The Wonder of Christmas

This week I was chatting with a young mum watching her two-year-old mesmerised by a small revolving Christmas tree. She was sadly anticipating the day when her child would grow up and lose her sense of ‘wonder’.

This conversation has made me think about the concept of ‘wonder’, that capacity for rapt awe and amazement. Of course, for children everything is new; wonder comes easily, while adults can become jaded by familiarity. Perhaps, that’s why so many are constantly seeking out fresh experiences and new thrills.

As we head for another Christmas amid Covid 19 uncertainties and restrictions, it’s an opportunity to marvel again and be gripped by the real reason for the season, and allow God to restore the joy of our salvation and even childlike wonder. There are many wonderful depths of truth and meaning in the simple story of the nativity, but these are the thoughts that are fuelling my worship this Christmas.

His Wonderful Works

Christmas confirms to me again that God is in control. He has a plan – a big plan for the whole world, and he will move heaven and earth to accomplish it. Look how he orchestrated angels and wise men and even a star for the birth of Jesus, and how he led Caesar Augustus, emperor of the known world who himself was declared a son of god, to call a census that would take Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, fulfilling his Word (Micah 2:5)!

Though wars, famines and global catastrophes fill our news, we need not be alarmed, for we know these are the beginning of birth pains in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming (Matthew 24:8).

His Wonderful Ways

A manger? This seems so contrary to what Mary might have expected. she to give birth to the Son of the Most High, destined to reign (Luke 1:33)? How reassuring it must have been to hear from the shepherds that the manger was the angel’s sign to them. It’s not surprising that Mary treasured it in her heart as she reflected on God’s ways. We all want confirmation that we’re in God’s will, part of his plan, but we don’t expect it to come through disappointment, hardship and suffering – like a manger! It fills me with wonder that even when I don’t understand the twists and turns of my life, God sees me, knows all about me, and is never taken by surprise.

His Wonderful Name.

He shall be called Immanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14). This is a truth we need to embrace this Christmas, especially if we are alone or isolating. God is with us! He is with you and with me, and his name is Wonderful Counsellor, to guide us with supernatural wisdom, Mighty God, strong for us who are weak, Everlasting Father, caring and providing for our needs, and he’s the Prince of Peace who brings us into right relationship with God and each other (Isaiah 9:6).

All this is possible because his name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The older I get, the more self-aware, sin-aware I become, and the greater my felt need of a Saviour. The miracle of his love come down makes my capacity for wonder and an awe of God larger than ever.

Of course, we can’t live life in a constant state of amazement, but may we shun busyness, take time to reflect and have an openness of spirit to be surprised by joy when the wonder of Christmas breaks through.

Coleus Comeback

Growing up I had a problem with God. I loved the natural world, but was well aware of its dark side. I knew the word ‘gall bladder’ at an early age, because my adorable cat would hunt, catch, torture and eat mice, always leaving that bitter part on the garden path!

I loved plants and flowers too, but hated the way they died in the vase causing the water to smell so bad. My plants always died too, either from my overwatering or sheer neglect. Yes, God’s creation was beautiful, but not perfect, and neither was I.

My Grandmother grew coleus plants in pots in her greenhouse. I chose one with reddish pink variegated leaves edged with green, and it sat on the windowsill of my Glasgow bedsit. Sadly, like those gone before, it died.

It was a Friday when I left for my long September weekend with the youth group of Charlotte Baptist Chapel. Closing the door, I glanced at my dead coleus and gave a sigh. It was while I was away at the St Ninian’s Centre in Crieff that I finally understood the death of Jesus was for my sins. He drank the ‘gall’ of suffering, the bitter cup of God’s judgement, that I might know the sweetness of His closeness.

I returned late on Monday night with what felt like new life pumping through my veins.

My dry brown plant was sitting on the windowsill; I noticed it as I got into bed. For a moment I considered getting up to water it, but I didn’t. It was well and truly dead. Imagine my shock and delight when in the morning my coleus had sprung back into life. The leaves were fresh, lush and healthy.

