Monday, December 27, 2021

Unto us a Son is Given


Unto us a son is given:

In a home birth, far away from home,

Birthweight unknown,

Apgar score unchecked,

and Love speaks in a weak, thin newborn cry.


Unto us a son is given,

And they came.

Not the respectable townsfolk, reputation-wrapped,

But the rough guys from the sheep pens

Knives in belts,

And accents thick as grease,

Clomping their way into the Holy Place,

Tongue tied and awkward

Muttering of angels,

Seeing something there

That overwhelmed strong men.


Unto us a son is given:

In the deeps of the night

Cutting the starlit silence

While men slept their banal sleep

And only angels watched


Unto us a son is given.

When he came

We did not know what to do with him.

Indifference, doubt,

Rejection, torture, death.

Only a few

Shaken from sleep,

Saw the whole thing through

Amazed with much amazement.  


Unto us a son is given

Given still

That we might come

Come see what God has done

What God is doing

And what God will do

Through the most ordinary

Love breaks through

And we are born anew.


Sunday, December 26, 2021

For the Nerdy Girls


This one is for the nerdy girls

With their heads in books, and books inside their heads,

Bored with the tea-time chatter about things of no concern,

Their minds dancing with questions,

Their hearts dancing with wonder,

At a world too big for words.


This is for the girls whose tongues trip over words

Read but not heard;

Who try hard not to laugh

At accidental puns,

Who get lost because they were thinking

Of something else entirely.

Who, when warned “men don’t like brains”

Can’t imagine why they’d care.


This is for the girls who cannot flirt

Because saying something you don’t mean

Is a paralysing confusion;         

People and feelings matter

And they don’t understand the game,

Girls who feel their awkwardness

As deep as a disgrace

But still choose to be themselves

At any price.


This is for the girls who can forget

One hundred “supposed to’s” in the grips

Of a great idea that sweeps them off the earth

Into the rarefied realms.

Girls whose hearts

Turn cartwheels while they trip over their feet.


And this is for the girls who learned to live

Through books,

The girls who had no other teachers,

Who grew and left their early angst behind,

Who found their feet, and found their hearts and smiled,

And never, ever, ever ceased to learn.


Monday, September 20, 2021

Lockdown Devotional -- Psalm 121



What do you do when you can’t manage, when things get too hard? How good are you at asking for help when you need it? Everybody’s different, aren’t they? We’ve all met people who would cheerfully sit back and let everyone else do everything for them. Equally, there are many people who will never admit to having any need at all. Most of us are somewhere in between, or, more likely, we know how to ask for help in some areas of life, but not others.

When I was in primary school (and maybe I’m showing my age here!) we learnt a poem called Gordon’s Creed, by Adam Lindsay Gordon, which said (in part):

“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none

I think this reflects something in the Australian psyche: a pride in our self-sufficiency, a disdain for not being personally strong enough. There is a certain self-contempt for the weakness of not standing on your own two feet. Yet the truth is that we are all human, and we are not all-powerful or all-wise. We are fragile, we are mortal, and nothing in this world is certain. All of us need help at some point. If we don’t admit our need and look in the right place for help, we end up looking in the wrong place, and clinging to things that can’t really help us at all. So where do we find the help that we really need?

The Psalmist asked the same question in Psalm 121:

 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

It is worth noting that this psalm is one of the “songs of ascents” – psalms that were traditionally sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for one of the great feasts of the Jewish calendar. Jesus and his disciples would have sung these psalms on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover.

If you’re like me, you look at the first line of the Psalm, and wonder why he’s looking at the hills. It seems an odd place to start, but scholars suggest 3 possible reasons, and I think there is something we can learn from each of them:

1.      He is gazing at the wonders of creation and is reminded of the Creator. Surely the one who is powerful enough to make the universe, (including these towering hills), and so glorious that he makes them awesome, and so loving that he makes them beautiful; surely this God is one we can utterly depend on?

2.      The Old Testament makes frequent reference to the “high places”.  These were hilltop shrines to pagan idols where the Israelites would sneak off to worship the Canaanite gods even if they also brought their sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem. But you can’t have an each way bet with God. As Joshua said long ago to the Israelites (Joshua 24:15) “Choose this day whom you will serve!” We all have to choose our allegiance: shall it be the gods of this world or the Creator of heaven and earth?

