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Weekly Devotions

Weekly articles written to encourage, challenge, and inspire Christians.

Duty or Delight

Langstaff Oversight

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
— Psalm 16:11

Relationships are a wonderful thing. In Genesis God said, "It is not good for man to be alone,” and I for one would have to agree. Sadly, in our world today it seems that relationships are crumbling more often than they are staying together, however, there are still those who are faithful in relationships. What is it that motivates this faithfulness? In a world that is filled with temptation, what is it that keeps two people committed and together?

There are a number of possible motivating factors that contribute to faithfulness in a relationship. I'm a man, so I can only write this from a man’s perspective.  As a man walks down a beach, what keeps his eyes and mind from wandering? Or perhaps at work, what is it that stops him from developing an emotional and physical relationship with a co-worker? It could be a sense of duty to the children. Perhaps it is a desire to avoid the shame of a failed relationship. Or it could simply be a stubborn commitment to the promise that was made in his marriage vows. Perhaps it is just a dutiful and proper understanding of right and wrong and a desire to avoid the guilt of doing what is wrong.

While all of these present real and possible motivations for faithfulness, I hope that as you read them you noticed that one possible reason was missing from the list.  In fact, I left out the greatest and most important reason to motivate faithfulness in any relationship - Love!  In reality, one would hope that all of the other motivations would rarely enter in as the overarching sentiment in maintaining faithfulness.  Rather, faithfulness should be the result of mutual love and enjoyment of the relationship itself. With that backdrop the eyes and mind have no inclination to wander because their desires have been met and affections drawn by one person. That satisfaction and joy leads to a commitment that is not out of duty but out of delight.  While faithfulness, in and of itself, is obviously virtuous and very important, surely we can all understand that the couple whose faithfulness is motivated by mutual love and affection is far more joyful.

My desire is to take this idea of motivation and apply it to our Christian life. What is it that motivates you to be faithful to the Lord? What drives your service and devotion to him? Do you read each morning out of some dutiful sense that you must do it? Do you attend and participate in the meetings simply to uphold an image? Do you try to lead your family simply because you feel it is your duty? C.S. Lewis articulated the thought well when he wrote:

Provided the thing is in itself right, the more one likes it and the less one has to “try to be good,” the better. A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own!

How is your heart? To use Lewis' metaphor, are you walking on crutches or on your own legs? Is there within you a genuine love and joy that motivates your service or are duty, guilt, and pride the driving forces behind much of what you do? Your service to the Lord is not somehow more virtuous if you enjoy it less. In reality, the opposite is true. Therefore, I would encourage you to develop that love and affection. Ask God to give you a heart full of devotion to him. Pour it into your relationship with the Lord. Take some time this week to assess your heart.

I'll just end with one thought. Perhaps in your relationship with the Lord, you haven't been faithful. It could be that neither duty nor delight has been enough and you have slipped. It could be that your service has disappeared, your devotional life has dried up, and your involvement is marginal at best. Remember, though, that while you have been unfaithful, Christ has not been. He is patiently waiting for you to come back. There is grace to be enjoyed, forgiveness to be had, and a relationship to be restored.   

As we live our lives may we know what it is to live in a delightful, joy filled, and love-motivated relationship with our Lord. May our hearts be warmed, our affections stirred, and our energies directed in joyful service for the one who first loved us! May we know what it is to experience what Paul described when he said, "I will rejoice,” or what David described in the passage above when he acknowledged "In your presence is fullness of joy.”

Just a Look

Langstaff Oversight

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is because often what we perceive when we look at something can hardly be put into words. The love of a father as he looks at his child, the compassion we feel when we look at those suffering, and the awe of gazing up into a starlit sky. A striking phrase hits me when we read “and sitting down they watched him there”. A father watched on with mingled love and pain as his son suffered, yet joy as he accomplished his will. Some looked on with compassion as they witnessed a man suffering. Many gazed in mockery, watching what they believed to be a spectacle. Yet we along with many others look upon that day in awe and wonder. As we contemplate Jesus’ death we watch and the feeling of awe is far greater than a starlit sky could ever give us, greater than the tallest of mountains and the most majestic of views this creation has to offer are pale in comparison of the awe that we experience when we look at the cross. Yet in some ways it is not an awesome thing that we look at the cross! No, we MUST look at the cross; we have no choice but to look at the cross. What’s truly amazing is that the one on the cross looked at us! What is truly spectacular is that God took on flesh and with his own eyes he looked at us. We see him but the amazing reality is that he sees us.