I was a new believer, avidly devouring the New Testament. It wasn’t long before I reached the book of Romans. Then I realised God had answered my problem! One day when Christ returns and the children of God are bodily resurrected and revealed together with Him, the whole of creation will be delivered from its bondage to corruption and share our freedom (Romans 8:19-25). No more death. No more decay.

Of course, like those raised to life by Jesus in the Gospels, my coleus plant later died again. It was a temporary comeback, but a glorious sign of Christian hope. In this season of Advent, as we look forward to celebrating Christmas, we also eagerly wait for Christ’s second coming and inwardly groan with all of creation until that day when all things will be made new.

Cop26 and Armistice Day Overlap

Was it just a coincidence that Cop26 overlapped with Armistice Day? Isn’t that what we need – a big global armistice? Our desire to be masters of the universe has caused a great disconnect between us and our Creator God, between humans, and also between us and planet Earth – even between Earth and itself.

Perhaps in Glasgow we witnessed a mini armistice as countries came together and reluctantly made compromises to agree terms for the health of our planet. Many are disappointed by the tepid text which they interpret as too little too late, while others are cynical as to when, how and if pledges will actually be implemented. The fact that 197 countries agreed to anything at all seems quite a feat in itself and is in the right direction.

The Just Judge

There was a big emphasis at Cop26 on justice. The relationship between the rich and poor nations is challenging us deeply; it’s clear that the countries suffering most because of global warming are contributing least to the problem. And before we point the finger at the big carbon emitters like China and India, and their reluctance to phase out coal, we have to acknowledge much of it is fuelling Western consumerism. The climate crisis is bringing us face to face with human greed and selfishness. So, if we want true justice we need an impartial judge who knows the end from the beginning, and can read the secrets of our hearts (Romans 2:11-16).

The Caring Creator

How should the church respond? Christians have not shone in the area of creation care or environmental concern and we need to repent. Loving Christ should involve love for all he has made; we have a God given mandate to steward the natural world. While the pundits remove God as Creator from the start of the story with several delegates referring to ‘Mother Nature’ and God as Judge from the end of the story, he still faithfully sustains the universe and our commission to care for Planet Earth stands firm. Our responsibility as those who acknowledge God and are called by his name is huge,

‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).’

The Big Armistice Day

The earth groans and we groan with it (Romans 8:22-23). Together we have been subjected to the death and decay of unredeemed bodies. Even those with no knowledge or interest in Scripture are aware this world is running down. It’s always been hard to talk about ‘end times’ without sounding like a sandwich board donning nutter, but perhaps as people face the environmental consequences of human sin, despair could turn to hope.

Jesus, through whom and for whom all things were created, and who has the authority to judge all peoples on earth, is also Saviour of the world. He signed the armistice treaty between God and man on the Cross with his own blood so that his sacrifice might reconcile all things to himself and usher in a New Creation (Colossians 1:19-20). When Jesus comes again our bodies will be made new in the resurrection, and this old earth will be made new too.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness (Psalm 96: 12-13).

Searching for Truth

When I travel the highlight is always the people I meet and what I see and hear of God’s work and ways. Cairo has millions of immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries, many from Yemen and Sudan. War, famine and economic collapse at home have caused a surge of migration across the globe. Many displaced individuals and families have travelled hundreds of miles and remain unregistered; some through their suffering and hardship have begun searching for truth.

The stories I heard reminded me of the Queen of Sheba who came from this region. According to the Old Testament Scriptures, (I Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12), she journeyed from the ends of the known world to visit King Solomon after hearing of his great wisdom in connection with the Lord his God.

Queen of Sheba

However, the Bible doesn’t make clear the location of Sheba. Two people named in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:7), seem connected to this place name. “Seba” is a grandson of Noah’s son Ham by Cush, and “Sheba” is mentioned as a grandson of Cush by Raamah. The empire of Kush/Cush is associated with modern day Sudan.

Later legends elaborate on the biblical account and connect her to opposite sides of the Red Sea. Arab sources name her Bilqis and locate her kingdom in today’s Yemen. Africa names her Makeda and claims she ruled the Axumite Empire based in northern Ethiopia.

