Friday, 30 December 2011

Incarnation and Cross

This Christmas the incarnation of the Son of God has been placed firmly alongside the cross of Christ in my mind. I have found it hard to separate the two. I can’t sing of the glorious wonder of the incarnation and the hope that brings to the world without feeling deep in my bones the suffering to come upon the cross.

I have been struck by the words of Simeon to Mary when she and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem. This righteous, devout man, who had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, blessed Mary and Joseph and said to Mary:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” 
(Luke 2:34-35).

I can’t begin to imagine how Mary must have felt to hear these words. Up until this moment, the announcement of the angelic messenger to her has been of the victorious reign of Christ (Luke 1:32-33). When the shepherds visited to worship at the birth of Christ, they must also have shared with Mary the uplifting message the angels gave them (Luke 2:10-14). A theology of glory could arguably have taken root in her mind.

Now Simeon’s words introduce her to the theology of the cross.

No other book has made a greater impact on me in 2011 than Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness. An online book discussion helped me to really grasp the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross – the difference between looking for God “in powerful places; in health, wealth and happiness; in perfect families and prosperous nations” -  but God “is truly to be found in the weak things of the world” (p. 37). And no greater place than at the cross, where the death of Christ must have seemed completely irreconcilable with the belief in the never-ending reign of Christ on David’s throne – yet it is precisely at this point, as Mary watched her Son die and felt that sword piercing her own soul too, that victory over sin and death was being won.

“God nowhere promises us temporal prosperity, but the way he has redeemed us makes all of our trials cruciform, that is, shaped not by the circumstances themselves but by the suffering and victory of Christ” (p.47).  As a family, we have experienced some trials over this Christmas period – yet through it all, the promise of Christ has held sway over our hearts: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5) for at Christmas we remember and celebrate that “the true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isa 9:2).

We continue to live in a land of deep darkness, a land that continues to feel the terrible effects of sin, but to those of us who believe, who now see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, neither sin nor death has the last word, for: 

Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 
(1 Cor 15:57).

"The people that walked in darkness" from Handel's Messiah

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Silent Awe

Loch Awe, Scotland

My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws. 
(Psalm 119:120)

I could never be described as “verbally verbose” as my family and friends will testify. Instead, I am a “reflective ruminator” and have found in writing a perfect outlet for my thoughts about God.

And now I find myself in an unusual position where words will not come, sentences get typed and deleted, once even a whole post was published and then deleted.

I have been so conscious these last few weeks of an urge to know God better, to really pursue Him with all I possess, to stand in the council of the Lord (Jer 23:18). As I have sought Him, I have been undone by the Holy Law of God which emptied me of any self-reliance and drove me into the open arms of Grace.

And with the scars of attempting to live by the perfect Law of God still fresh in my mind, to “Do this and live”, I see once again the huge gulf between the Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. And whilst I taste of the sweetness of Grace once again and the blessed comfort of coming to One who calls “It is finished! Come and follow me!” I look around me at the world in which I live which knows nothing of Grace, and suppresses the truth of God’s law in its conscience as it follows after wickedness, and my flesh trembles in fear of God and I stand in awe of His laws and His judgements.

“But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Hab 2:20.

“Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.” 
Zeph 1:7

Sometimes silent awe before a Holy God is all we can offer. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

I want to know Him!

6th February 2013
I wrote these words many months ago under a weight of conviction. I posted and then deleted as my repentance and seeking was too fresh, too close and too precious to share. Today I am ready to share these words with you and pray they will bless and encourage you to seek more of Him too. 

2nd November 2011
It is almost 20 years since the day the Holy Spirit brought conviction to me regarding sin, righteousness and judgement, and gave me the gift of faith which brought me into the Kingdom as a child of God. And the last few days I have been cut to the heart as the Holy Spirit has brought conviction over this verse of Scripture:

How can it be possible to have walked with God 20 years and yet feel like I do not know Jesus? It is as if I have been scrabbling in the dust at the feet of Jesus, rather than holding onto His feet with my own hands.

