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Introducing Jesus (from Revelation)

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One of the things I love about the book of Revelation is that it pulls back the curtain on the cosmic stage and gives us a greater glimpse of who Jesus is. It maybe difficult to understand everything written in its pages but it’s worth spending time in because it inspires worship of our risen and ascended King. Below are some of the ways Jesus is described in the book of Revelation. Why not choose one to meditate on and praise him for this weekend?

Jesus Christ is:

  • the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth
  • the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father
  • the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty
  • the First and the Last, the Living One; who was dead, and is alive for ever and ever, and who holds the keys of death and Hades
  • the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands
  • the one who has the sharp, double-edged sword
  • the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze
  • the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars
  • the one who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open
  • the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation
  • the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has triumphed
  • the one who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!
  • the Lamb at the centre of the throne, our shepherd
  • Lord of lords and King of kings
  • the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
  • the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star

At the end of the book he tells us he is coming soon! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

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How to be content with our circumstances

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‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4

Is it really possible to be content ‘whatever the circumstances’? To be as content in times of hardship as in times of ease? To be content while knowing illness, injustice, depression, divorce, betrayal, bereavement, loneliness, longing?

Paul learnt how to be content in every situation because he had lots of opportunities to practise. He lists some of the more difficult circumstances he faced in his letter to the church at Corinth:

‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

It’s quite a list. But, in addition to all this, Paul also struggled with an on-going trial – his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know exactly what this thorn was but it was a source of distress to Paul – he prayed three times for God to take it from him. God’s answer, however, was not to take away the thorn. His answer was not to change Paul’s circumstances, but to renew Paul’s perspective.

‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ 2 Cor. 12:9-10

If I’m honest, “My grace is sufficient for you” sometimes seems like an insufficient answer to suffering. But that’s because my view of grace is small, insufficient. Jesus says his grace is enough in every circumstance. And it is.

His grace brings us joy in sorrow, peace in pain. It enables us to face the most difficult circumstances with hope rather than despair. It teaches us to view our weaknesses as opportunities for Christ to reveal his power. That’s why Paul boasts in his weaknesses – not because the weaknesses themselves are praise-worthy, but because they showcase the glory of Christ’s power.

We often want to hide our weaknesses or struggles. But Paul was content to let people see the difficult circumstances he faced, his physical weaknesses, his discouragements. He was content with weaknesses, because he knew Christ’s power would strengthen him in them. He could say,

‘For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Cor. 12:10)

This is super-natural contentment. It comes from knowing Christ; from experiencing his grace and his power. It comes from trusting that God has a purpose for our suffering – Paul knew his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited, to stop him boasting in himself. And it comes from being confident of Christ’s return and the glory that is ahead for those who are in him. It’s only possible to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties if we know they are temporary – if we’re confident something far more glorious is ahead.

‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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5 Books about men, women & the church

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A few months ago I took part in a question panel at my church’s women’s conference. As usual, some of the women submitted questions about the role of women in the church. Their questions were thoughtful and sincere. They reflected the desire of these women to serve God in a way that honours his word, and their confusion about what his word actually teaches.

I reminded my friend Susie – our speaker for the weekend – that we answered the same questions on a panel at a women’s convention 15 years ago. That was the first occasion I taught formally on the role of women within the home and church; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve taught on it since. Susie has also taught extensively on this issue over the last 15 years. She’s spoken on national television, and has been publicly criticised for her unwavering commitment to the bible’s authority. I’m so grateful for her example of courageous faith.

As we chatted together, we shared some of the discouragements we’ve experienced as we’ve engaged with this issue. Not from brothers and sisters with egalitarian viewpoints, but from complementarian ministry friends who, either quietly avoid the issue and hope the women in their churches won’t cause a problem, or who confidently assert viewpoints they can’t adequately defend from scripture.

