Tuesday 31 October 2023

To be changed - fostering a spirit of reformation

The 31st of October is known as Reformation Day - we remember it as the occasion when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the All-Saints church in Wittenberg in 1517. A lot of things happened in the buildup to this significant event, and we would do well not to think that it only took a single day to bring about Reformation. 

We could argue that the Church is still being reformed and perhaps this is a good thing. As much as all churches seek to follow the ways of Jesus, we all end up missing the mark in some way. Our greatest danger may lie in thinking that we have 'made it' and that we are the finished article. If the Holy Spirit needs to sanctify the individual believer, then surely, He also needs to sanctify and reform the greater church.  

The question remains to be asked: Are we so keen to be changed and reformed? Reformation always looks so neat and simple in hindsight, but it never comes without a struggle and growing pains. 

"The church is always trying to get other people to reform, it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example." - Mark Twain

"Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, WE HAVE BEEN RESTORED to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace. " - Brennan Manning

Living in Grace


Monday 30 October 2023

A humbling reminder

As we read deeper into Psalm 90, we note how Moses comes to the clear understanding of his own mortality. And as he does this, he naturally compares this with God's immortality. In an age, where millions of people are obsessed with making a name for themselves, we all need to humbly remember that God is the only one who has the power of life and death. 
"You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered." - Psalm 90

I read an interesting story that highlights this same point: 

"Philip II, father of Alexander the Great and king of Macedon, was always accompanied by two men who had a very interesting duty. One man was to say to him each morning, "Philip, remember that you are but a man," while the second asked the king each evening, "Philip, have you remembered that you are but a man?" - Today in the Word, March 30, 1993.

Living in Grace


Sunday 29 October 2023

Our Home

Psalm 90:1 – “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home…”

When Moses wrote these words, he remembered how through everything that he had been through, God had been their help and refuge. 

We all seek our homes to be places of safety and a haven from the outside world - they offer comfort and rest, a place to be vulnerable and a safe space where we can be ourselves. Although our human 'homes' offer us a glimpse of the perfect home, we know that one day we will be able to rest in the presence of the Lord. 

God will be our true Home.

Psalm 23:6 Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.

Living in Grace

Thursday 26 October 2023

Waking up the King

"The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access (to our King)." - Tim Keller

I think these words are so beautiful and help me to remember that we can pray at any hour of the day. As a parent, I remember being woken up in the early hours of the morning by a sick child, or a child who had a nightmare or who was thirsty. Their requests didn't make me angry (although they did make me tired and sleepy), but they reveal the depth of trust that the kids had in us. 

Hold onto this image as you go about your day. Remember that we have the privilege of being able to wake up the King - any time of the day.  

1 John 5:15 - And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us.

Living in grace


Wednesday 25 October 2023

Set a watch on my tongue

"Set a watch upon our tongue O Lord, that we may never speak the cruel word, which is untrue; or being true is not the whole truth; or being wholly true, is merciless; for the love of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen." - William Barclay

We all know the hurt of harsh words spoken by others, especially when there is little understanding of the 'whole' story. Just as we are acutely aware of this pain, so may we then ask God to set a watch on our words, so that we don't inflict pain on others. 

James 1:26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.

Living in grace


Tuesday 24 October 2023

A last bit of advice

While John Bertram Phillips was vicar of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lee, London (1940-44), he found that many young people in his church did not understand the Authorized Version of the Bible. He wanted them to receive strength from the Bible, especially during the London Blitz, and so he used the time in the bomb shelters to begin a translation of the New Testament into modern English. 

He started with the Epistle to the Colossians and then Paul's other letters. The results appealed to the young people who found it easier to understand. Encouraged by their feedback, after the war J.B. Phillips continued to translate the rest of the New Testament into colloquial English and helpful thousands of people fall in love with reading the Bible. 

This is his paraphrase of Philippians 4:8-9:

Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you.

Living in Grace


Monday 23 October 2023

Infused with strength

Can you remember the first Scripture verse you ever learnt? The first one I remember learning was: “I can do all things through Christ who give me strength!” – which is from Philippians 4:13. Even though I learnt these words nearly 35 years ago, they still hold true in my present circumstances and have helped me through many situations that I have faced. 

