Category Archives: Takeley Chapel

Controlling Fertility

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you…

Psalm 81:1-10

…O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not proclaim ourselves;

we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. …

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken;

struck down, but not destroyed;

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. ….

Mark 2:23-3:6

… “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

…He (Jesus) looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart …

The readings today carry us through that narrow place between the absolutes of the law and the freedom we have as people to show compassion; the way the world should be and the way it is.

For most of us, life throws perplexing circumstances and we find we cannot know what to do; there is no answer. Jesus commands us to be obedient to his word and his word is that we are to love God and love our neighbour. The high calling for us is to come to Jesus with the decisions we have in life and know peace as his teaching is not a burden; God from the beginning calls us to choose life.

So where do we stand when people celebrate the freedom to abort babies? We are told it is a human right that women are able control their fertility. We are told that the right to life is a human right. The UK has amongst the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is available up to 24 weeks and beyond if necessary. The foetus has no human rights until it is born; up to this point it is only the life of the mother that is considered to have human rights. As a follower of Jesus, the truth is we know the reality of hardship and its ability to crush us; we look around and we see people despairing and abandoned.

Personally, I stand with new life being life from the beginning. I have known people tormented by the power of nature to abort. I have accepted as natural babies being lost through miscarriage and been saddened by hearing of babies being born dead, alive till the moment of birth. I have communed and rejoiced with those desperate for children who in conceiving one life have destroyed the remaining embryos. I have grieved with those whose babies have been born disabled. Am I conflicted?

Abortion will happen: John Wesley in his book Primitive Physick opens with how an abortion could be done. His heart was to see health care extended to the poor. The tragic stories of the lengths women would go to abort a baby remain in our folk memory. John Wesley’s response was to make this safe. To some of us this may be horrifying.

For the Jews, controlling fertility was at the heart of the story of Moses; his abandonment under order of the authorities resulted in him becoming a prince in Egypt. In our time the Chinese have tried to control fertility as have the Russians and the government of Peru to destroy the native population.

At the time of Jesus and into the first 300 years of Christianity, child exposure was practised by the Romans to get rid of unwanted infants, but not by the Jews. Two abandoned babies were said to have been the founders of Rome, brought up by wolves. Babies were left out to die or be claimed as slaves. Many were disabled and most were girls.

What was the Christian response, but to collect these babies and care for them. This has to be my response; my path between law and human freedom. Life sucks for some people and we need to care for all. Yes, the rejoicing over abortion sickens me but what I need to do is show compassion.

The ideal is that life starts at conception, the reality is that every birth is a miracle. This has been my own experience being at the birth of my own children; life is fragile. The world is mucked up.

Given the widespread practice of infant exposure, the Christian practice was to care for the poor and the abandoned, not condemn the poor. By 374 BC they had shown the way and the practice was made illegal. Our weapon is to love, not condemn.

I know it is wrong to argue from silence, but nothing in the scriptures condemns the practice of infant exposure, but we know it is wrong. We do have the wonderful story of John the Baptist recognising his saviour whilst in the womb of Elizabeth and our heart tells us that life is precious from conception.

Conception and birth are redeemed in Christ. Being in Christ, our practice is to care for the afflicted, the crushed; those abused and abandoned. Through our being true to love we can work to create a world around us where there is no abortion only hope.

Fully alive

Prayer can become a seeking after experience; just another high and of no earthly good; lots of words or no words at all.

Ways of praying being idols is a real issue in our times. Prayer methods becoming sacred is a danger. We have to pray somehow, but the how brings quarrels and disappointments. Jesus teaches a place for prayer and a pattern for prayer. His ministry heralds a revelation that worship is in spirit and truth. Repeatedly, Jesus encourages us to ask for what we need in our prayers. But, in my experience we come to worship the manner of prayer not the substance and prayer becomes a way of controlling people. The truth of prayer is important as it makes us fully alive.

The Jesus culture I discern is one where we rest in the knowledge that all things, good and bad are in God’s hands and that there is an enemy that opposes this faith. The attitude is seeking God in all circumstances, in hope. Seeking God in the good and the bad; seeking God in the moments of our lives; knowing God to be near; knowing that we are loved and forgiven, is the foundation of prayer.

