Thursday, 30 December 2010

Father lost and found

John Reynolds: 30/12/34-23/9/85



September 23, 1985
Another day at school finished, and we were just having the register at the end of the day before going home. The Head of Year came into the room and asked me if I’d accompany her to her office. Uh-oh, had I been in trouble? But then she said we needed to walk to my mum’s workplace, which was quite close to the school. This was odd. For some reason I didn’t ask why, we walked silently. The police cars outside my mum’s office didn’t help the feeling of foreboding that was growing inside. Walking into my mum’s office, seeing the police men there, seeing the look on my mum’s face – I braced myself. As she told me that my dad had been killed in a car crash on his way to work, the floor beneath me seemed to fall away, or rather the rock on which I had based my life did, and my mum and I just clung tightly together.

December 30, 2010
I may have lost my earthly father, but in the last 2 months I have found my Heavenly Father. Which is probably an odd thing to say, for someone who has been a Christian for 18 years. I have started rereading The Forgotten Father by Thomas A. Smail the last couple of weeks, and he expresses so well my experience. He lost his own father as a young boy, and he says “Experientially it is possible to confess Christ and not live in the power of the Spirit or have confidence before the Father. All Christians believe in the fatherhood of God, but not all have entered into the confident trust and willing obedience that belief implies. And they can do so, not by being taught or exhorted but only as a result of a distinctive activity of the Holy Spirit within them. God must send the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying Abba Father...In Christ God has made himself our Father and us his children. For that to come home to us in the power of the Spirit is one of the most healing things that can ever happen to us.” Mmm. This happened to me 2 months ago. I have always known my Heavenly Father since He opened my eyes to the gospel when I became a Christian, but I never had confidence before Him, I was always hiding behind the righteousness of Christ, so that He wouldn’t see my dirtiness. Now I have come to the realisation that the blood of Christ has actually washed me clean, and I have discovered a new-found delight and confidence in approaching my Loving Heavenly Father, and an ability to receive His love for me.

I am stunned at the way God is speaking to me at the moment. For example, last night I was led to do an impromptu bible study on the word compassion after the lovely Christina Langella posted on Facebook a comment about God’s compassion. Not only did I discover to my shame that I don’t know very well those verses that speak of His compassion, I discovered He is called the Father of compassion (2 Cor 1:3) and amazingly that the Bible proclaims “in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3).

I miss my dad. I miss most of all not being able to discuss my faith with him. His dad was a priest in the Anglican church, and my dad also wanted to become a priest – but returned from a liberal theological college disillusioned with the teachings there that denied the virgin birth. He loved all the bells, incense and singing in the High Anglican church, and had been a choir boy at Ely Cathedral. My dad was a brilliant pianist and I used to love to listen to him play The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. He struggled with life – we believe he had Aspergers Syndrome, and had mild obsessional behaviour, and we used to get so frustrated as a family waiting for him to join us in the car to go out as he did all his last-minute checks in the house, but he was a great dad.

Today would have been his 76th birthday. I have tears today – but they are tears of joy at finding my compassionate Heavenly Father.

 

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the LORD.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
(Psalm 68:4-6)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Incarnation

(photo by Becky Pliego)

The mystery of the incarnation has been occupying much of my thoughts lately, for obvious reasons! I can’t even begin to fathom how the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. I can’t understand how He could leave the glory He had with His Father before the world began, in order to be born of a woman as a vulnerable baby, dependent on His mother for her care. I can’t comprehend the humility with which He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

This mystery is too great, too awesome, and these words of mine are too inadequate to do it justice.

So I have to turn my attention to a part of the story on a more human level. Mary, to whom the angel declares “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). What a greeting! What greater commendation could a person receive? To hear that you are highly favoured by the Mighty God, that He is with you, and that you are blessed – surely this is the heart’s desire of us all. No other testimony matters, other than that which God declares.

Then to be told: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end...The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-33,35). Not only favoured by God, but chosen to bear the Son of God! What greater honour could a woman receive? What greater privilege?


What follows such an awesome encounter with the angel of God and such words as these?

Shame.

Despair.

Suspicion.

Betrothed to Joseph, yet pregnant. A young, unmarried woman clearly carrying a child, bringing shame on herself, her family’s name, her husband. One can imagine the talk in the village. Matthew tells us that “And her husband, Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

Mary’s life has gone from the heights of joy and gladness at finding favour in the eyes of God to having to deal with the unbelief of men. Faith in God immediately comes up against the negative reaction of the world.

Isn’t this the way of our Lord Himself who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame? Isn’t this the way of all those who would follow their Master? “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor 1:23-25).

May our hearts firmly seek the favour of the Lord and not of men. May we seek His praise, and not the praise of men. For we have this great promise to hold on to: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (1 Pe 2:6).

Friday, 17 December 2010

Thirsty



At a bible study recently, our pastor asked whether we were content with our knowledge of God, with our understanding of who He is. Surely the response from the heart of those who have been touched just a little by the love of God is that as we grow in our love of Him, and as we receive more of His love, our hunger for Him grows. This is another of those glorious Divine paradoxes! A.W. Tozer puts it so well:

“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” (The Pursuit of God)

Moses was a child of the burning heart. Having already seen the visible glory of God when manna from heaven was rained down, and when he met with God on Mount Sinai to receive the Law, he asks God “Now show me your glory” (Ex 33:18). He has seen what I would dearly love to see – the visible glory of God, yet it is not enough – he asks for more.

