Daily Devotionals

Joy, Peace and, in a Little While, Glory | John 16:16-33

John 16:16-33

Today we continue listening with the disciples to Jesus’ farewell discourse. Unlike when the disciples first heard it, though, we have the benefit of hindsight. Jesus was telling his disciples about how he would soon be returning to the Father, though he promised to send the Spirit, the Helper, who would somehow be better for them, when he did. The disciples were, quite understandably, struggling to comprehend what all of this would mean and were concerned that Jesus wouldn’t be with them much longer. Jesus says in 16:6, ‘but because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.’

In verses 16-33, however, Jesus promises that this sorrow will not last forever. Referring to his death and resurrection, he says he will go away for a little while, but then they will see him again. In verse 20, he says ‘truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.’

While the world rejoices, while it seems to have triumphed and celebrates in its victory, the disciples will be left downcast in sorrowful defeat. But not for long. At the start of this passage, Jesus’ words to them rattle and hum in our ears. A little while, a little while, a little while. Like a musical leitmotif in an intricately crafted score, it calls to mind the significance of what has gone before and stirs our anticipation of what’s about to come. 

‘A little while’ is a phrase which recalls the promises of the prophets – multiple times God’s judgement on those who looked like they had triumphed in rebellion against him (Ps 37:10, Hos 1:4, Jer 51:33) and God’s salvation for his faithful people (Hag 2:6; Isa 10:25, 29:17-19, Ezek 11:16-17) is promised to be in ‘a little while’. 

Most poignantly for this moment perhaps, we should hear Judah’s song of victory from Isaiah 26 echoing in our ears: 

‘Like a woman with child,
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near her time,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
we were with child, we writhed,
but we gave birth only to wind.
We have won no victories on earth,
and no one is born to inhabit the world.

Isaiah 26.17-18

Judah admits her failure, she has failed as God’s agent of deliverance for the world. Yet, the hope of salvation, resurrection and glory is coming – in a little while. 

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the wrath is past. 

Isaiah 26.19-20

For a little while the disciples will not see Jesus, he will take God’s wrath upon himself at the cross and be shut up in a chamber, a stone rolled to shut the door behind him. But this time the birth pangs are not futile; this time the greatest victory is won. New creation is born. In a little while the wrath was past, the dead would live, for his corpse would rise and the dwellers in the dust would sing for joy! As the morning dew glistened on the first Easter Sunday it would surely be with a flood of vivid colour as Mary Magdalene’s world turned from grey grief to radiant joy as the risen Lord Jesus called her name. 

Jesus overcame the world at his resurrection. He is triumphant; risen, ascended and enthroned. 

That means, in verse 22, that our hearts may rejoice and no one will take this joy from us.

Have you ever had that feeling, as a moment of joy has swept over you, when suddenly a swell of fear rears up – ‘everything is going so well at the moment, something bad must be about to happen. Surely this is too good to be true.’ Apparently that feeling is more common than you might imagine. Brené Brown calls it ‘foreboding joy’. 

When our lives are limited to the immanent, when this world is all there is, joy is a dangerous place to be in, because the only way to go from there is down. But when our ultimate joy is lifted from the immanence of this world and set instead on what is imperishable, well, then we may have freedom to feel joy without fear now and even have peace in tribulation, for the only way for us to go is onward to final glory. The thread of our lives will at times pass through grief, but it is tied securely to the one enthroned in new creation – where our champion has gone, we will follow. By the Spirit he has given to us, there we are even now, united to him. (Eph 2:6)

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote ‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.’

Jesus promised that in the world the disciples would have tribulation. But take heart, for he has overcome the world. We have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. (1 Peter 1:3-4). In him we have peace, with joy, through tribulation. 

Let’s pray.

Father, in this passage, Jesus says you love us because we have loved and believed in Jesus. And so we may approach you now, in him, directly. Thank you that in Jesus’ death and resurrection he overcame the world. Thank you that you have given us your Spirit and that we have a sure, certain, and secure hope in you – that nothing and no one can take this joy from us. Help us to rejoice in you today, knowing your peace even in the midst of our tribulations.
In Jesus name, amen. 