3.      The hill country which one had to pass through to get to Jerusalem was a dangerous area. Robbers lurked in the caves on the cliffs, and so did wild beasts. The Psalmist looks up and sees the dangers ahead of him but presses on because he has put his trust in God’s protection.

And God is our help and protection. He is our solid ground, our rock our foundation; if we stand on him our foot will not slip (verse 3). He watches over his children continuously, he neither slumbers nor sleeps (verse 4). You may recall the story, in 1 Kings 18, when Elijah had a showdown on Mt Carmel with the prophets of Baal, to see which god would respond by sending fire from heaven. When the prophets of Baal prayed for hours with no result, Elijah mocked them by suggesting that perhaps their God had gone to sleep. Not so with our God, he watches over us constantly, so we can sleep with confidence.

And the God who keeps us is “the shade on your right hand”, we are under the shadow of his wings, as, for example, in Psalm 36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings or Psalm 63:7 For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. And our God protects us from both the sun (physical danger to our bodies such as heat, thirst and sunburn) and the moon (which was thought to be associated with lunacy, so this is about our mental and emotional well-being). And, of course, the sun and moon were almost universally associated with pagan deities, who were often assumed to put curses on people if they were not appeased, so this is about our spiritual well-being as well.

He is the God who cares for everything, for every aspect of our lives, our going out and coming in (verse 8). He stands between us and the evils that would destroy us. He is the one we can always turn to for help.

Now, none of us today are pilgrims walking up through the hill country to Jerusalem (especially while Covid travel restrictions apply!), but we, too, are pilgrims, for we are seekers after the city which is to come (Hebrews 13:14), and our true citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  And we don’t do it on our own. We walk the road together, supporting one another on the journey, as pilgrims have always done. Most of all, we do it with Christ, who commanded us to “take up your cross and follow me”. And, though the journey may sometimes be hard, it is not something we need to be afraid of, for he has gone before us to make a way.

We do not need to fear that God is unwilling to help us, because the cross is the proof of how far God is willing to go for our sakes. We do not need to fear that God is unable to help us, because the resurrection is the proof that God is all powerful. And we do not fear that we need to walk alone, because he has given us his Holy Spirit to live within us, and he has promised that he will be with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

So, the core issue here is: where do we look for help when we need it? Where is our security found? In ourselves? That will take us so far, but then we hit a brick wall. No human being has the power to overcome calamity on his own, let alone conquer over death and judgement. Do we find our security in having money in the bank and a roof over our heads? Jesus had something to say about laying up our treasure where moth and rust can destroy, or thieves break in and steal.

There is a better way. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way (chapter 12):

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Lockdown Devotional: John 14:1-6

Comfort for Confused disciples

If you knew that you were going to die in the next 24 hours, what things would you really want to say? What would you want people to remember? Everything you chose to talk about at that point would be what really mattered to you. I admit that I have a certain fascination with people’s dying words and what they reveal about the people who said them. Here are some examples:


“In peace I will sleep with him and take my rest” -- Monica, mother of Augustine

"Oh God, have pity on my soul. Oh God, have pity on my soul." – Anne Boleyn

"Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out." – Hugh Latimer, one of the Oxford martyrs, about to be burned at the stake

"Only one man ever understood me. And he really didn't understand me." – Hegel, the German philosopher (hmmm)

"Build me a hut to die in. I am going home." – David Livingstone

"Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough!" – Karl Marx

"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." – Oscar Wilde

"Above all, I charge the leadership of the nation and their followers with the strict observance of the racial laws and with merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry." – Adolf Hitler

"I know this beach like the back of my hand." – Harold Holt

"Don't cry for me, for I go where music is born." – Johann Sebastian Bach


And that’s only a small sample. There are pages of them you can find online – some profound, some banal, some horrible, and some that just leave you scratching your head. Death comes to people in very different ways; and meets with very different responses. Some are prepared, many are not. Only a minority know exactly when they are going to die.


When we come to Jesus, he knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and so, the night before he died, at the Last Supper, he was trying to prepare his disciples for what was about to take place, telling them the things that they really needed to understand, and trying to comfort them in their confusion. (And, if we’re honest, all of us know how it feels to be a confused disciple at times.) Here’s a portion, from the beginning of John 14:


“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”


Yes. Their hearts were troubled. Just before this section of John, Jesus had told them that he was going away, and they couldn’t come with him. And just a little before that, he had told them that one of them would betray him. You can imagine the turmoil they were in! Despite Jesus having predicted his death to them on several occasions before, it still hadn’t added up for them. And the solution he offers? “Believe in God; believe also in me”. Yes, as pious Jews they believe in God, but now he is asking them for the same level of faith in himself. They must trust him when he is no longer physically among them, just as they trust the invisible God. His love for them will be every bit as real. He is not abandoning them, even though it might look like it; in fact, it is exactly for their sakes that he is going away. And God does not abandon his children, see Hebrews 13:5 (“I will never leave you or forsake you”), or Psalm 94:14 (“For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage”). Just because they don’t understand what he is doing, doesn’t mean it isn’t the very best thing he could do for them.