I have been reading this sermon by Charles Spurgeon, “Do you know Him?” based on Paul’s heartcry “I want to know Christ!” (Philippians 3:10). He makes the point that it is entirely possible to be content with knowing Christ’s historic life, to prize the doctrine of Christ, to desire to walk in the footsteps of Christ, to know of Christ’s sacrifice and that your sin is taken away by His precious blood – and yet still not know Him!

Others there are who know Christ's doctrine, and prize it too, but they know not Him...My beloved, surely if you know the doctrine of Jesus, if you have so been with Christ as to sit at his feet and hear what he has to say, you must, I hope, have had some longings to know him—to know his person; and if you have, you will have had to pass by multitudes of followers of Jesus who rest satisfied with his words, but forget that he is himself "THE WORD."...

How often I have rested content in reading and hearing the words of Christ, making sure I have understanding of correct doctrine - but have not sought Him!

"Others there be who have been persuaded by the judgment and encouragement of others, that they know something about the great Redeemer. They do not know Him, but still they are persuaded by others that they have an interest in Him. Let me warn you of second-hand spirituality, it is a rotten, soul-deceiving deception.” 

I know of too many times in my own life when I am content to read what others have to say of Christ, I even spend plenty of time thinking about what they have said about Christ as I mull it over, and it brings delight to my heart.  I hear the words of CS Lewis : “We are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” How I have been far too easily pleased to rest in thinking about Him! And now I hear Jesus saying to me “Don’t you know Me?”

Can it be possible to have prayed for 20 years and still not know Jesus? Spurgeon says “As I might say that I know a man merely because I meet him every day, and ask him for what I want, and understand that he is kind and generous; but how shallow is such an acquaintance, for I do not know his private character nor his inward heart. Even so a believer may have constant dealings with Christ in his prayers and in his praises, and yet for all that, he may have only gone a certain distance, and may have need still to pray, "That I may know Him."

Can it be possible to have been invited in to eat at His table and still not know Him in the highest sense? "But you are said to know a person better still when he invites you to his house....Well, now, that is better. We are getting now into something like knowing a man; and I do trust there are many of you, beloved, who have got as far as this with regard to your divine Lord. Christ has entertained you with some rare visits from his gracious presence. He brought you into the banqueting-house, and his banner over you was love. When he manifested himself, he did it unto you as he did not unto the world. He was pleased in the majesty of his condescension, to take you aside and show you his hands and his side. He called you "Friend;" he treated you as such, and permitted you to enjoy thine sweets of being one of the family.  Ah, but you may go into a man's house as a constant visitor, and yet you may not know him—that is to say, not in the highest sense."

Oh, how my heart longs and cries out to know Him! I realise I know so little of what these verses mean: 

I know so little of this asking, seeking, and knocking, this waiting on God. Wrestling with God as I have sought to understand His forgiveness, His cleansing power, His love....yes. But I have to confess I have not sought HIM through His Spirit, and I am heartbroken over this. And I believe this is why I feel I do not know Him, for Jesus tells us this:

And then I read these verses of Scripture, as Jesus speaks to a lukewarm church:

And I am so so encouraged in my heart! This rebuke I have received from Him is because He loves me! How I gladly repent! And I will continue to press on for more. And I echo Spurgeon when he says “Mark, I am finding no fault with any of these who prize the history, or who value the doctrine, or who admire the precept; but I want more. I do want, beloved, that you and I should "know HIM."

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Voice of the Lord

Over and over again, the Scriptures confirm to us that what marks our God out as different from the idols is that whilst they “have mouths but cannot speak” (eg Psalm 115:5), His voice is powerful and majestic (Psalm 29:4).

God merely had to speak and the heavens and the earth were created (Genesis 1). Yesterday I was humbled by my 6 year old boy when I pointed out the beautiful colours in the sky to him and said “Look, Harry, God has taken His paintbox out and has painted the sky!” and he replied to me “No, Mummy, God just had to SPEAK to do that!”

Whilst Adam and Eve were able to speak with God freely in the Garden of Eden, the Fall destroyed this relationship. Now evicted from the Garden, sinful man finds it impossible to respond to God.

