Completeness

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:19 NLT

The love of Christ. Just the very thought of it drove Paul to his knees in that prison cell. And he once again prays for his Ephesian friends, that his experience of the love of Christ would be experienced by them as well. But you can just imagine him shaking his head, sadly, appreciating and understanding that Christ’s love would be too much for them to fully understand. But he comforted himself with the thought that as they grew in the Christ-love-experience, they would grow in completeness, experiencing the “fullness of life and power that comes from God“. 

Have we experienced the love of Christ? Has it permeated into our lives, changing who we are and what we do? Are we grumpy pilgrims who have shut out the love of Christ from our lives, being bounded and constrained instead by our sinful natures? Or are we renewed people, with Christ’s love displacing the selfishness and anger that can so easily grow inside of us? Are we a people who are experiencing “all the fullness of life and power that comes from God”

I suppose it boils down to the question, what is filling our lives? Paul wanted his friends to be filled with everything that God had for them. He wanted them to live a life worthy of their calling. He wanted them to experience the power of God working through their lives, as they acted as “salt and light” in their communities. Nothing has changed in the centuries between Paul’s letter and today. The prayer Paul prayed for his friends has echoed through time, touching countless people throughout the world. And it is still alive and active in our own lives. The path before us has been well-trodden by many pilgrims over the years and as we place our feet in their footsteps, let us feel the love of Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us, as He did with them.

Perhaps it is a good exercise to personalise this verse. To adapt it to become our personal prayer. To allow our thinking to turn away from a few Christians in a past time, to instead touch us today. The prayer would look something like this, “May [I] experience the love of Christ, though it is too great [for me] to understand fully. Then [I] will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God“. And perhaps add something like “Please help me to fully understand Your love, allowing it to transform my life this day and forever”. This is a prayer that, if prayed sincerely, God will never fail to answer. Amen.

God’s Grace

“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”‭‭.
Ephesians‬ ‭2:4-5‬ ‭NLT‬

In the last blog post, we considered the enormity of our perilous status before God. Paul reviewed the sinful state of mankind, and the role of the devil in corrupting and contaminating the world, leaving rebellious and sinful people in the firing line for God’s anger. Thankfully, Paul reminded us that there is a “but” in God’s world. “But God…”. And it is when we read this that the realisation that God has a solution to our sinful state brings us to our knees in deep thankfulness. You see, in our sin pandemic, God’s vaccine comes quietly, effectively and completely, bringing healing and forgiveness for our rebellious and sinful natures. 

But what is this “But”? Paul goes on to mention four key words – “mercy”, “love”, “life” and “grace”. God’s mercy is without dispute. The very fact that we are allowed to complete a pilgrimage through our lives, free to make choices in the way we live, in the way we view God, can only point to a merciful God. And not a God who is stingy and mean, dispensing the bare minimum of mercy. Paul emphasises that God is “rich in mercy”. His mercy is present in copious quantities, providing every opportunity and more for a rebellious world. And Paul explains that God is merciful because He loves us. How can God, rejected by so many, love us? Finding that most people effectively shake their fists in His face declaring that He is unnecessary for their lives, even if He exists? But love us He does, again without limit. God never says, for example, that He will only love us on a Sunday if we go to church. It’s all the time. 24/7. Regardless of where we are and what we are doing. Paul then draws an analogy with a corpse. A dead body. Because that is what sinful people are. That’s what sin does to us. It kills us spiritually. The “but” is completed by God giving us life, the same life that came “when He raised Christ from the dead”.

Finally, in these two verses, Paul points out that we have been saved through God’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense amply describes what this grace is. Unmerited favour. From a God who cares for every human being regardless of race, age, or sex. I recently tried to share the love of God with a man who lives in the village close by. But his sad response was that he had looked into “all this religious stuff”. It wasn’t for him he said – he wanted to join “the party that’s going on downstairs”. There was an opportunity accorded to him to grasp God’s grace and turn towards God, but he rejected it. Sadly, unless the seed planted bears fruit – and there’s always time for that – God is patient, kind and gracious – he will find out that the party he hoped to join might not be quite what he expected.