A Look of Compassion

In Mark 10 you can read of a rich young ruler who came running to Jesus. This man was sincere; he wanted to know what he had to do to receive eternal life. The one problem was this man was that of affection. While he gazed at the Lord Jesus his vision was clouded by his riches. His affections were divided and ultimately when forced to decide he sorrowfully followed his bank account rather than the Lord of all creation. Yet what is amazing is that we read And Jesus looking at him, loved him. He looked not just at a wealthy young man but rather one who was deceived, one who thought possessions of more value than God, one who valued the creation over the creator. Jesus looked past his wealth, past his questions, and into his heart and he loved him. The resulting instruction to sell all that he had and come follow was the most loving instruction the man couldve ever received and yet he turned and walked away. Out of love the Lord shared the gospel with those whom he met.

A Look of Understanding

While there are many things we read of Jesus looking at in his life I want to think of another person who was seen by the Lord. Peter was a bold disciple, no doubt one who was a natural leader, optimistic and confident. He made many promises. It was Peter who boldly claimed that he would never deny his Lord, and all others followed him in the claim. It was Peter who said You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. However for Peter his confidence was shattered, his optimism destroyed when one evening, out beside the fire he denied his Lord. The bold claims he had made were now empty, the loyalty he had promised had been abandoned. Peter was crushed. Yet there was one who saw Peter, one who understood Peter, one who never ceased to love Peter, The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, and he went out and wept bitterly. The Lord was not surprised by Peters denial. Was he disappointed? Yes. Was it hurtful? Yes. Yet the look from the Lord was not a gleeful I told you so!, but rather it was an understanding I know. It was a look of love and of care. It was the first step to Peters restoration. When we trip and when we fall there is one who is watching us and when we finally get our act together and lift our eyes to look at him, we always find that he has been watching all along. He knows, he cares, he looks.

A Look of Love

There has never been a day like the day Jesus went to the cross. I mentioned earlier the way in which we should look at the cross but what was it like from the Lords perspective? As Jesus hung there, with blood and sweat stinging his eyes, what did he look at? No doubt it was as he looked at those around him that he could cry the words Father forgive them. Certainly there was a look of love as he turned and said to the thief Today you will be with me. Yet those are implications. We can be sure that there was one person upon whom the Lord fixed his eyes that day. When Jesus saw his motherhe said…”woman behold your son! From there on the cross you wont read of an angry glare coming down on those who were crucifying him, nor do we read of one who closed his eyes ignoring what was going on around him, rather there our Lord Jesus with his eyes could look at one whom he loved and make provision for her. Who would take care of his mother? He looked and his concern was to care for her.

We are called now to look to him Looking to Jesus, who founded and perfected 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. As we look to him we can know that he looked to us first. Just as he looked to his mother in love and made provision so too we know that he looked forward to that joy. What was the joy that was set before him? There were many things but it is humbling, and amazing to think that in some small way, we the church, collectively his bride, form part of that joy. The joy that fills a mans heart as he watches his lovely bride walk down the aisle is the Joy that the Lord Jesus will one day have as his Church is presented to him! Oh glorious day!

The Place Where He Was Crucified

Langstaff Oversight

John 19 is a very familiar chapter to many of us.  We have read it dozens (or maybe, in some cases, hundreds) of times, and have often absorbed its historical narrative on that remarkable day when the Lord of Life and Glory hung in shame on a cross, suffering and dying as he bore our sins.  Familiarity, though, while a good thing in one sense, can often cause us to overlook details in the text as we quickly skim over words that we can almost repeat by heart.  It is sometimes a good thing when reading familiar passages to slow down and look for individual clauses that perhaps you haven’t really noticed before – and then meditate on these phrases and enjoy the significant additional beauties that some of these small details can bring out about our Saviour and his wonderful work on the cross.

Some time ago, I was struck like this by the little expression in John 19:41 which says – “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden”.  It’s a bit of a strange thing – an ironic juxtaposition of the cruelty, noise, commotion, blood, violence and hatred of a crucifixion scene over against the tranquility, beauty, peace and fruitfulness of a garden.  It seems unusual to have an occasion of such indescribable horror and a scene of sublime beauty and serenity so closely linked in the same place.  And yet that’s what the verse says – “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden” .