To avoid just talking to ourselves, we need to be present and listening in our practice. Jesus sets our relationship with him firmly in love. He commands love.  Only through forgiving are we forgiven and in loving our neighbour we know God. Our abiding in him and who he is becomes his abiding in us. The truth is, whatever our practice, God is there waiting. Prayer opens our eyes to this ever-present reality. In a blink of an eye we become aware of this reality (Kierkegaard’s Instant).

This mystical experience is available to all. Suddenly we know beyond words, beyond understanding. This is a ground for our faith that God’s light shines in everyone. From this light we draw faith. In this light we know Jesus and become his presence in creation as we listen and are transformed.

This transformation can lead us to difficult places. Jesus’s frustration with the disciples’ little faith and lack of realisation of who was amongst them, serves as a warning. It is a rebuke we may need to take. The mystical experience is there for reason; it answers a human need. We are here to walk in the coolness of the evening with God yes but we are also here to tend his garden. We are here to serve and follow the leading of the Spirit. Prayer isn’t an end in itself.

“The glory of God is us being fully alive,” says Irenaeus (3rd Century). We are to be fully alive as God created us.

Could this mean, navigating the inevitable wounding that is life; from conception, to birth, growth and death? Does the reality of a free world where we can be free mean we will continually fall from grace and be separated from life? God gazed on what he had made and declared it good; it was all very good. Is this path of woundedness a source of glory? Light is born out of darkness; the new day begins with the morning. Our pool of darkness, the chaos of life, is the reservoir of transformation in us (Bourgeault, p106)  that brings transformation in the world. Just as God creates out of the void our glory is to take our brokenness into new life through prayer.

Heaven is the perfecting of who we are. It is the transforming of our woundedness into us being fully alive. The more we know our sin, the more we know our separation from God and the depth of his continuing love. The more we forgive, the more we know forgiveness and the deeper our love.

We see with the eyes of the wounded healer, Jesus. Jesus heals us by his wounds. In suffering our wounds and transcending the assault of the enemy on our lives we are able to bring healing in Christ; bring new life. The greatest healing is the life transformed by forgiveness and abiding love. Jesus says that those who mourn are blessed because they are comforted. It is the blessing of the poor in spirit, that it is they who receive the kingdom of heaven.

Life hurts. Life faces us with a messy reality and God’s heart is to bring blessing out of this. God’s glory is us being fully alive in all circumstances; to live a life of abundance. This is where prayer leads us, why God teaches us to ask in order to receive.

Through prayer we come to know that the life that is in Jesus is our life. We are found in him. We are to do works greater than his as we live in the fulness of the cross, knowing him to be seated at the right hand of the Father. We are found in the mess of the cross and the beauty of the resurrected Christ.

Christ is not physically amongst us and we can’t touch him, yet he is fully present to us in the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit that is the greater work. The wounds of Christ are still there, his scars remain. It is these wounds that heal us. We are to heal through our wounds. The glory of our wounds, inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves, inflicted by circumstances, the collateral damage of life, bring glory to God as we bring healing through them. It is prayer that enables this bringing of the presence of Christ to the world.

Jesus calls us to himself to be comforted and to find rest. We are to dwell in the kingdom of heaven in all its vital, visceral glory knowing peace. Jesus shows us in our prayer the fullness of being alive. Jesus heals the afflicted; the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. Today, we are saved through the earthly good of prayer not its form or practice.

Psalm 29

… May the LORD give strength to his people!

May the LORD bless his people with peace!

 

Romans 8:12-17

… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.

When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 

John 3:1-17

… The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

Ref:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Centering-Prayer-Awakening-Cynthia- Bourgeault /dp/1561012629

 

Fully Human: a reflection for Sunday 20th May 2018

In Jesus, God gets his hands dirty. Jesus is fully human; he is fully God. We have an amazing path to follow, to navigate. God’s essential nature is love; God is love. God responds to us with compassion and steadfastness. God is faithful. Paul teaches that love does not grasp or insist on its own way and does not keep an account of wrongs. Jesus shows us that love is perfected in self-denial; in losing your life to gain life. Paul tells us again that love is humble and pours itself out for others.

How are we to understand God, if love is ever serving and never controlling? We see the cross where the extravagant love of God was poured out in Christ. Jesus was not a dam, a wall of righteousness, but his life showed a gushing torrent of grace.