Psalm 72:10 distinguishes Sheba, the Yemenite Sabaeans, from Seba, the African Sabaeans, but mentions them together: “the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” Archaeologists reckon that as early as the 10th century BC, about the time the Queen of Sheba lived, Ethiopia and Yemen were part of the same dynasty, based in Yemen and later in the Ethiopian city of Axum. Cultural and political ties between these kingdoms were strong, and it could be that the Queen of Sheba ruled over both.

Arabian and African

So, I’m still not sure where the Queen of Sheba was from, but this I do know. She travelled from the ends of the earth to seek out the wisdom of Solomon and was so impressed by his kingly splendour and his answers to her ‘hard questions’ that she turned from paganism and blessed the Living God. Jesus said the Queen of the South would rise up on Judgement Day and condemn those who have access to himself, the One who is greater than Solomon, yet reject him (Matthew 10:42).

During my recent visit to Egypt, I found what I know is also happening across Europe. The flight from violent unrest in Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Yemen and African countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia has caused many to ask deep questions: why is this happening to me? Where is God? How can I please God? What must I do to be saved?

The plight of refugees has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Those living hand to mouth through day labouring or cleaning jobs became destitute through the lockdowns. It was encouraging to hear how Christians in Cairo had responded and risked infection by visiting homes with food and hygiene parcels. This expression of God’s love has resulted in Bible study groups multiplying in the city.

Queen of the South Warning

Like this courageous queen, Yemenis and Sudanese have travelled hundreds of miles. Though they have lost everything, some are counting it joy because they’ve found Jesus – the very Wisdom of God. The Queen of Sheba brought her ‘hard questions’ to Solomon. The Bible encourages us to love God with our mind as well as our heart and strength. Those who come to faith in Jesus from other religions find the encouragement to think very refreshing. Questions are good, not signs of rebellion as they have been taught.

What will it take to bring revival to Scotland? We Scots who were once known as ‘People of the Book’ have become biblically illiterate as we reject our rich heritage of Christian faith. I had hoped our period of suffering through these months of pandemic might have had a purifying effect on our priorities and behaviour, but I fear there has been no lasting change.

Let’s pray that we, Christ’s followers, can lead the way for our nation. Let’s encourage the asking of questions, wrestling with doubts and seeking truth. May we get back into the Bible and understand our salvation deeper and deeper. May the love of God fill us and spill over to those in need around us.

Let it not be that the Queen of the South, together with Yemeni and Sudanese believers, will rise up on Judgement Day and condemn us as a prodigal nation with a cold hearted, apathetic church.

Running on Empty?

It’s amazing how the very mention of possible shortages creates panic buying. Actually, news reports that use the word ‘panic’ only make us panic all the more. Pictures of empty supermarket shelves or queues at the petrol pumps cause us to stock pile toilet rolls or fill up the tank, when normally we’d just buy what’s really needed.

The present problem seems to be caused by a mixture of Brexit and COVID, and is a delivery problem, a lack of hauliers rather than an actual shortage of fuel. The government keeps telling us there’s no shortage at the source.

Panic Buy!

I heard a great quote this week, which roughly said, ‘Loving kindness is in short supply, so come on… panic buy!’ It made me smile, because just like the present fuel crisis, there’s no shortage at the source. When it comes to our need of the oil of Christian grace, we can go straight to the supplier. Our Father in heaven gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13). Perhaps ‘panic buy’ is not the best phrase, but as we look out on society in these days there’s an urgent need for us to pour God’s loving kindness into all our interactions. We dare not run on empty.

No Shortage at the Source

Loving kindness is used in our English bibles to translate the Hebrew word ‘hesed’. It comes close, but it misses the depth of meaning. Hesed is a difficult word to translate into English, for there’s a commitment in God’s kindness, flowing out of his covenant love and faithfulness.

David often refers to God’s love (hesed) as generous and abundant. You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love (hesed) to all who call to you’ (Psalm 86:5). He can’t stop singing about it. ‘Because your love (hesed) is better than life, my lips will glorify you’ (Psalm 63:3).

