Category Archives: Ramblings

A ramble through the week.

Victory in Death over Sin

In putting aside arguments about the literal meanings of Genesis, we allow it to tell us the truth of who we are. In stepping back from the controversy we have the room to go deeper. With the rest of the scripture Genesis tells us, God created us to be holy; righteousness is at our heart. Together with God, we were to form and fill the Earth, caring for it and showing loving kindness, each born of God, acting through faith in God, obedient to his word, wholly other than God. I suggest we were created to live by faith in God, growing in faith through the fulfilment of his word that all is good. By faith, we are to work with God in the perfecting of creation.

This is the joy set before humanity. We are created to be part of the divine nature. This is the message of Adam and Eve in the garden. Our created selves are set apart by God so that we might live by faith, trusting and obedient to his word of truth. In our obedience, our faith brings glory to what God has placed within us. This is our high calling.

Christianity teaches that when we die we get new bodies, becoming like God, and dwell with him as sons of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. The end of our life on the Earth is the gateway to a new life in God. In Christ’s resurrection, we see what this is like, as he moves freed from the constraints of the here and now. This seems fantastic and hard to understand and beyond our experience.

Death is part of creation and not just the end of life. We see this in the cycles of nature as materials are reused. We see in nature the selflessness of creation giving itself up in the formation of the future, pouring its present into the new life of the future. This is the mystery of fruitfulness. In Christ, I believe we see the creative cycle of life and death redeemed and remade good. In Christ, the gift of life is revealed to be everlasting, ever renewed and ever present.

Humanity receives this in God in Christ’s self-giving and submission to the will of God on the cross. Through the cross, Jesus’ death brings humanity into a new life with God, which is perfected by life in a wild and dangerous creation, formed by chance and time, wholly independent of God, bound only to him by faith. From dust we came and to dust we will return. Though our bodies enter the cycle of recycling, we do not fall to the ground and die, lost forever in the molecules of another’s life. The fruitfulness of our created being realises its purpose to be like God, forever in his renewing presence, freed to be like him.

We cannot grasp what appears to be a weird idea when what continues cannot be seen. We can reflect on the story in the Bible and try to absorb its fantastical message but its truth is beyond reason. Added to this we struggle to understand the fantasy of immortality in the knowledge of our ever-present failing to live up to our own expectations of the way things should be. We look through the lens of seeming futility and suffering, and a horror of death. Death as inevitable seems to be the only real fact.

Our reflection begins with Adam’s loss of faith and self-will. He chose his own way and selfishly grasped what pleased him- he rejected God’s warning of the consequences. His eyes were opened to judgement and he felt shame.

Adam had everlasting fellowship with God and he was by faith righteous. Adam was good and had no sin. Receiving the breath of God, he lived in Eden with God and did not sin. His righteousness was his own. In his righteousness, he was wholly separate from God, wholly other than God, bound in intimacy and companionship with God through faith. Adam was the whole of humanity and from Adam God formed Eve. Eve was taken out of Adam, and she became wholly other than Adam. Adam and Eve were two individuals bound together in a relationship which when consummated made them as one person with the purpose of filling the world with offspring. All humanity is created to be righteous by nature, to be bound in a relationship with God, but wholly other than God in its righteousness, living with God, righteous by nature and fruitful, giving and receiving love and creating new life. This is what was lost and what we are redeemed to.

Grasping pride and self-regard in the heavenly realm formed one who was to stand against God’s will and, with those who rebelled in the heavenly court, could contend with God in creation. The father of sin could move freely in Eden. In the heavenly courts the Satan appears to have been, before his fall, the prince of Eden and he became the prince of this world.

The father of lies tempted Eve and through her Adam, and they turned from God. God had put all creation under Adam as a gift and so in following the lust of his eye, all nature came under the thrall of the evil one, the Satan. No longer was righteousness by nature to mark out humanity. All humanity fell. God, though he had been scorned, lied about and rejected, clothed Adam and Eve and then in mercy banished them from the garden. Adam was banished from Eden where the tree of life was.  He was now in the power of the principalities and powers ranged against God- a rebel subject to the prince of this world.

Humanity becomes subject to a curse and is separated from God through sin. But this is the God who teaches us to be endlessly forgiving when sinned against. If we focus on the curse, we miss God’s loving kindness. Humanity does not physically die when it sins and humanity finds itself continually before a just and merciful God. We worship him and call upon his name.

This is our story; in the depth of our despair; in the pit of our desperate condition, before God, we find the glory of our forgiveness as we see God in Christ, on the cross. We find him to have been there from the beginning, an eternal ransom. Through faith, humanity is forgiven and called to please God.

Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift from God, not from the imaginings of men, or their clever doctrines, the mangling of the scriptures to suit their traditions and approve their power, or their appeals to our emotions. Faith is the rock on which he builds a people. This people is founded on the revelation of faith from God that we are loved and forgiven through God and held in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When we come to know Jesus, we discover the ground of our forgiveness, and the truth sets us free. We are reassured that the God of love, separated from us by our sin, forgives us and through the cross, restores us to his presence and clothes us again in righteousness, washing us clean by his dying in our place so that in death we can walk in glory. Our merit is restored in him. In him we are made worthy and guilt and shame are no more; the wages of sin are no longer drawn down; God who has always been our ransom enables us to walk free from slavery to unrighteousness; free from the grip of the evil one.

Our knowledge of God is a gift of faith. Our thank offering to God is our faith. We know a relationship based on this flow of grace and thankfulness. Our whole being has its source in God. We drink from God and his goodness flows from us as we become immersed in him.

Our confidence is in the knowledge of the redemption won for us on the cross. Christ is in us, for us and with us in our lives. Death is separation from this gift of life. Death is the darkness caused by our sin. Sin is us not acting from faith. Faith is the substance of a relationship, a relationship found in Christ, lost in sin and restored in Christ.

Death separates us from our calling to life. We are called to choose life and, because of sin, death has a sting. The sting of death is that sin separates us from the holiness of God and the life we are called to. Our choices in life are what form us. By nature, we are created able to obey or disobey, accept or reject the grace of faith. We are by nature sinful. This is the pain at the heart of God- his deep love for us and our separation from him because of sin, grieves his Spirit. In Christ, God is glorified by showing us mercy. It is faith in a merciful God that turns away the sting of death- we are redeemed.

Christianity teaches that the spirits and powers at work in creation seek to bind us and separate us from God. Because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning under a constant onslaught of evil. The metaphor of death embodying separation from God is powerful in its conveying the horror and futility of a life separated from God. In physical death and the sting of death we are confronted by the agony of spiritual death.

The ground of our being is God and his love, yet love means we can reject love. This is the humility of God the principalities and powers rage against and we, with them are bound in death, given over to death, disobedient, turning from the loving kindness of God.