Being a Christian is to live out Christ within us so that grace spills out to those around us. The Kingdom heaven is where God is present: Jesus living through us. Jesus inhabits our troubles and suffering, living through our disappointments, toils and trials. Jesus gets his hands dirty. It is Christ who lives in us and we are confronted with the potential there is in being fully human. We are not God – our essential nature is different; only God is good.

Jesus shows us our capacity as humans with God in us and amongst us. All sickness, tears and suffering are not from God but God is present in them as we walk together. We as believers in Jesus make God present in them and are able as humans to express divinity in humanity as Jesus showed us. Jesus’s word is for us to love and he teaches us to forgive. Through his death in our place he shows us the end of love; what love leads to. We are to love our enemies. Through his resurrection life, we are to know abundant life, in the knowledge that we are forgiven- justified in Christ and through faith receiving salvation and life.

We are to love God with our whole being. The Father and the Son dwell within us and through the Spirit we know all truth. Our eyes are opened as single-minded we seek God through love and forgiveness.

Jesus healed, he delivered and he fed; miracles of nature and the spiritual. Jesus provided a material way to abundant life and calls us to do greater works. He says we are to ask and we will receive. Jesus, rebuking the storm, rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. In showing his disciples who he was and who they were on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus rebukes the disciples for not being able to deliver and heal a child. Where do we stand in this rebuke?

How are we to realise the power of what we have within? Are we to create apologies and philosophies to excuse our ineptitude or declare long and powerful prayers to cover the fact that nothing happens? To get around what is supposedly made real in faith – Christ within, the power of God?

We are not God- God is love beyond our understanding and any understanding will fall short of the truth. The Spirit reveals the truth and Jesus is God poured out in humanity and humanity filled with God. Jesus was no more than human, no less than fully human. Jesus shows us how to be fully human. Jesus’s miracles are works of his humanity. In this season, we need to navigate a pathway through what we are called to and what we are.

Acts 2:1-21

…All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” …

Romans 8:22-27

…But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

…”I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…

 

Blessed are the pure in heart

As we hold people in our hearts for prayer, we experience love. Our humanity reaches out to them as we want all to be well. Held in our hearts, we are moved to ask God for their wellbeing. As we encounter the world in all its troubles and strife, we experience love as we hold everything in our hearts and struggle to overcome anxiety. Prayer opens our eyes to hope and faith and, in the wrestling, our faith is deepened.

In our wrestling, we are confronted with the messiness of life; the ever-present darkness and suffering. Our hearts speak of the affront to humanity of suffering and tell us it is wrong, sad and needs changing. Our measure is the joy we feel. Helplessness transforms to joy as we imagine the good; there is a better way. Maybe our hope is felt by those we pray for as we struggle for them.

Faith opens our eyes in that transforming moment to the vision of God holding us in the same way we hold others. In our act of faith, we sense God’s faithfulness. We see that we are held by God who is only good and find a way to rest in him. In the abiding in his presence we discover that whatever we ask in this moment, he gives. It is in the abiding we find answers; in the struggling we find the way.

It is a moment by moment practice to allow the lives of others, their joys and their troubles to rest in our hearts; to give thanks for grace, to wrestle with anxiety and suffering and imagine the good; to acknowledge peace and to ask for peace and transformation. This is not the endless repetition of words or the exalted declaring of great truths, but a holding in the heart, to be truly be broken for the needs we hold and enlivened by the vibrancy of God. If this is from God, we will ask and find peace.

Experience might deny our faith; the brokenness we hold in our hearts may continue; those we pray for may even die and situations not change. Sometimes we even find our-selves rejected in our seeking, rejected by those we seek to serve and found to be ridiculous. In my experience we may also feel a profound rejection and the peace you thought you had evaporates. Sometimes things do change; often they don’t. It is hard to see convincingly where involving faith and God has made any difference. Our peace might seem a little hollow.

We want our eyes to be opened so that we can see God. We want to see Jesus revealed in the story of our lives; in our brokenness and joy.

If we accept God as being the author of these moments; moments when we blink and our eyes are opened to truth and our hearts are kindled with joy; if we acknowledge God in our deep sense of being valued and loved, the sense of their being another story; if the inclination of our hearts in the face of suffering is compassion, as this is how we know God to be; if we know freedom in being detached from power and the drawings of wealth, and we are lead to God, is this knowing the limit of God’s blessing? Is this as far as God is involved: giving us a peace beyond understanding?