As you are probably aware, I love reading the Bible in different versions and I have found some to be of help in getting to grips with the meaning of the passage:

·       "I can do all things though him who infuses me with strength…" - NKJV 

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." – The Message

I pray that the Lord would 'infuse' you with the strength you need today.

Living in Grace


Sunday 22 October 2023

What are you thinking?

I was reminded again this week that our thoughts can have a profound effect on our actions and then on our habits. I found these words to be helpful in assessing how much of an impact they can have on us:

"Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny."
- Frank Outlaw.

When Jesus responded to a question about the greatest commandment, we mustn't overlook that he included loving God with all our minds as a key part of our faith. He said,

 Matthew 22:37 - Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

How are your thoughts at the moment? Are you able to keep them under the control of the Holy Spirit?

Living in Grace


Wednesday 18 October 2023

Do not worry

I find the following words of Paul quite disturbing. 

"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." - Philippians 4:6

They disturb me because of the many times I easily slip into worry mode. Afterall, I know this scripture - and you know this scripture, yet how many times do we still worry. It seems that worry becomes a default setting for many of us. 

This verse does however remind us of the gift of prayer. We are instructed not to worry, because we can make our requests to God. I suppose, it simply invites us to ask God to do the 'worrying' for us. 

What do you make of this verse? Do you also sometimes slip into worry-mode?

"And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?" - Luke 12:26

Living in Grace


Monday 16 October 2023

Meeting half-way

In his letter to the church, Paul urges them to "Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near." (Philippians 4:5)

The word gentleness gives us some idea of what he was getting at, but other translations of the Bible translate the original word as patience, softness, the patient mind, modesty, forbearance, or magnanimity. The nearest translation would be something like “let the world know that you will meet a person half-way.’

I think this is something that is severely lacking in our world today, yet Jesus went out of his way to encounter people in such a way. When Jesus showed gentleness to others it was always with the heart of compassion and bringing them into a living relationship with God. 

What do you think? 

Living in Grace


Sunday 15 October 2023

Stand firm

"Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved." - Philippians 4:1

In this verse, we see how much Paul loves the church. The phrase ‘whom I love and long for’ speaks of his deep affection for the community. However, he adds something interesting to these sentiments. He urges them to Stand firm (stand fast) in the Lord. It was as if he knew that they would be confronted with many challenges, but he knew that they could get through them, if they stayed strong in the Lord. 

When Eugene Peterson reflects on the same verse, he adds these sentiments –Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God. (Message)

May we all know the strength of the Spirit as we seek to stand firm in the Lord.

Living in Grace


Thursday 12 October 2023

Praying for Peace - the last word of History

When confronted by conflict, war and turmoil, Peace often seems the furthest thing from our minds, yet it is a Hope that stirs deep in our bellies. We know that war, revenge and terrorism is not the answer to our problems - if it were, then we would have settled all our disputes thousands of years ago. 
Peace is the elusive gift we long for, pray for and believe will eventually be experienced.

As Christians, we are called to be agents of peace, yet we so often become vessels of division, polarization and self-righteousness. I am challenged by this prayer from John Paul II, which he offered to the Church in 1978.

"Peace is our work: it calls for our courageous and united action. But it is inseparably and above all a gift of God: it requires our prayer. Christians must be in the first rank of those who pray daily for peace. They must also teach others to pray for peace. To everyone, Christians, believers, and men and women of good will, I say: Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace. 

The aspiration for peace will not be disappointed forever. Work for peace, inspired by charity which does not pass away, will produce its fruits. Peace will be the last word of History."

I love that last sentence: Peace will be the last word of HISTORY!

I believe that to be true, because I believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When he comes again, He will be the last word of History. Peace.

John 16:33 - "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

Action: Let us join together to pray for peace in our troubled world!

Living in Grace

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Seeking the edges

Laurie Beth Jones writes in her delightful book Jesus in Blue Jeans, about how Jesus was able to see life from a totally different perspective from us and how he was always willing to engage with people on the fringes of society. She writes:

"A wise person does not fear the edges and fringes but studies them. Indeed, he or she is often in them - working to make change happen." 

