Ebenezer

I’m a little stressed right now. My postgrad theology dissertation looms, work is busy, and my diary is full … But I’ve been studying the Bible book of 1 Samuel with a friend and it has provided a helpful reminder:

In chapter 7 after a dangerous battle between God’s people and the Philistines we read:  Then Samuel [God’s prophet] took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12)

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’, and whenever the Israelites saw the stone they would remember God’s rescue during this battle. It was a monument to God’s power, steadfast love, and willingness to help his people, and a call for them to trust in him in the future.  What a great antidote to fear, worry, and trusting in the wrong things!journalling

Till now the Lord has helped us.

Remembrance of God’s past help and faithfulness helps us to trust him in the present when life is stressful and we don’t necessarily know how things will work out. Satan loves to attack God’s character and goodness, and to fill us with doubt and unbelief. Yet remembering God’s past faithfulness to us is a great shield against this.

Whether it’s spiritual or physical blessings that we recall, it’s so helpful to our hearts and minds to be reminded of what our God is like, and his willingness to help and provide for us despite our sin and failure.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-3

The Bible is filled with concrete promises like this for us to trust in, but I think there is a place for active remembrance like Samuel’s too. When was the last time you sat down and reminded yourself of God’s particular help towards you in the past? Perhaps you keep a journal and can look back at answered prayers and unexpected blessings, or maybe it’s a case of making time to think through months and years gone by to identify the ways that God has helped you so far? You may even have a literal symbol of God’s provision that you can look at.

Let’s not be forgetful and anxious Christians. Till now the Lord has helped us.

Nim

Quiet Time Qualms

Most Christians try to earmark regular time to spend with God, and it’s often referred to as a ‘quiet time’. I’d certainly recommend it, it’s great to have dedicated time each day to read the Bible, pray, and enjoy the close relationship that God invites us to have with him. Yet I know that I often sabotage myself in this area.

I get up in the morning, fetch a cup of coffee, and sit down for some time with God…and then I heave a sigh, and try to psych myself up to approach him!

Surely God has better things to do?

I expect he doesn’t want to see me after those failures yesterday.

I’m so aware of His awesome holiness and power.

I already feel guilty because I went to bed late and snoozed the alarm this morning.

My phone is urging me to check my Facebook feed.

The day’s tasks are calling for me to begin them.

I can nearly persuade myself in that moment to walk away from my Bible, and put off prayer until another time! Can you relate to this?Quiet Time Qualms

Here are some things I think the Bible has to say to me and to others who struggle with feelings like these. If you are a Christian:

God has already saved you and will not let you go now

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God Ephesians 2:8

You don’t have to persuade God to draw near to you

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty . . . whoever comes to me I will never drive away. John 6:35,37

You don’t have to persuade God to love you

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

You don’t have to persuade God to be gracious to you

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-2

 

We mustn’t forget how much we need God’s presence and work in our hearts and lives. We must prioritise personal, regular time with Him.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5

Nevertheless we don’t do this in our own strength, but with the help of God’s Spirit, and in light of God’s great love and mercy towards us!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Matthew 5:3, 6

 

Let’s rejoice and take courage from these truths!

 

Nim

Banishing Christmas Angst

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, which can be quite useful for blogging, but it also means that I sometimes miss the wood for the trees!

As Christmas approaches each year I usually get a kind of weird anxiety or ‘Christmas angst’, which looks something like this:

I worry about whether I am being too materialistic?

And whether I am taking enough time in the busyness for God, and making space to meditate on the true meaning of Christmas?  (I can’t seem to stick to an advent reading plan!)

I worry about whether I am grateful enough for Jesus coming to earth, and if I am really worth his love and sacrifice?

And whether my worship is as heartfelt as it could be (I tend to go into automatic mode when I’m singing carols). . .and so on.

I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way?

 

Missing the Point

Can you see what I’m doing here? I might have good intentions, but I’ve actually made Christmas all about me! And instead of relishing the good news of the Christmas story and letting the truth of it soak in and bless me, I’ve let it become all about what I am doing (or failing to do), what I am thinking and feeling, and whether I measure up! There is a place for reflection of course, yet I’m amazed at how I can distort this until my anxieties squeeze out all the joy.

Fortunately for me, a talk that I heard on Sunday  reminded me that we can see what Christmas is about in the names given to the Saviour whom we celebrate:

Emmanuel: God is with Us

Jesus: God Saves

In these two names I’m reminded that God made the first move (in fact he makes every move of significance!)

