Tag Archives: belief

The Church: Obedience

0114e7e9f3d2e10e4b0116d19ed122351f02947aa7Sunday 7th August 2016

Leviticus 19:1-18

Matthew 13:24-43

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

 

When we say that faith is a hope in something not yet seen, it is a hook, I believe, into something that makes the scriptures come alive. It helps us see the true nature of the Bible’s progressive revelation and the trajectory of this revelation: where it’s going, and invites us to obey.

I am beginning to be able to articulate this, but still struggling. Faith, I am coming to see, as hugely important in our walk together with God. And why? It starts with our creation in his image. God created us to be in relationship with him. Our purpose is to know him and glorify him and worship him in spirit and truth, flowing for ever and ever.

When we read that God told… God said… God showed… then we are hearing the stories of men and women like us who heard God and acted in faith on what they heard. What is God saying? He is saying here I am! He is speaking of his nature. He is the Word that is in all and upholds all and at the centre of his creation is us, you and me, made in God’s image, able to relate to him in our spirits. God brings life to our spirits and we hear him. We hear him in our spirits, in our hearts, in the seat of our being. He shepherds us and we know his voice- this is the promise given to us followers of Christ. Our faith leads us to act on what we hear so that we come to know the One who speaks. As we act we learn to recognise and relate to God speaking. Faith hears and acts in obedience.

I believe God’s desire is that he is glorified in our obedience. What I am beginning to understand is that God speaks and we in hearing make real choices that transform us. These choices come from who we are: God wants us to be transformed by our choices into an ever closer knowing of him.

When the biblical heroes of the faith hear and obey it looks messy. The unchanging voice of God is made flesh in who they are. God becomes present in their choices and transforms them. Into their obedience he speaks visions, dreams, angels and appearances of Glory- he transforms their step of faith through an encounter with his presence. The event of his appearing brings something more precious out of their obedience. But these events leave each free to choose. Faith brings the will of man to a place where God is able to reveal his perfect, sovereign will and this faith is counted as righteousness.

We need to look carefully when we read the stories in the Bible. We know that all righteousness is found in Christ. Christ is the express Image of God – in him we see God. God speaks redemption and we hear repent. God strengthens the broken hearted and the contrite. In our spirits, our faith is that in Christ God is able to forgive and in the Cross we are made righteous. In Jesus we know our faith is perfected: our step of faith is made perfect in the revelation of our salvation through the life giving blood of Christ. In this knowledge we read the scriptures.

The heroes of the faith show us that whenever people approach God with broken and contrite hearts in faith, they are made righteous. In Christ the mystery of how is revealed. God is unchanging; he is faithful to forgive in all time. Our highest calling is to faith and the revelation of saving grace in our actions transforms us. Our sure foundation is revealed.

Our faith deepens so that we are not deflected from the good works God has called us to. As a body who believe in the appearing of Christ, our faith makes us co-workers with him and heirs of the promise in Abraham. All people are to be blessed through our faith in Christ. The promise to Abraham is for a nation; the promise in Christ is transformed to be for the whole world.

So when the faith of the heroes of the Bible looks messy, we can be encouraged not confused. We can take encouragement that faith looks messy. The reason for this is because we and they are messed up by sin. God deals with us where we are at and where faith hears God, it is heard in spirit and truth so that our way and life are transformed. The transformation comes in obeying.

It is so precious when we step out in faith and have a conviction and a purpose. It is so precious we must cultivate faith for each other that God is fully able to make himself present through his gifts to the church so that each of us is transformed and built up in our faith to become more like Christ. This is so precious, we need to be attentive in the church and know God’s voice in our being together.

Our life together needs to be alive with God’s voice so that faith is perfected. We must not rush in, but allow God to work- we must trust that we are messed up- all have sinned- but we are all moving to a deeper revelation. In admonishing one another, in our encouraging, in our setting out rules of conduct and agreeing boundaries for the lawless, our faith is that we are all free in Christ. He is the Lord. We are called to freedom in Christ.