Not Alone | John 15.26-16.15

John 15.26-16.15

It was my first ever Brownie Pack Holiday. Sleeping away from home without my parents was quite the ordeal for little 7 year old me, in fact, I’m not sure it had ever happened before. I didn’t want my mum to go and leave me there. I was trying to be brave but my lip started to quiver and my eyes started to moisten. But of course, it was better for my mum to go. Although in the moment, I would have loved her to take me with her but I would have soon felt left out and upset. It was so much better that I stayed, because I soon forgot my worries and threw myself into the time away. It was for my good that my mum went away.

In the passage we read today, Jesus tells his disciples that He will be leaving them soon. They are filled with grief, sadness and fear at the idea of their beloved leader, mentor and friend leaving them so soon. They’d only had 3 years together, their ministry was thriving. People were being healed, demons cast out, the hungry fed. Surely there was so much yet to do. Why was Jesus leaving so soon?

Jesus says to the disciples: ‘is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ Jesus is going to leave them, but he promises to give them the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.

It is a beautiful but mind blowing truth that we are better off now than the disciples were when they walked, talked, laughed, ate and served alongside the person of Jesus. They witnessed Jesus perform incredible miracles, they enjoyed intimate times in his presence, they were taught, encouraged and challenged by him face to face. And yet, it was good for them for Jesus to go away. Because they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Is that how it feels for you? I don’t know about you, but I’d leap at the opportunity to see Jesus doing his ministry, to even have a conversation with him, spend time eating a meal with Him. But the reality is, that, with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we are even closer to Jesus now than if we were reclining around the dinner table with Him. What a joy, what an incredible truth!

But Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples this to make them feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, rather than grieving for his soon departure. Jesus tells them this to keep them from stumbling. He warns them that they will be thrown out of the synagogue; that there will be a time when people will think that they are doing a service to God by killing them. He warns them that life is not going to be easy, far from it, but he promises them that they will have a Helper.

Jesus also says that the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit sheds light on the lies and deceptions of this world, and reveals that which is true. Jesus says that he will prove the world to be wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit will guide the disciples into truth and He guides us into truth as well. Because ultimately, the Holy Spirit goes out from the Father and speaks only what He receives from the Son.

As we approach Pentecost, let’s take some time now to reflect on this incredible gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has ascended, He has returned to the Father and is seated at His right hand. But that does not mean that we are alone. When we face trials and suffering in this life, we are equipped and sustained by the Holy Spirit. When we are clouded by the deceitfulness of the world, the Holy Spirit brings us to the truth. When we feel alone, overwhelmed or hopeless the Holy Spirit gives us comfort and peace. The Holy Spirit equips and empowers us to be Jesus’ hands and feet on this earth. What a privilege! What a joy!

Let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thank you that, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in each of us, you are closer to us than we could ever imagine. Thank you that you empower us and equip us to do your work here on earth. Where we have taken this for granted, where we have grown tired or weary, fill us afresh with the wonder and awe at this incredible truth. Fill us again with your Spirit and send us out to do your works.
In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Our New Best Friend | John 14.15-27

John 14.15-27 

As we approach Pentecost, we’re going to spend a few days reflecting on Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. But what is the Holy Spirit like?

I remember having trouble understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in my relationship with God growing up. I got that the Father was, well, like a Father. And I understood the Son, Jesus, to be a bit like an older brother – someone to follow and do what they say, and in him we are now children of God, like him. Of course Jesus is also our Saviour, but that concept was a bit harder to grasp as a kid. And then there was the Holy Spirit. The more vague one. I’d like to suggest today that the Holy Spirit is a bit like our best friend.

When I think of really great friends I think of those long evening chats where everything and anything can be discussed – where you share those weird school memories of playing with papier-mâché as well as your fears about the future and what life might look like in 15 years time. I think of the times I’ve knocked on a friends door but then also just walked straight in because their house is as familiar as my own. I also think of those friends who after I’ve said or done something stupid call me out on it – saying they know I can do better and praying together for more grace to change. Great friendships shape and mold us.

So in what way is the Holy Spirit like a best friend?

Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit to his disciples in today’s passage. He says another Advocate will come – a Helper – someone who will teach us and be with us forever. He calls him the Spirit of truth. This Helper and Spirit of truth will not be afraid to tell it like it is. There is no hiding of some parts of us that we’d rather no one would see when our new best friend here is nothing but truth. He will know us fully. He will be a faithful friend – with us forever – and he will help us become better than we are. The Bible calls this process sanctification – becoming holy – by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. 

