Saturday, 26 February 2011

Revelation from the peaks

Ben Nevis, in Fort William

The Highlands in Scotland now possess a little piece of my heart. Having just spent a few days in the town of Fort William, snuggled at the foot of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Britain, the beauty of the place completely won me over. Towering mountains surround this small town. Typical Scottish weather meant it was damp and overcast much of the time we were there, obscuring much of our view, but there were tantalizing glimpses of the peaks.

Majesty shrouded in mystery.

Show me a mountain and I feel a surge of adrenalin as I imagine climbing to the top and feeling the exhilaration of my reward of seeing the view from the top. I did in fact climb to the top of Ben Nevis, about 10 years ago, and was well rewarded for my efforts! These days I have to be content with ascending via gondolas, or walking around in the foothills with my 5 year old in tow – but we’re working on his walking skills : )

It struck me this week how much of my experience of God has taken place on the mountain peaks.

It was on Mount Sinai that I was broken before a Holy God who revealed His Law to Moses.

It was from the Sermon on the Mount that I was undone as the full extent of the Law was expounded by Jesus.

It was from a high mountain that I bowed before the revelation of the Glory of Jesus as He was transfigured before His disciples.

It was from a hill called Golgotha that Jesus Himself paid the penalty for my sins against a Holy God through His atoning death, which bought my redemption, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with my Heavenly Father.

It was from the Mount of Olives that the Risen Jesus ascended to Heaven to become my High Priest and Mediator, interceding for me at the right hand of His Father.

I believe it will be to the Mount of Olives that Jesus will return again, to bring salvation to His Bride, and when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, to the Glory of His Father.

God reveals Himself from the mountains. The apostle John recounts: “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:9-10).

In these days in which we are living, I believe we would all do well to cry out to God to take us to the tops of the mountains in order that He may grant us to see with a clearer vision.

In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore."
(Isaiah 2:2-4)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

With You I've Already Won

I love to hear testimonies of how God has worked in the lives of my friends. My confidence and praise in God increases each time I hear these examples of how the Living God has worked through a situation to refine and bring forth the gold of a faith which continues to triumphantly declare “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, His love endures for ever!” (Psalm 118:1).

Many of these testimonies are not what the world will find successful however. I was crushed when I heard a pastor tell us “People, non-Christians, need to look at your life and say ‘I want what you’ve got’”. This put such a burden on me, that my life somehow had to become attractive from the world’s perspective in order to win souls for Christ. This is not how evangelism works! Our lives are not the gospel – the gospel message is that Jesus Christ laid down his life for our sins, that we might be reconciled to God. This is the good news that we need to proclaim, with our words, and it is the Holy Spirit who will bring conviction and repentance as He wills, as we proclaim that message.

However, I believe that as Christians we can edify one another through our stories, which invariably are not what the world would find encouraging.

One such story is of my beautiful friend, Helen. She is a talented singer/songwriter, and released a couple of albums which received very positive feedback in the late 1990s, and was on the brink of making a big impact in Christian music, when she was struck down by ME. She has battled with ME ever since, having periods of respite, and then falling ill again. Life is a constant battle. Days of brightness and hope contrast with days of sickness and feelings of hopelessness.

We’ve been trying to arrange to meet up for months, and eventually managed to get together for a coffee last week. And I was so encouraged to hear Helen speak so intimately of her Lord and Saviour, of her love for Him, of her struggles to find her place of rest in Him.

This is real faith. When all is seemingly against you, do you continue to turn to the One who knows all things, who searches our hearts and minds, who knows us better than we know ourselves? Will you continue to give thanks to Him, this Good God of ours, when there are no answers? When we can’t make sense of life, will we bow before Him and say we trust Him even then?

And out of the refining process a gold nugget springs forth. Helen wrote and recorded this song in 2009, but has been unable to promote it since. Yet even if the world does not get to hear it, I know that her Heavenly Father hears her singing and delights to hear her voice, and her testimony of His faithfulness. And that is all that matters.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Lost Portrait

For an English assignment at school, when 16 years old, I was asked to discuss the thought that “Inside each one of us there is an evil monster struggling to get out”. I used as my main resource The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. For those unfamiliar with the story, a handsome young man Dorian has a portrait painted which perfectly captures his beauty. In an act of vanity, he sells his soul to the devil so that his physical beauty will never fade, whilst instead the portrait changes to reflect his decay both physically and morally. The portrait grows increasingly hideous and vile as the story progresses and eventually has to be kept hidden in the attic out of sight, covered up, as it becomes too shocking to set eyes upon.

As a Christian, I have been lugging this vile portrait around with me. As my understanding of God’s holiness has grown, so has the ugliness of my portrait. Any time I dared to peer at my portrait, I would recoil in horror at what I saw there. Exhortations to test myself to examine whether I was in the faith literally ended in despair when confronted by my portrait.

I was the Romans 7 Christian. “What a wretched man I am!” (Rom 7:24).

This week, as I tried looking for this portrait, I realised with some shock that it has gone. Completely gone. God has taken it away. I no longer carry it around with me. I am free from it. Praise God!

This Romans 7 Christian has, by God’s grace, been brought into the full truth of the gospel gloriously set before us in Romans 8.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2); “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba’, Father”. (Rom 8:15); “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:37).

The presence of sin in my life is as much a reality as it has ever been. Daily I wrestle with it, I abhor it, I mourn over it, I seek to put it to death, I long, oh how I long for that day when I shall finally be free of it! But I no longer identify myself with it. I count myself dead to sin (Rom 6:11), my sin nature does not have power over me because it is not my master, for I am not under law but under grace (Rom 6:14), it is truly a defeated foe.

The Bible is quite clear as to our position outside of Christ. We were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), deserving of God’s wrath (Eph 2:3), ungodly (Rom 5:6), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), controlled by the sinful nature (Rom 7:5), slaves to sin (Rom 6:20), living in darkness (Eph 5:8), alienated from God (Col 1:21) separate from Christ, without hope, and without God (Eph 2:12).

BUT NOW, IN CHRIST, all because of His grace, not because of anything we have done, we are new creations (2 Cor 5:17), justified by faith (Gal 2:16), redeemed, forgiven (Eph 1:7), saved (2 Tim 2:10), sanctified (1 Cor 1:2), sons of God (Gal 3:26). We have been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13), we have been given righteousness (Phil 3:8), freedom (Gal 2:4), grace (2 Tim 1:9), joy (Phil 1:26), peace (Phil 4:7), and fullness (Col 2:10). We are raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)!

Christ has accomplished so much for us, won so much for us, bought so much for us through His perfect life, His obedience, His death, His resurrection and ascension. Gift upon gift upon gift. And as my understanding of the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints has increased, I see the finished work of Christ on my behalf and I shout in triumph rather than cry out in despair.

The Picture of Dorian Gray has been on my mind for some months. I was toying with the idea of writing a blog post just a few months ago testifying to how my portrait was growing in all its horror as my understanding of God's Holiness and Glory grew. I pray that it gives God a greater glory to testify that instead, He has taken it away.

And I can’t thank Him enough that He has taken it away.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Cor 1:20).