We can expect and trust that God will speak to bring order and peace. God will speak and we must weigh up through scripture and wider teaching how we are to obey. We have the Holy Spirit and the tyranny of the crowd or the oppression of sinful leadership is disarmed by the Cross. We are commanded to judge a tree by its fruits and to abide in Christ. Don’t let anyone kid you that the lack of evidence in their hot air is because of your unbelief.

Honouring our leaders, we follow the way of peace and humility so that we are brought to that place of faith so that in our brokenness we can claim, I have no need of a teacher: the Lord is my teacher. Our purpose in the church is to deepen the faith of our brothers and sisters so that all peoples are blessed and see Jesus in our life together. In the assurance of the saving Cross of Jesus, we bring life to those around us. We are in the world but not of the world, because we know a higher calling to faith in God the author of our salvation. In our knowing of Christ, our being together, our service and our reading of scripture, there is the revelation of the Holy Spirit- faith. Faith brings us to the place of walking with God- communion; to know God and become his presence in creation. This is a high calling, a deep principal, a mystery revealed in Christ.

Christ within is the hope of glory. There is no higher principle. Faith comes by hearing and we together must speak out the word of salvation. This is our purpose. This is our calling.

So, in our messed up lives, in our circumstances, in our suffering and disappointments; when we have come to the point of despair and mental fragility, we must share the glimmer of hope- the place of faith. We must speak out of our circumstances words of healing for ourselves and for others. People need to hear God’s word speaking out of our weakness and struggle. We may wrestle our whole lives and be hobbled by our struggle but in it we need to allow our faith to find life in God – even such a tiny seed of faith- safe in the knowledge that the world to be blessed. This faith will grow into a tree to shelter others who need sheltering and those around will find a perch to settle on.

We are perfected in Christ and made righteous by faith; let us not convince ourselves this is the work of our own hands. Grasp grace and treasure faith: it is God who waters the seed of faith and nurtures the growth- rest and know peace- be still and know God. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Let the teaching of Christ- his voice speaking to us, deepen our foundations so that we may stand firm in the days of trial. Be the ones who take and receive more, who through faithfulness in obedience are ready. You have a purpose- the church has a purpose- God can take our meagre fragments of faith and feed the thousands.

Leave the weeding to the Angles. Do not be deceived, our purpose is not to gather enough people to ourselves so that we can say, Here we are, and exclude those who are not us. They might carry the very breath of God.

 

 

The Bound Lamb: Sacrifice

 

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By Unknownhttp://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/online-gallery/on-line-gallery/obra/agnus-dei-the-lamb-of-god/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160338

Sometimes an idea grows in you and you know it will tease out of you a sense of truth. I struggle with the meaning of sacrifice but I know in exploring it and confronting it, wrestling with it, I will grow.

Religious sacrifice appears barbaric- we do not indulge in ritual killing. We do not believe our future depends on rituals. Our freedom is maintained through punishment or the threat of punishment. Our politicians draw boundaries for our nation and join other nations to unite around what are considered fundamental boundaries of behaviour. In a wide sense, forces are engaged to maintain and enforce these boundaries. Sometimes we go to war to protect what we believe to be right. No ritual sacrifice is made to ensure success.

Freedom is won by ensuring that those who decide are independent of those who enforce and those who witness. In the UK we have parliament, the judiciary and the free press. Each binds each to rules of being and when they are truly independent there is a chance of peace. This peace is won against a backdrop of humanity’s inherent violence and self will. Punishment is directed against the forces of chaos. For this we sacrifice our freedoms and we sacrifice our soldiers.

The expression, “For the greater good,” is one with a deep meaning especially for those who wield power. People are convinced that through harm, even violence, good will come. The cause of defending our freedom makes the violent into heroes. We understand that there is no greater love than the love that willingly lays down its life for another. This makes sacrifice decent. For another to die for us is deeply problematic to us and we are desperately concerned that when lives are sacrificed, or we sacrifice the lives of others, the reason is justified. We sacrifice the innocent as collateral for the greater good but insist on it being proportionate and just.If not, then we will sacrifice the reputation of the decision makers, however innocent, so that justice is done and, if necessary, we punish the decision makers.