As women who speak on this issue, we read widely and study carefully so we can teach clearly and helpfully. And we’re heavily invested in getting it right. As I, perhaps rather dramatically, blurted out during our conversation, “We’ve betrayed the sisterhood!” It does sound dramatic, but it’s also true. We know that by believing and defending a complementarian viewpoint we deeply offend women we’ve grown up with, studied with, worked with, and even served in ministry with. When non-Christian friends find out what we believe we risk friendship. It’s costly to hold to this counter-cultural position.

We understand why some of our complementarian brothers may feel less equipped to engage with the issue (there are so many issues that require deep thought and study), but it’s frustrating when there appears to be no desire to dig deeper. Comments such as, “I don’t know why but I’m just not comfortable with women doing that,” aren’t an acceptable response to years of study and, in Susie’s case, a lot of flack! We need to be patient with our friends as they wrestle with the issue. But they do need to wrestle with it. Not to satisfy us, but for the good of the church – so women and men may flourish as they serve with the gifts God has given them. And so he is glorified as his good design is celebrated and displayed to a watching world.

So this month I’m recommending 5 books about God’s design for men and women, and how they relate within the church. The books vary in detail and style, but all are helpful in thinking through the issue. I’ve also recommended a couple of books that present alternative viewpoints. I’m not persuaded by the arguments in these books but it’s helpful to understand where others are coming from.

I know there are some notable absences from my recommended list of complementarian books – I just don’t agree with them! Too many complementarians go beyond what the bible teaches and present implications that aren’t justified from scripture. This is unhelpful at best, damaging at worst. So, while those books may contain sound doctrine, I believe the ones listed below are more helpful. Why not put one on your Christmas wish list and read it in the new year?

December’s Books: 5 Books about men, women & the church

  1. God’s Good Design by Claire Smith
  2. God’s Design For Man & Woman by Andreas & Margaret Köstenberger
  3. Different By Design by Carrie Sandom
  4. Women & God by Kathleen Nielson
  5. Women in the Church (3rd Edition) by Andreas Köstenberger & Thomas Schreiner

God’s Good Design

claire smithIf you’re only going to read one book about God’s design for men and women, this is probably the most helpful. Claire Smith teaches through seven key bible passages about men and women and how they should relate to each other. She addresses common objections thoroughly, and presents truth with depth and clarity. She applies the bible’s teaching practically, showing how relationships within the home and the church should reflect God’s good design. This book is thoughtful and comprehensive, and models faithful handling of God’s word – in context, and without adding or subtracting from its teaching. It will challenge men as well as women, complementarians as well as egalitarians. Claire Smith writes as one who has wrestled deeply with these issues herself, and her example of humble and joyful submission to God’s word is refreshing.

God’s Design for Man & Woman

kostenbergerMost books about the roles of men and women focus on a few key passages; this book traces the pattern of male and female relationships throughout the Old and New Testaments. It’s rigorous, compelling, and thoroughly biblical in its presentation of complementarianism as God’s good and wise design for men and women. It is a more academic study than some of the other books but is pastoral and practical in application. By working systematically through the bible’s teaching on this issue, readers will be equipped to understand more fully the significance of being created in God’s image and how this truth must inform our relationships, our corporate worship, and our mission.  There are two issues that aren’t dealt with comprehensively enough in my opinion (and I’m often wrong!), but this is still one of my favourite books on the issue. I read it in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a detailed study this is a great book.

Different by Design

carrie 2This is the book I’ve returned to most often when thinking about or preparing to teach on this issue. Carrie outlines the bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women clearly and graciously. She shows how men and women are designed to reflect God’s own nature – the equality, order, diversity and unity we see at work within the Trinity. She explains how western culture in particular has redefined equality as sameness, and how this has impacted family relationships and relationships within the church. Carrie provides practical wisdom for living out God’s design as men and women but, unlike some complementarian writers, she doesn’t go beyond what the bible says. This book is immensely helpful for women and men, single or married.