Jesus spoke to his followers about being their shepherd, but also indicating something radically new. Jesus said: "I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd." (John 10:16)

May God teach us to see those who are living on the fringes of society and to love them with the love of Christ.

Living in Grace


Monday 9 October 2023

A prayer for the beginning of a new week

Basil of Caesarea, had a huge influence on the monastic movement of the early church and was a strong defender of Orthodoxy in our faith. Soon after his death in 379, he was declared a saint. He wrote extensively and many of his works remain. Here is a particular prayer that he penned, and I think it would be meaningful for us all (I have changed a few words to update the English :)

"O Lord our God, teach us, (we beg of you),to ask you for appropriate blessings.
Please steer the vessel of our life towards yourself,
the tranquil haven of all storm-tossed souls.
Show us the course that we should go.
Renew a willing spirit within us.
Let your Spirit curb our wayward senses,
and guide and enable us toward that which is for our true good,
to keep your laws, and in all our works evermore to rejoice
in your glorious and gladdening presence.
For thine is the glory and the praise for ever more. Amen."

Psalm 51:9-11 - Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Living in grace


Friday 6 October 2023

When forgiveness begins

"You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well." - Lewis Smedes

There is something intriguing for me in this quote. It teaches me that forgiveness is a journey, and that it can take a long time. However, when we start to feel 'changed' by our decision to forgive, we can actually pray (or wish) others well. Forgiveness begins with a decision to let go - this can take a long time, but once we get to this point, we slowly move towards the desire to pray for those who persecute us. 

Have you ever experienced this in your own life? How hard was it? 

Romans 5:15 - For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.

Living in Grace


Thursday 5 October 2023

All day


"Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice.
He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me."
- Psalm 55:17-18

When David is having a rough time with being betrayed by people close to him, he calls out to the Lord in his distress. This verse reminds us that he prayed 'all day' (morning, noon and night), believing that God would hear his prayers and answered them.

I understand that God is not deaf, and that God doesn't need us to repeat our cries, but there is something profound in turning to God 'all day and night' - it reminds me that I have nowhere else to turn, except to the God of my salvation.

What do you think?

Thought: 'Do our repeated prayers show a lack of faith on our part, or do they reveal a full reliance on God to answer our cries?'

Living in Grace


Wednesday 4 October 2023

Some thoughts from Saint Francis of Assissi

Saint Francis is remembered on the 4th of October, and there are so many words of wisdom that he has left for us to reflect on. The most well-known of his thoughts are immortalized in "Make me a channel of your peace", but he has many others too. 

Here are a few for today. May his words help us to look up to the presence of Jesus in our lives.

Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.

Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received - only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.
What is it that stands higher than words? Action. What is it that stands higher than action? Silence.
Living in Grace

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Best corrective for pride

“The best corrective against pride … is to know God, His character and the truth about Him.” - Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Pride is something that many of us struggle with. It is one of the 7 deadly sins but is often subtlety working itself out in the background of our lives, while we aren't aware of it. We think we have a handle on it, but it can rear its ugly head so quickly, wrecking its own path of destruction. 

I think that what Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests, as a corrective measure against pride, is very helpful. We can't 'will' our pride away, but the more time we spend in the presence of Jesus, the more our pride will be put in its proper place. We see no pride in Jesus and so when we rest at his feet, our nature will be shaped by the character of God.

Philippians 2:5 - "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness."

Living in Grace


Monday 2 October 2023

Save us from ...

I have been loving reading through an old prayer book by William Barclay. Many of his prayers are inspirational and insightful, despite the language being a little dated. Here is another prayer, which I feel may be helpful for many of us:

"Save us from,
The unteachable spirit which will not learn;
The ungrateful spirit which never says thanks;
The unhappy spirit which is filled with complaints and discontent.

Save us from,
The disobliging spirit which grudges any help it has to give;
The discourteous spirit which never thinks of the feelings of anyone else;
The disobedient spirit which will take nothing but its own way..."

I suppose we could add a few others to this list too. What would you add if you were writing this prayer?

Save us from .........

Ephesians 4:23 - Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.

Living in Grace