I want you to notice the theme of love in this passage. Jesus begins by saying that if we love him we will keep his commandments. The way we show our commitment to him is by following what he said. Instantly I realise I’m not very good with that. How could I live up to the high calling that Jesus puts on my life? Just in the previous chapter Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and given them the commandment of doing the same to one another – this humble servantship grates against the pride within me. 

I don’t know if I can do it.

But Jesus isn’t done talking yet. He goes on to say: ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.’ Another Helper is coming. I don’t have to do it on my own. And this helper is not just another coach on the sidelines or even a new rabbi. No, he will be in you. 

Jesus explains this theme in verses 20-23: ‘I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ 

It’s like we’re packed right in there with the trinity – like a stack of glasses – first the Father, then Jesus, then us, then the Holy Spirit – all in one stack on the shelf. Of course the reality is probably quite different to a stack of glasses, but it’s a good visual reminder for me that God actually wants to be that close and surround me on all sides and dwell within me. Verse 23 explains it like the Father and the Son making their home with us. What a picture of love. 

I hope I can make it homely for them. How do I do that? Again Jesus reminds me: ‘The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.’ 

He is the one that will make me a home. 

By teaching me over and over again, patiently, what it means to love, what it means to lay down my life for others – what it means to be more like Jesus.

Everyday I need to listen to his teaching. Everyday I need reminding. By my faithful friend, the Holy Spirit, I will be shaped and molded into the image of God’s beloved Son. 

Today’s passage finishes with a peace blessing. Jesus says he does not give to us as the world gives. He gives his Holy Spirit. To be with us forever. What abundance of peace. 

Let’s pray.

Lord, thank you for sending your Spirit to be with us today and every day. Fill us anew with the Spirit of Love as you make us more like you. We love you, Lord Jesus.
Amen.

Two Resurrections | Rev. 20

Revelation 20

Revelation chapter 20 enjoys an unenviable reputation as a controversial chapter. It consists of two scenes – the thousand year reign of Christ on earth with his saints and the Great Assize – the great courtroom scene of the final judgement all flesh.

To get this chapter we need key perspectives. First, doctrinally Revelation follows the same a pattern of eschatological events widely agreed in Scripture and confessed by all orthodox Christians in the Nicene Creed: the coming of Jesus, who appears as a rider on a white horse in Revelation 19; the resurrection of the dead and the judgement of the living and the dead (they’re here in Chapter 20) and the New Creation which begins in next chapter. But what Revelation chapter 20 does that is unique in the New Testament is place a thousand year reign of Christ on earth between the first resurrection of the righteous and the later resurrection of the unrighteous. Second comes Scripture’s big story. Combining the six plus one creation week of Genesis 1 with Psalm 90.4 (‘a day is a thousand years in your sight’) gave early believers the idea of a world-week: that the world will have six days or six thousand years of labour and then a glorious final day of Sabbath rest for 1000 years. After that (on the second Sunday of creation – the day of new creation) God will make a new world. Third Revelation follows the sequence of a key text – rather surprisingly in the book of Ezekiel. Revelation follows the sequence of Ezekiel’s final chapters: after the resurrection of the dead in Ezekiel 37 and before the new Jerusalem in chapter 40-48 there are two chapters that describe a war between God’s people and …here we go… Gog the prince of the land of Magog. Combine these three things and you get the doctrine that after the resurrection of God’s holy people at his return, they will reign with Jesus on earth for the 1000 years of its sabbath rest. Then with Satan’s release, all the final remnants of evil will be gathered together and simply be despatched in a final decisive divine conflagration.

The point of the thousand year rule of Christ on earth whilst Satan is bound is simple: imagine the world with Satan’s power is banished and with Jesus ruling with his people. Imagine if those who were oppressed, persecuted, and put to death, came to life and reigned with Jesus in his upside down kingdom. God has plans this chapter says, to renew the face of the earth in this way before creating new heavens and a new earth. If God did not give the world its Sabbath rest, He might be saying that this world is so problematic that it won’t fulfil God’s intention for it. It would simply need to be demolished to make way for a better world. And all your green theology based on valuing creation goes up the spout. No. God will first perfect this world so that we remember that this is the world that he looked at and said: ‘it is good’. This world will have its Shabbat – it’s Sabbath rest. Only then will God create again and make a place where we can live with Him forever. Message: God’s world is his good creation and he will not allow the evil that despoils it to have sway forever. The Lamb will take his great power and begin to reign. And the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.