David was a child of the burning heart. He loved his God. He knew his God loved him. And his longing to know more of his God poured forth in these words:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?”
(Psalm 42:1-2)

Paul was a child of the burning heart. He says “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil 3:8). Yet he then goes on to say “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). He knows Christ, yet his heart cries out that he wants to know Christ.

To those whose hearts have been touched by the God of Love, there will be a continual hunger and thirst for more of God whilst we are away from home. Now we see but dimly. Now we see but glimpses of God’s glory. Now it is as if we are climbing in the mountains, and we make it to one peak and our hearts cry out in gladness and joy. Then our perspective widens and we see we are not at the summit at all, but rather still in the foothills, and a higher peak comes into our vision – sometimes requiring a downward traverse first. But the exhilaration at reaching the peaks is treasure from heaven, and we continue our upward climb. Now we cry out with Job:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

For we have faith that one day, we will see our blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ our King and Saviour, and when we are gathered before Him, we are told that “Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst” (Rev 7:16). On that day, we will be satisfied. On that day, the yearning of our hearts will be quieted. On that day, we will drink deeply from the River of Life and our thirst will be quenched. Until then, may God grant us the grace to keep straining towards what is ahead.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The embrace of my Heavenly Father



As a mother of a young child, there is no greater feeling than being able to offer comfort, hope, safety and encouragement through a warm embrace. To know that as I hold my child in my arms, I am able to convey to him more deeply than mere words ever could that he is my child and he is much loved.

As a child of my Heavenly Father, there is no greater feeling than receiving comfort, hope, safety and encouragement through His warm embrace. To know that as I am held in His arms, He is conveying to me more deeply than mere words ever could that I am His child and I am loved.

This prodigal daughter has returned home. When my eyes were finally opened and I recognised that I was a sinner before a Holy God and shamefacedly returned to Him to plead for mercy, He came running towards me, threw His arms around me and kissed me. He ran towards me! He embraced me! He kissed me!

How is this possible? Because of Christ. Because the Son of God made Himself nothing, took on the very nature of a servant, was made in human likeness, and humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Is it possible year after year to be filled with ever-increasing awe and wonder as we contemplate the miracle of the incarnation? This heart of mine is overwhelmed this Advent-time. So much to wonder at – Mary, the young virgin, receiving a visit from the angel Gabriel to tell her she would bear the Son of God in her womb; the shepherds receiving a visit from a great company of the heavenly host singing praises to God; but above all that the Son of God would leave the glory He had with His Father before the world began to come to earth to save us.

And because He came, because He lived, because He died, because He was resurrected, because He is ascended, I can enjoy the embrace of my Heavenly Father.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

Friday, 26 November 2010

On Seeing a Lake Dancing for the Glory of God

“Let the heavens, rejoice, let the earth be glad,
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in his truth”
(Psalm 96:11-13).


I’m not someone you could call a “tree-hugger”. However, I’ve always appreciated nature and have often been over-awed by God’s handiwork, none more so than when on the top of a mountain. Ski holidays in the Swiss Alps left me in wonder at the beauty of God revealed through the mountains. Standing atop Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK, thrilled and exhausted at having reached the top, and seeing the barren landscape around us, made my heart sing praises to God. In fact, thinking of mountain top experiences, nothing beats climbing Pen-y-Fan in South Wales, which we climbed in the mist, and as we stood at the top of the mountain, feeling that sense of achievement, the mist suddenly evaporated before our eyes and the view before us opened up. Awesome. What a mighty God we serve who created all this!

Yet, there is a difference between looking on nature and appreciating God’s handiwork in it, and actually seeing nature with eyes of faith praising its Maker. I came across this poem recently which took my breath away: “And a dewdrop quivers in His dawn with praise”. Wow. I had never given dewdrops a second thought, let alone seen them quivering in praise before their Maker. This poem reminded me much of Francis of Assisi “preaching to the birds or calling upon sun and moon and wind and stars to join him in praising the Lord” as A.W. Tozer states in ‘Man: The Dwelling Place of God’.

I determined to set out to see, with eyes of faith, nature praising the Lord. I took a walk through the woods at the back of our house, and sat down on a bench by a lake. It was a beautiful autumnal sunny day. Birds were singing, the sky was blue, there was a hint of warmth in the air. Beautiful.

And then my breath was taken away. On the lake I saw lilies reaching out their leaves as if they were lifting their hands in praise of their God. Ducks ran atop the water in delight at this gift their Maker had given them. And the lake. Well. I suppose someone else who had been there would have said the lake glistened in the sunshine. That is not what I saw. I saw light flashing from the top of ripples of water – small eruptions of brilliant light exploding in absolute joy before their Maker, starting off slowly and then building to a great crescendo of light as more and more ripples appeared – it was as if the lake was dancing for the glory of the Lord.



Honestly, I sat there, my mouth open, tears rolling down my cheeks. How have I missed seeing this all the years of my life? How have I missed the beauty around us of the trees of the forest singing with joy before the Lord? How have I missed the sea resounding in its praise? How have I missed the rivers clapping their hands? But I was so thankful to God for opening my eyes to this awesome display of wonder and praise before Him.

And whilst I may have to be content with seeing with eyes of faith for the moment, I know there is a time coming when we will see in full.