But “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

For the Son of God speaks, and His words have power:

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 
(John 5:24-25)

Those of us who have been called heard the very voice of the Son of God speaking to us! And now, as His sheep, we continue to listen to His voice (John 10:27).

God spoke to His people through Isaiah when He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21) And this promise was fulfilled when He sent His Spirit. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (John 16:13).

I was so thankful that the Comforter ministered comfort to me earlier this year. In March, watching the television pictures of the devastating tsunami in Japan, I realised I was watching the effects of God speaking. “He…who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the LORD is his name” (Amos 5:8). I was literally laid low by the majestic, powerful voice of the Lord – lying face down on the floor, trembling in awe of Almighty God and the power of His voice, and feeling somewhat fearful in His presence. And the Holy Spirit reminded me that God remains my Heavenly Father, no matter what judgement falls upon the earth, because I approach Him in the Name of His Son. That blessed comfort undid me even more as I contemplated the sheer wonderment of the grace extended to sinners that we can call Almighty God our Heavenly Father!

The Scriptures clearly declare a future time when God will speak powerfully to all people and all nations of the earth. Isaiah 63 tells us that when the Messiah returns to the earth, He will come “speaking in righteousness, mighty to save” on this day of vengeance.  

“The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people" 
(Psalm 50:1-4)

This will be a time when all people and all nations of the earth will be silenced, except for the resounding declaration when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A Mother's Prayer

I ask not for riches for my little boy;
His poverty – this is my plea;
That poor in his spirit he’d cry out to You;
From all trust in self he would flee.

I ask not that happiness fills all his days,
But fear of his Holy God grows;
That mourning both sin and contempt for Your Name,
Your comfort in Christ he would know.

I ask not that he’d do all he wants to achieve,
But instead would submit to Your will;
And as he learns meekness, You’d teach him Your ways,
In awe of You he would “Be still”.

I ask not that he’d be satisfied with his lot,
But a hunger and thirst he would feel,
And for righteousness’ sake a slave he would be,
Your Spirit in him as Your seal.

I ask not for accolades in his career,
But mercy to others he’d show;
Keen to forgive those who’ve wronged him at all,
His own sins once scarlet - now snow.

I ask not that he’d win the acclaim of his friends,
But Your face alone he would seek;
His conscience now cleansed by the blood of the Lamb
Your truth from his heart he would speak.

I ask not that his life from trouble be free,
But his work be the gospel of peace,
And that deep in his heart his sonship he’d know
So that fear and worry can cease.

O Lord, now I’m trembling - please come, strengthen me,
Voice faltering as I intercede;
Should he be persecuted because of his faith
I pray that Your grace meets our need.

(based on Matthew 5:3-10)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Freedom in Christ

“Realise your identity in Christ; find growth, meaning and fulfilment as a Christian; become the person God wants you to be”. I was hooked in on these claims for Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ course, and attended along with others in our church about 11 years ago, longing to walk into my freedom. At that time I was very aware that I was neither growing as a Christian, or walking in freedom. However, I came out of the course under a heavier weight of condemnation than I had ever known, as I had not been able to claim my freedom in Christ.

Looking back now, I can see more clearly the reasons why I did not find my freedom through this course. At the time, my husband and I were bemused by the fact that the bulk of the course was preoccupied with a correct understanding of our identity in Christ, especially our self-perceptions, and that if we recited positive scriptural truths about ourselves this was the key to freedom. At the end of the course the participants were given a “Who I am in Christ” sheet with about 30 scripture verses referenced and summarised in bullet point form, and we were supposed to recite aloud these summaries daily for 40 days – eg “I am God’s child, I am God’s friend, I am the salt and light of the earth…” Even today, I would struggle to go through that list and say it aloud. For not only are these not the original bible verses,  the emphasis is all wrong. I do not read the Bible to find out what it tells me about me - I read the Bible to learn about God! To learn His ways, to learn His thoughts, to hear His voice speaking through His Word, to have my vision filled up with Christ. I read the Bible so that I can say to God “I praise You! I exalt You! I bow before Your throne and lift Your Name up high!” and wonder of wonders, it IS true that I am His child and He has seated me in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, but that is not my focus. As Elliot Miller says in his critique, comparing this to the teaching of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, “Anderson is correct that being “in Christ” is the core theological foundation for discipleship and counseling. For Paul, however, this phrase does not so much speak about who we are as who we are in. Self-perception is not the key issue, but rather relationship. Anderson takes this truth and slants it so that it becomes a “biblical” form of self-esteem psychology.”