Women & God

KathleenKathleen Nielson’s writing reflects her speech – warm, clear, compassionate, gracious. In this book she seeks to show the wisdom and beauty of God’s plan for women throughout history. She begins with creation and the fall, then works through some of the gritty Old Testament “Texts of Terror” to show God’s tender-hearted care towards women. She invites her readers to wrestle with hard questions about God’s design and purpose for women, and points to the beautiful truth found in his word. I’ve read books that offer a more comprehensive treatment of the topic, but what makes this one particularly encouraging is Kathleen’s enthusiastic and persuasive conviction that God is good, and that embracing his design for women brings joy and fulfilment.

Women in the Church

schreinerI know this won’t appeal to everyone but I believe it’s an important book. Its authors offer an in-depth study of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, carefully analysing the context, grammar, and sentence structure of Paul’s statements.  They engage with a variety of viewpoints, clarifying issues and evaluating evidence thoroughly and graciously. The last chapter focuses on practical application of the text and includes contributions from a variety of women and men. It’s worth buying the book just to read that chapter, but you’ll appreciate it so much more if you’ve read the previous work. Of course, not everyone will agree with the authors’ conclusions, but it’s clear this book is written out of deep love for Christ’s bride, and sincere passion to see her flourish in the way God intends. I’m very grateful for that, and challenged to make sure I share this motivation in my studies.

Further recommendations:

Jesus, Justice & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller
(It’s helpful to note that male non-elders don’t preach at Redeemer Church, NYC. I agree that, in her context, Kathy Keller can – and should – use her gifts in any ministry area open to male non-elders. That isn’t the case in my context. However, the issue has prompted some lively conversation with my pastor!)

Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley

God’s Design for Women by Sharon James

Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, & Bobby Haircuts by Michael F. Bird
(This book presents an alternative viewpoint arguing a case for gender equality in ministry. I didn’t find it rigorous or persuasive, but it’s good to read a different perspective.)

Two Views on Women In Ministry (Revised Edition) edited by James R. Beck

Hearing Her Voice by John Dickson
(John Dickson argues that women should not hold the office of elder but are permitted to preach sermons in formal church gatherings. I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s an interesting read and I appreciate his gracious tone.)

Women, Sermons and the Bible edited by Peter G. Bolt & Tony Payne
(This is a series of essays written in response to John Dickson’s book, Hearing Her Voice.)

Continue reading “5 Books about men, women & the church”

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Praying for my husband’s wicked wife

prayer handsFor the last few years I’ve tried to block out some time each week to pray specifically for my husband and children. I’ve always tried to pray for them every day but, most days, I find myself praying the same things and I often focus my prayers on the issues facing them that day rather than intentionally bringing each area of their lives to the Lord. Now, as well as praying for the smaller day-to-day details, I also have time to pray some big-picture prayers – for their spiritual growth, their sin struggles, their friendships, fears and futures. It’s a precious time.

As part of my prayers for Richard, I use Prayers Of An Excellent Wife by Andrew Case (you can buy it here). It’s a great book that turns passages of scripture into bold, faithful prayers a wife can pray for a husband. I find it helpful to start my prayers for Richard with God’s own words – it’s too easy to come with a list of self-serving requests, and this book helps me focus my prayers so they are biblical and consistent with God’s desires for him.

I’ve prayed through the book a few times now but, when I started again a couple of weeks ago, I was caught a little off-guard by the third prayer:

‘Grant him continual patience and forbearance to live with me, a wicked wife.’

Really? I can’t be that wicked – I’m spending the afternoon in prayer for my family!

‘For I have sinned against you; I have acted very corruptly against you by forsaking my duty to help my husband lead our home in righteousness and the fear of you; I have not kept your commandments, your statutes, or the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.’

Hmm. Maybe.

‘Give him boldness and wisdom to rebuke and exhort me when I am unfaithful to your word, when I neglect prayer, fail to redeem the time, speak carelessly, walk foolishly, fail to hope in you, seek great things for myself, become anxious about tomorrow. Do not let him cease praying for me when I am beset with the fear of man, the cares of the world, or the love of money. May he never lose confidence that, in spite of my many iniquities and shortcomings, I am your servant whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.’