“The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God's purpose it has been so limited - yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” – JB Phillips translation of Romans 8:19-21.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Christian loses his burden


“So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.” – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress


This is the way I have always seen Christian living (apologies that it's a bit blurry! - if you click on the pciture I think it will enlarge so you can see it a bit better!):



My early years of the Christian walk, where the teaching focused on how our lives should be lived as a response to what God had done for us in Christ led to despair as the focus was on us most of the time. Over the last 3 years I have shifted my focus away from my response to Him and back onto Him, and I have been relieved of this despair. However, whenever I am encouraged by the Word to examine myself to test whether I am in the faith that sense of despair returns, especially when I read 1 John and see this verse: “No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). People tell me this means living in persistent, deliberate, wilful sin. I then find myself trying to draw distinctions between different types of sin - is John saying that say, sleeping around is a worse sin than not giving God the love He deserves? This really doesn’t help – and I always come back to the fact that if I am continually sinning despite being saved by God, what does that say about me and my love for Him?

I am starting to consider an alternative possibility to Christian living:



“Love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It just doesn’t sound when I read that whole section in Romans that Paul is saying “but by the way, there’s absolutely no way you can do this”. Is it just possible that the commandment to love is not after all an impossible target where I am condemned because my love is imperfect? Rather, as I am called to bear fruit (Romans 7:4) maybe I am not after all judged on the perfection of the fruit, but instead on whether the fruit is growing. I am starting to see this as being headed in the right direction, as opposed to meeting a pass/fail test. So I think I can start to say (albeit a bit hesitantly and not entirely 100% confidently) that yes, I DO love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength – not perfectly, but I do love Him, I want to please Him, I want my whole life to be devoted to Him, and the imperfection of that love is not a sin. After all, King David was commended by God for being “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) – not condemned because that devotion may have been “imperfect”. Yes, I will sin, I will mess up, I will get it wrong – but not every second of every day.

A friend asked me the other day whether I believed I was pleasing to God. I was overcome by the sorrow I felt in my heart as I reflected on my inability to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. How can someone who is continually sinning be pleasing to God?

Just considering the possibility that my love for God is acceptable in His eyes fills me with a hope and assurance that I haven’t known before. I am not saying this is my work – my love for Him is only a response to the grace He has given, and is caused by His Spirit at work in me. But maybe, just maybe, my Heavenly Father does delight in the love I have for Him, which He caused in me, however weak and pitiful that may be at times. And as I think like this, it does seem as though that burden which was on Christian’s shoulders is falling off my back.


“This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins...We love because he first loved us ” (1 John 4:10; 19).


PS I would appreciate comments on this as I feel like I am writing heresy : )

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Seeing the Glory of God in the Face of Christ


I recently discovered that the first occasion that the visible glory of the Lord appeared to the Israelites was about a month after God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea. Concerned at how they are going to survive in the desert, they begin to grumble against Moses and Aaron. The glory of the Lord appears in a cloud, and God tells Moses that He will provide them with meat at twilight, and fill them with bread in the morning. (Ex 16:6-7;10-12).This first display of the Lord’s visible glory results in an act of grace – in response to grumbling, the Lord provides the gift of manna, the bread from heaven. This first revelation of God’s visible glory in the Bible thus immediately points us to the One who would later call himself the true bread from heaven (John 6:32).

The New Testament is filled with the revelation of how the glory of the Lord is seen in Christ:

  1. Pre-incarnate glory of Christ:
    “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17:5)

  2. Glory of Christ in the incarnation:
    “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14)

  3. Glory of God revealed at birth of Christ:
    “And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified...Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rest” (Lk 2:8;13-14)

  4. Glory demonstrated through miracles:
    a) After changing water into wine – “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him" (Jn 2:11)
    b) Raising of Lazarus – “Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it’” (Jn 11:4).

  5. Glory demonstrated at the Transfiguration:
    “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him” (Lk 9:32)

  6. Glory of Christ at his Second Coming:
    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (Mt 25:31).

  7. Glory of God revealed in Jesus:
    “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3)
    “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4-6)

Seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ is – I have to say it – unnerving. I have recently come to understand that I need a mediator to shelter me from the glory and holiness of God – that mediator is Christ. I have seen Him as the cleft in the rock that sheltered Moses when the glory of the Lord passed by (Ex 33:22). Now I am seeing that the cleft in the rock is filled with as much glory as God Himself and it almost feels like I have nowhere left to run. “You cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live” God tells Moses. Man in his sinful state simply cannot behold the glory of the Lord. Yet the glory of my mediator is...overwhelming.

The apostle John had a revelation of the glory of Jesus which he describes in Revelation 1:12-16. His reaction to this? “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead”. (Rev 1:17). Maybe being unnerved by the glory of God in the face of Christ is not the wrong reaction to have, after all.

Feeling unnerved as I am only gives me more hope for the future – for that day when this body of sin will finally be destroyed, and as part of the bride of Christ clothed in our glorified bodies we will be able to sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb, and see Him face to face! Oh, to join with the angels in singing His praise!

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev 5:11-12).






Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ Who died for me?

Chorus:
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!

Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkened veil between,
But a bless├Ęd day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.

Face to face—oh, blissful moment!
Face to face—to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ Who loves me so.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Struggling with the Glory of God



A few months ago I listened to Paris Reidhead’s sermon “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”. Afterwards I was undone. As he talked about how humanism has infiltrated our thinking even in the church, I recognised how this was so true of me. As he talked about how our evangelistic efforts are man-centred – to save souls from hell for their sake – rather than God-focused – a bride for Christ for His sake – I realised I didn’t understand “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory) at all.