The message of the five verse judgement scene is stark and simple: God has legal authority over death and Hades: when he calls they must give up their dead to the author of life and only completely just judge. God remembers all our deeds in his book. No-one’s deeds are hidden forever. It’s a more moral world than most people imagine because our good and just God is the last and best authority.  There are no exceptions, no excuses and no escape. Not for anyone, not Hitler, not Stalin, not Pol Pot. Not me. That’s the bad news.

Interviewed on BBC radio Lord Hailsham, Quintin Hogg, lawyer, politician and former Lord Chancellor who knew quite a bit about courts was asked as an old man if he feared death. ‘No’ he said ‘but I fear judgment. I shall plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court.’ The book of our deeds records only our filthy rags. But the other book, the second book, the book of life, the book of God’s mercy in Christ is what counts not our deeds. That’s the good news.

Lord, forgive us when we take your lovely world for granted and treat it as if we are its Lords, not stewards holding it in trust for you, who is its Lord and ours. And Lord, help us to remember that you both call us to account for our actions and lavish your mercy on us each day.
Amen

The Lion and the Lamb | Rev. 5.1-14

Revelation 5.1-14

What John sees through the open door he describes in chapter four of his revelation is an incredible vision of the throne room of God. Actually, he sees the same as Ezekiel did hundreds of years earlier, a shining throne, surrounded by creatures with four faces and many wings. The difference of course, is that unlike in Ezekiel’s vision where the people were worshipping other gods in the temple, in this vision God is being worshipped by angelic beings and human elders alike. 

In chapter 5 – as we heard – his attention shifts to the sealed scroll God is holding. Like the scroll Ezekiel was told to eat, it becomes evident that this is a scroll of judgement and opening it is necessary to begin the chain of events that will allow for justice to flow, and evil to be addressed by a righteous God. 

But who can open it? No one can be found who is sufficiently righteous to do that? 

John, incarcerated in a Roman prison camp, knowing of the martyrdom of all the other Apostles, weeps bitterly at the idea that there will be no justice, no judgement, no holding to account for evils that have been committed. 

But one of the elders comforts him. Don’t weep – the Lion of Judah, descendant of David has conquered – HE is qualified to open it!

Expecting a great roaring beast, a mighty, powerful creature, John looks up and sees… a lamb, still covered in the marks of its sacrificial death. This frail broken little animal does two astonishing things. It walks straight to the mighty, glowing throne and takes the scroll. HE is able to both approach God without fear and begin the process of justice and judgement on evil. The Lion – is a lamb. The powerful king is also a sacrifice. 

Heaven breaks out in worship:

Golden bowls containing the prayers of Gods people are offered up to the lamb

The song is of how he has ransomed, bought back humanity through his blood. How we are no longer the slaves of sin and death, that we have been paid for, our debts have been cleared. 

And now those from every tribe, language, people and nation have become a kingdom, priests serving God. Inheritors of royal status who will reign on earth.

This is what the Lion – Lamb has done.

And how the angels and elders worship! Myriads of myriads, thousands of thousands – roaring the lambs praise together. And all the creatures on earth, under the earth, in the sea… exploding in celebration at what the Lion-Lamb has done! The noise is immense!

What an amazing vision! What a thing to see – and hear! What a perspective changer on reality. 

Chapter 1-3 of this book are letters to 7 churches, exhorting, challenging and comforting them to stay faithful to Jesus. Not to compromise their faith. Not to let difficulties or persecutions crush them. Not to let their first love grow cold or their faith to become lukewarm. They are very human, very normal, very mundane, now- sorts of problems. Just like ours. Some are doing better than others. 

There’s a call here not to let the routine, the tedium, the stress, the disappointments of day to day life grind us down or shift our attention from Jesus. There’s a call to keep him front and centre, to press on, reach into those storehouses of his faithfulness we have in Scripture, in our own testimonies and those of others. Not to give up or allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the reality we see around us.