And why is he going away? He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. And that is exactly what he is doing. If Jesus had not left them, to go to the cross, the grave, and then his resurrection and ascension, neither they nor ourselves would have any place in his Father’s house. It is his death on our behalf which will make it possible for us to come where he is going. Our true home is the Father’s home, a home where there are many rooms (literally “abiding places”), room enough for all who will come. The very one who on earth had no place to lay his head has provided a place for all of us. And only after this has been accomplished can he return for them.


There is another image here as well. In those days, when a son got married, he would first build an extra room onto his father’s house. Only when it was complete would he come for his bride and bring her to the place he had prepared for her.


And they know the way to the Father’s house, even though they don’t think they do, because they know Jesus, and he, himself, is the Way. He is the only way, that is the whole point. That is why he must do what he is doing and go where he is going. There is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between who we really are in our sin and failure, and the perfection of love and joy that is in our Father’s house. Jesus is about to lay down his life to become the bridge across that chasm. He is the way. We must walk in it.


And Jesus is the Truth. We live in a relativistic age where people talk about having their own “truth” – whatever works for them – as if we were so powerful that our preferences could change reality! No, they can’t, because we are not God. Certainly, we can each make up our own religion, like choosing a selection from a smorgasbord, but there are consequences; because one day our flimsy fantasy spiritualities will collide with the solid realities of life, death, and judgement. Or, to change the metaphor, we have a choice between standing on the firm ground of truth (building on the rock, Jesus), or sinking, and eventually drowning, in the quagmire of human make-believe, which originates with the one whom Jesus called the father of lies (John 8:44).


And Jesus is the Life. He had already explained this at Lazarus’ tomb, earlier in the same gospel (John 11:25-25): “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Where did life come from in the first place? From God, who spoke all that is into being. We were the ones who brought death into the world, way back in Genesis 3, and the whole Bible is the story of God’s redemptive plan to restore us to life in all its fullness, lived with him for all eternity.


We all experience the darkness of confusion at some point. Just when we think that the path ahead is smooth, we get tripped up. Just when we think we’re standing tall, we get ground down. But we have a place to take our troubled hearts, to the one who has gone ahead of us, through the terrible darkness of death and hell, to prepare a place for us in our Father’s house. He is the way, he is the truth, he is the life, and he will carry us all the way home.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Lockdown Devotional 1 Peter 2


Do You Know Who You Are?

 “Of course, I know who I am,” you reply. “I know my name, address, date of birth, occupation, marital status, qualifications …” You know what you like to eat, your taste in music, your favourite colour. You know whom you love best, and who you are loved by.  You know that you are good at word puzzles and hopeless at jigsaws. (Ok, that one is me, not you.) If we dig a little deeper, you can name your dreams and your frustrations, and the moments in your life which have defined you. What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What are you secretly really scared of? Do you see yourself as a winner or a loser?

Now let’s ask a different question. If you learnt something about yourself which you didn’t know before, how would that change you? What if you discovered that you were a descendant of royalty, or criminals? What if you realised you had a skill in an area you’d never tried before? What if, through sickness or accident, you lost an ability that had always been important to you? Now some of these scenarios are less likely than others, but we all know that life changes us, or at least impacts our understanding of ourselves. Once we were a lot younger than we are now. Once we didn’t even know some of the people that we love the most. Once we didn’t have skills that we now see as integral to our self-understanding.

Entering God’s family by believing in Jesus also changes our identity in enormous ways, but we can take a long time to truly understand who we are in Christ and how we should live because of it.

1 Peter 2 has something to say about this:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 

Now the first thing this tells us is that we are living stones. That seems a contradiction at first, since we often use stone as a metaphor for what is hard, cold, and dead; but we are living stones in a very specific sense. We are being built together as a spiritual house, that is, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. The dwelling place of God amongst his people is no longer (since the veil of the temple was ripped in two at Jesus’ death) a physical building made of dead stones, or bricks and mortar, but it is in God’s people themselves, God’s living people, no longer dead in sin. And there is a process involved in this building.