This is me. I am a wicked wife – perhaps not by the standards of the world; there’s always someone doing a worse job. But faced with the holiness of God, I see myself as I am – so naturally inclined to sin that I can’t, and won’t, choose righteousness unless God’s Spirit moves me to do so. I am unfaithful to God’s word. I neglect prayer. I waste time, speak unkind words, seek glory for myself. But, by his great power and strong hand, God has redeemed me. Despite my ongoing sin, I belong to him. And he hears my prayers – not because I am faithful and not because my prayers are perfect, but because of the faithfulness and perfection of the one who is in heaven to receive them.

It’s humbling to be reminded that I am in great need of God’s mercy – and my husband’s patience! It’s good to remember I need Richard’s prayers at least as much as he needs mine. And it’s precious to know that,

the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, has his ear attentive and his eyes open, to hear the prayers of his servants who delight to fear his name.

The Dignity Revolution

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It’s early to nominate a book of the year but I read Daniel Darling’s latest book, The Dignity Revolution, a few weeks ago and I can’t see it moving from the top spot. The book is a call for followers of Jesus to demonstrate our belief in the intrinsic dignity and worth of every one of God’s image-bearers, by proactively seeking to defend and act on behalf of those whose dignity is denied by society.

I was challenged before I’d finished the foreword. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S, writes,

Jesus calls us to reach into the pain and brokenness of our world. He wants his people to be like firefighters – rushing toward the fire of human suffering instead of away from it.

This isn’t my default response to suffering. I’m moved by brokenness but often not broken-hearted enough to proactively respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. I hold firmly to a theology of human dignity, but my theology rarely leads to activity. Daniel Darling challenges my apathy with his impassioned call to live out the Great Commission by valuing and protecting human life – in the public arena and in our hundreds of daily interactions with fellow image-bearers whose dignity is ignored or devalued.

He challenges us to see people as God does – and to live out human dignity in the way we speak, think and act towards others. He compels us to run toward those whose dignity is under assault. He shows how a right understanding of our God-given image has implications for our engagement with a wide range of ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia, race and immigration, poverty, justice, sexuality and religious freedom.

I won’t summarise each chapter – you need to read the book. But here are a few of my favourite quotes:

If we will not live out the kingdom, why would we expect anyone to listen to the news about its King?

A church that moves toward the vulnerable, using its power and influence on behalf of those who have seen their dignity ignored or denied, becomes a powerful witness to the nature and reality of the kingdom of God.

Those who are disabled, those who are poor, those who might not neatly fit into our modern notions of success should have a prominent place in our assemblies, not simply because they have full human dignity as image-bearers of God but because each one is a future king or queen of the universe who will one day reign with Christ.

We are most human when we live according to the ways God designed his image-bearers to live in the world he created.

Death is an assault on the dignity of God’s image-bearers. Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, the creator, reverses the curse and raises the dead to new life.

There is no season of life that erases the image of God in humans.

In every society, Christians should be the most active in using their talents on behalf of those the society considers marginal or unworthy. (quoting Andy Crouch)

When Jesus calls us to come and die he is also inviting us to come and live. Here is the great paradox: it is in denying ourselves that we find ourselves, because it’s in denying the temptation to worship ourselves, build our own identities, and bow down to our feelings that we are able to enjoy worshipping God, bow down to him, and live out our true identity as his image-bearers.

When we live our lives for Christ, we are saying, “There is another King and another kingdom. No leader in this world is the greatest king; no creed from this world is ultimate truth.

Before we are activists, we are worshippers. But equally, if we are truly worshippers, we will be activists; because we worship a great God, and it is his image that we see in every person – for every person has God-given dignity, no matter their utility.