Is our vision of God of one, perfectly at one with himself- complete? Do we encounter God in a relationship together, in the twos and threes of Jesus’ presence? Do we find ourselves moving with others to experience him, formed as a community of blessing, the body of Christ? Are we deluded?

Our faith is that we are not deceived in our walk and the insight, compassion and detachment that brings peace is being in the presence of God, who is intimately involve amongst us and is the giver of peace.

God’s essential nature is that God is good, steadfast, truth and compassion.  God is humble and un-controlling in his love and comes to live in us. His presence in us means that as he is present to us and we are empowered to be his presence to others. We may be present to others as he is present to us. As we seek abundant life for others, we find abundant life in him. Our faith becomes action and is action. We get our hands dirty.

Is this all there is? Is this our faith? What of signs and wonders; healing and deliverance? To what extent does God get his hands dirty and work miracles?

Jesus as Jew of his time, would have prayed blessings on God’s people each day. We see in his life how these blessings taught him and transformed peoples’ lives, physically, mentally and spiritually. Jesus in the beatitudes teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” This is the reward; this is how we see God.

Jesus turns the prayers for blessings into a rallying call to action. This is the promise; from our holding of others in our hearts, he will wash us clean, give us hearts of flesh where there were hearts of stone and we will see God. Our eyes will be opened to his world. In our awakening, in seeing, in our holding of others in our hearts, God abides in us. Jesus shows us that God does get his hands dirty and we are called to greater works than he did. And so, we have the confidence to ask.

In our reasoning this might bring us to silence and the most powerful thing we might do is be silent. From the place of peace groanings might come as we see how small our faith is. From the darkness life comes. We have no answers, but in faith we ask that the imaginations of heart become real.

Psalm 98

…Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

1 John 5:1-6

… whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? …

John 15:9-17

… I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. … I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

God Said…Part 1

 

Genesis 22:1-14

What if it is, as some would say, that the whole of human history is to be viewed through the lens of the cross? If the cross and Christ crucified is what brings meaning to our reading; what do the scriptures become?

The scriptures are God breathed. The scriptures are written by humanity in all its flawed nature, each word inspired by God for a purpose- the revelation of Christ. This is the self-attesting truth of the scriptures. Every word and sentiment is a literal and intentional presentation of Christ and him crucified.

When Jesus was taken up to heaven he opened the scriptures to his disciples. Before that he had opened them to disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, for followers of Jesus, the Bible becomes plane.

Here the hard work begins as we embrace the truth. The truth is that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are what the scriptures reveal and their meaning and the character of God is revealed in the life of Christ. Jesus is the mystery from the beginning, glimpsed in every word; the truth that sets us free. Our experience of Jesus- the relationship we have with him – is our anchor. Our rock is faith in Jesus and obedience to his commands; Jesus, born of a virgin, crucified, victorious over the evil one in life and in death and raised from death to life on the third day.

We are secure in the knowledge of the Holy One, who died in our place, taking upon himself our guilt and the wrath of God at sin, so that by faith we are washed clean and clothed in righteousness and holiness. It is not us in our old natures that live, but Christ lives in us and through us. We become partakers in God’s nature, adopted into his family. In Christ, we are predestined to eternal life.

So, the hard work begins. Our one true source of knowledge of God is Jesus; Christ crucified.

When we gaze into the scriptures, often, what is reflected is ourselves. Jesus warns us of this and says that in our studying, what we should see is him. Paul says that all prophecy is a glimpse of God. Moses encountered God, as did Gideon, David and Solomon but what is it of God we see in their story? Paul himself heard God and persecuted Jesus’ followers. God intervened and he received a new revelation which meant that his zeal became the knowledge of Jesus and his energies were transferred into battling against principalities and powers not flesh and blood. The new revelation took him from a way of violence to a way of peace.

God, in his humility stepped into Paul’s life and spoke. God, in humanity, steps in and speaks in Jesus. This is the mystery. God himself steps in and brings holiness into the mess of who we are. God is pleased to dwell with humanity.

There was dissent in the camp and Moses saw the purposes he had been shown by God, the future that was possible, being denied. He was angry. God was angry that the people failed to see his loving kindness and how they would be blessed; how he would stand in their place and fight in their battles. Moses heard God and demanded that the rebels were flayed alive and set before God to avert God’s anger. This was the demand, Moses heard- God said…

Are we to think God was more immediate in Moses’ times? We know Christ and have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are more privileged than Moses. Would we expect God to be speaking more then that now? If Jesus is the truth, we can expect to know the truth and to hear his voice. That is what Jesus’ says. Jesus, the Son of God says we will hear and know his voice.