On the cross, Christ draws this evil to himself, and contends with the principalities and powers, through submission to the will of the Father. In meekness, he disarms their pride and violence. In facing down the curse they enact, he reveals the face of God. In our brokenness and contrite hearts, we find God there in the trials. In the constant onslaught of the evil one on our lives, Christ is our blessing and peace. We are formed to be like God as we suffer- perfected in him as, despite the onslaught, we receive the free-gift of faith and offer it back to God in thankfulness. On the cross God in Christ has obtained the victory and we are redeemed.

This is our story. Banished from Eden, we are separated from the possibility of eternal physical life and we go through physical death. Physical death frees us from the onslaughts of the evil one. Our experience of life is one of slavery to the prowling evil one. Bound by our natures to sin, we choose death but freed in Christ we chose life.

It is not our own fault that we find ourselves slaves but we are responsible for our own sin. Just as the people of Israel in Egypt were not there because of their own sin yet they were slaves, we are also in the realm of Satan through no fault of our own. God redeemed Israel from Egypt by his strong arm and he redeems us from the prince of this Earth by doing battle on the cross and releases us from the bondage of wilful sinfulness once and for all. We are born again to new life. Christianity teaches that the cross transforms physical death. Physical death is redeemed in Christ.

We still die. Death takes away the ones we love and is a threat- it troubles us. We can be consumed by the manner of our death and avoid discussing it in fear. It reduces some so they approach it in degradation and in complete dependence and all dignity is lost.

Dignity in death is prized. We can stave off death and prolong life but the quality of life is what people are worried about. Some want to control the manner of their passing. People want to choose how they are to die and if they lose hope, some want to be killed. Our wonder at life is lost in the futility of the cruelty of death.

Physical death is the ultimate separating from Earthly love. When someone we love dies, then all we have is memories and the inheritance of their work and wealth. This is their legacy; this can be a source of pain, or a measure of a life well lived. It can be a separation from suffering and a source of peace. We are often relieved that someone dies and death can be a release from oppression. Some see the taking of their own lives as a way out. We can see death as a severe mercy.

Our hearts ache when our loved ones die. To live well we must move on and accommodate their loss in a life well lived. We are healthy when we step out of the bad and into the good. Out of the dust of death we form a new life which includes the loss. Every life is sacred and no death is meaningless. The death of a person close to us forms us for good or for ill. Death is not the end. The effects of a life continue after death in the lives of others.

Christianity goes even beyond this though and teaches that, for the individual, death is the gateway to another realm. This realm is not to be feared as it is the realm of God’s goodness which is here now, to be experienced, amongst us in the person of the resurrected Christ, because of his death. The kingdom of heaven is amongst us but the fear of death is still with us. The fear of death seeks to separate us from Christ, the light of life. But his light shines in the darkness of our forebodings. Death is pure darkness to us but hope shines a light into it. Sometimes this is clear to us.

The light that shines is God in Christ who has victory in death. In death, we sleep in Christ. The gift of God is that in our natural end on this Earth, the price of our sin has been paid and we are glorified in death. Death has been redeemed and we go to be with Christ in peace.

Death didn’t take Enoch. Death didn’t take Elijah. Moses and Elijah were physically present at the transfiguration of Jesus we are told. The ever-present Christ, Son of God, communed with Elijah and Moses. Enoch, we are taught, is a hero of faith assumed into heaven without dying. Jesus walked with the disciples, ate with them and rested with them after his resurrection. Physical death is no obstacle to God in the scriptures and may or may not have been inevitable from the beginning– it is spiritual death that separates us from God.

We now know through science that physical death has been our partner from the beginning, in the forming and the renewal of our bodies, cell by cell. Death nourishes us and detritivores are our friends in keeping our world clean. Each system in our body is set up to protect us, keep us from death and has always kept us from the beginning, even our emotions protect us. Our bodies mature and age in an environment where chance and time act. We are physically adapted by our pasts and our present changes us. We live and die in a real world. We are mortal. Physical death is not just an enemy.

In Eden, there could be found the promise of eternal physical life as fruit on a tree, but it appears Adam and Eve did not eat this fruit. Why was it there I wonder? From the beginning, physical death was present I surmise. The warning in Genesis, “You shall surely die…” carried a meaning that God did not have to explain. Adam knew what he was talking about or it wasn’t much of a warning.

In the garden, spiritual death came and the curse of a life separated from God. In the story, God’s anger at sin is made plain. God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden like animals. We sense the urgency and the absolute need to separate Adam and Eve from the tree of eternal life. This was God’s mercy I believe not his anger; a sin driven eternal life would be continuous hell on Earth.

Physical death is a mercy where there is sin. As sin takes its grip, life is shortened in the narrative of Genesis. This is the mercy of God woven into creation I think. Jesus’ life was surrendered up to degradation, violence and intense lonely suffering.

Before Jesus dies on the cross he cries, “It is finished!”. Death is conquered and he dies. Death is sanctified. Death is conquered for all humanity. Death’s sting is averted for all humanity as God in Christ becomes our victory over death. Before he died he told the criminal crucified with him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Death released Christ into glory.

In all our suffering, the scarred God is there, we are gathered to him in death to be with him in paradise. As Christians, we have the courage to say, death is like going to sleep, however untimely or degrading, and hold out this hope to all the world. It is not a matter of whether we deserve to die, but that, in death, sin separates us from life. it is this consequence of sin that God in Christ frees us from. This is the victory of the cross.

 

Easter 2017

As we move through Easter time towards Pentecost, we are encouraged to find meaning in the cross and resurrection. This is love, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. On the cross we see the cost of true love. Though we have rejected love and in our beings walked away from God’s love we know forgiveness. On the cross we see the One who is love, rejected and scorned; we see what sin looks like but we are also taught this is the source of our forgiveness. We struggle with the idea that the innocent One, the Son, suffered death at the hands of those in power and this was the will of the Father, because of God’s wrath.

I believe that we often confuse God’s anger with targeted physical or emotional turmoil. Events in the world and despair can be metaphors for God’s wrath but God’s wrath is spiritual, aroused by human sin and spiritual evil. God’s wrath can find expression I think in physical ways as sin has consequences and malevolent spiritual forces do enact evil. The creation has a loose weave of morality but I am not one of those who believes that these events of time and chance define God. God I contest is revealed in Jesus; in history and in a place. He came to us as a man and lived the life of a man. I believe we are free to choose death and this freedom is God given, an offering of his will in our wills and that, although life is held out to us, we know good and evil, are not in Eden, and each of us grasps our own destiny choosing death. Being the light of life, Jesus, the man, chose only life.

Eve was taken out of Adam we are taught. She was flesh of Adams flesh and I see Jesus as the new Adam, taken out of Mary, his mother, flesh of her flesh. Adam is all humanity, formed in the image of God, male and female Adam was formed. Eve’s humanity came from Adam, Jesus’ from Mary. Adam became the man when Eve became the woman and in Jesus we see that humanity realises the fullness of God’s image. There is no longer male and female in Christ. Christ is all humanity.