The Dignity Revolution’s strapline is: Reclaiming God’s rich vision for humanity. This is a revolution I want to be part of. What will this mean? A commitment to respect and value the life of every person I meet – especially the weakest and most vulnerable. Proactively seeking opportunities to promote justice and mercy – privately and publicly. Intentionally walking towards suffering – holding out the hope of the gospel. Imagine how our churches and communities would look if every follower of Jesus lived out the call to value human dignity!

5 Books on Prayer

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I’ve always got a few books on the go at a time – a novel; an old favourite for the car; one to read alongside my daily devotions; some to help me prepare for talks or writing projects; and one or two to help me grow in my love for God and the church. I’m not very good at keeping my mind focused on one thing for more than a few hours at a time, so it suits me to be able to flit between them all. But sometimes it’s good to especially focus on one area of discipleship, and to spend time reading and studying with a view to growth in that particular area. So this month I’m recommending five books about prayer.

There are lots of good books written about prayer – my “further recommendations” list is longer than usual! These are five I’ve found particularly helpful in shaping the way I pray. They’re not the most comprehensive books on the subject but they are scripture-soaked and practical, and have impacted the way I pray.

 

March’s Books: 5 Books on Prayer.

  1. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God  by Tim Keller
  2. Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell
  3. A Praying Life by Paul Miller
  4. Prayers of an Excellent Wife by Andrew Case
  5. Prayer and the Voice of God by Tony Payne & Phillip Jensen

 

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

kellerI think this is my favourite of Tim Keller’s books. He combines teaching on the theology of prayer with practical wisdom for deepening our prayer lives. He is realistic about the struggle to move from duty to delight in prayer, and honest about his own journey in learning to pray. He helps the reader work through the tension between relating to a holy God in awe and knowing intimacy with him as a loving Father. At the end of the book are a couple of simple prayer plans to help the reader practise praying in response to God’s word. My favourite quote: ‘When you struggle in prayer, you can come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.’

 

Praying Backwards

chapellThis book is liberating. Bryan Chapell removes the burden so many Christians feel – that for our prayers to be effective we must know, desire and articulate all the right things. This book helped me understand the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer – stirring my heart to speak to the Father, and transforming my weak, limited prayers into prayers that transcend time and space to engage with the perfect will of God. It reminded me of his work in making me more like the Son so I learn to desire the things that are most pleasing to the Father. Bryan Chapell encourages his readers to “pray backwards” by taking the “in Jesus’ name” we tend to tag on the end of our prayers and placing it at the beginning. His point is not that we need to say the phrase in order to pray well, but that by recognising who it is we come through we are more careful to pray prayers are consistent with his nature, work and glory. This is one of the most encouraging books I’ve read on prayer.

 

A Praying Life

praying lifeI’m surprised I like this book as much as I do – it’s not the style I usually enjoy. But Paul Miller is fresh and inspiring in his approach to the study of prayer. With raw honesty, biblical wisdom, and genuine delight in grace, he applies the gospel to prayer. He helps his readers learn how to respond to the Father’s love in the everyday moments of life. He connects our small stories to the great gospel story, calling us to joy and intimacy in our relationship with the Trinity. In many ways this book is Paul Miller’s testimony – his struggles, his habits, his challenges, his encouragements. The book is full of personal stories and practical examples which help the reader see the blessings of a prayer-filled life. It’s definitely the book that has most radically transformed my prayer life and is probably the one I’d recommend first to someone struggling to pray.

 

Prayers of an Excellent Wife

excellentI’ve been using this book to pray for my husband for a few years and I love it. Andrew Case has compiled a rich, deep collection of prayers based on the words of scripture to help wives pray thoughtful, beautiful prayers that resonate with the heart of God – they are his words! This book helps me pray consistently and passionately. It helps me pray big, kingdom-centred prayers that are not focused on my own small, selfish desires. These prayers have made me more thankful for the gift of my husband, and more committed to loving and serving him through faithful prayer. They have also made me more aware of my own sin, and grateful for God’s grace in giving me so much I don’t deserve.