This was reinforced when a friend commented that she had told a family member that “if she is the only one in her family that God has chosen to display his transforming power and deliverance through, that He might gain a greater glory and effect righteousness in the dark places, then so be it”. I was undone again. Then I was reminded of God’s word given to Isaiah. Isaiah has just been given what has to be one of the most memorable visions of God’s glory in the whole Bible. He is then commissioned by God to preach to the people in order to “make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa 6:10). Soli Deo Gloria.

I have the privilege of being friends with a lady whose husband was recently killed in a car crash leaving her alone to bring up their young daughter. She continues to put her trust and faith in the God she has known all her life, who has revealed His goodness to her, and who has given her a real Hope for the future. I am undone by her faith. I am reminded of Jesus who, on being told that his friend Lazarus is sick, replies “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). We may have to deal with death for now, but we have a hope that on that Blessed Day in the future the Resurrection will bring God the glory as He prepares the wedding feast for His bride. Soli Deo Gloria.

I read about my Christian brothers and sisters suffering persecution around the world and I am undone. Their ability to stand firm and not deny Christ in the face of severe pressure, sometimes at the cost of their lives, is truly testimony to the ability of the One who holds us in His hands to keep us, and not to allow anyone to snatch us out of His hands. I am reminded of the account of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who just before he died looked up to heaven and “saw the glory of God” (Acts 7:55). Soli Deo Gloria.

I have to confess – I am wired up to see things from a human perspective. I listen to Paris Reidhead, and interact with my Christian friends and I can feel the gears clunking in my head as I try to shift from one view to another. I am distraught that God’s glory is not my natural automatic worldview. I am dismayed that after walking with God for so many years I still don’t “get it” naturally, and that I have to be dragged out of humanism to God-centredness.

This short video clip considers this same issue:



My only hope is that I will be transformed by the renewing of my mind as I continue to read God’s word which is “sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). I finish with a plea to my Christian friends – I need you to keep reminding me that God’s glory is all that matters.


“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever! Amen!” (Rom 11:33-36)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

I Miss You Lord



I miss You Lord, I really miss You, though today You spoke to me
Through the Word of God which judged my heart, but in Christ proclaims I’m free;
For I fight a constant battle with the sin I see inside,
Can’t rest or lay my armour down ‘til the day I’m glorified.

I miss You Lord, I really miss You, though I spoke with You today
Through the Spirit You sent into my heart to teach me how to pray;
There’s so much sorrow and suffering in this world corrupted by sin,
We need the King of Righteousness His reign to begin.

I miss You Lord, I really miss You, though today I fed on You
As I ate the bread and drank the wine in awed remembrance of You;
I’m a pilgrim in a foreign land, a stranger here on earth,
Speaking a different language, my heart set on True Worth.

So many reasons why I miss You Lord, but my hope in You is sure -
Whether I die or meet You in the clouds I’ll be with You forevermore.
But for now, oh Jesus, I’ll miss You, till my heart has no cause to groan –
When there’s no more sorrows, sin or death – with You in Your Home.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Thoughts and Wonderment on Psalm 48

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise”. Indeed. His name reaches the ends of the earth, His praise reaches the ends of the earth, His right hand is filled with righteousness. Why this rejoicing? “Because of your judgements” (v11). What judgements has God made? To me, the one judgment that has been made which far exceeds all others is this:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).
“Our God”. The psalmist uses this personal pronoun 3 times in Psalm 48. It is a truly humbling thing to be able to call God “my God” – when it was MY sin which put Jesus on the cross, it was MY punishment that he suffered in MY place. And it led Jesus to cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now, because of this sacrifice, I am a child of God and able to call Him “My Father.” Truly I will never cease to wonder at this mystery! “Died he for me who caused his pain? For me? who him to death pursued?” (And Can It Be lyrics).

I have very rarely been able to sing the song “My Jesus, my Saviour” without choking up on those 4 words. The wonder that I can call Him mine, when I am such a wretched sinner. The wonder that He would choose me for His own! It is being chosen “In Him” which helps put it into perspective for me – because the Father is pleased with Him, it gives Him pleasure to choose us in Him, that we might be for the praise of His glory! Not because of who I am, but because of who You are.

“As we have heard, so have we seen” (v8) – the central, pivotal cry of this psalm. God is not simply someone we have heard about, who acted long ago in the history of Israel – He is a God who acts today! He is a God we can experience today! He is a God I have just been praying and weeping to. Knowledge of God is not sufficient. By faith Christ dwells in our very hearts, the hearts of those who believe in His Name! “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps 42:2). Right here, right now, by faith!

The climax of the psalm: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide, even to the end” (v14). This amazing, awesome God of righteousness, whose Name is beyond all names, whose praise reaches the ends of the earth, who brings rejoicing to all of creation - not only is He Our God – He has promised to be our God always...eternally...what blessed hope!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 5:3


18 months ago, I led a bible study in our small group on this beatitude. As I spoke of my brokenness before God, it became apparent that there was a disconnect between me and my dear Christian friends. They seemed to be concerned for me and my low self esteem. I was even handed a book after the bible study on Christians and self esteem. I went home in tears, distressed that we seemed to be speaking a different language.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at the disconnection. After all, our pastor had at one time preached that we as a people have now moved beyond “worm theology” as he gently mocked the hymn lyrics of Isaac Watts (“Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I”), and that God doesn’t want us flat on our faces before Him - didn’t He tell Joshua to “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” (Joshua 7:10).