Because the reality of this vision, this explosion of holiness, justice, worship – this is what has been going on in the heavenlies for 2000 years now. 

This is the throne we are welcome to approach. 

This is what we join in with our little songs of praise. 

These are our prayers – being held up in golden bowls before God’s throne. 

WE are the bought back, the redeemed, the priestly people honoured with the call to serve God in our times. 

Today, tonight – whenever you are listening to this – lets imagine that scene again. Let’s see again the lamb, who didn’t win by fighting and posturing and manipulating, but by sacrificing himself. Stronger than any human leader. Stronger than any spiritual force. A sacrificial lamb who roars – like a lion  against evil and injustice, defending all those who call on him. 

Let’s recalibrate again. Change our perspective with John, and join in with the myriad of myriads who cry, “Blessing and honour and glory and might, forever and ever. Amen”

Let’s pray. 

Father, we thank you for this glimpse of a different reality. One that has changed everything. One that we are welcomed into because of the blood of Jesus; the lamb who was slain and rose again. Help us when our perspective slips and rather than the technicolour throne room all we see if the beige of our lives right now. Show us where your kingdom is breaking in, where the joy and colour and hope of that heavenly worship and spiritual truth is at work bringing light and life around us. And give us your Holy Spirit that we might be priests – those who worship and intercede for the world we see every day. We join with the angels, the elder and all creation in giving you thanks and praise. 
Amen. 

Jesus Among the Churches | Rev. 1.4-20

Revelation 1.4-20

The opening vision of the Book of Revelation is the Lord Jesus walking amongst the lampstands of the seven churches of Asia Minor. The prophetic letters to the churches are well-known and regularly preached on. But we’re going to focus on what this section tells us about Jesus who does the speaking.

The greeting starting at verse four introduces the heavenly trinity: first, the one who was is and is to come – the eternal God who will arrive one day, who will come –  as the prophets expected and Revelation affirms. Second: the seven spirits is not the announcement of an expansion to the Holy Trinity from three to nine but a reference to Zechariah 4 where the Holy Spirit is imaged as a seven branched menorah – one of those Jewish branched lamps – represents one the Spirit: ‘not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord’. Then comes a triple attribution of titles to Jesus: ‘faithful witness, firstborn from the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth’. The fact that the word ‘witness’ is martyr in Greek makes it clear that this is an organised sequence reminding us of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to heavenly rule. Unusually for the NT, it is the third of these that is focal point of the book of Revelation. The book is the story of how the crucified, risen Lord Jesus is now worthy to bring to the final judgement and sovereign rule of God on earth.

Each of these three titles is also about us: we too are called to be faithful witnesses and we are promised both final resurrection and a share in Jesus’ kingdom rule. This is who John says Jesus is. When Jesus speaks in 1.17f he repeats basically the same things: he was dead, he is alive, he has power over death and Hades. Hades is the place where the dead wait before they are given up to God at the final resurrection.

John also sees a vision of Jesus. Jesus is described in ways that are partly like the figures of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man in Daniel chapter 7. This is Jesus as God bringing the judgement and kingdom of God on the earth. He is also described as wearing the clothing of the High Priest Aaron – a long linen robe – and he has a sword coming from his mouth. This last image reminds us that it is not physical strength or military power that Jesus exercises but righteous judgment by the words of his mouth. He speaks God’s justice for the righteous, for the faithful and for the oppressed.

When Jesus speaks and tells what will take place (1.19) he is Jesus the prophet, when he reveals God to us and stands for us before God he is Jesus the priest and in his authority to bring God’s ultimate just rule he is Jesus the king. Prophet, Priest and King in one overpowering vision of the glory of the person and work of Jesus.

What strikes me about this is just how comprehensive a vision of the Lord and his ministry this is. I can’t think of anything that I need Jesus to be that isn’t included here. When I need my sins forgiven: ‘he freed us from our sins by his blood’’ When I am weak, sick and worry about dying: he has the keys of death. When I worry about the future: he has the future in his hands – he is the first and the last. This is the Jesus who walks amongst the lampstands – he really sees the life of his churches and knows us fully. He is the one to calm our fears, challenge our apathy and give hope in the darkness. We meet him in all the joy and power of who he is and what he has done for us.

