Tag Archives: Jesus

Let us Pray

Through our faith in the redeeming work of the cross; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, do we have authority in creation, together with the Father, Son and Spirit? Is this the mystery of prayer: from the beginning, not only did we have dominion through technology and culture, we had dominion in the spiritual realm? Is our prayer of faith an exercise of the original authority given to us at creation? Is our prayer preparation for heavenly authority in the age to come? Is the outworking of God’s loving kindness that he only works through prayer? Are all prayers answered by God through the glorification of love and the defeat of principalities and powers through the way of love?

Foundations

Love is defined by scripture as sacrificial, non-coercive and enemy loving. Love doesn’t hold a record of wrongs and does not insist on its way.

Matthew 5:43-46 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

Matthew 22:37-40 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

God is beyond anything we might understand. God’s love extends beyond what is revealed in these scriptures; beyond our conception. God is good, he is loving, and he is steadfast, in ways we cannot limit by what we may comprehend. God is faithful and has made a space for creation in which he may be glorified and pour out love. God cannot become more loving, he is complete love and in creation love is perfected. Love is freely given and freely received. This is what is essential, God has formed creation so that love is perfected. Love can be no less than what God says it is in the scriptures.

God is One, Father, Son and Spirit and is love. All creation is in God. God creates a space for love to be poured out and to draw in humanity. Humanity is made in the image of God, but we are not gods. God prepares humanity to love and be loved, to hear his voice and to choose to follow the narrow way of love. Christ, the eternal Son, is made flesh, in the form of the man Jesus. Through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection humanity is perfected in love. Christ came fully human so that we may be restored to our full humanity and original blessing. This event in time is for all time true, the eternal sacrifice revealed to us.

Mystery

We are privileged to see and know this mystery. God shows us in Christ the dominion we have through faith and teaches us to ask. Christ forms our hearts so that he is in us, lives within us, and the words we hear are the words we speak. Our hearts are sanctified, trained in holiness, as we confess with our lips that Jesus is LORD.

The mystery of prayer is that God promises to work as we pray. Where people pray, the rule of God formed in people’s hearts, releases God’s blessing power in love. God does not force himself on creation but gifts humanity with dominion in the heavenly realm and on the Earth. This authority is the authority Jesus, who is fully human, exercises. We are called to exercise authority through prayer. God is alive and active and willing to exercise power, through the prayers of the faithful. This is the mystery of prayer, that we are to subdue creation through prayer.

The way the world is, is because of prayer and the neglect of prayer. We are called to labour in prayer as much as we are called to rule the creation and subdue it. Prayer is the power of the work of our hands and prayer defeats the work of the evil one, putting him to flight. Deliver us from evil, Jesus teaches us to pray.

Blessing

Prayer begins with praise and worship; Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name! Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven! Prayer continues, formed in the knowledge of the Holy.

In naming the One who brings blessing and the blessings he brings, our prayer gains content. We need to rest in the still small voice that speaks; in the thunder that proclaims. Each moment has purpose, and, in each moment, we are invited to choose life. Our purpose is to be gathered to God in the fulness of time. Where there is opposition we go deeper; where there is pain we experience pain and pray the more. This is the battle.

Sacrifice

The battle is won on the cross. From the beginning, the Word, the lamb who is slain is slaughtered. In creation, there is forgiveness. From the beginning, this forgiveness is found in sacrifice, the victim is the life of the one seeking atonement; more than a substitute.

Genesis 22:11-13 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Hebrews 11:17-20 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Notice how Abraham chooses to sacrifice the ram to fulfil the command of God. It was not a command of God to sacrifice the ram. The sacrifice of the ram fulfilled the command of God to sacrifice Isaac. The ram was more than a substitute it was the life of Isaac. Figuratively, Isaac experienced resurrection.

The ritual of the sacrifice of an innocent victim in the place of the sinner covered sin through perfect love and the sabbath sacrifice brought peace. This ritual expressed the revelation of the Word, made sin for our healing. Satan perverts this ritual to include human sacrifice to include child sacrifice which is the work of the destroyer. Satan contorts the image away from the forgiveness at its centre, the reality in the heavenlies.

