Tag Archives: James

..from a full heart, I sing!

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up ….He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

(1Sam 7.12)

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord..”

(1Sam.1.27)

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days….May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.

(Ps 90.1,2,14,16&17)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

(James 1.16&17)

Throughout the bible narrative, God calls on his people to review the ways in which he has dealt with them, acted in love towards them, rescued and provided for them – even though they couldn’t always understand the methods he used! Through the ups and downs of their lived history as the covenant people, they were to learn that God was good, that God could be trusted – no matter what happened. The repeated message is to “remember…”, and we do well to follow their example.

Our family recently celebrated the graduation of our son from university, after four years of study. It was a day full of ritual – as befits an ancient seat of learning – and joy, as all the students rejoiced together, enjoying a final few days before their paths diverge into the next stage of life. Graduation is a major rite of passage for a family, marking the end of formal education and in large measure the end of the role of parents in supporting and providing for their children. It is a time for reflection and thanksgiving, and as I watched my son beaming enthusiastically at his tutors (and their faces shining back at him), I was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who gave us this precious charge, this child, to be raised for him.

The journey to this point has had its fair share of challenges – for one thing, he didn’t want to be born!! – and I have wept and agonised over his choices, and endured the torrid teenage years like other parents. There has been a measure of kicking over the traces, and he has his own particular palette of weaknesses – some of them mine, which is such a shame… But, but, but….God has promised, and has blessed us by fulfilling that promise while we are alive to see it, and our son professes a lively faith in the God to whom we committed him as an infant. Nothing else really matters, and I am so thankful that I can entrust my beloved child to my heavenly Father, who loves him with such a passion.

Here, I raise my Ebenezer; here I say, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us!’; will he not continue to do so?! Let me learn from the years of child-rearing, let me remember that through it all, my God never abandoned us, never left us or broke his promises. Let me hold even more firmly to those promises as we look to the future, so that no matter what comes, I will be willing to trust God with my children.

Today, my heart is full of thankfulness, singing songs of praise to my heavenly Father, the source of all good things; today, my life is bursting with good things, and there are no clouds in the sky. When tomorrow comes, things may change, but my God never changes; and all that is permitted to touch me and mine comes within his sovereign will for us, and for his glory.

Let the possibilities of future troubles not cloud the celebrations of today; let me take in full measure, the joy and satisfaction which my Lord is pouring into my lap in so many ways. This is a time for singing the songs of fullness, of gratitude for good gifts and answered prayers; a time for storing up reasons to be thankful against the days when I am in the dark. My God will prove faithful then, and I can rest in his unchanging love and nature, come what may…

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Hiding in plain view?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil..The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written:’Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,”he said,”throw yourself down. For it is written:”He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “It is also written:   ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

(Matthew 4.1-7)

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 Corinthians 10.12-14)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

(James 4.7)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the command to die to self, about the supreme example which Jesus set for us as we follow him and God transforms us into Christ-likeness. And almost immediately, I was plunged into a turmoil, a maelstrom of emotion and trouble which threatened to overwhelm me as I struggled to cling to Christ,to discern truth and solid ground on which to stand. In God’s goodness, he provided me not only with praying friends, and sufficient self-restraint not to act or speak out of my agony, but also a clear insight into the source of my troubles..

I am a target, as are all believers, for the hostile and insidious activities of that enemy who was defeated on the cross but who nonetheless remains at large – a mystery of God’s sovereignty for which we must trust him. There is a devil, and his whole powers, such as they remain, are devoted to undermining the church, the body of Christ in the world, by all and every means possible. It behoves us, as those desiring to live for Christ, to be aware of this enemy – not in an obsessive way, but alert to the possibilities of his presence.

Our culture has largely dismissed this agent of evil, and if we are not careful, we forget and fail to recognise him at work – which makes us vulnerable to his tricks. He is a master deceiver, so adroit at clothing himself in selected truths and borrowed garments that we entirely fail to unmask him, and think we are meeting a friend, a trusted adviser who has our good at heart.

We see from the temptations of Jesus, that the devil is a master at using our natural desires and needs in order to undermine our trust in and dependence on God. Of course Jesus was hungry, and he had every ‘right’ as the Son of God, to transform the barren rocks into food. But Jesus discerned that this was not the time, and resisted, trusting God to meet his hunger instead. The devil quoted scripture to Jesus, persuading him that it could only be right to prove God’s care for him – again, Jesus resisted, taking scripture on his own side as vindication.

My particular weaknesses, needs, deep hurts or anxieties which I carry through life, are my points of greatest vulnerability to these attacks by my great enemy. And if I cannot recognise his hand at work, oppressing me; or discern his tones within the voice which is counselling me to put my own needs first, because “of course that is what my loving Father would want…”,it is all too clear how easily we can be led into dangerous thoughts and actions which result in the havoc in which the devil delights.

It is surely fitting that in the Lord’s prayer, we are taught to ask to be delivered from temptation, from the hands of the evil one! But we are also assured by God’s word that in every place of temptation, there will be a way out, the possibility of obedience to God is always there, no matter how loudly our feelings may be screaming at us to follow another direction.

Thanks be to God, for his kindness in revealing the source of my troubles, for unveiling the enemy, and thanks be to Christ, in whom I have the victory. I may be a wounded soldier, but I am still on the winning side, and my captain is always ready to respond to my call for his help!

Time only goes one way!