Biblical? or positive-thinking?

We also struggled to accept the teaching that our behaviour flows from our self-belief. According to Anderson, if we believe ourselves to be sinners, then we will sin; conversely we should instead believe ourselves to be saints who occasionally sin, and our behaviour will follow. By diminishing the problem of sin in this way, and failing to see the horror and pervasiveness of sin in its biblical context, the process of Christian sanctification is reduced to reprogramming our self-perceptions and is thus nullified. Instead, the bible teaches of the necessity to crucify the flesh (Col 3:5) and put on Christ, walking in the power of His Spirit (Rom 8:10-14).

The course concludes with a 4-6 hour freedom appointment going through the “Seven steps to freedom”, renouncing generational curses, strongholds, and forgiving others, repenting of pride and rebellion, at the end of which the participant is told they have found their freedom in Christ. For a more detailed critique of the problems with the seven steps to freedom, especially with regards to generational curses, see this article. This 7-step procedure has all the issues associated with saying the 'sinner's prayer' and assuming salvation is assured. As Tozer says, "I believe that a true 'sinner's prayer' will gush out of anyone who is truly seeking God and is tired of being enslaved to sin...The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the “altar call” and “sinner’s prayer” is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation." And I would argue the same is true of going through a 7-step procedure to claim your freedom in Christ - this takes away from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

I have since found my freedom in Christ, but not through a 7-step course. My freedom in Christ has been won for me by the very real, very personal, dynamic and powerful work of the Holy Spirit in my life, as I have spent time walking with my God, and as He has revealed to me all that the finished work of Christ has accomplished on my behalf. It was just about a year ago when I stumbled over the edge of another cliff spiritually-speaking. From the depths of my pit as I cried out to God for help, a friend offered me the wisest counsel I have ever had: “What you need is a touch from your Heavenly Father, and He is both willing and able, because He loves you.” Now it takes confidence to say these words - to have a simple trust in our Father, and not resort to some kind of technique or 7-step programme - a confidence that comes from knowing Whom we have believed. And as I waited on Him, He came and He did touch me as He opened my eyes to see Truth in His Word! There is nothing that can ever substitute for a personal touch from Him, as He sovereignly chooses to deal with each one of us individually, in His own way, in His own time. There are no short-cuts. There is no “how to”. There is instead relationship: getting to know Him better through reading the Word, spending time in His presence, submitting to His will, wrestling when we don’t have understanding, listening to His voice and being led by His Spirit, seeking Him with all of our hearts, confident in the final outcome for we know that He has given us this most wonderful promise: 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” 
(Jer 29:13)

Monday, 19 September 2011

The joy of wrestling with God

 “Jacob said, Please tell me your name. But he replied, Why do you ask my name? Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared. The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.” 
Gen 32:29-31.

Wrestling by its very nature is painful. Wrestling with God is no less  so, even though we know it is for our own good that He arrests us, takes hold of us, and grapples us to the ground if need be. Jacob limped away from wrestling with God.  

Yet I am starting to see that there is a deep, profound joy in this wrestle.

For one thing, it is a joyful thing that God Himself would condescend to wrestle with His creatures at all! That He would recognise our weakness, and hold Himself back from wrestling us to the point of ruin, instead seeking our own good through it. For let me be clear, when I speak of wrestling with God I am not speaking of us raising our fists to heaven and angrily demanding an explanation from Him as to His ways. I am speaking of the wonder and awesomeness of His dealing with us intimately in order to break us to a point of submission to His Way.