I enjoyed in my own meditation thinking on a number of things we know about a garden, and how the cross work of our Lord Jesus Christ shows us these things in their fullness.  I’ve outlined a number of these considerations below.

Deliberate Design

One thing that is unmistakable when we see a well-tended garden is that someone planned this – it didn’t just happen!  I remember a number of years ago hiking in the hills of Tobago with some of the believers from the Glen Rd assembly in Scarborough, the capital city.  As we walked through the hills you saw the beauties of the tropical landscape – thick lush underbrush, large canopies of tropical trees, and wide expanses of unspoiled natural growth.  But as our hike progressed and we neared our intended destination we began to see the gardens – beautiful, orderly, terraced gardens cut into those tropical hills.  It was obvious as you looked at the meticulously cut and maintained terraces and the plants at various stages of growth – that this didn’t just happen randomly.  Someone planned it – someone designed it – someone moved with purpose and determination to put it all into place.

If that is true in the natural realm – we see a beautiful garden (whether a flower garden or a fruit or vegetable garden) and right away we realize the deliberate design that went into it – how much more significant to remember that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden”.  Not just the literal meaning of these words (there was a literal garden nearby Golgotha) but symbolically, if a garden reminds us of deliberate design, then how much more do we see the hand of a deliberate designer when we consider the place where he was crucified.  To a casual onlooker that day it may have seemed like a scene of utter chaos – cruel sinners got their hands on God’s son and energized by all the powers of darkness they vented the fury and hatred and sin and rebellion of the human heart against that tender-hearted man.  As soldiers swung the hammer and hurled their insults and raised a hyssop branch and ultimately plunged a spear it may have seemed to some that men were simply having their way.  As priests mocked and people scorned and friends fled and enemies blasphemed it may have seemed to many that God was absent.  But we know so much better.  Acts 4 puts it all so clearly as it describes “the kings of the earth” standing up and “the rulers gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ” but then goes on to state that “both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done”.  Peter states it again clearly in his sermon to the Jewish leaders in Acts 2:23 – he describes them taking Christ and “by wicked hands, crucifying and slaying” him – but he prefaces that charge by stating “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God – ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”.  Nothing happened by chance at Calvary – Golgotha was absolutely not a scene of chaos.  Just as surely as an earthly garden is evidence of deliberate design and planning, so too when we consider that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden” let us remember that the cross-work of our Saviour was carefully planned and pre-determined by our God long before worlds were even formed!

Labour, Toil and Work

I am no gardener – but I have seen enough gardens and witnessed the efforts of enough gardeners to know this – a garden always involves work.  Hard work – diligent toil – devoted, determined, disciplined focused effort.  Someone has to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, remove the weeds, water and feed the seedlings, nurture and tend the plants – all of it represents constant, consistent, committed work.  Just as surely as a garden doesn’t just “happen” without deliberate design – so too a garden inevitably represents work and toil and labour.  Reverently let us always remember that the cross experience of Christ represented the culmination of the greatest work that any human being has ever undertaken.  The Lord spoke of it to his Father in John 17, referring to it as “the work thou gavest me to do”.  He was consistently committed, he toiled tirelessly, he was determined and devoted and disciplined, and Calvary represented, in a very real way, the place where his greatest work was going to be done.  And one of the most wonderful things to remember about his work at the cross is that it was finished!!  Any garden is a place of work – in the place where he was crucified there was a garden – and this should remind us of the incomparable, incomprehensible, inexhaustible work the Saviour accomplished there that day.