I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

(Philippians 3.12-14)

One of the greatest benefits of the new life which we have as followers of Jesus Christ, is the awareness that our sins and failures, our falling-short of God’s goodness, is completely dealt with. Each new day, is a new start, and we do not carry any baggage with us from the past. There may be consequences, but there is no guilt, no more isolation from God, no threat of judgement to come, to shadow our lives.

We are in a wonderful sense, set free from our past, and rightly we rejoice in that freedom. Paul encourages us to embrace that freedom, to refuse to allow inappropriate guilt to hold us back from fresh commitments to obedience and service of our God. He did not dwell on his early opposition to and persecution of the church, did not allow that to prevent him from becoming not only a great theologian, but also a pioneering evangelist and church-planter. He trusted that God could deal with those who doubted him because of his history, since it did not prevent God from calling him to serve.

How easy do I find it to allow my past failures to prevent my present obedience? I set limits on what I am willing to attempt for God, because I am afraid of failing again. What does that say about how I believe God is transforming me, is giving me his power to achieve the tasks which are appointed to me? Yes, I will go on sinning, until death ushers me out of this mortal frame, but God has not made my usefulness to him dependent on my perfection! I can and should embrace each new task with a joyful confidence in his enabling, and a humble thankfulness that  my failures will not prevent that work from being carried out.

In other areas though, it can be hard to let go of the past, to accept that precious days, sweet relationships will not come again. When a parent sees a beloved child step into independence – or begin to do so – there is a bereavement, because something beautiful has come to an end. It is a natural and right ending, but nonetheless, those days, that intimacy will never come again. The season for those things is past.

I was blessed to grow up in a particularly strong and loving church, and there are aspects of that life which I miss very much, and would dearly love to recreate. But time only moves one way, I am not in that place anymore, and much has changed. Those days will not come again. So what do I do? Is it right to allow past blessings to prevent me from appreciating what God is providing for me now? Surely not, nor to argue that I can only receive blessing in that particular way!

The apostle James wrote that, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1.17)

God is the source of all good things, and His purpose and character never change. So if He chose to bless me in one way in the past, He may choose another way today but his purpose remains my transformation into the likeness of Christ, and ultimate enjoyment with him of glory. All the good gifts are for a purpose, for my growth in faith and understanding, in trust and obedience. Let me recognise and give thanks for past blessings, but also discern the new things God may be planning to use for my good.

My God is too great and wonderful to be limited in His actions by my understanding, to be restricted to doing things in the same way over and over again! May I learn to trust that He is always good, and always loving, and look for the ways He is choosing to bless me now, so that I may – like Paul – forget what is past, let it go, and face the future with confidence in my great loving provider.

the blessings of a slow wit!

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…..A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue!

(Proverbs 15.1; 17.27,28)

I was reminded forcibly of these words this week when I found myself brimming over with anger and hurt after a particular conversation had upset me. They did not come to mind directly, but only as I took myself off into solitude to lay the matter – and my troubled feelings – before my Lord and Lover, and I realised in the quietness that I was very likely to blame for stirring up the situation. I am not very quick-witted, and can rarely come up with the counter-thrust to a hurtful comment, or the appropriate words to challenge what feels like a bad attitude. All the possible responses crowd into my mind much later, as I replay the situation, and try to understand what was going on – and by then it is usually to late to say anything at all!

It is frustrating when one is stirred up, hurt and angry, not to be able to find words, and the sense of being gagged adds to the pain! But, as I pondered last week, trying to calm down and see things more through God’s eyes than mine, I gave thanks for my slow wits, rejoicing that I had been delivered from making a small trouble into something potentially bigger. I had not perhaps responded as Jesus would have done, but silence was better than a vicious retort!

The book of Proverbs is full of warnings about how we use our speech, and of course in the letter of James in the New Testament we find the apostle taking a whole chapter of his letter to remind his readers of both the power and wildness of the tongue. It is sobering reading, especially for those who profess to believe in Jesus, to have yielded the throne of their lives to him. James challenges us to consider how as believers we can both praise our Lord and commune with him; while also using our words to criticise, gossip, and generally wound our fellow men and women. How often do I speak out of my own selfish agenda, instead of taking time to think whether my words are wholesome, helpful and loving?

So I was glad not to have lashed out with angry words, and thank God for restraining me and providing the space and solitude I needed to calm down and confess my desire to hurt back. It is only as we grow in likeness to Jesus, as love for him is stirred up within us, that our thoughts and habits are transformed and we become more able to respond to others with constant loving grace. Most of us will spend the rest of our lives in that learning process, and even as I need others to be patient with me, so I need to be patient with them!

Is it Christlike to take pride in my own self-restraint, while criticising another Christian for their occasional failures? How am I encouraging others to grow in grace if I will not extend grace to them when they stumble and need to be forgiven? In the same way that I thank God for his faithfulness in bearing with me, deeply ingrained faults and all, so I want to learn to be faithful in bearing with others. I am needy, and so are they! We are privileged to minister to one another by our love – which means always seeking the best for them, just as God our loving father always seeks the best for us.

May God deliver us from any false pride in our own meagreself-control, and help us instead to rejoice in his power at work in us to keep us from rashness and hasty words. May God help us even as we receive fresh forgiveness from him for our daily sins, to extend that forgiveness to others. May we be content to leave the business of their sanctification in God’s hands, and seek to do nothing to hinder it, even as we depend on him to transform us.

It is a long work, a slow work, but we can be sure of this;’that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 1.6).

Amen, and may all the glory go to him!