In verse 4 we see that first we must come to him (i.e., Jesus), because the very one who was despised and rejected of men is our cornerstone, the foundation from which the whole building takes its orientation. There is no other way. Those who will not be subject to him and aligned to him will, in the end, stumble over him, because he is the centre of all things, and there is no way around him.

But to create a building, we don’t just pile the stones any old how on the foundation. First, we must take our alignment from him, but then we must be built together in a right relationship with each other. And the Builder, himself, must carefully shape us so that each one fits exactly where he wants to put it. And because we are living stones, with all sorts of feelings, sometimes the process of shaping is painful. But only think what he is making you become! And remember that every single stone is precious, and he is polishing it to make each one of us more beautiful than we can dream or imagine.

The next thing we are called is “a holy priesthood”, that is, all of us, not just a special class of Christians. What does it mean to be a priest? It means to have direct access to God (through Jesus, our Great High Priest). We don’t need another human being to stand between us and God. It means that we have a holy calling to serve him in every aspect of our lives, not by doing weird things to make ourselves different, but by bringing every part of our lives under his lordship in humble, faithful, everyday obedience. And it means that we are his representatives to a world that does not know him, not by pretending to be better than we are, but by living out the gospel as repentant, forgiven people, showing to others the amazing love with which God first loved us. Further (verse 9) we are a “royal priesthood”, something that was an impossibility in the Old Testament, since kings and priests came from different tribes. But now we, who are priests, are also in the service of the King, and given the task of expanding his Kingdom.

And there is another sense in which we are royal. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been adopted into God’s family. We have a new lineage, and a new status.  Whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we may have done, we no longer need to crawl around, crushed under a burden of shame. We are the children of the King, forgiven and set free, and we should not allow anything to pull us into captivity again. The Bible itself (Romans 8:21) speaks of “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

And look at what else Peter says in verse 9. We are a chosen race: no longer do you have to be an Israelite to be one of God’s chosen people, it’s for all of us. And each one is loved. Likewise, we are a holy nation, gathered from every tribe and language and people, set apart to belong to God, to be his own possession for all eternity. This is who you are. You are someone who has received mercy (verse 10).

And how should we respond to all of this? Well, in these verses, we are given two specific ways. Firstly, in verse 9, we are called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light”. What God has done for us in Jesus is so wonderful, so extraordinary, that the more we understand, the more we must praise him. When we look at what he has done for us, our hearts should be so overflowing with awe and gratitude that we cannot help ourselves. And we cannot keep it hidden, it must be proclaimed.

Secondly, in verse 11, we are told to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Why? Because God has changed us, given us new identities, we are now sojourners and exiles in this world. While we are here, we work for the good of this world, but it is not our real home, we are citizens of a far better place, and we are to live that way. We are empowered to say no to the voices that clamour at us to satisfy every indulgence our imagination can contrive. We do not need these passing satisfactions for our appetites or our egos, there is something so much better to press on to. And God is with us every step of the journey.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Lockdown Devotional -- Psalm 46


When the earth gives way

In February 2011, we were in New Zealand. After time spent in the lovely little town of Akaroa, we returned to Christchurch for the last days of our holiday before flying home. It was only a week after our return, before we’d even had time to sort our photos, that disaster struck that city. An earthquake devastated the city, killing 185 people. The beautiful cathedral where we’d attended a service was in ruins, the carpark under a cliff where we’d gone to look at the sea was strewn with car-crushing boulders. Our hearts ached, but we were safe and sound. How much worse was it for the people who lived there?

Natural disasters are a horrible reality in this world – earthquakes, fires, floods, tsunamis, cyclones – the list goes on. But there are other kinds of disasters that rip our world apart as well – famines, wars, plagues, droughts etc. And then there are the personal disasters that can upend our lives – bereavement, sickness, accidents, financial loss, chronic pain, broken relationships, and so many others. We are delusional if we think we can be totally secure in this world, in fact Jesus told a story to that effect (in Luke 12) about a man whose harvest was so large that he decided all he had to do was build bigger barns to hold it and sit back and enjoy it. Jesus, you may remember, called him a fool!

So, where can we find security?

Psalm 46 addresses this very thing:

46 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

As a matter of interest, this was Martin Luther’s favourite Psalm, and the inspiration for his famous hymn Ein Feste Burg (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”). You can see why. It’s a Psalm for hard times, and for battling through situations we wouldn’t have chosen to face.