Hope of a Future Harvest

But thirdly, a garden is a place where all of the design and the work and the toil and the labour is undertaken with a very specific goal – the hopes of a future bountiful harvest.  Every farmer knows the annual ritual – you plant, you tend, you nurture, you cultivate, you labour and you toil – but eventually the day comes when you reap the harvest and receive the reward of all your labour.  How touching to think that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden”.  The Lord himself said during his life that “except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).  And there at the cross, he became that corn of wheat – he suffered and he bled and he ultimately died – but all of that was with a view to a bountiful harvest that he knew would result.  That harvest began just 3 days later – when in might and triumph and power and glory, with immeasurable joy and unstoppable authority, He conquered death and arose in glorious life.  The bountiful harvest had begun!  The garden was bearing fruit!  1 Corinthians 15 refers to Christ as “the firstfruits” – and promises a wonderful future bounty and a tremendous harvest.  Verse 23 of that chapter describes “Christ the firstfruits, then afterwards those who are Christ’s at his coming”.  What a perspective to have on our world – in one sense, in terms of the wickedness of unregenerate man, the world is like a field that is ripening for the judgement of God. But in another sense, for those who are Christ’s, the Church is like a promising harvest field, filled with His fruit, and He is about to come and reap the bountiful harvest – not of what we have done – but the bountiful harvest of what He has done!  The seed that fell into the ground and died at Golgotha’s cross with all of its suffering and shame, will one day yield an immeasurable harvest which will be to the praise and honour and glory of our God forever!l  What an incredible honour to be part of that harvest that will bring honour and glory to Him.

So as you go about the activities of your busy life today – take a moment to reflect again on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ – remember these simple words John wrote – “now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden” – and ponder in a fresh way the deliberate design and purpose of our God, the tireless toil and finished work of our Saviour and the bountiful harvest day that is about to dawn.  And as each of us considers these things may our hearts be stirred to love him more, serve him faithfully, and look expectantly for him to come and reap that which is rightfully his!  This could be the last weekly devotional ever sent out to the Langstaff assembly – if He comes before next Lord’s Day to gather up his own, then by next Monday we will be in his presence – to be with him and be like him forever!

Dealing with frustration, failure, disillusionment and despair

Langstaff Oversight

Written by Andrew Ussher. 

How to deal with frustration, failure, disillusionment and despair while

Not receiving what I deserve and
deserving what I receive

Contrary to what some falsely promote, the Christian life is not all sunshine and roses! In fact, Christ himself promised that "in the world we would have tribulation", and the New Testament makes no secret of the fact that Christians will be just as susceptible to frustration, trials, adversity, and discouragement as those who do not know The Lord.

Trying circumstances often fall into one of two categories - but interestingly (and encouragingly!) the Scriptures have an antidote to help us when we struggle with discouragement, disillusionment, disappointment and even despair.

The first category of circumstances with which we often struggle occurs when we (in our judgment) do not receive what we deserve. We have possibly done our best, tried our hardest, spent ourselves trying to do the right thing, and done as much and more as anyone else. And yet, in spite of all our efforts, it seems that nothing good has come out of it. Do you ever find yourself in one of the following traps, and been gripped with the resultant sense of injustice, anger, bitterness or discouragement?

  • I've been kind to people, gone out of my way to help them, given of my time and resources to encourage them, and I don't even get a "thank-you" in return

  • I've raised a family, spent decades of my life sacrificing for them and trying to raise them properly, yet none of them has turned out the way I wanted

  • I do all I can to help in the assembly, and yet others seem to get the recognition, praise, complements and credit - and I come and go and nobody ever seems to recognize what I do or how much I contribute! I get no respect, no recognition, no place or prominence.

  • I have done my very best to honour The Lord, and I've always tried to live by the Bible's promise that "them that honour me I will honour" - and yet in spite of all my efforts, it seems that life's just getting tougher and nothing's working out and it sure doesn't seem like God's honouring me, in spite of all my efforts to honour him.

Notice the common thread running through all of the above? It's a sense that "I am not receiving what I deserve" - and this can often be a genuinely crippling force in a believer's life, stifling spiritual vitality, producing discouragement and even anger, and often tempting me to throw in the towel and give up. This spiritual cancer eats at my relationships with other believers, affects my personal spiritual condition, and sometimes even makes me resentful towards God Himself!

The second category of circumstances that can drive a believer to despair involve situations where we feel that we do not deserve what we receive. In some ways, these challenges are even harder to take. It's one thing not to get the gratitude, respect, prosperity or happiness that

I think I deserve - that's hard enough to take - but it's worse still when I actually receive hurtful things, or unfavourable circumstances in spite of all my good efforts and noble intentions.

  • Worse than just not saying thank-you - those I've tried to help actually turn against me, attack my character, question my motives and heap scorn on me!

  • Others' children have turned out well and brought joy to them, but mine have just brought shame and disgrace to me after all I've done to try to raise them right.