Do we think that God spoke more clearly before the revelation of Christ than after? Do we accept that Moses knew God in a more real way?

I have spent time with those who claim direction from God and call their gift prophecy. I believe they are attentive. If they demanded I went into the streets and slaughtered all those who claimed to be Christians but fell short of the virtue expected, the high calling of Christ, I would listen but I would hear their voice and seek to discern Jesus’ voice. I could not claim they had no example in the scriptures, but the whole Bible and Jesus in the Bible would say they were wrong. But God does inhabit their voice and he is glimpsed in the truth behind what they say. They have heard God but they have not found Jesus in fact they have spoken sin.

I have been around those who profess supernatural and close encounters with God. I have witnessed diverse and incredible physical manifestations. In these they may have heard God’s voice. But if they then called me to rip the children from the wombs of my enemies, rape their young women and not rest in my slaughter, but persevere until all are dead, I would be disgusted. Yet such are the words of the Bible.

Jesus came and taught the way of passive resistance, standing up for the poor and needy, dying for others and bearing persecution. He taught us to love our enemies. And this truth is glimpsed even in these abhorrent scriptures- tenderness and loving kindness are found and we are called by God to allow him to fight our battles. The life of Jesus is the message.

The cross reveals that God himself stands before the community and is flayed alive. God himself stands before God and averts his anger. Moses missed this. We may think we have found God in the raging of the God saids…, but as on the cross, there is Jesus, the Son of God, speaking to us amid the mess.

This is the lens we must use when reading the scriptures. We must gaze into them and see the folly of flawed men and their words, their violence and hypocrisy. Does God demand human sacrifice to avert his anger? Really? But in it God reveals his purpose. God exercises his sovereign power and we gaze and glimpse Christ. On the cross Jesus was sacrificed once, for all and for ever and we live a new reality.

We must stand true to the revelation of scripture as followers of Jesus and do the hard work of finding him. The life of Jesus is the message and we are his followers.

 

Failure and doubt.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
(Romans 6:6, English Standard Version Anglicised)

The phrase “brought to nothing” translates a verb and,

“…means … to make ineffective or inactive, and is used of unproductive land and unfruitful trees. They are still there. They have not been destroyed. But they are barren. When this verb is applied to the devil, to our fallen nature and to death, therefore, we know they have not been completely destroyed… it is not that they have ceased to exist, but their power has been broken…not…abolished…overthrown. (Stott p280, The Cross of Christ)

 

We are here talking about the nature of our justification, how we are made right with God through Christ dying in our place so that we might live by faith. Grace is never set aside and it is our privilege to be witnesses of the grace shown on the cross.

Sin is the antithesis of life, gives birth to violence and ends in death. The wages of sin are death. God’s judgement is that in sin we are separated from life and the sting of death is separation from God. This can only be known by faith in God’s goodness and a revelation of the depth of our sin. Death’s dark veil separates us from knowing what this means as we can only glimpse what is on the other side of death. As we encounter the knowledge of the Holy we find ourselves loved but broken by the evidence of our own sin. We hold the treasure in earthen jars or in today’s language plastic bags.

How is it we receive faith to repent and know life? How is it that in our contrition and poverty of spirit we are enabled to grow in faith?

The cross is the answer. Evil demands death. Evil is violent and merciless. Jesus engages in the battle. As a person, where he encounters evil, it is defeated through faith. He teaches non-violent opposition and self-sacrificial living. He teaches virtue that exceeds the demands of compliance- a heart washed trust in the righteousness and mercy of God. He teaches us to love our enemies and to forgive, over and over again. He calls us to be perfect as God is perfect who in sending the sun and rain to all, is good to all, whether they are good or evil.

God is the judge. God bears the pain of allowing sin to bear fruit for the sake of love. God is not indifferent to suffering but for the sake of love he allows evil to flourish.

There is a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, a battle in the hearts of men revealed in the life of Jesus as he disarms evil in the world. We live in the realm of the prince of darkness who corrupts all things. He sows evil in all things but through love, forgiveness and healing Jesus fights back. This is an understanding we can only see by faith. Improbable, and hard to believe, but with the eyes of faith, the eyes of Elijah, it is evident that God is in the battle and in Jesus we see how.