Unlike some Psalms, which start with a lament for the Psalmist’s problem, this one starts from a position of confident faith. God IS our strength and refuge, for all time and in all situations. He is the one who will uphold us with his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). He is the one who gives strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29). His name is our strong tower (Prov 18:10), which we can run to and be safe. Therefore, even in times of absolute calamity, we do not need to cower in fear.

Most of the time, in most of our lives, we manage our problems ourselves. We have processes, we have techniques, we know (or think we know) how to cope. This is part of our difficulty, some of us can be so good at “coping”, that we have very little practice in being truly dependent on God. But there are no coping skills that will carry you through when the earth gives way, and the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea (v2). We need a refuge then, and God has given us one. Himself. He is the one who has told us to come to him when we are weary and heavy laden, and he will give us rest. It is his everlasting arms which are underneath us. We have an eternal security in Christ which is beyond our understanding.

But more, God is a very present help. He is not far away from us. We do not need fancy rituals to reach him, he is as close as the breath of a prayer. We do not need to make ourselves perfect to come to him, we cannot; but we stand in the righteousness of Christ, and we are fully accepted. We do not need to go on arduous pilgrimages to find him, he is here already, and what is even more wonderful, his Spirit dwells within us. There is nowhere we can go where he is not already present.

The Psalmist then goes on to talk about the city of God, which is immovable, with a river running through it. This, at first glance, might seem like a change of subject, but it isn’t. Two New Testament scriptures illuminate this. The first is Revelation 22, which speaks of the glorious city of God which is to come. There is river in the midst of it, named as the River of the Water of Life, and it waters the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. It is a beautiful picture of God’s healing and renewing presence giving life to his people.

The second one is from John 7: 38 “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This makes it personal, and here-and-now. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, every Christian has access to that sustaining and empowering river.

The world is a scary place at times. The nations rage, and sometimes the baddies win. The kingdoms totter and the earth melts. Our hearts cry out in horror, fear, and pity. The Psalmist enumerates these things (verse 6), there is no pretence that horrors will not happen. But there is a larger perspective, a bigger picture, when we put God back in the frame, because none of these things can defeat him. No virus, no natural disaster, no wicked army has the final say. God does; and he is in charge, and he loves us. Evil may flourish for a season, but don’t be deceived, its time is short.

This is the context of verse 10, one of those “famous” verses that everyone knows. “Be still, and know that I am God”, and note that it continues “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”. But what does it mean to be still? It isn’t referring to some sort of meditative pose. The Hebrew word means to be weak, or to surrender; some translators put it as “stop striving” or “stop fighting”. It is the same word as Jesus used when he stilled the storm. It is not a passive mental state, it is an active choice, by faith, to entrust ourselves to God and let him deal with the things that are beyond our power. It means giving up the myth that we are in control, it means laying down the pride that says we must be self-sufficient. It means letting God be God and being in awe of who he is and what he does. The victory already belongs to him, we just haven’t seen it yet. But while we wait, we are safe in his hands. He truly is our refuge and strength.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021



What do you see?

What do you see when you look at something? Let me explain what I mean. Two or more people can be looking at the same thing, yet each sees something different. When Alastair and I went away (remember when there were such things as “travel” and “holidays”?), we would go to the same places, do the same things, and come home with completely different sets of photos we had taken. Often when we looked at each other’s photos we would say, “I never even saw that!”. Our eyes, our hearts, our minds all focus differently, and interpret differently. Where one person sees a cup half full, another sees a cup half empty. Where one person sees hard grind, another sees an opportunity. Where one person sees a weed, another person sees a flower.

And this applies to how we see people too. To take one example, for many people crowds are something to be avoided (even when Covid wasn’t in the equation). But when Jesus saw the crowd, what did he see? Matthew 9:36 tells us, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Is that what you see? Is that what I see?

Let’s take two further examples. Both have to do with john the Baptist.  The first is spoken by Jesus, about John, in Matthew 11, after Herod had put John in prison.