The teaching in the church was on living a victorious Christian life. As a church we even went through Neil Anderson’s 7 Steps to Freedom in Christ so that we could live in victory. I went to work for the UK Director of the Freedom in Christ Ministry. I withered. Dark days.

Brokenness. When I became a Christian, I understood I had been forgiven my past sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. I now saw I had an opportunity to start afresh, to prove my love for God. Needless to say, I failed. Dark days. I recently looked back at a song I wrote during that time, and one lyric in particular stands out – “I can’t accept Your love when I have nothing to give”. Oh boy. I read that now and I can’t help but think was I saved then at all? I simply refused to believe that the love God had for me was on account of the love He has for His Son. I wanted God to love me because I deserved to be loved because of who I was. Proud, wicked heart! Thankfully God in His mercy took me and broke me. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). I can testify to the truth of this statement. I now see my absolute poverty of spirit, my moral bankruptcy before a holy God, and my absolute dependence on His mercy in Christ. Paradoxically, I have never felt more at rest in my soul than I do now. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

Recently, through the internet, I have come across other Christians who speak this same language. I was amazed the first time I heard Chris Rosebrough on his "Fighting for the Faith" radio programme. I had never heard another broken Christian speaking what was on my heart before. I cannot begin to describe the joy it brings me to hear of others share their brokenness before God too, which stems from their understanding of His holiness. It is so edifying to my walk when I hear this same language which resonates so deeply within:


“I love the Apostle Peter so much. My Christian journey has been like his in some ways: starting out with a zeal for God but no knowledge, being refined, being foolish, learning and being refined more, more foolishness, and finally knowing at the end that HE is God and I am small, insignificant, sinful and wretched. And sometimes all I can do is say, Lord, despite all my wretchedness, my sin, my foolishness, search my heart...and know that I love you”Christine Blackerby Pack.

“The gospel only became "good news" after I first took a hard honest look at just how bad the bad news really was. Trust me, utter depravity is very bad news and substitutionary atonement is very good news.”Elizabeth DeBarros.

“Whenever I start thinking too much about this world and myself, I think of all that Christ has done for me and I'm back on my knees begging forgiveness, humbled before God, with how weak and lost I am without Him.”Ruth Szalapski Owen.

I thank God that He has brought me into contact with other saints who speak the same language as I do. I am truly edified, truly blessed, and so encouraged.
I need to finish with a song. I came across this Casting Crowns video last week, "Who Am I?" and it sums up completely the transformation in my views during my Christian journey:




"Not because of who I am but because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done but because of who You are...I am Yours."

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Grace and Truth

I wrote on my Facebook page the other day about a recent trip to a tropical zoo, where it turned out that my 5-year old boy is much braver than me. He happily allowed tarantulas and scorpions to crawl on his hands whilst I backed quietly away into a corner. Someone commented they would have been screaming, to which I responded that well, I was screaming on the inside!

This reminded me of a song I wrote a few years ago whilst in the midst of depression. Being a depressed Christian is a lonely place to be. Depression is a monster which swallows up all hope, leaving behind a black cloud of despair which is suffocating and from which there appears to be no escape. Depression for the Christian is particularly difficult to deal with for it strikes at the very heart of your faith – for we worship the “God of hope” (Rom 15:13).

Anyway, in the song I was trying to express the painful struggle between trying to live up to Christian expectations of a victory-filled life because of God’s presence in my life, and the awful reality that in fact life was the pits. So the chorus said “I’m smiling, but I’m crying on the inside of me”. A later refrain cried out “You’d just think I was losing my faith if I told you it’s no help when I pray; You’d say that God works all things for our good, so you just thank Him now like you should”.

Things were made worse by our pastor encouraging people to testify during worship services of how God had worked in their lives that week, how He had answered prayer. Listening to people relaying how God had done this good thing or showed them that good thing just reinforced my belief I was a failure as a Christian. I needed to hear, but never did, that someone else’s life was the pits, but they still maintained a hope in the Living God because of what Jesus Christ had done for them by dying for their sins and providing forgiveness for those sins and enabling them to be reconciled to God.

Thank God He delivered me from this depression. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Thank God that through all the soul searching of those days, I believe it led me to discover the freedom of the true grace of the gospel, that our performance for God is not what counts – it is the life of His Beloved Son that counts!

This recent discovery has led me on a search to understand the truth of the Bible much better, and I have spent a lot of time looking at false teachings to root them out from my thinking and ensure my mind is transformed by God’s word. All good...

Yet I have recently been brought up short by a lack of compassion and graciousness in my thinking (incidentally in an interaction where in response to my accusation, grace was returned to me). In my desire to hold on to truth, I have become critical and judgemental of others holding to different beliefs. I fear that in my zealousness for truth, I have lost sight of compassion and grace – qualities which God taught me so much about my need for through my depression. How ironic.

“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” – John 1:17. This is my scripture verse for now.


Thursday, 12 August 2010

A Child of God



Creator of the World,
He named the stars one by one;
He sits enthroned above the earth;
Yet He stooped to save,
And I catch my breath, amazed –
Can I really be a child of God?

Chorus:
A child of God in His Kingdom?
A child of God – can it be true?
How great the love the Father lavished on us
That we should be called children of God.


Dead in my transgressions,
Without hope in the world,
Living as an enemy of God;
Now I’m saved by grace
And I catch my breath, amazed –
Can I really be a child of God?