 

Prayer and the Voice of God

prayer voiceThis is a great guide for new Christians wanting to learn what prayer is and how to pray. It would also encourage those who struggle to be consistent and enthusiastic about prayer. I like that the book begins by focusing on the character of God. This is important because a healthy prayer life is not achieved by mastering specific techniques but by cultivating a relationship. The authors then explore what the bible says about why we should pray, and address the reasons we often don’t pray. There are a couple of chapters on what to pray for and what happens when we pray. This book is easy to read, practical and motivating. It encourages the reader to think rightly about God and about how he communicates with us through his word, so that we communicate with him in the way that pleases him.

 

Further recommendations:

You Can Pray by Tim Chester

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney

Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

Praying Together by Megan Hill

5 Things to Pray Series by Rachel Jones

Prayer: Does it make any difference? by Philip Yancey

Prayer by John Bunyan

Prayer: How praying together shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa

Prayer and the knowledge of God by Graeme Goldsworthy

Prayer by Ole Hallesby

The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett

 

 

Continue reading “5 Books on Prayer”

A Gospel Meditation – Pride

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The last few weeks I’ve been teaching some seminars on serving – how to serve joyfully, how to serve sacrificially, and how to serve in weakness. I’ve been reflecting that to serve Jesus and his church sacrificially we need to kill our pride. Pride is the enemy of humble, sacrificial service. Below is one of Charles Spurgeon’s gospel meditations I’ve found especially helpful in addressing my own pride. (I’ve rewritten it slightly for clarity.)

 

Jesus is the great teacher of humility. We need to learn from him every day. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples’ feet! Follower of Christ, won’t you humble yourself? See Him as the Servant of servants. Surely you can’t be proud! His life story can be summed up in one sentence, “He humbled Himself.”

 Jesus stripped off every robe of honour until his naked body was fastened to the cross. And there he emptied out every part of himself – pouring out His blood, giving his life for each of us – before they laid Him, penniless, in a borrowed grave. Our redeemer was brought so low. How, then, can we be proud?

 Stand at the foot of the cross and count the purple drops which cleanse you. See the crown of thorns. Look at his scourged shoulders, gushing with crimson blood. See his hands and feet surrendered to rough iron, and his whole self surrendered to mockery and scorn. See the bitterness, the spasms of pain, and the struggle of inward grief. Hear him cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 You were so lost that nothing could save you except the sacrifice of God’s own son. As Jesus humbled himself for you, bow in humility at his feet. A sense of Christ’s amazing love to us can humble us even more than an awareness of our own sin. Pride cannot live beneath the cross. We must sit there and learn humility.

Living in view of Christ’s appearing

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For the last year or so I’ve been reading through 2 Timothy with a friend from church. We’re taking it slowly – just a few verses at a time – so we can squeeze every drop of sweet, soul-nourishing goodness from each phrase. It’s one of the best things I get to do – every time we meet my heart is encouraged and challenged.

Last week we began chapter 4 and were especially struck by Paul’s perspective in verse 1. As Paul prepares to sign off his final letter he gets to his main reason for writing – his charge to Timothy to preach the word faithfully (v. 2), despite rejection and opposition (vv. 3-4). As the Apostolic age draws to a close, Paul wants to be sure the gospel will continue to spread. As he gives Timothy this final charge, he reminds him of the one who is witness – both to Paul as he instructs, and Timothy as he obeys. He writes,

‘In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom…’

How different my life would be if I lived with this perspective. Every moment of every day is lived in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ, who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. This truth should impact every decision, every conversation, every desire, every encounter.

To live with this mindset transforms our mundane moments into opportunities for joyful service. It changes the way we view the routine tasks we have to do – at work or in the home. It challenges the way we respond to interruptions to our schedules, inconveniences and distractions. It reminds us of our role as Christ’s ambassadors – in our neighbourhoods and in our nation. What might this look like in practice?

It means after a busy day at work, we no longer bolt from the car into the house with our heads down, hoping to escape to the private fortress of our home without being accosted by a neighbour. Rather, we pull up with eyes open and hearts ready for an opportunity to show friendship to the lonely, care to the struggling, sympathy to the hurting, help to the needy. We have the mindset of ambassadors looking to represent their King – to speak and act on his behalf.