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

We all know who John the Baptist was – the cousin of Jesus who wore camel’s hair and ate wild honey and locusts (there’s an interesting debate on whether that means the insects or the fruit of the “locust” tree, which could be something like the carob tree). He described himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. His call to repentance was heeded by some and rejected by others. To Herodias, the wife of Herod, he was the enemy, because he condemned their marriage as unlawful (she had previously been married to his brother), and she eventually had her revenge by having him put to death. To many he must have seemed like a celebrity preacher who had his time and then ended up in prison because he displeased those in power. But what did Jesus see in John? John wasn’t just “a reed shaken by the wind”, something that flourishes for a season and then dies away in winter and has no strength of its own. No, Jesus declares him to be a prophet, and “more than a prophet”. He was the one sent by God to prepare people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus. In Jesus’ eyes he was a great man.

What do we see when people speak God’s uncomfortable truths to us? Are we willing to look past our own discomfort, search the scriptures, pray, ask trusted counsellors if necessary, and, if it passes those tests, accept it with gratitude? Or do we simply dismiss such people and take no notice because they haven’t made us feel good? Are we humble enough to be willing to learn and grow? Are we willing to see God at work in situations we don’t like?

The second example is John the Baptist meeting Jesus for the first recorded time. It’s found in John chapter 1:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 ,I myself, did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Can you imagine the scene, down at the Jordan River? We’ve all seen artists’ attempts to portray it – the river, the groups of people in 1st century clothing standing around, probably a couple of Roman soldiers keeping an eye on things, probably a couple of priests keeping an eye on things in a very different sense, and in the middle, the figure of John in his camel’s hair and leather belt, looking like a bit of a wild man and holding everyone’s attention. Then he suddenly points to an unknown person in the crowd (Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry) and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Imagine the reactions, the confusion! Imagine how every head would turn! What did they see when they looked?

Some would have been interested because they took John seriously (These would include the ones who very soon afterwards became Jesus’ disciples.) Others who were there either for entertainment value or to criticise, probably didn’t even take it in. But John, in that moment, saw Jesus with absolute clarity.

·         He knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. So, he knew that Jesus was sent by God to fulfill God’s purposes.

·         He knew that Jesus had come from God in a unique way, in verse 34 he recognises that Jesus is the Son of God.

·         He knew that what Jesus had come to do was to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, replacing all those uncountable lambs, kids, calves, and pigeons whose blood had been shed on the altars of the temple for more than a thousand years.

·         He knew that to be the Lamb of God, Jesus had to be pure, perfect, and sinless.

·         He knew that sin, separating us from God, was mankind’s biggest problem, and Jesus was the one who had come to solve and save.

·         He knew that Jesus had come to give his life, that the ultimate purpose of his coming into the world was to die in our place.

·         He knew that Jesus had come to deal with the sin of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, for all times and for all peoples and for all sins.

John saw and proclaimed in that moment things about Jesus’ person and purpose that the disciples were still struggling with three years later. Though later, when he was imprisoned, he struggled with doubts and questions (because he was human), in this moment he saw Jesus as he truly is.

And the question for us, the most important question in the world, is to ask ourselves: what do we see when we look at Jesus? Is he just a good teacher, a good example, or someone irrelevant to our lives? Or is he our only hope in life and death, our salvation, our Lord and our God?

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Lockdown Devotional: 2 Peter 1




How do things grow? Let’s start with something simple (or not, if you don’t have a green thumb).  You plant a seed in the right soil, give it the right amount of sun and water, fertilise if necessary, and, hopefully, it will grow into a lovely plant. (Strangely, weeds don’t require any of that care!)


How does a child grow? It needs to be fed, cleaned, and kept comfortably warm, and, also, needs affection and appropriate social interaction. For healthy, mature growth, the child also needs to exercise and to master the skills appropriate to its developmental stage. There are things a parent does for the child, and things the child must learn to do itself.


How does a Christian grow? Right now, spiritual growth might feel like it’s all too hard with our normal lives upended, but the apostle Peter had something to say about this. Remember, he was writing to a persecuted church in an environment that was awash with false teachers.


His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.



The first thing to notice is that God has already given us everything we need for a godly life (v3). It doesn’t matter where we’re at, or what’s going on around us, our primary resource is God himself, and our life and growth come from knowing him. He has not left us as orphans (John 14:18), his Spirit dwells in every believer, revealing Christ to us “through our knowledge of him”. This growth may not happen as quickly and easily as we would like to imagine; but happen it will if we continue to walk with him and feed on his word. Our goal should be just like that of Paul:


“ that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”  (Philippians 3: 10-11)


So, we feed on his word and grow in him, and put our reliance on his “great and precious promises”. God promises, in many places in Scripture, that he will redeem us, sanctify us (make us holy) and bring us home to himself in a glorious eternity. The more we learn to understand his promises and fix our eyes fast on them, the more our faith will grow, and the more we will grow in Christlikeness, because the temptations of the world and our own “evil desires” will have less power over us.