Jesus Christ came to earth as a man, to rescue us from our sin.

God proclaims his love, care, and forgiveness for all to see by sending a rescuer to all who will receive him:

. . .the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause GREAT JOY for ALL THE PEOPLE. 11 Today in the town of David a SAVIOUR has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom his FAVOUR rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Banishing Christmas AngstSo Christmas is a time where I get to revel in this undeserved rescue, instead of trying to convince myself (and God) that I’m somehow worthy of it. It’s not an opportunity for me to measure how spiritual I am. If I focus on my failings or on arbitrary measures of godliness, I miss the point entirely!

Instead this Christmas, I’m going to focus my attention on God’s radical generosity in sending Jesus, and the news that I don’t need to strive to save myself, I have a saviour! I can rest in the reality of his rescue from sin, which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

All that is left to do is to accept it, enjoy it, and praise him for it.

 

Wishing you a joyful and angst-free Christmas!

Nim

 

 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas? 

As I write this, Christmas preparations are in full swing, cheery and familiar songs are playing in the shops, and I’ve just put up my Christmas tree. Yet a glance at the news reveals other more sobering realities; not least the recent tragic events in Paris and the steady stream of desperate migrants seeking refuge. We can be tempted to think that evil is overcoming good, that the darkness is stronger than the light, and the cheerful beginnings of the Christmas season serve to make this contrast starker.

So I’m sharing a (reworked) post that I wrote last year, which seems just as relevant now:

sad Christmas

A Light that Shines in the Darkness

In the opening lines of John’s gospel we read: 

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’       

As John continues, we begin to realise that this light is a person – and more than a person, God himself come to earth!

The Bible describes Jesus as ‘the light of the world’ because he is the eternal source of all life and light, and because he is willing and able to banish the darkness. However deep the darkness grows, Jesus Christ has the authority and the power to bring hope that can’t be defeated. He is the conqueror of sin, and evil, and suffering, and all the things that can make us feel as though the darkness is defeating us. And we celebrate the beginning of this rescue at Christmas.

A Light which Conquers

‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14

At first the light of the world doesn’t look very significant: a tiny baby, not born in a palace, but in a stable in a tiny Jewish town. Yet we are witnessing the beginnings of God’s rescue plan! And what a comfort to know that our God became flesh, he lived among us, and he knows what it is like to be surrounded by brokenness and evil.

The light that Jesus brings is a light which builds; winning a decisive victory over evil and death at the cross. This victory reverberates throughout history. That is why so many of the carols that we sing at Christmas time contain words like JOY and LIGHT and PEACE and HOPE! It’s not false hope or forced cheer.

A Life-Giving Light

Yes we still live in a troubled world, but we mustn’t lose our nerve when the darkness seems to be all around. Satan wants us to believe that he will overwhelm the light, but the Bible never even sees this as a possibility!

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 

We’re even given a glimpse of the end of the story in Revelation chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He 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.” . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light . . . 24 The nations will walk by its light”

So if you are a follower of Jesus the light of the world, then you have every reason for joy, celebration, and courageous hope this season. It’s a hope that we must take every opportunity to demonstrate and share!

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’

 

Nim

Treasure

I can be pretty grumpy at times.

Sometimes I’m irritable just because it’s a Monday, or I haven’t had enough coffee. But I’m sure you’d agree that we live in a world with more than enough real reasons for irritability, worry, and despondency.

So the question I’ve been asking myself this week is: What difference does Jesus make to my experience of life in a difficult world?

Like me, you’re probably watching the news, and despairing over the pain and suffering that many migrants are facing. It’s been making me think – what if that was me? If I was experiencing those horrors personally, would I give up on my faith?

Is following Jesus only for the good times? Is it the privilege of the wealthy, healthy, and happy? (The Bible and human history demonstrate otherwise!)

What if I was to lose everything?  Would Jesus be enough?

It made me think of the two mini parables in Matthew 13:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.Treasure - God

The good news about God’s kingdom – that his love and home is with anyone who would repent and trust in him through Jesus – is such a precious treasure in itself, that in these stories people sell everything they have to possess it! (And it is a treasure that comes at great cost.)

Yet I can find myself acting as though I have little of value, when I in fact have everything! How short-sighted I am.

John Newton hints at the silliness of this attitude with the following illustration:

“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”

The Works of the Rev. John Newton (Banner of Truth, 1985), 1:107.