There is a just price to pay. We know there are those in the world who believe the sacrifice of our lives is a just price. We call them terrorists. The sacrifice of our lives pays the price for their sense of injustice and they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to take ours to redress the balance.

Every parent knows the sacrifice they would make for their family. They would give their very lives for their children and embrace death rather than see their child or partner killed. They would suffer rather than see their child want for anything. We understand this sacrifice. In our families we understand the need for justice and mercy.

For better or worse our sacrifices reveal what we hold sacred.

I think that if we stop and consider, we experience sacrifice more than we think and on this foundation we can built an understanding of the Cross.

Here are some ideas in the order they came:

The Bound Lamb: Violence

The Bound Lamb: Gift

The Bound Lamb: Love

The Bound Lamb: Identity

Perplexed

The Bound Lamb: Love

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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: Gift

 

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A sacrifice is the giving of a gift- the best of our crop; the first of our flock; the precious flour of a cake given from a meagre larder. We know when we give a gift to someone our hope is that in it a person will know that we care for them. We hope the gift will not only show them what we think or feel about them but is a gift just right for them, showing we have understood who they are.

Our sacrifice to God is a gift- a gift to give thanks to the person of God; a way to restore and confirm our relationship- to say sorry or give thanks. As Christians our sacrifice is Christ himself and we are called to be humble and contrite, and offer a sacrifice of praise. We are invited in our offering of faith to live sacrificial lives and through the Spirit the offering is transformed by grace in Christ to goodness – an expression of a will transformed in to God’s will – to participate in the endless grace of God’s giving self: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Before God’s being and unapproachable holiness we are undone. What gift could we give? How could we present a gift to God that could say to God, this is who I believe you to be, and I am sorry for how I have been towards you? What gift could restore within us a sense of who we are, blessed and loved, and who God is, our merciful Father? How can we recover that blessing? Receive the ever present grace of the Fatherhood of God? We cannot! But the Father runs towards us in our acknowledging this and turning to him. As we turn to him we find him waiting with a splendid coat and a ring and he prepares a feast for us and he causes us to stand assured of his love for us.

How is this possible? The offence of sin against God is so deep and our condemnation complete. The depth of the Father’s love understands this and he provides the sacrifice that reveals who he is and who we are in him- this is Christ. Christ lives his life, alive for us and shows the depths of love that we are called to, by offering this life as a sacrifice to God. God gives himself as a gift to us so that we can, in faith, offer the life of Christ as our sacrifice to him for our sins.

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The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to robe us in righteousness so that we can participate in the feast of God’s goodness. Our faith in Christ to cleanse us and to heal us is our turning back to God.

Jesus’ sacrifice in life ended in death on a cruel cross. The perfect sacrifice of Christ’s life was nailed to the cross. In his life he bore the wrath of God- God’s judgement on a cruel and violent world- and all hell was placed on him as God gave him over to the principalities and powers that ended his life. The authorities nailed him to the cross- they did not know God- they rejected Jesus and he prays: forgive them because they do not know what they are doing. God’s will in Christ was that those who drove the nails into him, who crowned him with thorns and mocked him after scourging him, would be forgiven! In death Jesus descended in to hell; in victory over the principalities and powers, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Our faith is he took our punishment for sin in his death so that we might escape death.

In faith we present the perfect gift of Christ to God. In presenting this gift we say- this is the life you have called us to and this is who you are. In believing in Christ as our saviour we are made free to offer a sacrifice of praise. There is no other gift we can offer except our lives, knowing that in Christ his life is our life. There is no more we can offer. God himself provides the sacrifice and our life is made whole in him: restored and forgiven. The impossible is made possible as we offer our sacrifice of faith and are forgiven, washed and restored.

 

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Behold Behemoth!

photo (2)

The wounded healer is a book written by Henri JM Nouwen. The cover states, “In our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” The book is part of Nouwen’s teaching on Ministry. He concludes in a chapter on Ministry for a Rootless Generation, that the man of prayer offers leadership as an articulator of inner events, compassion and as a contemplative.