In a fit of desperation in 1897 the French post-impressionist artist Gaugin wrote three classic questions of life on the corner of one of his paintings of a scene of Tahitian women: The questions were in French but they translate as: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? The history of trying to answer these questions is long and involved. But Holy Scripture says that the answers all centre around God’s comprehensive work in Christ. Where do we come from? From the maker of all things: we owe him our very breath; What are we? creatures made in his image for his pleasure and glory, broken by sin and redeemed in the cross; Where are we going? The answer to this third question is Revelation’s specialist subject: we are called into Jesus’ kingdom and called to share in his glory.

Lord Jesus, you are everything to us. Help us to stand back a little farther today and wonder a little more at the fulness of who you are and the comprehensiveness of what you have done for us.
Amen.

A Family Expedition: the Gifts of the Ascended Lord | Eph. 4.4-14

Ephesians 4.4-14

Our present age glorifies uniqueness. ‘Here I am, this is me, I’m totally unique and special in my individuality’, it cries. It sometimes goes further in self-focussed defiance: ‘Don’t change for anyone – you’re perfect as you are and everyone else must accept that’.

On the other hand, there are certainly spheres where conformity is expected, where deviation from normal practices or particular views are met with suspicion, perhaps even hostility.

I think we feel conflicted: We want to be special, but also don’t feel totally happy with who we are. We want to fit in with others, but don’t want to merely blend in. We seem to want to be both individuals, and also be securely part of a group.

This passage offers a balm to our confused spirits, giving us both individuality and community.

So, firstly, how does Paul say we are alike?

‘There is one body and one Spirit’, that is, all are part of the same fellowship, the same church, and all are empowered by the same Holy Spirit.

‘One Lord, one faith’ – all are joined to one Lord and Saviour, the same Christ, and all proclaim one salvation.

‘One hope… [and] one baptism’ – all have the same future destination, and all have the same entry point.

And how have we come to share all of this? Well, fundamentally, it is because, through Christ, we all acknowledge the one God, and all call him Father – that is, we are all part of the same family.

We all have come to know and love the rule of God ‘who is above all’, and that he is active ‘through all’, and present ‘in all’. This is true of all of creation, but particularly so for those who are members of his family.

Are any too far from him to be included in his family?

Paul’s side note in verses nine and ten may be about Christ’s descent to earth from heaven, his death and descent to the grave, or his descent even to the depths of Hades. In some ways it doesn’t matter – the point is that he has unending authority – he ‘fill[s] all things’. There isn’t anywhere that is beyond his power; from ‘the lowest parts of the earth’ to his ascended place ‘high above the heavens’. Wherever we are, physically or spiritually, we are not too far for him to reach us.

Christ is Lord over all, and we can all be welcomed into his family. Alleluia!

But what about our desire to be unique?

‘But each of us…’ begins verse seven – ah, here we have some individuality. Each are given different gifts – the list here is shorter than others elsewhere in Paul’s teaching, but still: some have this gift, some have that one.

We don’t acquire these gifts ourselves, though. They are grace-given, according to a measure of Christ – not something we have earned. But nevertheless, they do afford individuality within the family of God.

In divergence to the modern view of individuality though, our unique blend of gifts is not for us to like and others to have to deal with. They have a purpose.

When Christ ascended to make ‘captivity itself a captive’ – that is to deliver freedom – he then pours out these gifts. So, the gifts are for continuing Christ’s ministry, empowered by the Spirit.

Also divergent from the cry of our age, is the idea that we aren’t perfect yet. As well as being for the purposes of freedom, the gifts of the ascended Christ are also to aid us in being directional. We are to move, to grow, towards something – to greater unity, to fuller knowledge of Christ and ‘full stature’ – more completely walking in his footsteps. Not to be as children – either blown off-course by a strong but fickle wind of doctrine or distracted by deliberate temptation from others.

I wonder if a metaphor might help:

Imagine us as a family tied together for mutual safety and aid as we undertake a great expedition across an unforgiving landscape. Each has access to the Father directly through a walkie-talkie. Each started from different valleys, but all started climbing from the bottom of the mountain – and we’re all heading to the same place. We all joined the family by being connected to the same rope of salvation. Some of us are great map readers, others can carry vast amounts of provisions. Some can read the weather, others know excellent morale-boosting adventurers’ songs. We need each other on this expedition, we must stick together – as a family, alike in many things, and unique in others – if we are to grow, to reach the end, and to enjoy our freedom along the way.