To our modern minds, before we get to the Cross, before we even speak of God, this is a stumbling block- even a brick wall! The whole message of who Jesus is, is disruptive. How can Jesus be fully human if he has not got a human father? My faith is that he was conceived by the brooding, creative power of the Holy Spirit- formed from Mary. Jesus is the first of a new creation taken out of the old, taken out of Mary’s flesh. He is a new humanity.

One cell became the man Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. I see this as being so important. Eve is fully human, the mother of all humanity, a type or metaphor for Jesus; it’s the message of Eve we need to focus on. God in Jesus became flesh formed from Mary; Christ, the Son, in Jesus was born from Mary.

Why couldn’t the son of Mary and Joseph’s natural union have been the made God by the power of the Holy Spirit? Central to my faith is that Jesus, though human, was not born of the will of man, but the will of God. Jesus is the first fruits of our new birth. I believe, in Christ, we are born of the Holy Spirit too, not through the works of men. The promise of the cross is to all and for all and the message is in the very body of Jesus. He is the mediator between God and humanity, disruptive in his conceiving and a block to our pride.

So hopefully you can see where I am coming from. To summarise, I believe we are made in the image of God, unconditionally loved and that sin and evil arouse God’s anger. I believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God. I believe on the cross we see pure love lavished on us when we deserve only pure anger. I believe if we truly are made in the image of God, there is the possibility that in death, we will be separated from God by death.

God should be angry at our abuse of the freedom to love. God, I see, as being aroused to anger by the hurt of our secrets, our ruling over one another and our enthroning of our needs and desires over others’ wellbeing. God should rightly be angry and pour out his anger on the abuse, the violence and the cold indifference of the world when he speaks only love. This is just righteousness and our coldness to his word is part of this dreadful system. We pursue our own way in the face of God’s love.

Don’t we stand knowing God’s love and mercy? Aren’t we in our very humanity aware of our need for redemption? To be brought back to a place of peace and freedom? In us is a need to be made new- our need is to be regenerated. We see our faults made plain in the failings of others. There is a great weight of bondage – a sense we are cursed. We know and feel that in ourselves things are not right; and we feel this from deep within. We recognise that there is a rightness. We measure our actions against our hearts desire; against what it shows us is right. How can we realise this humanity within all of us? How can we avert the just wrath that God rightly holds against us in our sinning?

I truly believe that we could not call God good if he were not aroused to wrath by our sin; by our inhumanity. This is the severity of the love of God; the other side of perfect love. God can be said to be struggling with himself and this is the pain that God holds, the pain of the vulnerable God who holds out love, which if it is true love may be rejected and who for the sake of the vulnerable knows wrath. Yet we know forgiveness. This is the light that lights the hearts of every person. In a broken and contrite heart we draw near to God and he shines his light into our darkness. God draws near to us.

God by his very nature is love; he is loving kindness and mercy. His very being is self-giving- he acts to give of himself from the beginning, pouring himself out sacrificially in the Trinity and from the beginning in creation. Jesus teaches that there is no greater love than the love that gives its life for another and we are called to be submissive and self-sacrificing- to be perfect as God is perfect. This is the life of God; this is the life of the Trinity woven into creation.

God is beyond our conceiving of good and even as we understand goodness, we know God by his very nature must be aroused in the vulnerability of love, to wrath where there is sin and it is my belief that this wrath is poured out on the cross. The penalty of sin is death; separation from life. God in Christ I maintain takes that penalty and sanctifies death for all humanity as Christ bears the curse of sin for us.

On the cross I see all the guilt and shame of my sin carried and dealt with and I am made free from it. In my sin, I carry death in my body. Deep down I know it. How can I be freed? In my own death, how can I come before a Holy God whilst carrying this body of sin? If God is Holy and loving, he must be aroused to anger by my sin. How can I avert this anger? How can I be made clean so that I can come in to his presence?

We glimpse love, righteousness and mercy; true justice; the goodness of God, despite our wretchedness. God’s goodness is revealed in his offering of himself in Christ as our ransom while we are still sinners.

What I witness is God suffering death in our place, so that we might be freed from the bondage of sin, the sin of our own making and the consequences of sin in the world. In Christ, we are redeemed and we can realise the deep need we need to be cleansed of our iniquities; to be cleansed of our defilement.

God is just in his anger and as he is good, in his presence sin and evil are consumed. The sting of sin- of not choosing life- is death. Christ’s offering pays the price and cleans us. His blood- his death- releases us from bondage to sin. His death washes us clean. Christ offers himself and though sinless, suffers the separation of death in our place. In his resurrection, he conquers death and gives us the gift of faith to believe in the God who is loving and self-giving and offers himself as our ransom- his life for ours. In our faith that God in Christ went through death in our place, we experience mercy. God reveals the mystery of how though, in our wilfulness we deserve death, God offers forgiveness. The way is revealed and we become people of the way of the cross.

On the cross, Christ chose the way of submission and peace, obedient to the Father to the end. He chose the way of self-offering. This is the way that brings life. His victory over death was in weakness and vulnerability. He turns the tree of disgrace into a throne of grace. Through his birth, baptism, ministry- his healing people, delivering people from bondage and his words of truth- and his death on the cross, God is transfigured in Jesus and the image of God in us is transfigured through faith. Faith in what Christ has achieved. Our work is to love, trust and obey the Father, and to offer this back as an offering of faith, an offering of hope; the gift that God freely gives us.

However small our faith, it is a gift from God; however small and smouldering our hope, however broken we feel, in offering it back to God, God moves mountains. God heals the broken hearted and welcomes the contrite. In our small offering- the tiny seed of faith- the mountain of our sin is moved once and for all. And our journey continues. Sin and death are dealt with and we walk free to bless and serve the world. Death has lost its sting. The veil of division is torn and the rock of our stony hearts broken open as we experience resurrection life and receive hearts of flesh. Out of death hope arises.

Holiness is brought near through the cross, and true intimacy begins to be reborn as we are clothed in Christ once and for evermore, brought into God’s presence and, in Christ, we learn to love.

Our adapted self, adapted to sin and the consequences of sin, reaches out to take the hand of Christ in the storms of life. In our messed-up mess, Jesus pulls us up and we become our true created selves, loved from the beginning, images of God, assured because of the work of the cross. God gazes upon us and in the love of the Trinity sees the Son; he sees himself reflected. This is the work of faith- a work of faith alone. Not clever words or theories, not of our own will, but of the Spirit working through faith – a gift of God. This is God’s grace so that we stand assured in the work of grace of the crucified Christ- our Lord.

