Tag Archives: Matthew

When the world shrinks..

Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Ps 73.23-26)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.31-34)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. …I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4 4-6,12&13)

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(Jas 4.14&15)

One of the most interesting lessons to come out of these strange days when the entire world is almost ‘on hold’, is the sense of learning to live one day at a time. For many believers in the developing world, this is a reality which they have no trouble inhabiting, since poverty, climate change, war and other factors make each day a fight for survival. Their faith in the God who loves and sustains them is humbling, a quiet rebuke to those of us whose lives are clothed in (to them) unimagineable luxury and security, and whose faith is perhaps less vigorous as a result.

Do I really mean it when I sing with the psalmist that ‘earth has nothing I desire beside you?’. Am I really choosing to live each day as if it were my last, and I am mindful only to be glorifying and enjoying God?

All of us are facing a very real grief for aspects of our lives which have been lost in the current situation. I think it is important to recognise and allow this to happen – the important thing is to bring the grief to God and ask him to keep the wounds healthy and clean, free of resentment. We will not get these days back again – days which should have been spent with loved ones, getting to know new babies, saying farewell to the dying; days set aside to be holidays and festivals, celebrations and joyous experiences; days which should have been spent away from home pursuing particular interests, opportunities for service.

We have a choice, in our confined condition, as our world has shrunk to our four walls, our immediate neighbourhood, to a future void of plans and only the shadows of anticipated pleasures which will not now be ours. We can choose to accept that since God is sovereign, good and just, he knows and is control of all that is happening. He knows our grief and loss, but he also knows that we can cope with his help, and find contentment – trusting that even our wounds can be a blessing. Or we can choose to resent all that we have lost, to disbelieve God’s goodness and faithfulness, and infuse our mourning with bitterness and self-pity.

Heavenly Father, thank you that we can come to you in our grief for all the many things which are not to be ours after all; for the days which cannot be recovered and which we had anticipated with so much pleasure. Thank you that you know how we are made, and you understand the wounds we carry and the temptation to resent what you are permitting in these days, to wallow in self-pity and choose sullenness.

Lord, in your mercy help us to choose instead to delight in what you have given – to remember our riches in Christ first and foremost, but then also to see so many other good things which are ours. Help us to accept with humble and reverent hearts that your will is the best place for us, even though we may not understand it, and even as we grieve, may we do so in a way that glorifies you and honours you. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

A turning of the tide..?

For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

(Isa 59.12-15)

Jesus replied:”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

(Matt 22.37-40)

Jesus…said to them, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

(Jn 8.7)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

(1 Jn 1.8)

Imagine…living in a society where no one assumed on the basis of a person’s colour that they were shiftless, dangerous, amoral or greedy.

Imagine…living in a society where the process of justice was applied fairly to everyone, regardless of their colour, background, education and wealth.

Imagine….living in a society where people were able to make fresh starts, to be forgiven and given grace to put the past behind them.

Imagine….living in a society where we could celebrate the marvellous things which make us different, because in every way they enrich us as a whole.

I believe in a kingdom where this kind of justice reigns; where this kind of love and forgiveness is available; where this kind of society can exist. And I recognise with deep sadness just how very far I am from being the kind of person who belongs in that kingdom – my place there is assured to me solely on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf. I acknowledge with shame that I am part of a nation and culture whose wealth and privilege is built upon the suffering and exploitation of other human beings, and that those people have been ignored in our telling of history – it has not been true. Hypocrisy, greed, pragmatism and disdain for the image of God in our fellow human beings has been the characteristic of so much national and individual behaviour. And I have chosen to ignore the stories which tell the truth, in order to avoid being upset by it – where is my love for my neighbour, that I cling to my own comfort at the expense of their pain being prolonged and disregarded?

The sin of suspecting, mistreating and exploiting my neighbour must be recognised, called out for what it is, and repented of. I know that it may take me the rest of my life to root it out, but I also know and thank God that I may be forgiven for this sin too, and enabled to live differently in the future. Racist thoughts and actions are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, and I believe that in my life – and perhaps at last in society at large – the tide may begin to turn and this gross offence against the image of God in each of his children will finally begin to be addressed.