I really get this; Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves; he wept at the death of Lazarus, had compassion on the widow whose son had died and raised them form death as he did the ruler’s little daughter. He also withdrew often to pray alone.

It is so important we grow to love ourselves and know our inner depths; to know and love ourselves as God loves us. In loving God, wells of living water flow from our hearts – we are enabled to love ourselves. This is a revelation from the mouth of Jesus, recalling the creational joy of God at creation and the foundation of the saving word he gave to his people through Moses.

In loving God and loving one another as ourselves, we are able to redeem our times through Jesus. Those who are able to dig deep and articulate this love in a place of engagement with people, are able to lead. God poured himself out for us; as we pour ourselves out, taking our woundedness and rootlessness and articulating the miracle of our own healing in Christ, we offer leadership to our contemporary culture.  Leaders need to engage with and articulate their redemption.

Stemming from this articulating of the good news of Jesus, is a genuine compassion that breaks down walls; removes barriers; refuses to act to separate people from people. The suffering of others is our suffering, as much as our own pain.

The pain and violence that God chose to endure through saving Noah and his family, has a purpose –God doesn’t give up on us! Job and has counsellors are wrong, God is not to be praised despite suffering, but God is glorified in creation and His joy at what He has made is set before us, which works its way out in us through works of compassion.

The danger, wildness and messiness of creation; the very forces of nature that destroyed Job’s world embody the message God has for him. The fearful creatures of Chaos reveal the nature of God; though He is not them, they are his works. Behold Behemoth…

Compassion is fulfilled on the cross as God takes all pain, violence and sin upon himself and sets us free in Christ. Leaders live this reality, transforming suffering into hope.

And finally, prayer: the contemplation of God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and of earth. In Him all things, live and move and have their being. God lives in unapproachable light and yet we stand assured in his presence because of Christ.

Leadership so often seems to be about being right. Righteous leadership is about knowing the Holy. Contemplation of God calls from the heart for God’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, freedom from temptation and deliverance from evil.

Contemplation brings us to our knees in the knowledge that all our assertions about God’s nature and being are like arrogance and pride. Our words and theologies are sometimes a thin, self-important veil over confusion and fear, concealing anxiety and craving an identity which we then call god. We feel good because at least we are not as bad as them! True contemplation of God frees us from such delusions of grandeur and enables us to lead.

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?
(Job 40:2 New Living Translation (NLT))

Poem: Railing

The sound of sheer silence

photoThis week gravitational waves were detected: a squashing of matter around the solidity of laser light. The reality described by deep mathematics and the intricate analysis of statistical probabilities yielded a truth of the cosmos.

In the same wonder, I have been wrestling ever so slightly with the idea of the Covenant of Redemption as being part of a Christian universe. It is saying that at the heart of who God is, the scripture reveals a redemptive covenant between the persons of God: Father, Son and Spirit. God in his foreknowledge of the fall of man, at his heart, in eternity, agrees to redeem mankind.

The consequence of having this faith is a reassurance that God isn’t reacting to a world gone wrong in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But in his mercy and grace, his very nature and purpose is to redeem mankind from sin and death through the cross. This makes creation an act of supreme love. This gives us the basis for trust that, in all the creative chaos of the outworking of God’s Word, love triumphs; in all the pain and suffering, tragedy and hurt, all is well. That is not an easy thing to say.

In accepting God: Father, Son and Spirit, as he is, faith reveals the “very good” of his joy in creation. He is not a cruel God, but God who in and through the community of creation freely pours himself out to redeem humanity. This is our experience as Christians.

The love that expresses God is a revelation that demands devotion and trust in God in the confusion of circumstances. We only skim the surface of the depths of God when we speak of eternity and foreknowledge. Eternity, the place of God’s being, and foreknowledge, reveal his being. Even saying this seems to put at a distance the nearness of his Breath, the reassurance of his Word and the love of the Father we know, and brings us to sheer silence.