Here are some of the other riches that Christians have been given:

  • The riches of God’s grace towards us, expressed in his full forgiveness of all our sins and adoption into his family – Ephesians 1
  • The wealth of God’s eternal kindness to us through Jesus – Ephesians 2:7
  • Stores of new strength supplied by God’s Spirit – Ephesians 3:16
  • Generous and wise provision for our needs – Philippians 4:19
  • An everyday relationship with Jesus Christ that nothing can sever – Romans 8:35

And finally a powerful reminder that ultimately it is God himself who is our treasure, and nothing can part us from him; not our feelings, or experiences, or shifting circumstances:

Isaiah 33:5-7

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

 

In him we are rich indeed.

Nim

Making Excuses

I’ve recently realised that I’m an expert at making excuses. I hadn’t seen this as a problem until recently because I don’t usually make them out loud.

Most of us know that it’s bad form to reply with an excuse when we’re criticised or when we’ve failed someone, and I try to avoid this. But I’ve noticed that the excuse-making often continues in my heart.

Sometimes it’s in situations that don’t really matter. If I made fewer mental excuses when I’m at the gym, I’m sure that my workout would be more effective – ‘I’ve had a tiring day, I’ll go easy on myself’ – but it’s only my physical fitness that is going to suffer!

But where God has been working on my heart lately is in the area of making excuses to him about my sin.

No More Excuses

I’m currently reading a book called Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield, I’d recommend it if you want a challenging and stimulating read. It covers a range of topics to do with identity, sin, and ‘union with Christ’.

Something that the author says about our attitude to sin intersected with the ‘excuse issue’ for me. It made me realise that making excuses becomes a troubling spiritual problem, when our excuses are directed at God with the purpose of minimising or denying our sin. I saw that this is not part of repentance, it actually works against it!

Admission Alone Is Not Confession

Admission of sin says ‘Yes I sinned, but…’

It’s not my fault’, ‘You don’t understand the circumstances’, ‘It’s just who I am’, ‘I’m a victim here’ etc.Blame

I like Butterfield’s blunt summary: ‘Sin is treason, not sinus trouble’. She goes on to say that part of the problem is that we often ask God to see our sin from our point of view. Instead of allowing his word to bring our perspective in line with his sovereign and holy will, as true repentance is worked in our hearts.

Butterfield defines confession like this: ‘to own, acknowledge, or avow, as a crime, a fault, a charge, or a debt.’

‘When we confess a sin, we are not asking that God or others see it from our point of view. . .We consent that the Bible is true and that the law of God condemns us. And this either drives us into mad depression or into the open arms of our saviour Jesus Christ.’ 

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered.

So, unlike admission alone, confession says to God ‘You are justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge . . .Create in me a clean heart O God’ (David’s prayer in Psalm 51)

There is simply no place for making excuses when it comes to sin!

Jesus Removes the Need for Excuses

However, one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to dislodge my excuse-making is that I use them to cover my nakedness! When I know I don’t measure up, when I identify areas of failure and shame in my life, I rush to find little scraps of defensiveness, self-pity, and mitigating circumstances, to clothe me before anyone notices! (We see this both literally and symbolically in Genesis 3:6-13 – remember the fig leaves?) But I can never cover myself sufficiently, and the Bible tells us that all our efforts at righteousness are shown to be ‘filthy rags’ when compared with the perfection of God! (Isaiah 64:6)

Yet the good news for the Christian is that God has a solution for any who are willing to surrender their useless rags to him, in exchange for the pure white clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. We can throw our excuses away and ask him to cover our nakedness!

A broken and contrite spirit you will not despise.’ Psalm 51:17

I can confess my sin and mourn it, recognising it for what it truly is in all its shame and ugliness, because doing so will actually bring me closer to Christ! He promises to forgive me, wash me clean, and help me to continue to turn from my sin in the power of his spirit!

‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ Romans 8:1

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 

Wow, God is so good to us!

Let’s boldly exchange our excuses for his promises.

Nim

Ice Cream, Escapism & Worshipful Rest

Last week I had a ‘holiday at home’ and it was blissful! My sister came to stay, we ate good food and shed loads of ice cream, stayed up late watching superhero films, and gloried in doing nothing of consequence!

icecream escapism

. . .And yet last week I also felt a disinclination to prayer. I was self-satisfied, self-centred, and worshipless.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that rest is bad, or that happiness and fun are unspiritual! I’m so thankful for time off work and good things to enjoy! I’m just saddened by the effect that it sometimes seems to have on my relationship with God.