Do you feel an important part of the church family? Maybe you do – in which case, remember that you can’t read the map, judge the weather, sing adventuring songs and distribute snacks all at the same time – you need your brothers and sisters. The flip-side of this is true too. If you don’t feel useful or connected, remember that you are connected to the family by your connection to the Father, and at some point, we’re going to need you to sing the adventuring song that only you know.

My guess is that even if we looked just at our congregation at King’s, we’d find that almost everyone has felt unconnected or unhelpful at times. I think that is pretty universal – even for those who seem deeply connected and particularly useful. The challenge of this passage is to remember that we are both individuals and members of the family.

Are you trying to undertake the expedition alone, out of pride or fearing to ask for help? Are you withholding your gifts – be they navigation, refreshment or encouragement? Don’t do either of these things Paul says.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves: how might we more fully embrace our identity as part of God’s family, or use the gifts he has given us to support our brothers and sisters in this season of adventuring together across the unfamiliar and unforgiving landscape we’re currently facing?

Let’s pray together.

Heavenly Father, we praise you that you have welcomed us into your family, by your grace. Thank you that you give each of us gifts to bless and build up your church, and those beyond. Please help us to use these gifts wisely, humbly and with kindness. Help us to welcome each other into family together and to support and equip each other in growing towards the knowledge and likeness of Christ.
Amen.

Precious Faith | 1 Pet. 1.3-9

1 Peter 1.3-9

I’m quite a fan of those cheesy icebreaker questions that ask: if you were an animal or chocolate bar or Spice Girl, what would you be and why? (FYI it’s a Labrador, Kitkat and Baby Spice for me). Questions like that get me thinking in a different direction and often bring with them unexpected discoveries, along with a decent amount of silliness, of course.

So, let me ask you the same question but this time, about your faith. Just humour me for a moment, if your faith were an animal, what would it be? … A hardworking little ant, maybe. A full of flap flamingo. How about a kind of weather … a calming sunset perhaps. Or maybe a thundering storm. And what if you were to describe your faith as a kind of metal? … On my good days, my faith feels like copper cabling, not so impressive looking but a conduit for useful stuff – but there are certainly days when my faith feels too easily bent out of shape, a little rusty at the edges and not all that fancy to look at. More like tin. Yes, there are definitely tin faith days.

Today’s passage points us to a different metal altogether.

When describing faith, Peter says that it is more precious than gold. How remarkable that the everyday, faltering steps of our faith are compared to something so valuable and beautiful. That precious material that adorns and shouts of wealth: gold. We’re told that such genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus is revealed. The Message translation puts it brilliantly saying: ‘When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith… that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.’ Our faith may feel feeble, it may seem weak and inadequate, but it is extraordinarily valuable to God and, as this passage explains and celebrates, it leads to the most incredible gift: the salvation of our souls.

In rising from the dead, Jesus has won for us an inheritance that Peter describes as imperishable, undefiled and unfading. To put it another way, it is going to last forever, it’s pure and it is vibrant. This inheritance is our salvation. We’re told that it is ready and waiting for us – it is kept in heaven.

But that isn’t to say that it is a purely future reality. Peter tells us that we are already in the process of receiving this living hope, this outcome of our faith, this salvation of our souls. And therefore, we don’t sit counting down the days until we reach heaven. We live our salvation today.

This calls us to a new perspective on the difficult things in our lives. Peter doesn’t pretend that suffering doesn’t exist, remember that he was writing at a time when believers were being killed for holding fast to the Gospel, but he refers to suffering trials as being ‘for a little while’. In the same way, Paul says in 2 Corinthians: ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure’ (4:17). It’s as though, when we eventually hold our inheritance fully, even the most awful things of our earthly life will somehow seem to have lasted a mere moment. It’s easy to hear the words, isn’t it, but how much harder to live a life where faith and suffering stand side by side while trusting that an eternal hope is on the horizon. Praise God that it isn’t reliant on us. As Peter says, ‘we are being protected by the power of God’ and so when holding on to hope feels hopeless, we can be sure that God is fighting alongside us in the battle.