We have been saved. Well, those of us who have responded to God’s love by embracing the wonderful Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself. Believing in Him. Responding to His love and mercy by declaring His Lordship over our lives. Accepting His Life-giving Spirit. All by His grace. What else can we do other than fall to our knees in deep thankfulness? 

Lifespan

“Seventy years are given to us! 
     Some even live to eighty. 
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; 
     soon they disappear, and we fly away.”
Psalms‬ ‭90:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 90 is the first Psalm of Book Four within the Book of Psalms, and this time it is Moses’s pen that records another lyrical expression of God. At apparent odds with today’s verse, Moses didn’t start God’s work until he was 80 years old. But what a life of service! Moses lived until he was 120, but how long will we live? “Three score years and ten” is often quoted in relation to our expectation of lifespan, but we don’t really know. None of us know the day when we will leave life on this earth and cross the Great Divide. The young seem to believe that they will live forever. Certainly many seem to act like it. But those who are older become more measured in their approach to life, particularly when they reach the “twilight zone”. Some terminally ill people want to legislate control over when they leave this life, but the sanctity of life prevails, at least for now. But whatever we feel about those last moments of our lives, worrying won’t be helpful. Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 6:27,  “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” I have read somewhere that over 90% of deaths occur when the person is asleep, which many will find reassuring. Certainly that was the case for both my parents.

So what is the impact on our daily lives of our lack of knowledge of when we will die? How should we respond? Most people don’t want to talk about it. They become fearful and depressed. Others park the question, preferring to live each day as it comes. Still others become frustrated because they know they have to age and leave this life one day and they regret that death is one aspect of their life that they have no control over. Some get paranoid when they observe the signs of ageing staring back at them from the mirror, reaching for magic potions to delay the inevitable. Cosmetic companies advertise the extraordinary powers of their products in halting the ageing process. And one topic of scientific research is sure to get the attention of many readers – how our natural lives can be extended. There are even a few wealthy people who go to extraordinary lengths to preserve themselves after death in the hope that one day in the future there will be technology that can resurrect them from a deeply frozen state.

But there is one sure-fire way of ensuring we can live forever. For eternity. Most people, particularly those who have rejected God, think that life ends when they die. But those who believe in, and follow, God, are convinced that there is a life beyond the grave of far more importance than the life we experience now. In faith, such people, Christians, believe that Jesus is preparing a place for them, so that they can live with Him forever. We can read what He said in John 14. 

I have heard the often-quoted verse, John 3:16, used at funerals to assure the relatives and the friends of their departed loved one that he or she is now in Heaven, along with their mum and dad, and Auntie Mary thrown in for good measure. That may or not be true, but such soliloquies often ignore the following verse, verse 17, where Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” There is only one way to join God in Heaven, and that is through Jesus. In John 11, Jesus said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus,  ”… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die ….” It’s all about the word “Believe”. It implies not just an acknowledgement that Jesus is real. That God exists. Even the devil believes that! It implies aligning our lives during the time we have in this life to how it will be in the next. Dealing with our sins. Following God’s teachings. Building up a relationship with Him. Otherwise we will be unable to enter into God’s presence – how could we if we don’t know Him?

So today, let us stop worrying about how much time we have left for us in this life. Instead, let us ensure our future in the life to come.

Teach Me

Teach me your ways, O Lord, 
     that I may live according to your truth! 
Grant me purity of heart, 
     so that I may honour you.”
Psalms‬ ‭86:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How do we learn? What do we learn? Why do we learn? Questions that sit at the very heart of our lives. For unless we learn what we need for life, we will be woefully ill-equipped to make our way through the minefields that exists between the cradle and the grave. In our early years, our parents taught us the basics. School teachers added their weight and learning in our formative years. But unless we are receptive to what we are taught, we will continually bounce off the obstacles that will come our way, becoming damaged in the process. How many times have I thought, when observing the struggles of someone I know, “You never seem to learn”. Sadly, that sometimes applies to me as well.