Jeremiah links hesed with God’s love and mercy. ‘It’s because of the Lord’s great love (hesed) we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail’ (Lamentations 3:22).

Isaiah maintains God’s hesed is firm and strong and fills us with peace. ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed’ (Isaiah 54:10).

Fill up Your Tank

Kindness often seems in short supply, and yet God is full of it; hesed is an aspect of his character. We can’t know this kind of love unless we know God himself. Jesus has made him known to us and his Holy Spirit fills us with the fuel we need to live God honouring lives. The New Testament commands us to fill up on Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit to put on his character of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23).

Fuel prices may be going up, but Jesus reminds us we have freely received his love, so we can freely give loving kindness away (Matthew 10:8).

Musings on my Mask

Masks are here to stay for a while longer I fear, and I have a love/hate relationship with mine.

I was actually so happy to wear it when I broke a front tooth and had to wait a few days before the dentist could pretty me up, and it was great at covering the spot that erupted on my nose. Then in the winter I didn’t mind it keeping my face warm when a chilly wind was blowing. Of course, my mask is not really about me. The purpose is to hinder the transmission of the virus, so I guess I’ll keep wearing it as long as it’s considered necessary to help keep others safe.

Medical Masks

According to the Venetian merchant explorer Marco Polo, way back in the 13th century during the Yuan Dynasty, servants wore silk scarves over their mouths and noses, so that their breath wouldn’t contaminate the food they served to the emperor and his entourage.

Face coverings have been used universally at times of plague to stop the spread of infection, and when surgical masks were introduced in operating theatres it was in response to advances in microbiology, an understanding of airborne bacteria and the importance of personal hygiene.

Theatrical Masks

Now, just because I’m willing to wear my mask, it doesn’t mean I like it. When faces are covered I don’t easily recognise people – especially if my glasses are steamed up, and I don’t hear properly what’s being said. Most importantly I can’t read emotions.

Interestingly, the purpose of the other kind of theatre mask, of drama not surgery, was to make emotions clearer. In Ancient Greece the audience was often at a distance from the stage, and couldn’t easily see the actors. Plays were either comedies or tragedies and the masks were used to accentuate the mood.

Wearing a Mask

The word ‘hypocrisy’ comes from Greek and literally means ‘play acting’. Jesus often berated the Pharisees and religious people for their pretence, claiming moral standards or beliefs that didn’t match their behaviour.

One of my greatest hypocrisies is my reluctance to be true to my understanding of Scripture. I often wear the wrong ‘face’. I emphasise God’s love and welcome to all who will believe, yet I neglect to add the warning of condemnation that lies upon those who won’t (John 3:16-18). I fail to communicate any sense of urgency, though I believe in the fallenness of mankind and the seriousness of separation from God both now and for eternity.

I’ll keep musing on my spiritual mask, how I’ve made it about my protection instead of the safety of others. I want to be liked and am terrified of causing offence. But it’s not about me, it’s about the transmission of a full gospel message that can save others – a message we want to go viral!

Planting Trees with a Cannon!

Polar ice caps are melting; forests are burning. The rate of global warming is faster than we thought. It’s a climate emergency and we need to act quickly. The simplest and most cost effective way to reduce our emissions of CO2 from the atmosphere is to plant trees. It appears that woods and forests absorb atmospheric carbon and lock it up for centuries, so as well as planting trees, we must protect existing ones.

Trees are essential for the environment in helping to prevent flooding, cool temperatures, reduce pollution and enrich the soil. We can’t survive without them.

War and Deforestation

Apart from the obvious toll on human life and the ongoing fear and grieving, war is incredibly destructive to the environment. According to the experts, a country like Afghanistan should have at least 15% of it forested, but war has reduced this to only 2%. Sadly, countries at war are not thinking about environmental issues, so places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen are among the most vulnerable in the world to climate change, and the least equipped to handle it.

The carbon footprint of war is enormous. Many forests and farmlands in Afghanistan have been burned and degraded by heavy military technology and chemicals; some woods were deliberately destroyed to remove hiding cover for warring factions. Displacement of people also strains an area’s natural resources.