  • Tragedy has struck and I've been diagnosed with a terrible disease, or I've lost a loved one prematurely, or I've lost my job, or my financial dreams have all crashed or my plans and dreams have all blown up, and I'm left feeling defeated, wounded and broken.

These things are real - and the emotional toll they exact is powerful! If we are honest, we struggle mightily with a sense of injustice, hurt, resentment and anger when we genuinely feel that we do not receive what we deserve or we do not deserve what we receive.

Do you find yourself struggling in these areas? Do the above sentiments resonate in your heart, drawing a sad, but honest, response from your soul? Then please allow the Scriptures to minister to your needs. The Bible has answers! There is hope!

Get your eyes on Christ and off yourself

The first thing you must do, heeding the exhortation in Hebrews 12:2 is to get your eyes off yourself and your circumstances and get your attention squarely focused on Christ!

"let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."

If ever there was a person who did not receive what he deserved, it was Christ! He deserved honour. He deserved gratitude. He deserved adoration and praise and worship and place. But he received none of these - especially at Calvary! He hung and suffered and died all alone - and received none of the things he so richly deserved!

And if ever there was a person who did not deserve what he received, it was Christ! He did absolutely nothing to deserve the hatred, scorn, mistreatment, reproach and suffering that he endured - to some degree all through his life, but especially in those awful hours in Gethsemane and Gabbatha and Golgotha! The scriptures record the heart-wrenching cry of his soul "they that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head, those that would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully, are mighty". In our case, when we're mistreated, there may be (if we are honest) at least some shred of cause - we are certainly not perfect! - but in his case, they hated him truly "without a cause". He was absolutely perfect, he had only ever loved, he had never hurt anyone - and yet he was bruised and beaten and torn and spat upon, and abandoned and mocked and taunted and rejected.

Have you ever wondered "Why?" Why did God ever allow his Son to pass through such horrors? Why would The Lord of Life and Glory ever stoop to such shame and suffering? One of the truly amazing reasons is given to us in Hebrews 2 - where the writer tells us that "he had

to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God . . . For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." He actually chose the path of suffering, rejection, misunderstanding and shame so that he would experience firsthand the challenges of living life in a sin-cursed world, and would thereby be perfectly suited to help us when we struggle. That is why in chapter 12 of the same book the writer tells us, in the passage quoted above, to "consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted"

So if you find yourself struggling with a sense of injustice and hurt - you haven't received what you deserve - your haven't deserved what you've received - the first, and most important, thing to do it to look to Him, and remember what He passed through.

A Sober Second Look at Yourself

But before leaving this topic altogether, could I gently suggest that after focusing on Christ and getting our perspectives adjusted as we consider what he passed through, and how small and insignificant our perceived slights and our legitimate hurts may be compared to His - there is some benefit in then coming back to take a sober, more honest look at ourselves.

There actually is a Biblical sense in which I have not received what I deserved - the Bible word for that is mercy! Rather than struggling thinking that I deserve recognition, place, prestige, power or whatever else, and haven't received them - I should remember that what I actually do deserve is judgment, separation, abandonment and punishment - and thank God I've received none of these! It is God's mercy that has withheld from me all that I deserve!

Secondly - rather than struggling because I haven't deserved what I've received, and brooding endlessly over how unfairly I've been treated and how unjust it all is - the Bible actually reminds me that it's absolutely true that I haven't deserved what I've received - the Biblical word for that is grace! God has lavishly poured out his rich blessings on me - and I've deserved none of them. We read of the "riches of his grace" - and out of these boundless, immeasurable stores he has lavished freely upon us the indescribable gift of eternal life!


So dear fellow-believer: As you face a new week, search honestly and ask yourself if any of this resonates with you. Are you harbouring a sense of hurt? Have you been treated unjustly? Are you crippled with a sense of how unfair your lot in life has become? Are any of the issues outlined above true in your experience? If we are all honest, the fact is we all struggle, to varying degrees, with exactly these difficulties. May The Lord help us to get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him! This is the first, and most important, requirement to avoid becoming "weary and faint in our minds". And may He then help us to take a sober, scripturally-adjusted look at ourselves, and thank Him from the bottom of our hearts for his mercy (we haven't received what we deserved) and his amazing grace (we certainly do not deserve what we have received!).