I am not proud of the truth of my nation’s history in abusing my brothers and sisters around the world. But I am able to boast of a gospel which comes to each of us with hope for forgiveness and transformation, and which will bring God’s children from every nation, colour and tongue to worship at his throne one day.

I have been privileged to worship with fellow believers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to receive their loving welcome and hospitality to me, to be loved and to love in return. They choose to receive me as a sister, not to make assumptions about me based on my race – and I humbly thank them for not re-telling stories of exploitation and oppression, or assuming that I will behave in the same ways.

May I be quicker to listen, and slower to speak; eager to learn and less willing to teach; keen always to honour God by loving his children and by doing what is in my power to change my culture and see the values of God’s kingdom being lived out.

Divine discomfort..

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?…If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.

(Isa 58.6&7,9&10)

You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain…You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts….Seek good, not evil, that you may live…Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.

(Am 5.7,10,11-15)

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?….He has showed you , O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

(Mic 6.6&8)

“Then the King will say..,’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…..whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matt 25.34-40)

Reading recently through the prophecy of Isaiah, I was overwhelmed time and again by the contrast between the glorious future prophesied for God’s chosen people, and the reality in which they lived –  in which we live now. We are in-between people; saved and assured of an eternal life in glory yet still living in a broken and pain-riddled world. We live with the tension between God’s promised rest, fulfillment and security, and the appalling suffering which exists across the globe.

It is tempting to withdraw into a shell of comfort, shutting out troubling pictures of reality and thinking of our own security and hope of eternal life. But..the majority of Christians in the world today cannot do that, since they live without most of what we in the prosperous nations take for granted. They endure that tension, as poverty, war, violence and climate change make each day an ordeal in survival – all the while believing that God’s promises are to them, for their peace, their flourishing too. If we who are wealthy proclaim a faith that does nothing to address the reality of suffering, and the agonising tension between the ‘now and the not-yet’ of fulfillment, then we have nothing to offer our world, we have no ‘good news’.

I would make so bold as to say that any Christian who can live without being profoundly disturbed by the state of the planet – climate, ecology, society, economy – is ignoring God’s clearly revealed message in scripture.

We serve a God of justice – where then is our concern to see justice for the oppressed, the ones who have no voices, who suffer at the hands of unfair trading systems and corrupt governance?

We serve a God of compassion and mercy – where then is our concern for the people who are being exploited and broken – the trafficked sex-workers, the debt-slaves, the prostitutes and addicts, the mentally ill, the abused children, and the confused and frail elderly?

We serve a Creator God, we are his stewards commissioned to cherish his good work – where then is our concern for the flourishing of the planet on which we live; for the climate systems on which our lives depend, and which human greed is gradually destroying?

I have been profoundly challenged in these days by my complacency – to argue that the problems are too big for me is no argument at all. God doesn’t ask me to fix it, but he does ask whether I care? If my faith does not issue in works, it is dead. I am called not only to be a child of God, but a servant, a witness, a worker.

I am praying that I might be willing to live with the divine discomfort caused by a restless spirit, one unable to do nothing in the face of the brokenness of our world. I am praying that I might find where God wants me to use the small gifts I can offer – time, intellect and anything else I can bring – in bearing witness to the love of God for this world and all its people. I am praying that I might be willing to serve in a very small way, in a great campaign where I may not see the outcome, but be content in having obeyed the call.

 

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!

 

Tell me the old, old story

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity….He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

(Mic 5.2&4)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth..to Bethlehem…to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…and there were shepherds living out in the fields near by…An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them..But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord..”  So [the shepherds] hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Lk 2.4-6,8-11,16&20)

You are to give him the name Jesus [or Messiah], because he will save his people from their sins..this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means “God with us”

(Matt 1.21-23)

Like a movement caught only on the edge of my vision; a whisper on the edge of my hearing; there are intimations of a glory unimagined in this beloved story. I cannot remember a time when I did not know the words, and yet I know that I will never tire of hearing it again.