 

 

The Bound Lamb: Identity

010477865d247a2797339d68a1f63cb783ee712c01After Adam sinned, God walked in the cool of the garden and God called to Adam, “Where are you?” By the hand of Abraham, God commanded the death of Isaac; God called Abraham and he replied, “Here am I.” “Here am I, my son,” Abraham answers Isaac as Isaac calls him father and questions him about the sacrifice. When the Angel of the Lord calls to Abraham from heaven he answers, “Here am I,” and God stops the sacrifice. Abraham declares himself to God, Isaac and the Angel of the Lord: he is present to them.

God new only love for Abraham and Abraham loved his son. For God to test Abraham by commanding evil shocks us. God is good. This is the mystery in the Cross – the violence is a revelation of God’s goodness. True love is freely given and freely accepted. In the Unity of God, love is perfect and glorified. God does not command evil.

We exist: we live and love and have our being in time and place. We know purpose in love and in life. We know suffering and danger and are subject to both without distinction. Bad actions bring consequences and we see that these consequences also befall the innocent. Bad actions often bring prosperity.

If our faith allows us to believe this is as a result of the goodness of a loving God, in the midst of it we have the faith to say with contrite hearts, “Here am I.” This is me! In our wrestling with the collateral of existence, God places the Cross and in faith we know that his death is our life. He lives having conquered death and his victory is our victory. In him we repent and choose life, and the death we deserve is placed on him.

In Christ we are redeemed- his blood brings us near to God and we are made clean. Our faith answers his calling of our name, “Here am I,” reflecting the revelation of the person of God :“I AM.” This is our blessing, realising God’s image within each of us, we are alive in Christ and creation is blessed. Freed from sin and death, we learn to love, as the one who is Love lives in us. He makes himself present in us so that he is present to the world. Mercy is shown by God living in us.

By Christ taking the penalty for sin, we are freed to love. We are freed to love God and all humanity as we love our selves, “Here am I!” We no longer skulk afraid of God and answer the God who calls our name, “Here am I!” He became sin so that we might live, the “I” in us present to the “I AM” of God.

The sacrifice on the Cross, its shock, its foolishness reveals God as sacrifice, satisfies the demands of justice so that we may know peace and mercy. Why? This is our place of wrestling. In the story of Abraham we can wrestle with the dissonance of the command. Our faith is that God is the God who provides. The Cross is the provision so that we are holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect.

Our faith in the Lordship of Christ; his life death and resurrection, restores us to life. In Jesus Christ we are healed. The righteousness of Christ is our righteousness; his death is our death and through our faith in his Lordship we are created new, born again, dead to sin. In him we bless the nations revealing God’s goodness. Because of his sacrifice our sacrifice is one of praise. Because of Jesus we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

We need to embrace the story of who we are. Our work is to believe in God as loving Father. How can he lay us on the pyre of judgement and wield the knife of our death and love us? We are free to accept as true that God loves us. Faith alone enables us to accept that, in the Cross, God takes his wrath upon himself and justice is served.

In our wilfulness, we are free to accept we deserve only death: in our being we are free to accept we are the objects of pure love. The Cross resolves this as the One, through whom we and all that is created has its existence, answers, “Here am I” to the “I AM” of God. Jesus bears the full fury of death and hell we deserve and defeats it. God provides the atoning sacrifice: himself! And the wrath is turned away: death is defeated. I AM declares, “Here am I” and in perfect obedience to the Father confronts death – but…

The Bound Lamb: Love

01f35bd967d95cc6f56ffa87b9a603817eef74e83f

The idea that our salvation is achieved through sacrifice is unsettling to me. I can see God in the life of Jesus, a sacrifice- a gift to us- a perfect life lived in the Son. In Jesus, God in the form of man, God the Father shows us his love for us and how precious his image is in us by sending us his Son to walk among us. The unsettling part is the Cross being the end of that life, not the goodly old age of a life lived perfectly and our faith in that being our salvation. The victory over sin and our atonement for that sin are made perfect in the Cross not just the life lived without sin by Jesus. The Cross is included in the righteousness our faith wins.

Jesus, God in a body, lives life, pure and perfect, in a world subject to God’s judgement and experiences, in his innocence, the wrath of his Father against sin. He walks with us, but in redeemed peace, showing the Father’s heart, through forgiveness and compassion; a life full of self-giving. The mystery is that the love of the Father for the Son and the love of Jesus for God his Father, is made perfect on the Cross.

I understand Jesus, as a man bears the perfect Image of God, confronting and experiencing the power of evil- the wrath in creation- battling spiritual powers in the heavenlies. I can see, coming to understand this, and perfectly following the will of the Father in his humanity was the Way Jesus followed. Truly he carried God’s image and was the new Adam from his birth, redeeming humanity from sin, but the mystery is that he is also the Lamb slaughtered from the beginning. Our faith is that the Cross reveals sacrifice is an attribute of God; total, grace-filled, self-giving is perfected on the Cross and we see God.

It is revealed that the will of the Father was perfected because Jesus was obedient, even to death on the Cross. In the story of the bound lamb, we see in Isaac and Abraham a measure of what obedience is. We see Abraham, our father in faith, obedient, trusting in the will of the Father speaking in him. Isaac was the sacrifice God speaking in him demanded. Isaac meekly obeyed his father Abraham to the point of lying on the pyre and being bound.

God intervened and provided a lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac did not die and God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac was fulfilled in his faith, as we believe by the birth of Jesus. God’s promise to us is that he loves us to the point where our faith in Jesus as Lord wins for us the blessing of his image in us through the gift of the Spirit; eternal life. This is the blessing promised to Abraham. In Christ we are redeemed, our sin is atoned for and we live eternal life.

The God of eternity, eternally pours himself out in love and so we have all creation. In his resting, his peace, every choice and chance become authentic and in its being is his image. In humanity this image is totally loved and freed to love; freed to choose life. Self-willed Adam chooses death. In Adam we are called to hear God and walk with him, working in creation to subdue and create through our fruitfulness in obedience to God. This is the eternal blessing of the image within us. Yet our pride of heart and our grasping after our own will separate us from this love and purpose, so our existence is futile. But God has committed to redeeming the life he has put within us, revealed in God speaking through the story of Noah. God does not give up on humanity.

This tells us that so that we are free to love, we are also freed to choose death. In Adam we choose death and are eternally lost to God. But God does not give up on us because he loves us.

In my imagination, we are Isaac, willingly bound by our own nature. Abraham is the father we love and trust and he is about to slaughter us. The law of life and death in Abraham will take our lives. God steps in and Abraham looks up and sees the lamb. The law of life and death is fulfilled in slaughtering the lamb. Jesus is our lamb and God is pleased. The lamb takes our place and dies instead of us. We are no longer subject to death at the hands of Abraham and we live. Death is defeated- Isaac walks free. The life that Isaac has is the gift of the blood of the lamb. The lamb’s life becomes Isaac’s life.