Now we’re heirs of God,
Raised and seated in Christ,
The riches of His grace still to come;
And every single day
I still catch my breath, amazed –
Can I really be a child of God?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

When I Asked To See Your Glory




I didn’t understand, Lord, when I asked to see Your glory
That just a tiny glimpse would unsettle me deep within,
For as I start to see Your Holiness and the worship due to You
I cry out with Peter “Depart, Lord, For I am a sinful man”.

I didn’t understand, Lord, when I asked to see Your glory
How ensnared I had become in the world in which I live;
I had no sleepless nights that Your Name was not honoured,
I wasn’t on my knees crying out “Lord, please forgive!”

I didn’t understand, Lord, when I asked to see Your glory
That Your mercy towards us would be harder to understand;
Even the whole of creation groans, frustrated by our sin,
Yet still You continue to hold out Your hands.

I didn’t understand, Lord, when I asked to see Your glory
That it would leave me forever fallen on my knees;
For You have taken this sinner and blotted out my sin,
Clothed in righteousness, adopted - O Lord, what mystery!

I didn’t understand, Lord, when I asked to see Your glory
That a tiny glimpse would leave me hungering for more,
O for that day to come when we’ll see You revealed in blazing fire,
To see Your face, fall at Your feet, and worship evermore!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

On Bearing the Name of God

Reflecting on the amazing grace of God, this video sums up so much of what God has done for us in Christ:



Truly amazing, that Christ has taken me from rebel to child of God!

Yet...I have been studying the name of God in the scriptures, and I see the awesomeness of what it means to bear His Name as His child. For "you have exalted above all things your name and your word" (Psalm 138:2). God's Name is supreme, and He does all things to bring glory to His Name.

His dealings with His people Israel were on this basis: "You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD." (Ezekiel 20:44).

His purposes through the church are the same - "so that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess 1:12).

This means that those who bear His Name must live lives worthy of that Name. Does that not give us cause to pause and tremble? Especially when the third of the Ten Commandments is not to misuse His Name. Speaking to the Israelites after redeeming them from slavery in Egypt, God reminds His people shortly before they enter the promised land “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – the LORD your God – the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses.” (Dt 28:58-59). Paul commands “All those who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” (1 Timothy 6:1). Surely the worst thing I could possibly do now that I bear the Name of My God would be to do anything which would cause that Holy Name to be blasphemed?

This almost feels like a burden too heavy to bear. For even though I may be on the narrow path, I do trip, I do stumble, and during those times of tripping and stumbling I am not honouring His Name. Even if my outward actions may not always betray me, I know my thoughts and attitudes do, and the Holy light of God's Word reveals those thoughts and attitudes to be the darkness that they are. Yet Jesus promises that His yoke is easy and that His burden is light.

My hope has to come from Him. Paul tells the Philippian believers to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Phil 2:12-13). Let's fear and tremble at the awesomeness of this Name we now bear, and as we work out our salvation by reading His word, praying at the throne of grace, fellowshipping with other children of God, and sharing in the Lord's Supper to remind of us the One who bought us with His blood,then He promises to change the very desires of our hearts to walk in His ways.

I can only live this way by daily repenting, daily casting myself onto His mercy, daily acknowledging my helplessness, daily seeking His grace. This song captures this so well:

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I am Barabbas!




I wonder if like me you’ve heard the story of the trial of Jesus before Pilate many times, especially at Easter time. After questioning Jesus, Pilate offers to release one of two prisoners, depending on the choice of the crowd. The crowd choose Barabbas instead of Jesus, and Jesus is sent away to be crucified.

Previously when I’ve heard this story I’ve been struck by the unfairness of it, but thought no more of it. This year, I happened to be watching one of the film dramatizations of the life of Jesus Christ and it suddenly hit me – I am Barabbas!


John’s gospel tells us “Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion” (John 18:40). I believe Barabbas was one of the zealots who was fighting against the Roman occupation of the land of Israel, and had led an uprising against the Roman rulers. I have also taken part in a rebellion – a rebellion against the Creator God who made me for His glory – but against whose rule I rebelled and instead chose my own way. This rebellion against my God is a much more heinous crime than a rebellion against civil authorities, and deserves to be punished – by death, “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Not just physical death, but eternal death, eternal separation from God.
Barabbas was in prison awaiting his death sentence. Jesus was then brought before Pilate. After being examined by the governor, Pilate declares of Jesus “I find no basis for a charge against this man; He has done nothing to deserve death”. (Luke 23:4; 15). He is declared innocent before Pilate. Moreover, He is declared innocent before God the Father – who says of Him “This is my Son whom I love, with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He had no sin in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Yet Pilate does something strange. This is a clear-cut case, with one guilty prisoner, one innocent prisoner; in terms of determining the sentences this is a no-brainer, we might say. Instead, “It was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested.” (Mark 15:6). Pilate tells the crowd he will release Jesus. But “with one voice they cried out ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’...Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’...So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:18;20-21;24-25).

The innocent party is sent to be crucified; the guilty party is pardoned and set free.

Can the gospel message be any clearer? “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The wrath of the Father against the sin of mankind was satisfied by the death of His Son, and is proven by His resurrection from the dead. In exchange for the life of sinful Barabbas, the sinless Jesus Christ was crucified. In exchange for my sinful life, the sinless Jesus Christ was crucified. In exchange for all of our sinful lives, the sinless Jesus Christ was crucified.