This birth, in a small town in a dim corner of empire, is the culmination of centuries of God working out his promises and purposes. It is the focal point of a multitude of lives and events fashioned down the years so that at just the right time – in every sense of the words – this woman gave birth to this child in this place. How many hundreds and thousands of people played their part in the great drama? How many had any idea that their lives were of such eternal significance? Does this not give me courage and inspiration for my own small life – seemingly insignificant – that within the purposes of God, I matter! I may not see the big picture yet, but I can trust that my God – the God of Mary and Joseph, of Abraham and Isaac, of Ruth and Rahab, of David, Solomon and Isaiah – has me in exactly the place which he desires for his glory.

This birth, in a land under enemy occupation, to a people without power to govern themselves, a people divided against themselves and lacking leadership, was the beginning of a new kingdom – the rule of Christ the King of Kings. The circumstances suggested anything but such a future for this child, and yet the reality – the truth – was that God had inaugurated the reign of the Shepherd King, who in himself would bring true peace to his people. And that people would reach around the world and throughout time, until every nation, tribe and tongue will be represented in his flock.

Our world is as dark, threatening, confused and pain-filled as it was then. The people of God today remain a minority, threatened on all sides, divided within themselves, and losing their way under false leaders. But shall we not find hope in the old, old story? Our God remains on the throne, and his arm is still mighty to save and establish believers, to build up the church and to keep it until the end. The circumstances remain unpromising – but I believe in the God who was at work in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.

The vision of glory which is our eternal future; dwelling in uninterrupted and joyous fellowship with Jesus our Lord, and finally realising our beauty as the unified church, the bride of Christ – this vision is no daydream. It is guaranteed to us by the God of Bethlehem, whose glory shone upon the shepherds, whose plans cannot be thwarted, and whose timing is perfect. Let us rejoice today in this old, old story and in the timeless truth which it teaches, for our encouragement and to the glory of God.

 

 

A state of readiness…

 

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side….. whose name was Boaz.. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”….Then Boaz announced to the the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech..I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property…” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming in to your home like Rachel.. Ruth gave birth to a son..and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

(Ruth 2.1&20, 4.9-11,13&17)

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him…Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns…

(Matt 24.42-46)

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near..The Judge is standing at the door!

(Jas 5.7&8)

The book of Ruth focuses on an obscure family, at a time of national neglect of the things of God. The period of the Judges was passing, there was no king in Israel and everyone did ‘as he saw fit’ (Judges 21.25). It would have been easy for personal godliness and faithfulness to the law to slip away, as each looked out for their own interests and had little hope or expectation of change..

And in this situation, we meet Boaz, a man who lived day to day in the light of the law, even though there was no ruler – priest or king – to enforce it, and who stood ready to act rightly, to do justice, and have mercy on the widows and aliens in the land. The readiness of Boaz to respond to the opportunities which God opened, extending mercy and kindness where he could have chosen either to be cruel, or to exploit Ruth’s vulnerable situation, is a beautiful example of how we are called to live in these days between the first and second coming of Christ.

We are a chosen people, we have all we need for godly obedience, and we are called to live each day in expectation of the return of our Lord and Master – the one whose sacrifice on our behalf wins our loyalty and obedience in his service. He has tasked us with witnessing to him, faithfully proclaiming the gospel, serving one another, and labouring to model the life of the new kingdom in this old creation.

Like Boaz, we do not know what each day will bring, but we can choose to live on the godly principles, and to respond to the opportunities God gives. We may be surrounded by people and situations which are daunting, mocking the sovereignty and goodness of God. But we also have the truth of the gospel in our hearts, and the promise that in his good time, God will return looking to find his servants at their appointed tasks, patiently awaiting him.

Like Boaz, we have the privilege of serving a living God who works all things together and calls us into his purposes. The readiness of this godly man to fulfill his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer not only blessed him with a wife and family, but also furthered God’s plan and in due course, Boaz’s great-grandson David would be born – and ultimately, Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, as Ruth did to Obed.