I compartmentalise things, as though time with God is reserved for when I’m feeling serious or ‘spiritual’, or when I perceive that I’m in need. And yet if we approached our human relationships like this, how deep and authentic would they really be? When you are truly close to someone they share the complexities of life, but also the times of joy, rest, and random conversation.

What’s more, with God comes an element that doesn’t enter our human relationships, yet defines his with us. Worship.

When I look at the worship of the Psalms, God’s people are joyful in him, their happiness and enjoyment is increased when it takes place in his presence. They are quick to worship and praise God for his character and ways, and not just his direct blessings. They love to spend time with him in worshipful rest:

Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. Psalm 65:4

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Psalm 62:1 

Those who look to him are radiant . . .Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:5,8

This is a dimension that I need to cultivate! What can I do about this unhelpful tendency to exclude God from my leisure and rest, and neglect worship in my downtime?

Worshipful Rest
Firstly I think it’s right to acknowledge my sin in this. God deserves my heartfelt worship all of the time, I dishonour him when I divorce rest and enjoyment from relationship with him. I need to repent and I’m begging God’s Spirit to perform spiritual CPR!

Secondly, perhaps I don’t hunger for God in my rest times because I’ve already filled my belly?

We all remember our mums telling us “if you eat sweets now, you won’t have room for dinner!” Sometimes we let lesser enjoyments spoil our appetite for a truer and deeper enjoyment of God. Even in my rest times, I need to create room to hunger for God. If my holiday routine is an endless search for entertainment – a constant carousel of Facebook and Instagram and Netflix or a solidly booked social calendar, where is the space for worship and rest in God’s presence?

Of course worship doesn’t have to be formal or scheduled, and it can be good for us to rest from our everyday routines when we’re on holiday. Our worship can continue in enjoyment that praises its source, heartfelt thankfulness to God, and unrushed time spent in prayer and in his word.

Richer Foods
Finally, instead of just filling my days with mindless escapism and ice cream, I can be training my palate to crave the richer tastes and lasting rest of contentment in God; filling myself with the food of his wisdom, character, and kindness, and his thrilling promises for the future. I suspect that in eating my fill of these, I won’t feel such a desire to ‘escape’ in the first place (although it probably won’t affect my ice cream consumption!)

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

This is something I’m still thinking through, so if you have wisdom to share, let me know!

Nim

The Story of the Potter and the Clay

This is a story about a potter and a sadly delusional piece of clay:

The potter is busy at work one day in his studio, forming a new pot with the easy skill of a master craftsman. As he turns the wheel the clay twitches suddenly under his hands and he hears a reedy and mutinous voice say “You did not make me!”

The potter is speechless, not primarily because his pot has begun to talk, but due to the blatantly ridiculous nature of the words it utters even as he continues to shape it.  Yet the small piece of clay continues, warming to his theme, “You did not make me. And furthermore, I don’t think you know what you’re doing! I could do a much better job.”

I’m not sure where the story would go from here, but I’m pretty certain that it wouldn’t end with the lump of clay usurping the role of master craftsman! The scenario is fun to imagine, but pretty absurd. Yet did you know that this is an illustration that God uses in the Bible of you and I, and our attitude to him?!

‘He Did Not Make Me’

Isaiah 29 is a prime example. The context is that God is speaking to the Israelites about the way that they treat him. Their foolish attitude towards their powerful God and creator has led to their punishment at the hands of other nations in war, and yet they still haven’t understood that their pride and rebellion is the cause.

This is God’s rebuke in v.16:clay potter

16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

These words may have originally been directed at Israel, but they speak just as powerfully to us today.

We turn things upside down. We try to shrug off the authority that God has just by virtue of him being God. He made us – every atom, every cell. He sustains the existence of the universe that we inhabit, and yet like the pathetically delusional clay, against all signs to the contrary we defiantly announce “He did not make me”.

We think that if we ignore him, he’ll go away and there won’t be any consequences.

‘He Has No Understanding’

Or perhaps we’ve reconciled ourselves to God’s existence, we’ve given him our allegiance – even our love and worship, yet in certain matters we continue to withhold our trust. Do we honour his wisdom as superior to our own? Do we obey his commands and trust his purposes? Or like the clay do we mutter “He has no understanding”? We might never put this into words but it’s an unconscious attitude that can pervade our everyday behaviour. (Don’t forget that the accusations of Isaiah 29 were made to Israel –  who knew God and claimed to follow him!)

I stumbled across this passage whilst searching for another, but it hit me powerfully because so often this is me –  struggling in vain against the reality of who God is and who I am, and whether I really trust him – deludedly trying to announce my independence and greater wisdom, even as the potter continues his work.