In order to appropriate this amazing, awesome gift, to be pardoned and to be set free “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Repent and believe that Jesus Christ died for your sin, that you too might be forgiven and set free.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Hung parliament


The British people have spoken. We have a hung parliament, as no one party wins enough votes to gain a majority in government. We continue to wait and watch as political deals and manoeuvrings take place to determine our future government. All this in a time of economic meltdown when decisive leadership is required.


I believe one reason this has occurred is because there is now no clear difference between the 3 main political parties. They all seem to have converged onto middle ground. The conservatives felt they had to move to the left to remove their ‘nasty party’ tag. They felt they had to offer the electorate something more palatable in order to gain power. That strategy has backfired spectacularly.

I believe the same thing is happening within the church. In order to increase numbers in the church, the gospel is watered down to something more palatable – ‘come to Jesus Christ and fulfil your potential in life’, rather than the orthodox Christian faith which slays the sinner, states that our good works are as filthy rags, and instead we need to come to God as spiritual beggars to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ by faith.

Yet the leaders of the church cannot alone be blamed for changing the message. Jeremiah faced the same problem with Israel: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” (Jer 5:30-31). And Paul prophesies the same thing will happen to the church: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). I believe God is giving us over to what we want – the British people an impotent government because firm convictions and principled politics are no longer acceptable, and the church an impotent gospel message unable to bring salvation due to the pursuit of entertaining sermons and psychobabble.

May God have mercy on this land.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Earthquakes

At the beginning of January this year, we were all shocked to hear of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, which resulted in the loss of 230,000 lives. Now this last weekend we hear of a more powerful earthquake of magnitude 8.8 in Chile. Thankfully it seems that the loss of life will be much smaller in Chile, and the threats of the tsunamis seem to have disappeared too.

This Chile earthquake is apparently the 7th largest earthquake on record. Over the weekend, Japan was also hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. It does seem as though there is an increase in earthquake activity just in this last few weeks alone. "Relative to the 20-year period from the mid 1970's to the mid 1990's, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years," Fox News quoted Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science and Technology, as saying.

So what is going on?

When Jesus was asked by his disciples "what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" he replied "You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pangs" (Matthew 24:3-8).

I believe we are nearing the time for the return of Jesus Christ. There is the War on Terror, war in Afghanistan and Iraq; the rumours of war in the Middle East seem to be growing daily; only at the weekend the president of Niger said his country is facing famine, whilst 4million people in Somalia also need emergency food aid. Put all this together with the huge earthquakes, and I do believe that the signs that Jesus spoke about are increasing in intensity.

If we are seeing the beginning of the birth-pangs prior to the return of Jesus, then we need to ensure we are ready for his return. That means for those who do not yet recognise him as their Saviour and Lord, now is the time to repent and believe in him. "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people, and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:27-28). When Jesus returns, it will be as our Judge, and none of us will be able to stand before him unless we have trusted in his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. But we need to do this whilst we have the opportunity.

The return of Jesus is being delayed to give people the chance to repent and be saved. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God desires everyone to have the opportunity to learn of what his Son Jesus did when he first came to this earth 2,000 years ago, of his birth, death and resurrection, and to trust that his sacrifice paid the penalty for our sins, and to put their faith in him.

For those of us who have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, we also need to ensure we are ready, and use the time we have left to proclaim the gospel message to those around us.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A big problem - and a great solution!

A big problem
As I read the Bible, I become more and more convinced that we all have a big problem. That problem is – God is good. Why is that such a big problem? Because as I read the Bible and see the standards God expects I realise that I am not good. I may look around at other people and think I’m not really that different to most people, in fact I probably lead a more moral life than most people. Apart from a few points on my driving licence I’ve never been in trouble with the police, and I’m generally a good citizen. But according to the Bible, I shouldn’t compare myself with other people, but with God’s standards.


There’s a story of a little girl who saw some sheep standing on a green field. She said to her mummy how clean the sheep looked. Then it snowed. When the grass was covered in snow, the little girl said to her mummy that the sheep looked dirty against the snow. We need to compare ourselves with the “snow” – God’s standards, and not the “grass” – other people.

The Bible teaches that our “acts” must be good – our behaviour – are we being kind to others all the time, loving others as ourselves all the time? Not only must our acts be good but our thoughts must be good too –Jesus says that whilst we may not have killed anyone, if we have ever been angry with someone then we have broken God’s Good Law. Not only must our acts be good, and our thoughts good, but also the words we say – who has never told a lie, which is forbidden by God’s Good Law? Then there is the First Commandment – to have no other gods before the One True God, and to love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength. I don’t believe any of us can say we have kept that commandment all the time. According to God’s Good Law, I am guilty. According to God’s Good Law, we are all guilty.

So we all have a big problem. If God is good, and we are not, how can we approach God? How will we live with Him for all eternity? The Bible teaches that God will one day bring all of us to account and He will judge us. By the standards of God’s Good Law we will all be found guilty, and we all deserve to be condemned for that.

Thank God that He hasn’t left it there. Thank God that He sent His Son Jesus who lived on this earth, who lived a perfect, sinless life – the only man ever to have done so. Then he died on the cross – and on the cross He was punished in our place. And after He died He was raised from the dead and is now exalted to the right hand of God the Father. Our sins were put on Him, and He was punished so that we might go free. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”. A double exchange takes place – our sins are placed on Him, and in their place His righteousness is given to us.

