of this, and can barely imagine how I would react under the pressure. There is always a challenge to us in these words of Paul, who did know pain, persecution and much deprivation, to ask what we will do with our wealth and freedom for our fellow believers in need? How am I reacting as a part of the body of Christ to the suffering of other parts of the body: am I ignoring it, trying to numb myself to the pain? Or am I allowing myself to feel the ache, to let holy anger drive me to prayer, to lobby my politicians, to support agencies working to bring practical help and comfort to my brothers and sisters?

There is another sense in which these words apply to all of us, and which allow us to draw strength from Paul’s rallying cry to persevere in faith. I am thinking about the way in which life itself, the messy business of relationships, of dealing with family, work, health problems and so on, seems to get in the way of having a strong and joyful witness! How often do we find ourselves struggling with questions of guidance, of making wise decisions in very tricky circumstances. Or facing broken-down cars; faulty boilers; unfortunate complications in our travel arrangements; things just not working out smoothly and easily for us?

I think it is very important to see that Paul does not explain his troubles as being the result of unusual persecution; nor as the result of mistakes he has made in his walk with God. They are part of life, to be expected – although not necessarily welcomed with glee! We live in a broken world, among broken people, and until the wrapping up of this world and the inauguration of the next, we will have trouble. The challenge is what we as followers of Jesus do as a result of our troubles.

Do we allow them to drive a wedge between us and our God? Do we allow difficulty and weariness to feed our doubts about God’s love and faithfulness? Not Paul, he saw clearly through the immediate swirling clouds of struggle, to the clear shining light of a heavenly reward, and the hope of what God was already doing in his life as Paul continued to trust him.

This is a continual challenge for me, to do battle with my doubts and fears in the face of the pain of the world, and my own small struggles, and to trust in the utter goodness of God. I find it enormously comforting that Paul doesn’t hide his suffering, but rather brings it to the right place – into the open at the throne of God. Here is the one who sees and knows all that is happening, and who alone knows the true picture of which each individual life is a single thread. He is in the business of creating glory, harmony, beauty, an eternally satisfying and living work of art; and when we finally see it and take our rightful place in it, we will no longer question the maker!

 So in my perplexities and doubts, as I face tangled situations where there seems no right way ahead, I keep coming to God, trusting that He can take each small step I make and use it for my blessing and His glory. The key is to keep moving, to do the next thing, even if it seems tiny, so that He can direct my journey. If I stand still, paralysed by doubts, I will get nowhere, and be rendered useless in my Lord’s service. The words of an old Scottish paraphrase based on Genesis 28, where Jacob has fled from home, and is literally in the middle of nowhere without a clue what to do next, are a fitting way to end this week, and a lovely prayer for every week!

Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;

Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.

O spread thy covering wings around, till all our wanderings cease,

And at our Father’s loved abode our souls arrive in peace.

(Paraphrase 2, – O God of Bethel!,Gen 28.20-22, verses 3&4)