Not only the fact that we can wrestle with God – but it is His sovereign act of will to engage with us.  “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” – Genesis 32:24. The Man came to Jacob. Is there anything more joyful than this? That God would choose to open our eyes that we might see more clearly, understand that little bit more of His ways which are so much higher than our ways, that we might know Him better, more deeply, see more of His Glory and give Him more praise as a result!

He gives us the strength to enable us to wrestle with Him. No mortal man is capable of wrestling with Almighty God in his own weakness – it is He who supplies the strength for us to do this, who gives us the very desire in our hearts to know more of Him, who gives us the desire to cling onto Him and not let go until we have received a blessing from Him…

Which is the source of more great joy – wrestling with God results in blessing! To struggle with Him, to have our eyes opened to more of our sin, to see more of His Holiness and Majesty, to acknowledge His sovereignty over every aspect of our lives, to bow our will to His – we cling to Him and dare not let go until we have received His blessing of this enlarged vision and a greater filling of His Spirit!

As I continue to wrestle with God, no matter how painful it may be, no matter how much I am limping, I count it pure joy that my God has not finished with me yet and would deign to reveal more of Himself to me, that I may see Him, the One my heart yearns for, more clearly - and that He would bless me in the very process! 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Free lunch?

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Discuss”. I was well prepared for this essay title in my A-level Economics exam.  I carefully assembled all the economic arguments dealing with the scarcity of resources and the opportunity costs associated with using those resources to conclude in agreement with this favourite saying of economists. I was very proud of myself when I received my A-grade.

I think I would like to go back and tear up my answer and start again, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am so relieved that I don’t have to study for exams anymore! I would draw a completely different conclusion today, now that I have met with my God, the Creator of the Universe.

For our loving Heavenly Father continually bestows upon us free gifts that we have not earned, cannot pay for and are unable to repay Him for – however much we may try.

The gift of life itself – the very fact that we are here, able to enjoy the beauty of His creation however marred it may be as a result of the Fall, for it displays the invisible qualities of His eternal power and divine nature.

Just think – every morning, He causes the sun to rise in the skies, sending its warmth and beauty into our world. He sends the rain to enable our crops to grow whether we acknowledge Him or not. To witness the beauty of a sunset as He paints the sky myriad colours takes away the breath of those who are His children and those who are not. We are blessed with hearing birds singing, crickets chirping, waves crashing onto the shore, to say nothing of the smells and tastes we enjoy.

Gifts, free gifts all of them, without cost.

But then there is a gift which is not without cost to the One who gave it. Will we ever understand the grief the giving of this gift caused in the heart of the Father? A gift which we cannot buy for we are up to our eyes in debt. Yet a gift which will cost us – our pride, for it is a gift which we can only graciously receive, humbly bowing our knees and accepting this free, glorious Gift.

The gift of His Son – John 3:16.

The acceptance of this gift is itself the result of another gift, the gift of faith – Ephesians 2:8

And the gift of His Son leads to so many other amazing gifts:

The gift of the Holy Spirit – Luke 11:13, Acts 2:38; 

The gifts of the Holy Spirit – 1 Cor 12:4; Hebrews 2:4

The gift of a new heart, a heart of flesh – Ezekiel 36:26

The gift of rest – Matthew 11:28

The gift of eternal life – Romans 6:23

The gift of grace – Ephesians 4:7

The gift of living water – John 4:10

The gift of righteousness – Romans 5:17

The gift of peace – John 14:27

The gift of daily bread – Matthew 6:11

The gift of fullness in Christ – Colossians 2:10

The gift of victory – 1 Corinthians 15:57

And I can’t begin to fathom the depth of meaning of this verse: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32

What an amazing God we serve, this Giver of Good Gifts. There is only one possible response:

Freely you have received, freely give – Matthew 10:8

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The blessings of God's comfort

18 months ago, I had a conversation on Facebook with 2 strangers concerning an issue that had plagued me ever since becoming a Christian – how to have assurance and comfort in my relationship with God when I fought a constant battle with sin. I think it shows how desperate I was that I would discuss such an issue with people I didn’t know. But I truly believe God’s hand was at work on that encounter – the way these 2 women were so willing to take the time to offer biblical counsel to someone they didn’t know, and to stay in contact and enable beautiful friendships to develop, and above all the way the Holy Spirit worked on me through that initial encounter and through many conversations over subsequent months. I have been on the most wondrous journey of discovery as my eyes have been opened to the riches of the gospel, and the reality of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ washing over me has unshackled the condemnation I used to carry around with me. I have truly found my freedom in Christ – not through a 7-step plan, but through the very real, very personal work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Oh, the blessed comfort of the gospel!