Am I ready for what God may have in store for me? Ready to serve; ready to forgive; ready to love; ready to learn and to praise? I cannot tell how my prompt response in obedience might be used by God, but I can choose daily to be ready. I may not know this side of glory what purposes will be served by my small part in his great plan, but I can choose not to be preoccupied with what may be and instead discipline my heart to deal with what is in a way that glorifies him.

Just so much fluffiness?

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young…… For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,”declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.   ………………….”Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

(Isa 40.10&11;41.13&14; 42.1-3)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matt 11.28-30)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.

(Eph 4.1-3)

As followers of Jesus, those who have the fruit of his life within them being developed by the power of his spirit, we are all called to gentleness – alongside self-control, patience, joy, peace etc – to the development of a ‘kindly nature or character’ (after the dictionary definition of this quality). But what does that look like for us, in a world where kindness and gentleness are often confused with weakness, and trodden underfoot; where strength lies in might, in noise, in exerting power and status and influence, where looking after number one is paramount? Gentleness is now largely a matter of describing fabric, or the quality of a breeze, and is rarely valued in the personalities which dominate our headlines.

I believe that as we look at Jesus, we see gentleness modelled for us very clearly. Here is no doormat, no timid spirit. Jesus at times was bold, confrontational, assertive and he certainly cannot be accused of conforming to popular opinion in order to avoid uncomfortable situations!! He demonstrated the power of God to overrule the natural world, to defeat the powers of evil, and ultimately, the power of death. And yet he is commended to us as a gentle and humble man.

The prophets foretold these qualities, speaking of the coming judgement and justice which would be fulfilled under the authority of the Messiah, and yet also speaking in the most eloquent, tender words about the gentleness with which he would tend, heal and cherish his own precious ones.

I believe that gentleness speaks of strength under complete control, exercised in love to those who are weak, wounded, frail and desperately needy – which we as sinners are! I find this quality in my Lord utterly irresistible, and it is one which we greatly need to cultivate in our dealings with one another. None of us can see into the heart of another, we cannot know what struggles and wounds are being carried there – through interminable days – as our fellow believers seek to follow Jesus along the path to which he has called them. What we can do, is to handle one another with gentleness, guarding our language and tone of voice, as well as the way we use our physical strength, and fully aware of one another’s vulnerability.

If a person is irritating you so much that you are in danger of losing your temper and being harsh…..what would your gentle Lord do? Consider his manner with the confused and questioning disciples on the night before he died- he was so patient and gentle with them, in spite of his own desperate need for reassurance from his father. Their weakness called forth his own loving gentleness; out of his strength, he gave to them in their need and tempered his words to their confusion.

Let us rejoice in the gentleness of our Saviour, as he carries us in his arms; let us pray that we might have that same gentleness in our dealings with one another, that we might be a means of healing, strengthening, comforting and guiding one another, and always pointing to Christ, the perfect ‘gentle’-man.

Relentless, single-minded…love?

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

(John 15.12-14)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love….. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1&2; 15&16)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

(Mark 11.25)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?….You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye……If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you…”

(Matt 7.3&5;18.15)

Lord, your love is perfect: mine is so imperfect.

You fear nothing: I fear so many things.

Out of your love, you cause me to face pain and difficulty, that I might become the glorious creature you know that I can be.

Out of my feeble shadow of love, I shy away from inflicting pain or causing others to face difficulty, because I am afraid of what they might do to me.

If I loved you as I ought; if your will truly ruled in my heart; if I truly loved others, then nothing would stop me from speaking the truth in love that they might grow according to your glorious purposes for them.

Oh Lord, forgive me, that I do not love as I ought. Forgive me, that I have failed to love others as I ought, and have let fear of my own pain hold me back from obedience to your will.

Have you ever considered that laying down your life for others might look more like a sentence of hard labour than a death sentence? That sounds a little severe, but let me unpack what I mean..Jesus spoke these words on the night before he died, and so we often associate them with his sacrificial death – and rightly so. But is it not also possible to apply them to the years leading up to this night?