Just as a parent brings a child to birth, and feeds it and shelters it, so that it will live and grow, so God has given us life through his Spirit and feeds us on his word. But for a child to not merely survive, but to mature into a functioning adult, their comes a point where they must be active participants in the process, willing to exercise their minds and bodies. And so it is in the spiritual realm. God, and God alone, has made our salvation possible, through Jesus, but we have a part to play as well in reaching our full maturity. Otherwise, (to change the metaphor), we will be people living in spiritual poverty while our bank account holds riches beyond our wildest dreams.


And this is where the growth equation comes in (verses 5 – 7). Peter introduces us to a process of addition which we must participate in. (If you want to go into other realms of biblical maths, you could try subtracting sin, multiplying the church, and rightly dividing the word of truth!)


We start with faith, that is, faith in Jesus as our only hope of salvation, which is the entry point for every believer.


To faith we add goodness, which means moral uprightness, choosing to do the right thing, the best thing you can, rather than cutting corners.


To goodness we add knowledge, specifically the knowledge of God. We let his word saturate our thinking, so that we may see him more clearly and understand better his character and his will for us.


To knowledge we add self-control, a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us. This is the ability to say no to our own desires and impulses when they are not in line with the will of God, to resist not only what is obviously sinful, but also those subtler temptations to indulge and prioritise our own interests at the expense of others.


To self-control we add perseverance. The best intentions in the world will not achieve anything if we give up the moment things get difficult. The Christian life is often more like a marathon than a sprint, and we mustn’t underestimate the importance of just keeping going, through easy times and hard ones. This is where fixing our hope in God’s “great and precious promises” is so important. Our earthly goals will often get frustrated, but God’s promises stand unchanged, and if we make those our anchor point, we can ride out any storm.


To perseverance we add godliness – our goal in all of this, the goal of the Spirit’s work within us, is that we should become more like Christ, and walk with him.


To godliness we add mutual affection. The Greek word used here is philadelphia, literally love of the brothers. We start here by learning kindness and generosity of heart towards each other in the family of God’s people.


To mutual affection we add love. This is what we are aiming for, the love which God commands us to have towards whoever has need of us (i.e.our neighbour), the love which is clearly described in 1 Corinthians 13. But it is important to note that we can’t get to that place without the other steps Peter mentions. There are no shortcuts, but nor is there any need for discouragement. God has given us all that we need: our salvation, his indwelling Spirit, his word with all its wisdom, and the infinite riches of his grace. Even in lockdown, deprived of some of the forms of community that encourage us, these things are still ours in abundance.



Thursday, August 05, 2021

Lockdown Devotional: Psalm 100



When Burke and Wills set off on their ill-fated expedition in 1860, aiming to travel from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, they regarded themselves as very well equipped. They started out with 19 men, 23 horses, 26 camels, 6 wagons and about 20 tonnes of equipment including a Chinese gong (no, I can’t figure out why!) and a bathtub – clearly what you need to traverse the dry inland of the driest continent! Their attempt ended with their tragic deaths, probably from vitamin deficiency. Clearly, they didn’t know as much as they thought they did about what was needed.

These days, when we need to go somewhere (when not restricted to a 5 km radius), we usually go in a car and use some form of GPS, or at the very least a map. And, even then, there can sometimes be confusion – the sort that is incredibly frustrating at the time but makes a great story later.

But what about a different sort of “journey”? What about when our “here” is exhaustion, or despondency, or boredom, or disappointment, or any of the other things that people feel during lockdown (or other times too)? What if the “there” we are aiming for is joy, the joy that comes from God? What do we need to find our way?

Psalm 100 gives us a practical map of how to get there.

A Psalm for giving thanks.

 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

The psalmist starts by encouraging us to joyfully praise God. This is something we are called to do many, many times in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. It is the right response to recognising who God is and what he has done. It is the awe of the saints on earth and the song of the angels in heaven. It is the hope and joy of the redeemed as they make their pilgrimage, whether the road takes them through green pastures or the valley of the shadow. But sometimes, especially when we don’t have the encouragement of joining together physically with other believers, it can all seem a bit further away.