If we repent - turn away from our sins, and turn to God, accepting by faith that Jesus did what we could not do, that He lived in complete obedience to God’s Good Law, and suffered our penalty, then we will be forgiven, set free and will be at peace with God. Our sins are left at the cross and dealt with there, and in their place we are clothed with the goodness of Jesus Christ.

A parachute jump
Ten years ago I did a parachute jump. I went up in a plane 10,000 feet, and then jumped out with a parachute on my back. (Don’t ask why!). After a few seconds of falling to the earth at 120mph, I pulled the cord on my parachute, it opened, and I sailed calmly(ish!) to the earth. I knew that the parachute was what would save my life, and there was absolutely no way I would have jumped out of that plane without that parachute on my back.

All of us are headed for a parachute jump. The Bible says “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement.” If we don’t have a parachute on our back, we won’t make it. The only parachute that will work is Jesus Christ.

3 Parachutes that will not work:

We may try to put on other parachutes. We may try to put on our good works as a parachute, hoping that somehow the good we have done will outweigh the bad things we have done. The Bible says this parachute will not save us – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it”.

We may try to put on another religion as a parachute, following say, Mohammed, or Buddha, Hinduism, or New Age spirituality. The Bible says this parachute will not save us – “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” other than Jesus. Jesus is the only one to have died for our sin and risen again so that we can be reconciled to God.

We may go to church, thinking this will save us. However, the Bible says this parachute will not save us – it takes more than attending church to be saved. Each of us has to do business with God personally. “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”.

If we put on any of these 3 parachutes, we will jump out of the plane, pull the cord to open the parachute – and the cords will get twisted, the parachute will not open properly, and we will not be saved.

The One Parachute that will work:
The only parachute that will work is the one the Bible tells us about – Jesus Christ. We need to put Him on, and put Him on today. Trust in Him, believe in Him, follow Him.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Conclusion to Beatitudes

The beatitudes seem to sum up the whole gospel message, showing on the one hand our desperate need of God, yet on the other hand the amazing promises that will be ours once we have acknowledged all that God has done for us in Christ.

Look at the promises Jesus makes – the kingdom of heaven will be ours, we will be comforted, we will inherit the earth, we will have our hunger and thirst for righteousness satisfied, we will be shown mercy, we will see God, we shall be called sons of God, the kingdom of heaven will be ours. These blessings seem to encompass everything that a man could ask for, and so much more besides. All these blessings are promised to those who respond to God’s grace at work in their lives, and respond to the great gift of salvation in Christ through repentance and belief.

The paradoxes seen in the beatitudes are echoed again in Luke’s gospel: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25).

It is by losing our lives that we will save them. As we acknowledge we are sinners and have no entitlement to ask anything of a holy God, by pleading for His mercy, we lose our lives. We lose our self-esteem, our pride, any sense that we have done anything to deserve merit before God. In looking to Christ as our righteousness and as the one who has obeyed the law perfectly on our behalf then we are saved – and share in the blessings of Christ as we are clothed in His righteousness. As we deny ourselves and our egos, our self-centred living, and recognise that everything is completed in Christ and finds its fulfilment in Him, we will receive the promise of sharing in that glory when all is revealed. As we take up our cross daily, dying to ourselves and crucifying our sinful nature and its passions, and live to God, then we will discover that it is no longer we who live but it is Christ who lives in us, and that we are being conformed to the image of Christ. As our eyes are taken off ourselves and fixed more fully on Christ, we will see how everything points to Him, has its goal in Him, and how one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Praise God!
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10)

The final beatitude is a final paradox – those who are persecuted are blessed. This seems so counter-intuitive – and yet Jesus promises that God’s face is shining on those who are persecuted.

Taking the beatitudes progressively, then those who recognise their guilty standing before God and trust in Christ to redeem them, those who mourn over their sins, those who conform themselves to God’s will, who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they have none themselves, who are merciful to others, who are given a pure heart by faith, who are peacemakers, then these are the people who will be persecuted. It is easy to see why, for all these attributes are opposed to the worldview, of self-seeking, prideful living.

Peace with God, reconciliation with God, transfers a person from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Peace with God brings a new enemy – the world. In his final speech to his disciples, Jesus said “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master’. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20). Paul confirms the teaching of his Lord, saying “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

The history of the early church confirms this teaching, and the experience of the church today in countries all around the world confirms this teaching. Even here in the West persecution of Christians is increasing as the uniqueness and exclusive nature of Christ is incompatible with the tolerant, all-inclusive worldview. The church needs to ensure that in the face of such opposition it does not compromise the Biblical view of Christ to escape this persecution.

For Jesus promises that those who are persecuted are blessed. The apostle Paul suffered many persecutions in his ministry, yet he could proclaim “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Cor 1:3-5). As our sufferings for the sake of the gospel increase, so too will our experience of the comfort and compassion of Christ. The experience of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, demonstrates this, for as he was about to be stoned, “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). This vision must have given Stephen great comfort in his final moments.

Not only are those who are persecuted blessed, but the kingdom of heaven is theirs. “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years”.(Rev 20:4). This passage seems to be suggesting that those who are persecuted will reign with Christ in his millennial Kingdom. What a reward this is! No matter how bad things in this life may seem, we need to maintain an eternal perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:17-18). Even in the midst of great persecution, we can have hope that all is seen by God, all will be rewarded, and that one day persecuted believers will be in the New Jerusalem, where God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4). What hope is this!