Hope for Rebels

Fortunately there is hope for rebellious pots like me! Against all expectations, the potter is infinitely gracious and forgiving, he keeps on moulding and shaping us. This is a rebuke that calls us to return. Just one chapter on in Isaiah 30:15 and 18, we read this invitation:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…

the Lord longs to be gracious to you;therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

So let’s humbly heed the warning and take God up on his invitation, acknowledging and trusting our maker and accepting his grace whilst it is offered to us.

Nim

An Unfinished Masterpiece

I often get frustrated and discouraged when things happen in my life and in the lives of those close to me and I can’t see how they can fit into God’s good plans for us. It’s something I’m wrestling with at the moment.

But let me retrace my steps a little! What reasons do I have for believing that God is good in the first place?

Are there biblical foundations for an expectation that life isn’t just meaningless chaos, and that everything that happens is carefully woven into God’s sovereign plans?

Yes and yes!

A Good God with Good Plans

Here are some of the verses on which I’m basing my confidence:

You are good, and what you do is good. Psalm 119:68

10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. Psalm 25:10

And [the Lord] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Exodus 34:6

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. . .

32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:28-9 & 32

 

Confused by the Unfinished

It’s a normal human thing to try and make sense of the world, especially when it seems shattered by so much suffering. And trying to pinpoint what God is doing in and through various events is a common activity that Christians engage in. Yet I think that the Bible sounds words of caution in regard to how we do this:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” Romans 11:33-4

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Job 38:1-4
The problem with trying to interpret everything that happens into ‘what God is doing’ is that we cannot possibly comprehend it with our finite and human minds! His plans are God-sized and God-centred, intricate, and as yet, unfinished (at least from our vantage point!)

In my spare time I’m a portrait painter. I don’t usually let anyone see a portrait until it’s nearly finished, because the early stages of a successful painting usually look like absolute chaos! It seems that I’ve made weird choices about colour, there are marks all over it that don’t look anything like a face, and so on! Yet each of these early stages is vital. I need an underpainting that will underpin the later layers and set the tone for the whole piece. I make marks that are like artist’s shorthand. I know what they signify but at this point the casual onlooker might be dismayed by my seeming lack of anatomical knowledge! Of course it’s all resolved in the finished piece.

How much more so with God?God's masterpiece

Anticipating His Masterpiece

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think about what God might be doing in and through us, this can be a fruitful exercise. But we need to be able to reserve judgement and not panic when we face the unexpected or can’t make sense of things. God does not reveal his complex plans to us, but he has given us a clear explanation of his character, his love for us, and where everything is finally headed – enough to keep us trusting him amidst the unfinished.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children . . . heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:16-18

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-9

Let’s persevere with this encouragement.

Nim

Arbitrary Measures

Sometimes I find myself measuring my ‘progress’ or maturity in Christian faith in random and arbitrary ways:

Here are some of them: (laugh if you want, I deserve it!)

  • Read a chapter of Calvin’s Institutes (super holy behaviour!)
  • Listened to a John Piper sermon in my free time.
  • Ate some vegetables (my body is a temple).

Why do I think in this way?

Arbitrary Measures

All human beings are legalists at heart. We forget (or refuse) to trust in the radical rescue of Jesus, and instead we obsess about the things we do as markers of our success or failure. Or we give up on godliness altogether and settle for creating our own more achievable standards.

But godliness isn’t about random acts of self-discipline or an arbitrary standard of choice.

God’s standard is absolute perfection:  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) An impossible standard for you and I!

Jesus is very clear about this in the story of the rich young man who wanted eternal life (found in Mark 10:17-27). The disciples are impressed by the outward holiness and worldly success of the man, but Jesus sees things differently, and uses the situation to teach them:

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle . . .26 The disciples were amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Exchanging Measures for Mercy

Here is Calvin’s explanation of how God’s perfect standards should cause the Christian to react:

dismissing the stupid opinion of their own strength, they come to realize that they stand and are upheld by God’s hand alone; that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to His mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit. For God’s mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true faith.
True Christian maturity is rooted in Christ, in his perfection on our behalf, and in the gradual changes that he is working in those who follow him. But it’s a work of relationship not rules. Arbitrary rules and habits (and even those found in the Bible) cannot save us, they simply point us to the person who can.

So, I don’t need to make arbitrary rules for myself, instead my measure of holiness is Christlikeness, enabled by God’s Spirit, and achieved by knowing Jesus and trusting in his once-for-all rescue.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

 

Nim