During the course of this journey I have developed wonderful friendships with other mourning Christians too – Christians mourning over their sin, over the loss of biblical teaching in so many churches, over the refusal of the world to honour the Name which is so precious to each and every one of us.

This last week my family and I have spent in America meeting up with these Christian women on Facebook who have played such an important role in my life both in terms of my understanding of the gospel and in terms of the friendship they have provided at one of the loneliest times of my Christian walk. The week was a glorious gift from God from start to finish – from the gracious way in which my husband enabled it to come about, the excitement of planning the visit with dear friends, the bountiful hospitality shown us by the DeBarros family as we shared a few precious days with them, and the sheer joy and delight of being amongst a gathering of like-minded Christian friends in Washington DC for a weekend. Saturday afternoon in particular the blessings of God poured down on us as we all sat down to afternoon tea in a plush hotel, and I found myself sitting opposite those 2 precious women with whom this journey began, Christine Pack and Elizabeth DeBarros, and amongst so many other dear friends. And to cap it all off, the Sunday morning church service some of us attended at Capitol Hill Baptist Church was another gracious gift from God, as a passage from scripture was read out that would previously have left me comfortless - 1 John 3, which was the subject of that first Facebook interaction 18 months ago. As I sat there and listened on Sunday, I felt the weight of the law in the passage, but crucially I also heard those verses which were full of comfort after comfort as the Holy Spirit ministered His comfort to me. Oh, the blessed comfort of the gospel!

I trust the weekend was as comforting to all those dear friends as it was for me. We sorely missed those who were unable to join us, and pray God will comfort them in their need.

For I truly believe we all need each and every moment of comfort that God provides for us, as He uses these moments to strengthen us. An earthquake that shook Washington just a couple of days after our weekend brought the reality of our situation back to the forefront of my mind very quickly - we dwell in a world which is groaning in its bondage to decay, and the merciful hand of God is on this earth to shake us from our false idols that we might find salvation in Him alone. May He open the eyes of men that they might find the blessed comfort available through the gospel message that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He was raised again for our justification that we might have peace with God – true Comfort above all comforts.

Precious friends in Washington DC 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

He Sustains All Things By His Powerful Word

Jesus sustains all things by His powerful word. I don’t think we have any adequate understanding of what this means at all.  Riots here in the UK, spreading to many cities nationwide, have left many of us deeply unsettled. This comes on top of the financial uncertainties, with what seems to be the whole system teetering on the brink. What has particularly unsettled me in both cases is the speed at which collapse can come.

It takes  events like this to make me realise that Jesus sustains our civilisation through His powerful Word.  I take for granted so many many things that Jesus sustains in our lives. Only as He withdraws His hand of protection over us, giving us over to our wicked ways, can we see that we can’t even BREATHE without Him sustaining us, as Paul Washer so eloquently puts it in his sermons. So even as the rioters and looters serve the lusts of their flesh, God is glorified as He reveals how utterly desperate and hopeless man is without Him.

Earlier this year, as the earth shook and the seas raged, the way in which Jesus sustains the very ground on which we stand was made apparent. And our utter helplessness when He shakes the nations is revealed, and He is glorified.

The true condition of man contrasted with the True Glory of Christ. How desperate we are for Him! How needy we are! How completely dependent we are on Him for everything – whether we recognise His Kingship or not. And how merciful He is that He sends these times of shaking to wake us up to our dire condition, our need of a Saviour, that we might be still and know that He is God, that He will be exalted among the nations, He will be exalted in the earth, so that we might bow the knee before Him and confess with our mouths that He is Lord, and honour His Name, His Glorious Name, which is above every other name.