When we realise we’ve run out of milk and need to dash to the supermarket, our goal is no longer to run in and out with as little interaction as possible. Rather, we wonder what divine appointment may be ordained for us – who we may meet in need of God’s grace.

We remember the terror awaiting our unbelieving friends and neighbours as Christ returns as judge of all. We long for them to be safe – to be declared righteous rather than condemned to eternal torment. We are compelled to pray earnestly for salvation, and to share the gospel boldly. We care more about eternal souls than temporary discomfort.

We are concerned for the needy and vulnerable – in our churches and in our communities. We engage with issues of social justice.

We strive for holiness in every area of our lives. We confess our sins regularly and delight in God’s forgiveness. We ask his Spirit to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. When people hurt or frustrate us, our immediate response isn’t anger or withdrawal. Instead, we plead with God’s Spirit to equip us to patiently forbear, lovingly correct, and generously forgive. We remember the one before whom we live is infinitely patient, loving and forgiving towards us, and we want our behaviour to reflect his.

Remembering we live in the presence of Christ Jesus – and in view of his return – changes everything. If we are in Christ, we don’t live in fear of a judgement of condemnation but look forward to his judgement of commendation. We embrace the joy of knowing we are justified and declared righteous – on the basis of his death and resurrection alone. And we choose to live every minute of every day for his glory.

Spiritual Health Check – Patience

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We all need regular spiritual health checks to help us identify areas in our lives that require attention. We need to spot developing sin patterns before they become ingrained habits that are hard to break. We need to recognise where we’re not maturing and growing in godliness. We need to be aware of the temperature of our hearts – how warm or cool our love for God is.

I find it helpful to ask myself questions relating to different aspects of my spiritual walk – so I can reflect honestly on my progress. Sometimes these questions are prompted by what I’m reading and studying; other times they spring from encouragements or struggles I’m experiencing. I try to focus on one aspect of growth at a time so it’s not too overwhelming!

 

January’s theme – Patience

A few years ago I read Jerry Bridges’s book, Respectable Sins – I recommend it here. I was challenged to identify the sins I most easily tolerate in myself – often excusing them as natural responses to sins against me! Top of the list was my impatience. Since then I’ve been working hard to be more patient – in my relationships and in my circumstances. It’s a battle. I’m hard-wired to want my own way, in my own time. I struggle to wait for what I can’t see, trusting it’s better than my immediate desires.

But patience is a mark of a fruitful Spirit-filled life. God’s people are a waiting people. We wait for the redemption of our bodies, even as we endure physical suffering and pain. We wait for the triumphant return of our victorious King Jesus, while we live in enemy territory and are subject to Satan’s schemes to discourage and destroy our faith. We wait for our relationships with each other to be perfectly restored – when we’re finally free from the selfishness, envy, pride, anger, intolerance and greed that cause disunity and brokenness. And we must wait patiently.

Every day brings fresh opportunities to practise patience – especially towards fellow believers. As we live and serve alongside brothers and sisters who, like us, are imperfect disciples, we must bear with each other patiently. We remember the immense patience Christ Jesus has shown to us, and we seek to reflect that to others.

‘The fruit of patience in all its aspects – long-suffering, forbearance, endurance, and perseverance – is a fruit that is most intimately associated with our devotion to God.’ Jerry Bridges

 

Questions to consider:

  1. When do you most struggle to be patient? How does your impatience show itself – in anger, irritability, discontent, despair?
  2. Who do you need to be more patient with? How will remembering God’s patience towards you help you to be more patient?
  3. Is there a situation or circumstance you’re struggling to endure patiently in? How does the gospel encourage you to persevere with patience and hope?

Related Bible Verses:

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. Proverbs 14:29

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence. Proverbs 19:11

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. Colossians 1:9-11

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6:12

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. James 5:7-8