We all walk a road through life. Sometimes there are mountain top experiences, where we find that life is wonderful and good. But at other times we walk through a valley, dark and dismal. Full of misery and depression. Through these experiences we learn, so that the next time we encounter life-trials, we know how to face into them.  

The ultimate and best Teacher is God through His Spirit. And we have a text book to help us, the Bible. The wonderful thing is that it is full of truth. Not someone’s opinion. Not a series of subjective thoughts. But Truth, because God is Truth. The teachings contained within the Holy Scriptures may not be easy reading. They may be opposite to what our human nature desires. But we reject them at our peril. Many people have made a “rod for their own backs” by ignoring Biblical teaching. We look on at our political leaders and see the mess they create when they choose to follow their own desires and not God’s desires, as set out in His Words in the Bible. There is another amazing fact about our Heavenly Teacher – “…God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬). So to turn that around, God said that He is always with us. On the mountain tops but also in the valleys. Encouraging us. Teaching us. From the cradle to the – hang on – He will never leave us. Ever. 

A Life with God

“For you are my hope, Lord GOD,
my confidence from my youth. 
I have leaned on you from birth;
you took me from my mother’s womb. 
My praise is always about you. 
Don’t discard me in my old age. 
As my strength fails, do not abandon me.
Psalm 71:5-6,9 CSB

Who can say that God has been their hope all the way from their youth until their old age? That was the case with David, as we can see from reading this Psalm today. He even goes as far as to say that God was with him even from the moment he was born. When he wrote these verses, David was obviously approaching his twilight years, but reading the Psalm you can see he was still being pursued by undesirable people, a common theme throughout his life. In verse 4 he wrote, ”Deliver me, my God, from the power of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive”. 

In verses 17 and 18, the Psalmist wrote this: “God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still proclaim your wondrous works. Even while I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me, while I proclaim your power to another generation, your strength to all who are to come.” David wasn’t going to retire quietly. He wasn’t going to fade into oblivion, disappearing into the grave without completing his mission in life. And the one thing he mentioned was that he was going to ensure that the next generation knew about God’s power and strength. Not for David was an epitaph on a tombstone, nice words but largely unread and of little impact on those around him.

I’ve blogged before about the legacy we will leave when we cross the great divide. Although I was brought up in a Christian home and went to church with my parents, I was in my late twenties before I made a personal commitment for Christ. But there is one thing that I am confident of – I will be a follower of Christ for the rest of my life. Furthermore, being a closet Christian, someone who hides his light instead of being a beacon of hope and light in his community, is not for me. I recently heard a Sunday message about sharing our faith, and how important it is that we have our stories ready for the times when God wants us to share them. And also to be ready with the “Sinner’s Prayer”, for when we get the opportunity to lead someone to Christ. David was focused on sharing what he knew about God with the next generation, and asked God to be with him while he did it. We too must be focused on the mission God has given us. And He will be with us while we do His will. Note that sharing our story is not something we do at the end of our lives. Jesus didn’t say in Matthew 28, “Therefore [when you are a pensioner] go and make disciples of all nations…“. No – making disciples was an instruction Jesus left for all His followers, young and old. Sharing our stories will often be the start of the disciple-making process. 

In verse 9 of this Psalm, David asks that God doesn’t abandon him in his old age, as his strength fails. He doesn’t necessarily mean physical strength, but mental strength as well. So many dear saints come to the end of their lives, blighted by illnesses such as dementia. The last few words of Matthew 28 read, “…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age“. God will never abandon us, even when we are failing in our last days. And a new body is waiting for us in our future home. What a wonderful God He is.

The Refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalms‬ ‭46:1-3‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

These three verses have been a tremendous comfort and support for many people over the years. They are often quoted in times of stress. They are the go-to verses read and uttered by God’s people when facing into some calamity or other. Look at the words the Psalmist uses; “Refuge”, “Strength”, “Help”, “Fear” and the very descriptive picture of an apocalyptic scene as our planet’s infrastructure collapses. Look at the contrast between the security of being in God, and the potentially disastrous state of being away from Him.

The contrast is between two kingdoms – the spiritual and the physical. Two worlds that we can access but so often we ignore the one and only dwell in the other. Of course this is perfectly understandable because we are physical beings with our feet firmly located on the home where we were born – Planet Earth. And we therefore try and look at everything around us through physical eyes and discount the spiritual world because we can’t see it. But it is there nevertheless, as many people over the ages will testify. How else do God’s people sustain themselves when tortured, imprisoned, and ill treated, all because of their faith in a God who one day will welcome them into His Kingdom, His world?

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we have an opportunity to be present in both worlds. Now. At this very moment. We can draw on the resources of God’s spiritual Kingdom to help and support us in our earthly world. God is inviting us to be part of His Kingdom, not just when we are facing into a calamitous situation, but all the time. And the access door is open this very moment – through God’s Son Jesus. Message me if you want to know more.

Although we start our life in the natural environment around us we will transition one day into a totally different spiritual environment, which itself consists of two worlds – God’s world, and another place where He is not present. Far better to enjoy the benefits of being a part of both God’s spiritual world and the physical world where we live while we have the choice. Because one day that choice will be removed from us.

The picture of an impregnable place in God that not only protects us from all dangers, but also resources us and strengthens us to face into impossible situations seems too good to be true. But it’s too good not to be true. Join me there today.

Noble Themes

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” Psalms‬ ‭45:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

This is, I think, a beautiful verse, in its construction, in its descriptive poetry. The Psalmist seemed to be in a lofty place in the company of the “great and the good”; perhaps a palace or somewhere similar. He used words like “noble”, “king”, “skilful”. This was not the vocabulary or company of the peasantry of his day. But I wonder what his “noble theme” was. He was obviously engaged in the recitation of a passage of literature or poetry before a king, probably his king. Perhaps stories from Israel’s past, recorded as part of the historical legacy of the Jews. Or perhaps some writings from another of the ancient peoples living in the Middle East at that time. Or even some poetry he himself had written – quite likely because he obviously was an accomplished wordsmith. But in the reading the reciter found himself inspired as he got caught up in the content of the words. We can only wonder and guess at the content of his “noble theme”.

To Christians here on Planet Earth, our “noble themes” have to do with God. There is no other thought or word that could contain a lofty enough concept to adopt the descriptor “noble”. The only true noble king is our King, God Himself. We recite our verses to Him through our songs, through the Psalms, through our prayers. And we cannot but experience a stirring through His Spirit as we spend time before Him, reciting our verses. And through the stirring, men have found themselves on the mission field, training for the “ministry”, or inspired once again to reach out through a ministry of helps, to the fellow and less fortunate members of the societies and communities in which we live.

So let me ask the question – do you have a “noble theme”? Is there some thought or idea lying dormant in the recesses of your mind, something that perhaps you filed away long ago, but is still waiting for an opportunity to emerge into the daylight of 2021? Something that needs the dust and cobwebs brushed off and represented before the King, so that it is ready to be transformed from a thought to a deed, from something written to something verbalised? We need “noble themes” to proliferate in these dark Covid days. How about yours? How about mine?

Light and Care

“Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalms‬ ‭43:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been somewhere where there are no street lamps, even close by? No cities lighting the sky in the distance? Not a glimmer of light anywhere? With a clear sky overnight the visual presentation of celestial bodies is breathtaking – there are just so many of them. But if the stars are obscured by clouds it can be a scary place, because literally you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Spiritual darkness is a bit like that too. With a view of the spiritual Heavens, God is visible and tangible. Blessing us with His presence. Communicating Spirit to spirit. But when obscured by the clouds of our rebellion and sins, God isn’t visible to us anymore, and our prayers bounce off the cloud’s underbelly, falling back to our lips answered.