War brings poverty and with the destruction of electricity grids in Afghanistan many have had little choice but to cut down forests to fuel stoves and keep warm in winter. Half of the country’s pistachio trees are gone, as are the almond and juniper trees. These important cash crops have been sacrificed for fuel.

Then there’s a kind of ‘timber mafia’ involved in an illegal logging trade of spruce and pine over the border to Pakistan; the money is used to fund insurgents.

Afghanistan was a stopping ground for migratory birds, but deforestation, drought and war have ruined wetlands and reduced the number of these visitors by 85%.

The climate crisis in Afghanistan is predicted to get worse with increased droughts and flash floods. Yet, this is a country that is rich in mineral resources, unable to be mined because of constant conflict. It doesn’t need to stay poor. Lithium and copper, both highly sought after in the modern world along with iron, cobalt and gold deposits are all there, but the country doesn’t have the skills or infrastructure to capitalise on these resources.

Plowshares and Pruning Hooks

It takes faith to plant trees that you will never see fully mature, but the ‘Planting Dukes of Atholl’ did just that in the 18th century in Scotland. They embarked on the extensive planting of millions of trees including the historic Hermitage woodland in Perthshire with a variety of deciduous and evergreens.

These forests of Scots pine, oak and rowan mixed with larch, sycamore and the towering Douglas firs, the tallest in Britain, are famous for their lush, green beauty. The 4th Duke was known as ‘Planter John’ and is reported to have filled clay balls with his tree seeds and fired them from a cannon to scatter them!

The thought of a cannon, a weapon of war, being used to work with creation, instead of as an instrument of destruction, thrills me. It reminds me of the passages in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3. There the prophets share a poetic picture of the ideal, promised, peaceful land where God is sought after and war is no more.

‘They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’

Healing the Nations

God loves trees. The Bible is full of them, from Genesis 2:9 where he chooses a tree as the symbol of life in the Garden of Eden, until the end of the Bible where we find this tree on both sides of the river of the water of life. The tree of life produces fruit every month and its leaves are for the healing of the nations ( Revelation 22:2).

When Jesus returns, we read in Revelation 21:4 that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. He has full knowledge and understanding of each of his children’s personal griefs and losses. Individuals, however, are part of nations and there are sufferings and traumas experienced in this world that are peculiar to our ethnicity and land of birth. Perhaps that’s why God talks of healing the sickness of nations. Even the leaves of the tree carry power to heal the tears we’ve cried together.

We pray for peace, an end to violence and a government committed to serving the people. Let’s see if the Taliban can do that while also fulfilling their pledge to tackle climate and even to plant trees! Whatever happens, we know that Jesus himself, who died on a tree, is that tree of life whose presence gives life and healing love to all who trust in him – even in Afghanistan.

Lost and Found in Afghanistan

Afghan forces capitulated; Ashraf Ghani has left the country and the Taliban have established themselves in the presidential palace. Thousands are internally displaced; thousands have fled the country. Although their rhetoric is conciliatory, Taliban actions on the ground are reminiscent of the 90s with forced marriages and reprisals for those deemed anti-Taliban. A return to a strict shariah regime seems inevitable. There is great fear among women who have enjoyed education and career possibilities; among those who have helped the allied forces in any way; and among those who have found faith in Christ.

Seeking the Lost

It was December 2006 when I visited Afghanistan. I’d been at a Christmas party where some ladies in Kabul heard the story of Jesus’ birth for the first time. They heard how his name means ‘Saviour,’ how he came to seek and to save the lost. Susan gave me a lift back to where I was staying, but when we arrived my bag was not beside me in the car. We’d dropped off three local women at their homes; it must have fallen from my lap when I got out to kiss them goodbye. Oh dear, we couldn’t remember where exactly that had been. It was late and everywhere was dark; there was no electricity and no street lights. Everywhere looked the same, dry mud roads without pavements and high mud courtyard walls rising up on either side. We decided to try to retrace our journey.

My bag was precious to me. It was a purple suede shoulder bag, a 15th birthday present from my grandmother. When the colour faded my mother covered it in colourful Afghan crochet squares. I was emotionally attached to it. Not only that, the contents were of actual value – my passport! And I was flying home the next day.