This strange story helps us understand the nature of obedience and how we are to walk with God. God is pleased to work in and through Abraham: God is glorified in faith and obedience to his speaking within us. God will use our spirit’s to move us on into a deepening understanding of faith and does not leave us alone. He will act to affirm us in our faith, testing our obedience to his voice within, and lead us to a more perfect understanding of himself by revealing his eternal will. Isaac is us and, in the sacrifice of the lamb, the lamb becomes Isaac and the mystery of our faith is that this is eternally true and is the freedom that enables us to love God. The Cross takes into itself this story. The Cross takes into itself the story of creation. The Cross is where God’s love is glorified. The Cross shows us perfect love. The Cross is where it is all heading.

Love is only love if it is authentic. If love is to be authentic there has to be a choice and to not choose life is to choose death. Love is not pleased by the death of the object of its love. This is the dreadful position Abraham finds himself in. Isaac is the embodiment of the promise and the story is that the word of God to Abraham is to slaughter Isaac. In God there is love- for love to be authentic the object of God’s love must die. The image of God in every person must suffer death.

God provided Abraham with a lamb which Abraham chooses to sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Isaac receives back his life in the death of the lamb. God is pleased with Abraham and Abraham fulfils the word of God to slaughter Isaac by slaughtering the lamb. So that the choice to love is authentic there must be death- we must be freed to choose death. The penalty of the gross sin of not obeying God is death. The sting of death exists because of love.

This is what we see on the Cross. We are the object of God’s love in which all life exists; outside this love is death and God’s love is so deep for us, his holiness is made perfect in his wrath at un-holiness which would separate us from him. We rightly call God a jealous God in this. Our sin carries the penalty of God’s wrath and his image in creation works this wrath through the freedoms in creation; the very freedoms that allow love. Faith speaks to us of freedom and calls us to repent and atone so that we may be at peace with the God of Love. Jesus is the lamb that atones for our sins and bears the death we deserve. God provides the One who will bear the penalty as he is the lamb who is slaughtered from the beginning. In the Cross the eternal sacrifice of God is revealed. Through the Cross we are moved on to a deeper knowledge of forgiveness, atonement and living the forgiven life. God loves the world through the Cross.

On the cross the penalty for Sin is borne, and we are moved on in faith because the One on the Cross is God, offering his life so that we might live. The life of Isaac becomes the life of the lamb. Isaac’s life is restored because Abraham in faith slaughters the lamb.

God knew only love for Abraham and Abraham loved his son.

 

The Bound Lamb: Violence

01b555eb613f0f3ee24d6d5c99a34e26c23254d399Do we see the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of violence on the part of God? To describe Christ as being a sacrifice, to our sensibilities is offensive. We do not live in the West in a culture where blood sacrifice is part of our mental framework. We are, for example, removed from the daily animal slaughter made on our behalf so that we can enjoy a Burger. We would not see the taking of these lives as of religious significance though we do care about cruelty.

What did the people hear in the time of the early church when Jesus was described as a blood sacrifice? Their mental framework included, whether Jew or Gentile, animal slaughter as a religious act. For the Jews they had been taught that they were to bring an offering to the Temple to give thanks and atone for their wrong doing. For those with means it would be the best of their flocks or the first fruits of the harvest. For others it would have meant the lives of turtle doves or bringing a couple of cakes. All had the same value and each was a sacrifice signalling to God their need and their obedience to God. They had a need for forgiveness to be at one with God and they had gratitude for God’s provision.

We need forgiveness as the condition of our hearts is that we are wilful and proud. Before God we are broken and poor in spirit. Each day brings troubles. Each day we infringe God’s blessing and other’s freedom. We know suffering in ourselves and compassion draws us out and we feel the suffering of others. We are subject to change and chance and we know pain and guilt. It is so clear that we live under a cloud of self-inflicted harm in what we do and what we don’t do; the way we treat our planet and the people around us. This is our context- we miss the target of the good we know. The prevailing wind in our times is helplessness and anger. We spend our energy on trying to control and effect our own happiness as nations and as individuals. In so doing, as often as not, we do harm and violence.

In our hearts we know the measure of our actions and reverence law and pursue duty. We try our best. But to be happy and to become our best selves we need to be at one with the reality of our sin and can’t brush it under the carpet. We also know that in our struggles we have much to be grateful for. But we need peace. The peace we seek needs to go beyond our everyday experience; beyond our understanding, as the issues are so complex.

The state of goodness- to know peace- is at our hearts. It is our wills in harmony with God’s will. All is well. It is this peace that Christ gives. It is this peace that Christ breathes into us through the Holy Spirit. It has always been so.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross achieves this peace. This is the mystery at the heart of Christianity. Jesus is fully human; fully submitted to the will of the Father. Grace teaches that what he has achieved has been achieved for us. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross brings us peace. Jesus giving his life up willingly on the Cross is the offering brought by Jesus on our behalves to God. In Jesus, God himself offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for humanity; being fully human he transforms the violence of the principalities and powers against his body into a sacrifice that reveals God and brings peace to the creation. Through his submission and death, all wrath is stilled and calmed and peace is victorious. The silence of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the face of death silences the Law: the goodness that is God’s alone brings peace so that the Law is fulfilled and brought to its end, perfected, in Christ’s obedience to the Father.

The Law and the consequences of the Law- the wrath of God- were visited on Jesus by the principalities and powers. They met pure goodness. A fully human will, at one with the will of God, endured forsakenness and death, the sting of the Law. Such love! A love that knows and trusts the faithfulness of God and embraces God’s will, triumphs in God’s wrath and brings peace where there is violence.

The wrath of God is his justice and mercy, brought to its fullness in the sacrifice of Jesus. To take a human life is pure evil. The judgement on the murderer is death. The taking of life demands the loss of life. This is the wrath of God. Through the agency of creation the wrath of God against all un-holiness is worked out.

Jesus did not deserve the wrath of God- he was sinless. Even though he was fully God he did not grasp at equality but, fully human, was born, suffered and died a cruel death, a death because of our wilfulness we deserve. Being fully God the mystery is that he bore the fullness of God’s wrath as, in his humanity, at the hands of the principalities and powers, he was slaughtered. The mystery is that in Jesus, God grafts humanity into himself and the power of Jesus’ actual death is that it pays the price of all God’s wrath for all sin. Death is the price of the just and merciful wrath of God against all sin.

The mystery is that Jesus defeated death and rose to new life, the first fruits of all humanity who by faith, receive forgiveness for their sins because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ’s victory is made our victory by faith! We are given new life in him and, through the Holy Spirit, a taste of eternity’s blessing; peace and reconciliation to God.

As the Church we are the elect, chosen to bring the blessing of the peace of Christ to the world. The church stands as a lamp that cannot be hidden; a city on a hill. We are the salt that brings savour to the creation. This is our privilege, the treasure found in heaven- the seed sown in eternity. We are those who follow Christ, a harvest, the first fruits of which is Christ. We make our election sure as we bring Christ’s blessing in to the world. We are to bless those around us, a remnant of the blessing that was for all humanity. Restored to this blessing and forgiven we know new life and become the life that blesses the world. Elect for God’s purpose- in Christ we are redeemed to that original blessing God purposes in his creating. We are those who bring peace even in persecution, even in our own suffering and death. We are those who persevere in love in the face of continuing wrath, safe in the victory over wrath won on the Cross of Christ.