God in his holiness is wholly other and in himself he is completely separate from evil. We understand his relationship to evil in human terms as wrath, jealousy and warfare. The cross shows us that he does not do this through violence. The battle gown of Jesus is already covered in blood, the blood of the cross, the saints are in white and Jesus’ sword is in his mouth not his hand.

God sets aside his wrath by forsaking Jesus on the cross and allowing evil to destroy itself in the fire of his love and forgiveness. In the life of Jesus and on the cross we can see how God’s wrath and judgement are propitiated- averted- and we are ransomed from the realm of the prince of darkness, freed to live in the kingdom of light. As evil rages, it is consumed on the cross.

Again, this can only be seen with the eyes of faith and appears absurd and heartless, especially in the light of the collateral damage we see in the suffering of the innocent that God’s forbearance allows.

On the cross, God in Christ allows himself to bear the fullness of the violence of evil and God withdraws in the Father, so that all sin and evil encounters absolute purity in Jesus and is extinguished in the cry of anguish of the Son. All sin and evil is poured on God in Christ through the violence of men and the enmity of the spiritual powers as God in the Father forsakes Jesus and he dies. A way of God’s judgement is revealed throughout the scriptures in him withdrawing his hand and giving humanity up to their sinful ways or the havoc of the spiritual powers humanity has trusted. Is this what we see on the cross? Before he dies, Jesus proclaims, it is finished.

God in his being bridges the huge gulf between his holiness and our sinfulness and shows us love by taking upon himself the judgement against sin. Faith tells us that that the pain in this withdrawal in the ground of God’s being, is beyond our understanding. Faith opens our eyes to the deep love God holds for humanity as God in Christ takes upon himself our sin and caries it, taking it into death. God endures the pain of separation for our sake and we are forgiven.

In victory, God in Christ, sanctifies death and evil is defeated so that we are restored in God. God in Christ takes upon himself the separation of sin in death. By faith we are crucified with Christ and our ransom is paid. True love is revealed as God in Christ takes the cup of wrath for our sake so that we might live in the victory of new life.

Jesus teaches us that true love sacrifices itself for the sake of others. True love does not count itself more worthy than others. Indeed, love is revealed in pouring ourselves out for others, even to death.

Jesus’ victory was in the path of peace, the narrow way of non-violence and love for enemies. Evil was defeated by love. In our poverty of spirit, we inherit the righteousness of God through the cross. The power of sin and death is broken, becomes barren and is fruitless, not because of our own efforts, but because of the cross. Jesus took the judgement of God on sin, in our place, once and for ever. By faith we are crucified with Christ, and death and sin are brought to nothing, so that we are empowered to live our lives in Christ.

But how weak that looks in our lives. We can claim that God is within, dwelling as Father and Son, so that we are in Christ as the Son is in the Father but it doesn’t often look like that. We proclaim we are new creations. This is so audacious and in all honesty, it looks a pitiful and a messy delusion.

Are we fools to have such confidence? Are we totally deceived? Our lives in many ways are a mess and the facts speak of moderate to severe turmoil, occasionally just poor, but rarely moderate to good. Our failures and our inglorious experience of life should rightly lead us to crumble. Why don’t we just give up and say to our doubts-the facts seem to hold, you are right, this is a fiction?

My hope is in the fact that God loves me, and his love looks like the cross. In reading the scriptures I see this has always been so; God pours himself out to dwell with humanity and its crushing sin, staying the hand of judgement.

We hold the perfect within, yet we are only marginally different to those who do not. We look as hopeless as the criminal on the cross. The irony is, we are the criminal on the cross.

Our witness of faith knows the criminal to be God. This is the truth of the grisly cross. The context and circumstances, the mess of our being, holds within itself the knowledge of the Holy. Our trust in God and our resting in him brings peace by grace and not by the effort of works. This looks like defeat, but in dying to ourselves and taking up the cross we find grace upon grace and God in us, our hope of glory.

Peace does at times look like turmoil, but the humility of God means he steps into this turmoil and he comes and lives in the ugliness. We are being transformed by this indwelling faith.