The Psalmist prayed that God would lead him through His light, dispensing His faithful care in the process, revealing through the spiritual gloom His presence and His home. The Psalmist knew that once there He would find joy, delight and a place of praise. It doesn’t get better than that!

Today, O Lord, I pray that through the light of Your Word, with a thankful heart because of Your faithful care, I would find You dwelling in my heart where I can praise and worship You. Amen.

Life the Jesus Way

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you..” Psalms‬ ‭42:5-6‬a ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been “downcast”? In a place where your view of life is monochrome in a technicolour world? Where the negative and difficult issues of life are weighing heavily in your thoughts? Where even depression is affecting your mental health? The Psalmist who wrote these verses was himself not in a good place, with a downcast and disturbed soul. But he knew from his own experience of God that he needed to grab hold of three words – “remember”, “hope” and “praise”. The Psalmist had a personal relationship with God and through the experience of years of walking closely with Him he knew that by the application of these three words he would regain his mental stability and restore colour to his black and white world. Notice it is ok to be “downcast”. Life is like that. We can find ourselves in such a place frequently in life. I know a dear lady who even when recently given bad medical news, was able to remember, hope in and praise her wonderful Friend, altering her perspective for the future. She had found the key to living a life where circumstances were not going to affect her soul, no matter how bad the issues were.

There will be those who will say that I don’t know how bad their situation is. They will blame their upbringing, their mental health, their families and so on. They will say that not even God can lift them out of their circumstances. But there are Christians in North Korea, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, but who can remain active in their faith, remembering, hoping in and praising their Saviour and their God. There is a lovely Christian man, Nick Vujicic, whose strap line has been, “I’ve no arms and legs – what’s your problem?” We all live in our own life bubbles, experiencing our own issues, facing into our own worlds, dealing with our own downcast souls. And God has provided all the resources we need through Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:10‬b ‭NIVUK‬‬. I saw a bumper sticker today, “One Life, Live It”. Let’s live the life God has given us the Jesus way, full of God-memories, full of God-hope, and full of God-praise.

God’s Master Plan

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all Your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” Psalms‬ ‭40:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Any attempt to unpick and drill down into this verse can only end up in becoming lost in the depths of our Creator God, full of grateful praise and worship. The bottom line is that God’s wonders, plans and deeds are uncountable because there are so many of them. For example, just take the environment in which we live. The number of conditions that combine to enable life as we know it on this planet are uncountable. And it was God’s plan to create a world where His plans could be developed. And look at the complexities of human life – how could two cells coming together in a mother’s womb ever develop into a human being capable of so much? It beggars belief that so many people believe the lie that our world and all its contents happened by chance. As the verse above points out, our Creator God has performed many wonders and deeds in implementing His plans.

But there is a wonder, a plan, a deed, that is far above anything else God has done for the human race. We find in the Genesis account that God created men and women in His image. And He wanted to have a relationship with them based on love and friendship. But things went horribly wrong with man’s response to God, as we can find in the early accounts of the Israelite nation. God wasn’t going to give up on His creation, though, and He devised a master plan to reconcile mankind back to Him. His love for us was so intense that he wasn’t going to let us continue in living a life less than how He designed it to be. A life without the ultimate richness of being a friend of God. We can read about God’s master plan through the words of Jesus in John 3. This is the Message version. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” That was God’s plan. To put the world back into the place He had designed it to be. He wasn’t going to give up on His creation and He never will. Through Jesus, God’s Master Plan, everyone person living on this planet can find out about God’s wonders, plans and deeds. If they want to. The choice is theirs. The choice is yours.