Yes, Christ is the fulfilment of the sacrificial system- God offering himself to himself so that in Christ we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise. His goodness becomes our goodness. Truly the pure in heart see God and know his tender mercies. The wrath of God is turned away and transformed to peace in Christ. The Lord is good to all! In this life and in the next, Christ has the victory. His mercies never end and great is our reward in his presence. There is no condemnation in him and he will not abandon us to the gates of hell. Nothing can separate us from the love of God- wrath will not prevail. We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

All nations will bow the knee as Christ comes again in victory- some will suffer loss but Christ has set a limit to the suffering for the sake of the elect we are told. This is God’s heart revealed in this world. When heaven and earth are made one, there will be no pain or hurt, all tears will be wiped away, as all creation is redeemed in Christ it is written. Will all people be saved?

God has the power to save all people and on the Cross all sin is dealt with. His love has no end, but there is a lake of fire for the final destruction of the principalities and powers. Will those conformed to the principalities and powers follow them to destruction? The truth is that in our wilfulness this is where we start and we need to offer a sacrifice of praise for the provision for forgiveness in Christ and, through faith in his having made the final sacrifice for sin, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.

We cry, your will be done oh Father! You turn mourning into dancing.

 

 

Skimming Kant

017ddcb9360a2de2c4fbd0dc3a205e91b7949fccd6Skimming Kant doesn’t imply any understanding of his ideas but my scant reading has fired my imagination. I am very loosely using an understanding of his ideas as a springboard- cod Kant. If morality is duty, not inclination, and pure good is God’s will, then morality –the tree of good and evil- is the downfall of humanity. The sin of humanity- rejecting the good will of God- is by nature our rejecting the good and doing our will not God’s.

Morality – the law- is death whereas the grace of God – the gift of his good and perfect will- is life. The breath of life is received in our spirit and being truly alive is to commune with God- in the coolness of creation’s Garden- and to do his will. Instead we sin, but the Father’s heart is to restore us to that communion, bring us to the place of his cleansing presence. Our reason is a slave to law and dead to God unless our spirits are made alive in Christ. It is God’s purpose, revealed through the scriptures, to know us and love us through grace not the law so that we may choose life. The good purpose of the law is to bring us to the place of grace.

Grace is revealed through Jesus, fully God and fully man. Being fully God his every action is entirely good- he is free of the law. Being fully man he suffers the judgements of the law. Though innocent, Jesus’ life was an affront and threat to the law which brought to bear the unjust penalty of death on Jesus- death on a cross. The glory of grace is revealed as Jesus, carrying the punishment of sin though innocent, defeats death by rising from death. The penalty of sin is served and defeated on the cross by Jesus who perfectly obeys the will of the Father, not counting his deity as something to be grasped. In the forsakenness of Jesus taken in our place, the man of sorrows, the suffering servant, takes the full penalty of sin, revealing, in his obedience, God who alone is good. In Jesus Christ’s victory over death we see the end of the law and the revelation of grace. The penalty we justly deserve is served on Jesus the innocent victim of wrath.

Through the cross, God restores us and speaks life in our spirits: believe in God- turn your reason to God- repent of grasping your own will, receive the gift of grace and take up God’s will. We are restored because in our believing we receive the goodness of Christ and are made alive in our spirits, purified by Christ’s life. Our will is redeemed. We receive as a gift the restoration of goodness for eternity and know the presence of God in our hearts by faith. The coolness of the Garden is restored in our inner being- a place of refining communion with God.

What am I being redeemed to?

0184136a84ba06f329f247d635c265d92966f6adf1God’s creation of us was good and with the whole of creation, very good. If my goodness is my heart intention or my will, then to be truly human is to have right heart intention: a good will- a will able to choose, free and sovereign, and acting within God’s will and reflecting God’s will. As humans, we are able to reason and act apart from instinct and, I believe, to know and be known fully in our human spirit by God. In God’s creation of us, God blesses us with a good will, able to reason and decide, and with our spirit alive in him. For me this is what it is to be alive; this is what we are redeemed to in Christ.

To say we are redeemed to a moral perfection rather than our original blessing isn’t true. A moral choice is one made by judging what is good and what is evil and choosing the good. So far so good, but we do this out of duty rather because, having judged something as wrong, we must do the good. We have set up a law within ourselves, act on our evaluation and seek to live by this law which we are free to choose to do. But where is the redemption- we can do this as we are. Our separation from God is as a result of our being able to make these choices, the scriptures teach- this is the root of sin and death. We are created to be alive in God not to slavishly follow laws. You can live a moral life without God- that’s the problem. You can choose to lead a moral life to your own harm and loss. You can choose to live a moral life to avoid the consequences of not doing so.

God I believe acts to redeem us from living by law to living under our original grace. Grace is God’s free gift given because of our faith in him not faith in our own moral choices. We are redeemed to that place of innocence that comes out of a higher relationship of faith in God and in Christ who saves us from law and makes us alive in our original life. Christ renews our hearts- redeems our wills- so that we are empowered to dwell in eternity with God. As we go deeper into faith our inclination is to do good because in Christ sin and the consequences of sin are dealt with- we are made good. Our lives in Christ perfect us in this as we live our lives in grace, knowing we are forgiven our sin through faith in the redemption of Christ.

Redemption in Christ is the gift of a life freed from the endless toil of being subject to the laws of our own devising- by command, culture and upbringing. In Christ we are freed to be virtuous because of faith. Our turning away from the inclinations of our own hearts to the principal of faith in God restores us to our original blessing and frees us to live the life of one made in the image of God. God created us to be in Christ.

Perplexed

Let's celebrate!

I’ve always been a cheerful sort of chappy.

Genesis 21-22

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Romans 10:8-10

Hebrews 11: 17-40 (ESVUK)

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

So God asks Abraham to sacrifice- to kill- his child as a test of obedience. God in other places commands genocide despite also commanding that we are not to kill. Without the blinkers of a blind or indifferent faith this is, in the face of it, simply, very perplexing. It is hard to reconcile.

God reveals himself to be a God whose character and nature forbid child sacrifice and the taking of life, yet we are to commend those who do, for their obedience to the God who commands it.

There is another story aside from Abraham’s that is similar – the taking of the life of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). Read it and don’t duck the fact that at the end of the Bible his actions are commended as faith (Hebrews 11).

It’s all very perplexing when we would like it all to be made right and somehow sorted by the apostles. It is not.