So with a prayer on our lips and hope in our hearts we drove around the streets of Kabul. As we turned a corner, there in the car headlights, we could see five Afghan men walking down the middle of the road. They looked scary with long beards and turbans, but one of them was carrying …. my bag! We wound down the window and he kindly handed it to me.

Later that night I sat on my bed hugging it tightly. As waves of relief washed over me I savoured the warm feeling that comes when something precious that was lost is found. “Forty years I’ve carried this bag,” I thought to myself as I laid it on the bed in front of me. “That’s a generation.” Then, in the stillness, it was as if God said to me, “You feel this way about a bag. How do you think I feel about the Afghan people? I’ve been carrying them for many generations and still so few are found.”

Something of God’s emotional attachment and his sorrow touched me and I couldn’t help but sob. I opened my passport to my face and my name and was struck by the value God puts on the individual. It made me think of the coin in Luke 15 that had fallen into a dark and dusty corner. It was searched for carefully by lamplight until the glint of silver was revealed. For the true advent of peace to come to Afghanistan, it would take Christ’s church, like that woman, to keep sweeping and sweeping, seeking the lost with that same kind of devoted perseverance.

Finding Faith

A lot has happened since my visit 15 years ago. Development projects have continued to focus on training the trainers and enormous progress has been made in health and education. Millions of girls have been to school and the infant mortality rate has been halved.

The Dari Scriptures were finally published in 2008, and now there are tiny house fellowships and individual believers scattered across the country. The vast majority of them are Dari speaking Hazaras, a people group despised by Afghan Pashto speakers. The Scriptures in Pashto were only completed last year, so it isn’t surprising that the Pashto speaking Taliban know little of God’s love, forgiveness and life in Jesus.

Prayer

For peace without bloodshed and retributions.
For the gains in education and health not to be lost.
For the hungry, homeless, grieving and fearful.
For protection and courage for believers.
For wisdom and faith for Christian workers.
For encounters with Jesus.

Stains and Wrinkles

It’s good to see all the weddings, put on hold because of COVID-19, finally taking place. So many were postponed not once but several times due to changing restrictions. Brides were ready, had the dress, the venue, the guest list, but then felt they had to wait. The church, often referred to in scripture as the Bride of Christ has had to wait a very long time; she’s still waiting, not because of COVID-19, but because she isn’t ready – she’s still preparing and being prepared.

Waiting is hard. Keeping clean, staying pure is not easy.

Stains

Some years ago my husband Julyan was best man at a wedding. The groom’s parents had travelled up from England and were with us for a light lunch before the ceremony. Our kids thought it would be fun to introduce this English couple to our ‘other national drink’, and they hurried to the corner shop and back with a bottle of Irn Bru.

We were sitting around the table. I unscrewed the top and orange fizz squirted forth and sprayed the two white wedding shirts hanging on the back of the living room door! I whisked them to the bathroom, washed off the stains and spent the next hour drying them with the hairdryer.

I’m so glad it wasn’t the bridal gown hanging on the back of the door. A dirty bride is unthinkable.

Cleansing and Anointing

Jesus has washed us through his Word (Ephesians 5:26). The gospel message has made us clean. During the last supper Jesus told his disciples they didn’t need another bath, but they did have to keep washing their feet. Yes, Jesus has made us clean, but we get very grubby through daily living.

It could be an age thing, because this is happening to me more and more. I think I’m clean till I go out into daylight, look down at myself, and then I see a spot or stain I didn’t notice before. In a similar way it’s when I come into the light of the Word of God and among his people that I see it – the bad attitude, the thoughtless word, the prompting I’ve ignored.

As we wait for our heavenly bridegroom, the great wedding and the consummation of our relationship, I find Esther’s wedding preparation helpful. In the book of Esther we read she went through a period of cleansing followed by a period of anointing before her marriage to the king (Esther 2:10). Sometimes I would like the anointing of the Holy Spirit without the cleansing, but in my experience true spiritual growth issues from a deeper embracing of the Cross. Allowing it to work repentance and forgiveness in us keeps us clean, and then we won’t run out of oil like the foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable, who were not ready when the bridegroom came (Matthew 25:1-13).