But the psalmist lists some steps to give us a roadmap to that place:

Start by recalling and focusing on who God is (verse 3). What does it mean to say the Lord is God? We live in a world full of wannabe gods, all making their claims on us, whether they be obvious false gods, like the ones Elijah battled on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18), and whose equivalents we see today in other religions and New Age spiritualities; or the more subtle, but very potent, gods of money and status and pleasure and popularity; or, perhaps the most powerful of all for sinful humanity, our idolatry of getting our own way. But no, it is the Lord (i.e., Yahweh, the God of the covenant) who is God, and he alone. All other powers, all the temptations of our own desires and egos, fall away into nothingness before him. He is complete and he is eternal. Turn your eyes and your heart towards him, let his reality change your perspective.

Next, remember that he is our Creator. Not only did he make the universe, in all its glory and beauty, but each human being is his special creation, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). He knew you before you were born. This God, great beyond anything we can imagine or understand, knows you personally. Further, you are his. He wanted you so much that he was willing to pay an unimaginable price, battling death and hell on your behalf, so that you could be his child, his friend, and his worshipper forever.

Further again, we are to focus on the wonder that we are the sheep of his pasture. He is our Good Shepherd (John 10:14), the one who laid down his life for the sheep. He is the one whose goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and who will guide you in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23). He is the one who says that he will search for the lost and bring back the strays, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. (Ezekiel 34:16). He is the one who tells us that it is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). And we are his sheep who have all gone astray, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Redeemed, cared for, treasured – how can we not respond with wonder and gratitude?

And our God is good (verse 5). In fact, he is the only one who is good (Luke 18:19). Concepts like holiness and righteousness can sometimes be hard to fully come to grips with, but we all know what goodness is. Our God is never capricious, or unfair, or uncaring; he never stops doing what is right for us. Even in hard times his mercies are all around us. His steadfast love and fidelity towards his children are forever (verse 5). We are not toys that he picks up one day and discards the next. His promises stand for all eternity, and we can stake our lives on them. We are loved by the one who had every right not to love us because our sin set us against him, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is who God is, this is what his heart is towards us.

These things, when we focus on them, when we consider what they mean, should bring us, as they brought the psalmist, to a place of joy and gratitude, even when our circumstances pull us down. The prophet Habakkuk knew this:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation
. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

And, as we rediscover this joy, we “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (verse 4). To the psalmist, of course, this was at the literal temple in Jerusalem, but for us “do you not know that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).

And this is a joy that no one can take away from you.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Paris to Helen (thinking about the Trojan war)


Say there were happy days

Till sorrow came to call.

As playthings of the gods,

How could we know at all?

Yet now our doom comes fast:

It will destroy us all.


Say there were happy days,

That all was not in vain,

Say there were happy days

Before devouring pain

Struck at the root of things

Again, again, again.


Say there were happy days!

Your beauty was divine.

Crazed as a man athirst

I had to make it mine.

But now I am as numb

As drunk on Lethe’s wine.


Say there were happy days.

Say you recall them well:

Sweetness to recollect

As we descend to hell.

Once, dear, we touched the stars,

Before we fell … and fell.


Say there were happy days!

I now go out to die.

Did you once love me well,

Or were our lives a lie?

Can I find any joy

In our last, strained goodbye?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Faithful Grieving


Let our tears be honest tears, there is no pretending,

Here, there, or anywhere.

Let the truth be spoken

Starkly, or whispered,

But it must be said.

There must be room for lamentation.


Let us be done with the piety of plastered smiles,

Of bravely quivering voices,

Prayers with subtext,

Agendas to rebuild our pedestals

With all the papier-mâché we can cobble,

From our scant treasuries.

Would we be those

Who have their reward already?

(And that’s all.)


Let us come

To the olive gardens where the broken kneel.

Let our fragments fall

Without curation;

Finally acknowledging

It doesn’t matter,

And it never did –

Everyone else could always see the mess.


There is no healing for sock puppets,

Or marionettes with painted grins,

And staring eyes that cannot shed a tear.

This is not the hour of trumpets.

We are not home yet.

Feet blister,

And the world becomes a burden

Too much for us to lift.

There is more grieving.

In a grain of sand

Than all our measured words.


Look in the cracked mirror,

Let its shards cut you!

See how you bleed,

You are not made of cardboard.

He breathed, he spoke, you were.

Live in his image:

A man acquaint with grief!

Walk in his footsteps:

Despised? Rejected? Yes!

And also raised

On the far side of tortured loss and shame:

There is no other path.