God has given us the gift of this inheritance because of his great mercy. We haven’t earned our salvation nor do we need to strive to prove the genuineness of our faith. It is all in Him and to His glory. We are simply called to rejoice in the receiving of it. And when such joy doesn’t seem all that forthcoming, let us remember that whether our faith feels like trusty copper cabling or an old piece of tin, in the eyes of our loving heavenly father, it is always, always golden.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank you for the gift of our salvation. Thank you that it is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. When the difficulties of today overshadow the promised glory of our inheritance would you change our perspective and give us joy. Help us to trust that our faith, however feeble it feels, is valuable to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Nothing Can Separate | Rm. 8.28-39

Romans 8.28-39

It is a cliche to say that your wedding day is the happiest of your life, but on 14 July 2012 I felt pure joy as the chaplain spoke the words, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’. In response, I let out a strange and slightly embarrassing noise, somewhere between a cry and a cheer. Thankfully, I’m not sure anyone registered it except me, but I remember it clearly because it was one of the very few times when I – as a fully signed up member of the repressed Brits club – let out a completely uncontrolled overflow of emotion in public. My squawk was not one of joy, or excitement, or even gratitude. It was the sound of relief. 

Martin and I had spent much of our relationship until that moment living on separate continents, and from watching the friends around me, I knew all too well that life could throw obstacles in the path of even those couples you thought destined to be together forever. Job offers in different countries, university places in different cities, conflicting obligations to family, financial challenges, differences of opinion over current political topics, and the list could go on. But here I was, looking at the person I had chosen to spend the rest of my life with, knowing that there was now nothing that would separate us. Whatever was to happen from here, we would face it together. Or to put it in less saccharine terms, Martin now had no escape. ‘Those whom God has joined, let no man put asunder.’ (A phrase taken from Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9.)

In order to underline the definitive nature of our commitment to one another, we had made vows. It was not only ‘no man’ who could put us asunder. We also pledged that sickness, poverty, and the very worst of times would not be enough to split us apart. We were now one flesh, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. Such big promises.

So far, so romantic. The wedding service, however, has to make one concession. There is a situation which will divide any couple, about which we have no choice, and in the face of which we can do nothing. This is why the promises Martin and I made to each other, and that all married couples make, come with a caveat. I will love and cherish you, we say, ‘until death us do part’. Even on the very day we celebrate our coming together, we must acknowledge that there will be a day when we will be parted. In a ceremony designed to recognise the very best of human love, we still give voice to its limitations.

In today’s passage, Paul reminds us that there is in fact a love even greater, even more glorious and powerful than any we might experience here on earth. Greater than our love for our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends. It is a love that will not yield even to death. We have even greater cause to yell out in glee than me, a bride at the altar.

For we are loved with a love that reaches into the past, soaks the present and extends into the eternal future. Nothing of this world, nor anything in all creation, can bring it to an end. No person, no hardship or distress. Even death is no threat to it, for it flows from Jesus, the one who conquered death, by giving himself up to it in order that we too might be raised with him, justified, glorified, rising as more than conquerors. 

On his wedding day, the groom ‘leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). So we, in joining ourselves to Jesus, leave behind our old way of life and become members of a new family. We are not promised that we will never again face hardship, but rather than when we do so, we will do it with Christ beside us, within us, fighting for us. No one can stand against us. And we can be confident that he is ultimately working all things for good, even when we cannot see it. 

This is why, after we had made our vows to one another, Martin and I chose to have our wedding guests sing In Christ Alone with us, a song that reminds us of the hope we have in Christ. He is the one who stills our fears and offers solidity in the midst of our strivings. The one who took on flesh, endured man’s scorn and died on the cross in order that we might live. Our Saviour, who burst victorious from the grave and overcame sin’s curse. 

Every Christian can echo the sentiment that caused me to feel so overcome as I stood at the altar in my white dress, with a shiny new ring on my finger: I am his and he is mine! And we can all celebrate together, voices rich with love and relief: ‘No power of hell, no scheme of man, / Can ever pluck me from his hand.’

Father God, Thank you that through Jesus’ death the curtain between us was torn in two and we are no longer separated from you. Thank you nothing we do, and nothing that can be done to us, is enough to change that. Help us to live in your love, to proclaim your victory and to build our lives on the certainty of our future with you,
Amen.

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