Wrinkles

God has covered us in the righteousness of Christ, but that should work out in our day to day living. It matters how we live. When we forgive instead of taking offence, bless instead of blame, give generously instead of hoarding, turn away from immorality instead of indulging, share our faith instead of hiding it, these little choices for righteousness become glorious garments of pure, bright linen to adorn the bride forever (Revelation 19:8).

Aah! I’m so glad the fine linen is given by God – he can do the ironing! Julyan has a linen suit and I just refuse to iron it. It creases so easily – if I try to iron one wrinkle out, I manage to make two more. My own wrinkles have come with age, and even my best deeds that Christ has created me for and prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10) can be very wrinkly. There are old habits, old sinful thought patterns that make a fold of self seeking here, a crease of self pity there…..

Hallelujah!

When Christ returns for the wedding banquet there will be lots of hallelujahs. Our God will be seen to reign. Sin will be gone forever and even the church will be purified – no more spots, stains or wrinkles. When we see Jesus, our bridegroom, as he is, we will be ready.

Out on a Limb

Last Sunday was traumatic. Sevgi, our kitten, climbed the ash tree. It was easier to go up than down, so soon she was high above the ground and literally out on a limb! She is fearlessly adventurous and curious, but she’s still little, and though her sense of balance and spatial awareness are developing fast, she can still get it wrong. Indoors, she’ll leap up to a ledge chasing a fly, only to miss and come down with a bump, and no, she doesn’t always land on her feet.

Our faithful neighbour friends gathered in our garden calling and coaxing. We used binoculars to see her; she was so high and often hidden by foliage. We spread duvets underneath, and coaxed some more. The steep downward climb seemed too hard for her, and for three hours she would approach the trunk, mew like crazy, then go back along the branch.

Of course, we were praying. Then something unexpected happened. Three menacing magpies began to circle above her, squawking and closing in. I think she realised she couldn’t fight them off and still hang on to her branch. Her fear of the birds became greater than her fear of the difficult descent; she found enough desperation to try. I couldn’t watch! Each small section was heart in the mouth stuff, but I’m sure an angel was sent to support her as she scrambled her way down. All ended well and with an overwhelming sense of relief we enjoyed a celebratory sherry with our neighbours.

Good Fear

I’m still amazed and so thankful that Sevgi is safe and well, and after 45 years I’m still amazed my own life was saved and all is now well with my soul!

In my early 20s I made a series of foolish, bad choices that seemed exciting at the time – like Sevgi climbing her tree. Only my life was spiralling downwards! Just about that time my brother came to faith in Christ and began praying for me. He invited me to a weekend away and I went.

The speaker quoted the words of Jesus, ‘He who is not with me is against me.’ (Luke 11: 23) Suddenly there was revelation. It was as if a thick black curtain came down between me and the others in the group. They were together with Jesus in the light and I was on the outside, alone in the darkness. A sense of foreboding came over me, a fear of impending doom. My life was headed for a bad end, and for the first time I felt a healthy fear of God

Out on a Limb

A ceilidh was planned for that evening, but I didn’t feel like dancing. I wandered out into the night. It was dark and lonely – just like I was feeling. How I needed a saviour and I found myself pouring out my soul in repentance to God. I had never understood why Jesus had died on the Cross. That night I realised he had died for me – quite literally, he had gone out on a limb to save me. He died on a tree!

A ceilidh was planned for that evening, but I didn’t feel like dancing. I wandered out into the night. It was dark and lonely – just like I was feeling. How I needed a saviour and I found myself pouring out my soul in repentance to God. I had never understood why Jesus had died on the Cross. That night I realised he had died for me – quite literally, he had gone out on a limb to save me. He died on a tree!

When I arrived at the ceilidh it was as if the celebration had been laid on because of me, like in the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son parables of Luke 15, reflecting the joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Our celebration glass of sherry with our neighbour friends seemed very appropriate. We really thought our kitten couldn’t survive her folly, but our little Sevgi was safe in my arms.