Is this how we read our lives? Is this what the life of Jesus leads us to? The removal of the mask which enables us to depend on God, to trust in him fully, by trusting in who we are, is our salvation. God humbles himself to bear the mask of our lives because of the cross.

Our lives are transformed as we find God in the ugliness, not our own righteousness. The light of God shines and we find our strength in the cross. This is the source of our repentance. We are not justified because we repent, we repent because by faith we are justified by believing in God in Christ crucified.

The mess of the criminal executed on the cross is the person of God, who dies in our place and takes away our sin. Death loses its power and God is glorified in the mess and this is by faith and faith alone. Virtue in the eyes of humanity does not justify us, it is faith. It is by faith that we live to God, freed from the power of sin. So, doubt and failure are part of this faith because in our doubt and failure we need to have the faith not to rebuild what has been torn down. We may be ridiculed, but having faith we will stand and we stand against those who would enslave us once more to works. On the cross God shows us that he, through the Spirit, transforms us and he is pleased to abide in us.

But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

(Galatians 2:17-21, English Standard Version Anglicised)

The Church: a Life Together

The life of the church is the witness of our life together. God is to be made known by the love there is between us. In locating the meaning of Church in a tradition, we are in danger of separating it from its very mission, to bless the world and bring peace through Christ. Together, we are called to proclaim Christ, disciple and baptise. We need to find what that means today where these religious words themselves can be a barrier. Starting from love, where do we go from here? How is this called out life to be lived so that discipleship and baptism are given a contemporary meaning.

 

We understand that where Christ is found, that is the Church. History recognises the Church as a gathering where believers share bread and wine, preach Christ through teaching, prayer, art and song, and initiate membership through a form of washing called baptism. They see leaders, those gathered and buildings which proclaim an order: a tradition. All this may be necessary, but can hide the truth and loyalty to the tradition leave us worse off than if we had never known it? The Truth is, the Church is in the life of the people: the love, not the structure. God’s gifts to the church are people not structures.

God’s gifts are given in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who is above all and in all. We are to explore how to preach the Cross of Jesus Christ, how to remember him in a common meal and how to make the gifts of God available to all. The pattern we are called to is orderliness and a culture of honour in which all we do points away from us to God.

People need to see there is integrity in our life together. They need to see that all we do is for God’s glory not to gather support to our club, our taste or our vision. Our agenda should be plain to those who come across us: we are here to show you God’s love through our life together so that you too may know peace and become givers of this love.

Discipleship is a call to walk in the shadow of the one we follow, living their life, breathing their air and becoming covered in their dust. It is intimate fellowship. As we draw others into a knowledge of God, the life we live together is the place where we encounter God. In being accepted by one another we know that we were first accepted by God. We come to know the ever present God we cannot see through the gift of the Church we can see. The meaning of making disciples is bringing people into a life together for the glory of God.

Do we need to humble ourselves and look for people to become the body of Christ with? Do we need to invest in a life together with some people in a real way? A life together will grow into a rule, a commitment, a body. The Church is made up of groups who disciple, baptise and gather round a meal together in diverse forms, in my understanding. Out of this life comes a rule which allows God’s gifts to be ministered freely for the blessing of the world. In our practice of being together, we come to know God who has always been there. Indeed, our knowing God may be breathed through our life together. We are born again.

Life together is worship when there are times of arresting adoration and quiet realisation. Our rule may include regular prayer, study of the Bible, works of service and hospitality. In this, worship is in spirit and truth and reveals God, like the breath of the wind. It stops us in our tracks and we recognised the Holy in a breeze and sometimes a mighty gust. You can’t formalise it. It is essentially a work in the heart, often experienced together in unity of heart, a breathing of the same air.

The rule is not the worship, but worship is found in the rule as God chooses. We damage one another and dishonour God when we seek to control and confine God’s breath.

The desire to capture the breath of God in our traditions leads to death. We may experience worship in gathering to hear the preaching of the Cross of Christ, in gathering to celebrate reconciliation and share bread and wine. It may include public ministry in the Holy Spirit with prayers of intercession, prophecy and healing. But it’s the substance not the form that counts and the truth is without the substance, without Christ, the form brings death.

So let’s build our life together carefully through faith for faith.

John 3:5-8
New Living Translation (NLT)

Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

John 4:23-24
New Living Translation (NLT)

 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 13:31-35
New Living Translation (NLT)

 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

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1 Corinthians 13

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.