Jesus had given up his life for his disciples, for three years. He had lived and worked with them, walked and eaten with them. He had borne with their foolishness and ignorance, their misplaced ambitions and squabblings, he had even borne with the presence of the one whom he knew would betray him. His life had been a living sacrifice of service to these men, a worked example of divine love in action.

I have been challenged recently to apply this to myself, to see that my life is also poured out in love to others, for their blessing and growth in grace and faith. If I choose to follow my own instincts – which are for peace at any price, and the avoidance of all confrontation – then I will effectively fail in my calling. God asks me to be his agent of love to people – to speak truth in love to them, that they might hear through my loving voice the word of God calling them to repentance and change. This is a huge responsibility, and for one like myself who goes in great fear of doing “the wrong thing”, it is terrifying!

But God gives me no choice; as his child, one in whom Christ dwells by the Spirit, I am called to play my part in building up the individual members of his body and that means helping others to see the truth about themselves. Will I choose to trust that He can and will direct my words; give me wisdom and humility; use what I say for the good of those to whom I speak; and above all, help me to overcome my fear of everything except disobeying him?

Loving Lord, I pray that you will so fill me with your relentless love that I will no longer hold back, but will speak the truth in love; humbly acknowledging my own great sinfulness and need of forgiveness; depending on your grace and power to change us all according to your will and looking forward eagerly to the day when we all stand revealed in the glory that you have in store for us. 

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!

Looking around…

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath..Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

(Psalm 39. 4-7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. so don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10.29-31)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16.24-26)

For many people, the end of a calendar year is a time of reflection, a time to reassess their lives and discern patterns, changes, new opportunities which might be opening up. There is also much – often hidden – pain at this time of year, as people remember those whom they have lost, to death, to breakdown in relationships; and also recognise disappointments, dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. Look around, and all the people you know will be experiencing this potent cocktail of emotions to varying degrees. We carry joy and pain simultaneously; anger and bitterness alongside thankfulness and appreciation.

Those who follow Jesus are human too, not immune to this annual malaise, and we need to think carefully about how we deal with these feelings. The bible shows us humanity in all its variety, expressing every emotion under the sun; and in the book of Psalms particularly, we find such transparency and honesty as should give the lie to any idea of the “stiff upper lip” and brave smile being the correct Christian response to life!

We have a perfect loving Father, and a great Saviour who is also a man. We have nothing to hide from our God; no emotion which can shock or make him turn away. Indeed, I believe that it is when we refuse to recognise and name our feelings before God that they begin to rule us, and that is so dangerous.

Our feelings change like the weather – and in my part of the world, that means from minute to minute! But our God is unchanging, and as followers of Jesus, we have a relationship with him which is grounded and held in his character, his promises, his love – not our feelings. The truth about our lives is not how we feel about them, but what he says about them!

So I bring my sometimes toxic cocktail of feelings to my Father, pouring it all out as I sit close and then I listen for his voice. In the place of my sense of failure and loss, I hear the loving voice which says that I am precious, that in him I can do all he desires for me – and all that he knows is good for me. I hear his repeated forgiveness for my failures and sins, and the promise that I have a fresh start. I hear the heartbeat of his love which is the only thing that matters, and which drowns out the clamour of the world around me, to measure and value myself on the basis of my looks, my status, my talents, my connections and achievements.

As I sit there, I receive confidence and courage to go on living quietly, living for him, living without worldly acclaim and trusting that this portion is all I need. My days are brief, but in his eyes they are not wasted; my voice is small, but he always hears me; the hairs on my head are increasingly white, but his hand is still over me in loving and tender protection. I am indeed worth more than many sparrows!

My life surrendered into his hands, is lost to me, but given back to be lived for him and in that transaction, I am the winner, the prize of eternal life is mine. A soul saved, a child brought home, who can look around her beautiful and troubled world, and be at peace because she knows the one who keeps her in it. May this be your experience in the year ahead..