Oh Lord, may You bring Your church to repentance. May You shake us to the core, to see You revealed in Your Glory, that we may be broken and humbled before You. May You enable us to root out sin in our lives, that we may follow after You wholeheartedly. May You raise up men in Your church who will be bold to preach Your Word without compromise, men who are not ashamed of Your gospel, for it is the power of salvation for all those who believe, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. May You raise up men who will preach of a Jesus who reigns majestically in the heavens, who is the radiance of God’s glory, who sustains all things by His powerful Word, and who is coming again to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Truth will set you free

I have been marvelling at many things these last few days. “Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds.” – Psalm 72:18.

I marvel at the way in which God shines new light into your life to give you eyes to see. I am reminded of when Jesus healed the blind man in Mark 8:22-26, and after Jesus put his eyes on the man’s eyes, the man could see the people looked like trees walking around. After Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes a second time, the man’s eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. The new light God has shone into my life has shown me that I have been living in a land of walking trees for my whole Christian walk.

I marvel at the depravity of my own heart – maybe “marvel” is not quite the right word, but you know what I mean. How I can think I am following wholeheartedly after God and His ways….and then suddenly more light falls across my path, and the darkness in which I have been walking is exposed.

Truth. We worship the God of Truth (Psalm 31:5), Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6), the Spirit of Truth has been sent into our hearts (John 16:13), God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17), we are sanctified by truth (John 17:17) and one day we will dwell in the City of Truth (Zech 8:3).

Deception and truth are no friends. And yet I have found myself swept up into a world of deception as I have sought to protect my sister from knowledge which I have believed would cause her pain in her world of rituals, as she seeks to find her security in a “contamination-free world” and I have tried to reassure her that we are keeping things “clean”. (This post explains more). And the new light I have been given has shown me that in my desire to protect my sister, I have unwittingly been causing her to rely more and more on her rituals and the false security these can give her, rather than placing her trust in the One True God who has the power to set her free. I have also brought dishonour to the precious Name of my Lord and Saviour by not proclaiming truth in all circumstances. These last few days have been intensely painful.

I marvel at the forgiveness we have in Christ. That in Him ALL our sins are forgiven, that we can come before Him at the foot of the cross, and know that because He is the Truth and His Word is Truth, when we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.

I marvel at the steadiness and confidence I now know, now that I have God’s belt of truth buckled firmly around my waist. He has given me a boldness to speak the Truth to Helen in love.

I marvel at the way God is speaking to Helen and unsettling her confidence in her rituals and showing her that it is wrong for her to place her trust in these rituals and not in God.

The prayer of my heart: That I will marvel at God’s deliverance of Helen from her rituals and at Him giving her a new song in her mouth and a hymn of praise to our God. I am under no illusions – I know the walk ahead will be a difficult one for us as a family. God has reminded me of the fact that when Moses approached Pharaoh to ask him to let God’s people go, initially things became much more difficult for God’s people. But when God revealed His Name to Moses He told Him the significance of His Name – “I am the LORD (Yahweh) and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:6).

May God have mercy.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

You are not alone

The world of online friendships has brought with it so many blessings but surely the hardest aspect of this world is the lack of physical contact. There are times when all you want to do is sit with a dear friend going through a time of suffering and hold them close and weep with them. Words on a screen seem so inadequate at such a time to convey how you feel, how your heart is burdened for them. “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

When I have walked through dark valleys myself, I have always had a desperate urge to know that I am not alone, that there are others who can understand what I am going through, and can identify with how I am feeling, who can show by a look in their eye that they know.  Yet this has rarely happened, for as the Proverb states, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). We all share in the burden of suffering, but each one has been given their own load to carry. Lack of identification with a particular sorrow has not meant a lack of compassion however, and it has been a profound blessing to me to have been given the gift of compassionate friends over the years.