Are we to gloss over these stories? Are we, in our fervor, to miss them out? The whole of the scripture does not allow us to with integrity. Some scholars try to let us off the hook; convinced that God would not command child sacrifice they propose that the sacrifice is figurative and the sacrifice was the daughter’s life as a woman, represented as death. But this Jephthah, in his fallibility, is a hero of the faith as is the lustful Samson and the power hungry, idolatrous Gideon.

If these are stories of faith- the faith we are called to, then in them there must be a disruptive purpose, calling us to a higher understanding of faith, or we might as well abandon faith as a futile fiction. Is their purpose to heighten our understanding of God or maybe to wrench us from our own understanding of God? You have to ask yourself why the Bible would in effect cause you to think the worse of God.

I can think of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus responds to her in a way that would be expected of any Jewish man of his day, calling her a dog, but then grants her desire. Jesus would not be loving if he was an unkind bigot, so to call the woman a dog could not have been unkind. But he did. It sounds unkind. Jesus, through his life, taught the good news of salvation so my faith trusts there is a higher purpose in this story not a license for bigotry and unkindness.

Where do we go from here?

The Bible is God’s word. It is the written revelation of God himself and all we need to know for salvation. The words are the words of ordinary people in their times and it is their words that carry the Word of God, the essence of their encounter with the living God. The words are prophetic, speaking the stories of God’s communing with people, in their language, in their culture and in their time. Many of the writers are unknown and even the identity of the Christian writers uncertain, but Christians hold that the Bible preserves the prophetic writings of these people and is the word of God. Tradition says they are true and all else is measured against them.

Jesu did not write anything except in the shifting sand. And we don’t know what it said only that the words challenged the scribes.

Jesus, a man in his times, spoke without sin. He is God and in Jesus we see God himself. In his life, death and resurrection we encounter God himself.

In the light and knowledge of his death, Jesus reveals to some disciples on the road to Emmaus the meaning of scripture. This, with them only having heard a rumour of his resurrection. They heard with broken hearts and their perspective was changed. But the words Jesus spoke were not recorded not even in summary. From the story we only have an inspiration to read the scriptures as being fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus being the Word of God, the scriptures speak of him and we are left to have faith in this: we will find him in them.

We accept all scripture as prophetic. Prophecy is spoken by a person. When we read God said… or God told… the word was spoken to a person, who would comprehend and relay it as a person; a person in their times, in their language – living from their past and present. We are told that all prophecy is like a misty mirror. We look in to a mirror to see ourselves; so we too are part of the prophecy. When God spoke over Jesus some heard it as thunder. God turned Abraham from the sacrifice by speaking through an angel not directly to him. Is this significant?

Whatever, our hearing now, perfects the faith of the heroes of faith.

So we can read scripture prayerfully putting our self in the picture and exploring the simple meaning; study its origins and the variety of translations and interpretations and then explore and follow the passions aroused in us. We can practice coming to the scripture in peace, reading it, meditating upon it, praying into it and finally moving to silent contemplation, embodying it.

We come to a living God, and the scripture is dead if we do not act upon it- if it isn’t part of us.

But please do not sacrifice your children, become a bigot or consider genocide an option.

 

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Messed Up Church

Luke 4:16

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

 

01cfc8f82efd1976dcd8aee943b3e35109a5617ffeThis is part of the section of scripture we looked at in Chapel this morning. This was Jesus, in his home town doing what he usually did. And then the local builder claimed he was God!

What struck me was Jesus challenged them in the heart of what was normal; in his boyhood community.

God calls us to a special unity under him – a local community in Christ. Not a community of human traditions but a community where each part, each like a stone in the building , is a centre of unity in God- part of his purpose and will. God in Jesus is the foundation and the corner stone – the root and the apex.

But we are forever deflecting from this, building human kingdoms and systems not living temples. Why?

There will be a setting. There will be a gathering of people. There will be various functions or ministries cementing people together. Personalities and hierarchies sadly supplant God in these kingdoms. There is nothing usually inherently wrong but kingdoms of this world constantly arise in the heart of what we may call the church.

In  CCBS this morning I went on to hear Gareth McCormick preaching in part precisely on this through Nehemiah 13. These kingdoms are easy to recognise and work away at the integrity of the Temple which in our context is us- the people of God gathered in Christ.

Worldly religion in Christianity is a many headed beast. However the beauty of the true church is there is only one head – Christ. Each part works under his grace. Christ is the one source of life. The true church has one head.

This is the space for self examination. God’s church exists where there are no weekly organised meetings, no governing bodies, no outward props – it exists in the twos or threes gathered together. It points to the twos or threes – in simple meals, walks, accountability, teaching and prayer. Maybe that is why the church is able to thrive in austerity and persecution because the life is in relationships not organisations.

The test is whether what is inevitably built survives when everything of potential pride is removed – when a leader leaves, a building is removed or families depart. Where the spirit of Christ is, where his message runs deep, there is freedom and forgiveness – life and growth.

I am thinking of a new movement called the Messed up Church where messed up people who have been scarred by the many headed beast can get their wounds healed. Where they can find their unity in Christ in twos and threes.

To form it, the established church will have to change its name to the Get out of the Doors Church where the members become the seed of community actually in their communities, becoming relevant by being there where people are, not just organising themselves, exhausting themselves serving a many headed beast.  We are to be scattered liberally just in case there is good soil and there are ears to hear and eyes to see. We are to be like yeast in bread, tiny but bringing life to the whole loaf.

The local church there by is a resource, a sending community, not a centre of human growth but a constantly pulsing, sacrificial centre of kingdom growth.

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Reflection from a Week in April 2016

I have written, thought and spoken a lot of my belief in God’s gift to us of a sovereign will. I think I believe it is this free gift to us – God’s grace to us – that makes us humans in the image of God. Our sovereign free will is God’s image in us, a principal of grace. God has perfect free will. What we contend for and call our free will is truly slavery; slavery to guilt and shame; slavery to the drives of our lusts and desires.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Audley End Hot House Display

It has been said that joy craves eternity and others say that eternity is to be found in the moment, living the moment to the full. I am sure there is some truth in this. This is always expressed in the context of our ability to choose. But how do we effect this choice. Is the fact of our faith in our own will in reality binding us to a law, and this in fact is the source of our sin in turning from the grace set in each of us. We are not who we are created to be; sin then is not living as those who are sovereign by God’s will but by a principle of law, the knowledge of good and evil.

Is the existence of law the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Law is the masking of our created godliness; a denying of the gift of grace within all of us. What does it mean in Genesis 3:22…”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for ever.” And in Genesis 11:6… “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

Is God jealous for his deity? Why then had he made man in his own image? Isn’t becoming more like God progress?

I wonder if, given that God is supremely good and named as Love, it’s the truth that the sovereignty of our own will is only evil if it is not the perfect expression of the perfect will of God. It is a grasping of who we are made to be in our own will on our own terms.