Yet surely the greatest gift of all has been the understanding that my Creator and my Lord is One to whom I can turn for comfort and solace, for having been made in human flesh, he is able to empathize with our weaknesses. He understands. He knows.

So instead of being able to hug my dear friend and weep with her, I point her to Him, and I lift her up before Him, carrying her burden to the One who “goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

I AM NOT ALONE (written in 1999)

The greatest fear I have is that I’m on my own
That no-one can truly understand what I am going through
Dark nights of my soul, deep anguish in my heart
From this agony I long to be set free

I needed a friend, someone to stand with me
Who’s suffered the pain and can encourage me
Will I ever comprehend this amazing truth -
My Creator and my Lord can empathize with me

As I look into His eyes
My heart skips a beat – I have to look again
Compassion in His eyes clearly says “I know”
I am reassured that I am not alone.

The pain I feel is nothing when compared with His
The Father turned His back on Him, could not bear to look
Will I ever comprehend the torment of His soul
As on that brutal cross He hung, my sin upon His back


Thursday, 7 July 2011

My Cup Overflows

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken - Ecc 4:12

A lot happens in 17 years. A lot of growing takes place, many mistakes are made, much forgiveness is given, foundations are solidified, love deepens – and grace abounds.

Except this story begins 19 years ago, when I first set eyes on my future husband at our church’s youth group where he was a leader and I was a helper on my Christmas holiday from university. Yes, it was love at first sight :) But reality then hit home – this man, 8 years my senior, with a faith in God I admired, and eyes I could drown in, would never be interested in me, he was out of my league. So I returned to university and started dating a young man there. Not the best start to a love story…

6 months later, I was back home again from university, single, and Pete was still leading the church youth group. We began dating, 7 weeks later were engaged, and married the following summer, much to the youth group’s delight! Whirlwind romance indeed.

I was a very young Christian when we were married, just over 2 years, and carried a lot of the world’s views into our married life. It never crossed my mind that I might vow to “obey” my husband before God, and as we entered married life my career in a top accountancy firm was uppermost in my list of priorities. I had good intentions of not allowing myself to get sucked into working too many hours. 5 years later I crashed and burned, the pressures of aiming for promotion and the regular 12-hour days I was working taking their toll.

Looking back, that was the best thing that could have happened for our marriage. Resigning my career and losing the company sport’s car were a severe dent to my pride, but the blessing gained from repentance and reordering my priorities to home and family, and more importantly realising my identity is based on who I am in Christ alone, and not the idol of career, has transformed my heart.

The blessing of a child 6 years ago has certainly brought us closer together as a couple, as we recognise our inadequacies at nurturing this little boy’s heart in the ways of the Lord, and lean on Him and His grace for this awesome task. And witnessing the wonderful bond between father and son grow stronger year by year has been a pure joy to behold – I shall never forget the day Harry couldn’t hold back the emotion and wept as he told me how much he loves his dad.

Last week, it struck me that verse 5 in Psalm 23 “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows” can be a prayer for a wife – that God would anoint the “head” of the wife, the husband, with the Holy Spirit, pour His Spirit into him, grow him in the faith, and then the blessings overflow onto the wife and the whole family. I have seen this to be true in our marriage. These last few years, God has grown Pete’s faith, love and knowledge of Him, and my cup has certainly been overflowing as a result. I pray I never lose sight of this and cry out to God on behalf of my husband daily. For my husband has sacrificed himself so much for me over the years. After I crashed and burned from my career I went through a period of deep struggle with my faith – and for a number of years Pete set aside his work in the church so that he could support me. In the last few years we have both experienced something of a spiritual revival, as God has brought our focus back onto Christ and Him crucified, and by His grace has built for us a much stronger foundation for our faith, and so too, for our marriage.

As we celebrate 17 years of marriage together in a couple of weeks’ time, I am much aware that marriage is a sign and a symbol given by God, placed within the fabric of society, pointing to the glory of Christ, the mystery of Christ and the church. And I am so aware that neither of us have the ability to live up to that calling. Instead, my confidence is in the grace of God. May God’s grace sustain us through our weaknesses, and may He be glorified as a result.