Adam’s grasping after and taking of the apple asserted his will, not the will of God. Adam creates a morality not inherent in the grace of human sovereignty but in knowledge; in the death and curse of the law, creating a law; in judgement: this is good- this is evil. It is this principle of death Christ destroys, crushing under his foot.

Could it be that in Christ, the exact image and revelation of God, we see the law and its curse nailed to a Cross, the awful expression of Jesus’ living the life expressing, “Your will, not mine” to God his Father? The Cross is a powerful undoing of the power of the law, redeeming the grace within us.

I wonder if the story of the Bible is God’s revelation of the absolute value of his image in us. We measure our freedom in our ability to choose, but could it be that God is leading us to a place where we live from that inner place of sovereign grace.

I return again to the absurdity of this story. It begins in the very act of creation where we measure our being by the ultimate Being, God, and in the despair of sin we cry out, “Why did you create me for such suffering? Is that Justice?” Through Noah we see God’s commitment to humanity; to bear the pain of creation.

It continues in Abraham where God’s promised one is demanded as a sacrifice – a call from God to break all laws. A Call from God to have faith in God to be a god who he is not – a child killer – demanding what he has himself forbidden. Is the deep lesson here that all morality is within us and is perfected in trusting in the grace within us – our only source of Joy and Delight is being in communion with God’s perfect will? Is God saying in this that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling that we are to realise; that which is within us, beyond what we can conceive as being good and evil, beyond what we can conceive as being God.

By pushing beyond our own judgement, we become who we are created to be; who Abraham is – our father in faith – and discover who God is. God is revealed. And then the incarnation, life and death of Christ – God on the cross with all its manifold meaning presents itself. What is the outcome? We stand in the presence of the living God and partake in his deity, living in communion with the Spirit through grace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Audley End a Riot of Tulips

 

It is a strange place to be where our high conception of God’s sovereignty makes God less than he is. We come to believe that God has destined everyone’s ultimate destiny and created us either for damnation or glory as an act of his sovereign will. Our freedom is to choose the course of our lives which in some mysterious way only confirms God’s un-resistible grace choice of us. We proclaim God to have known us from the beginning, conceived us in love and given us sanctity by knitting us together in our mother’s womb but, for the praise of his glory, he has created some whose unchangeable destiny is to suffer eternal conscious torment.

Anyone who counters this doctrine is called filthy and described as baying like animals.

But this idea of being destined for eternal punishment is abhorrent. For people who come to know God but accept this theory, they become what they dismiss – Universalists, believing all are saved- all are created for glory and in their heart of hearts they believe this but speak something else. We all deserve eternal punishment but some are chosen not by merit but for the glory of God’s grace.  In believing this I confess one thing with my mouth and hope the contrary becoming double minded and ineffective in proclaiming Christ as good news. When this movement of thought focusses on mission and service, it somehow grasps at assurance through works; the very works it denies are effective. God is truly only satisfied in Christ – his whole delight in humanity is not in works but in faith. So faith transforms itself into works that give us the solace, that we are elect.

For me the error is in trying to understand the Cross from the perspective of judgement and not on the realisation of grace, resurrecting the very principle the Cross destroys. Our election in Christ is because of our original grace. Our alienation from God, from the beginning, is because we choose law and reject grace, preferring a principle of morality over the work of grace of the indwelling Spirit.

Any reading of the Bible calls us to intimacy with God, not the comfort of our own theories. By appealing to God as a judge we make God unjust and, in our hearts, fear his justice, secretly denying God the power to judge, if we think it through. This idol of our theory of God’s sovereignty saps our humanity and our very words are tinged with a monstrous intent. We become a mouthpiece of a god who is not God. We do not find Christ in the Bible. We cry out to the god of our own conceiving, “Where is the justice!” We have made an attribute of God our idol.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Audley End Potting Shed

I heard a thing that was strange to me – the idea that on the cross we see that violence does not succeed. The cross says to the principalities and powers, all your vengeance, all your cruelty, all your measure for measure is defeated. Your vindictive acts – your solutions to all problems, killing, maiming, shaming – are defeated. The hypocrisy of the accusers and cruelty of the oppressors are exposed and defeated. Nothing separates us from the love of God, because on the cross, Father, Son and Spirit defeat death and even the wrath of God- his judgement on sin doesn’t extinguish the light of life.

I realised the urgency of Paul in his letters. I became aware that his message was to persevere in the face of accusation and oppression because of the cross and, no, you are not defeated! All because of your faith in the Cross… In all circumstances believe and hold to the Way and trust in Christ’s righteousness as your righteousness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Audley End Hot House Furnace

We live in a universe of time, gravity, chance and attrition. The light of life pierces this darkness. Light and life are attributes of our God, creator of a system where everything decays, where entropy dissipates and light brings new life into a system.

None of this has a moral character but God is God and he knows good and evil we are told. Our existence as bearers of God’s sovereign image, and in some way, the principalities and powers, makes the universe a moral universe. We are created from the beginning to walk with God, to know his voice and to serve in light and life, stewarding the gift of creation. And it was good – it is very good. This is our original blessing.

The revelation of God in the Bible is our Ararat, our Moriah, our Red Sea, the Incarnation, the Transfiguration, Calvary, Ascension and Pentecost – all beautiful. Personal.

Suffering is with us as is sovereignty and we are called to trust, to realise the original blessing in faith and know the sovereign power of our creation – to heal the sick, raise the dead and live free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Audley End Cloud Hedge

When Jesus declares the blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… “ I wonder if we are slightly bemused – being poor in any way is not a blessing.

I wonder if the message is a glimpse of God’s view of suffering. We are all blessed. We are blessed in our being and God’s assured blessing works through all these troubles. Truly in creation we are good – God knows us from the beginning. Those who would marginalise and reject the lowly, the mourning, the peace makers, basically the losers in society, need to hear and see that all bear God’s blessing. The beginning is God’s blessing.

We are created in the image of God and in Christ we see the exact image of God though human like us. Christ is God and God is Father, Spirit and Son. God draws us into himself so that we know him because we are like him. Jesus humbled himself on the Cross and our troubled circumstances are given meaning in his suffering.

God himself takes the wrath and curse upon himself and dies in our place. Our faith is that his victory over death- his suffering and death – brings victory in our lives as he walks free from the last and greatest enemy, death. We follow and are made free to live, alive in the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit, dwelling in us- abiding within us – enabling us to live the good and perfect will of the Father. This is freewill in deed, to know and live from the perfect will of God; Christ within is our hope of glory.

God wants us to break through – he wants us to realise the blessing of creation – we are good. We are very good. God empowers us to put down sin and put on his righteousness turning away from our wilfulness and with Jesus, proclaim the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus; Father! Your will not mine!

We do well to study this, meditate upon this and listen to God in prayer. To pray at all times and in every way so that we can know and live the perfect will of the Father.

This is how we stand assured before the unapproachable light of God. This is how our weakness becomes strength. Truly, truly, truly, we are blessed.