God says from the beginning,

Genesis 9:4-5 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning…

From the beginning, humanity is without sin, flesh is not eaten and able to choose life or choose death. Humanity chooses death and surrenders dominion to Satan. This is our story; we fall short of the glory prepared for us and we sin, becoming slaves to Satan.

Forgiveness

In the fulness of time, forgiveness is revealed in Jesus. Jesus is fully human and Christ. Jesus is fully God. Only God is good and in Jesus’ life this goodness was perfected. Humanity through sin gives up its dominion but, in Jesus, humanity is redeemed and exerts its dominion. All hell breaks out to bring Jesus down. His life is a battle, as he draws all sin to himself, but he is without sin. He resists temptation. The fury of hell brings Jesus to the cross. The penalty of sin is death. Jesus has not sinned. All sin is put upon him and the wrath of God, his incandescent anger for the victims of sin and the perpetrators of evil and iniquity; those who sully the glory that is humanity. Wrath is poured out on Jesus by the Father as in Jesus God bears the sin of the world. Jesus the innocent victim is more than a substitute for all humanity and he becomes sin. God suffers the anguish of sin, the separation of sin and the wrath of the Father, as Satan seeks the downfall of Jesus and Jesus is slaughtered. Jesus is innocent of sin to the last and Satan who holds the keys of death and hell, slaughters the innocent lamb of God.

In this one act Satan is vanquished- death is the penalty of sin. Jesus did not sin.

Victory

In taking the life blood of Jesus, death is sanctified, and death no longer has dominion; the penalty is annulled. The keys of death and hell are relinquished and revealed to be in the hands of Christ from the beginning. All forgiveness is found in him. The truth is revealed that God takes upon himself our sin so that we might walk free. Love is perfected in Christ, in whom all sacrifice ends. Christ, the fulness of God, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, frees us from sin by grace through faith. The ground of humanity’s faith is the goodness of God revealed in the victory of the cross.

In death, Jesus regains dominion for all humanity in all time.  The resurrection restores humanity and is the first fruits of what is to come. In Jesus’ sacrifice we gain our life, a life without end. We are new creations in Christ, a bride being prepared for the Son, filled with the Spirit. Let us pray in the knowledge of the victory of Christ our Saviour who restores all authority in Heaven and on Earth to humanity for the praise of his glorious name.

Inspiration

https://prayercourse.org/session/why-pray/

Did a prayer meeting really bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War? http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24661333

World Prayer News https://www.globalconnections.org.uk/prayer

John 1:4

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. http://esv.to/John1.4

This scripture is key to my own faith. It has sustained me in my relationship with God and with others. All life is in the Son’s hands and the Son reveals the Father. Every person has this life and it lights all people. In everyone I find Jesus and in all I find the way to the Father. This is my work to believe in the Father. This is the way of freedom, to love God and to love each and everyone I encounter.

Incarnation?

The Nicene Creed, a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy states of Jesus,

For us men and for our salvation,

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Having a science background, this has been an article of faith for me and I have written of my position elsewhere[1]. But recently I have become aware that some recite this creed but believe that the Virgin Mary is an historical title, a tradition, not a fact about Mary of Nazareth[2].

This in mind, I decided to buy a book that would let me understand the full argument and was from a perspective I would not hold to be true. The book I chose was a recent publication by Kyle Roberts which he has summarised through the blog post, Virgin Birth or Incarnation? Why You Can’t Have Both (December 23, 2017)[3].

I found the book very informative. I realised that yes, historically we have a problem with philosophy invading our faith, with extra scriptural traditions based on pagan thought, and an inability to accept the humanity of Jesus. I understand the reason for Greg Boyd’s podcast which recommends us to think more of Jesus,

…from the perspective of “God as Human” rather than “God and Human.”[4]Do we struggle with Jesus eating and defecating, vomiting, feeling ill, experiencing sexual attraction and basically being human? Do we hold true to the Gospel of Jesus?

… we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. (Hebrews 4, GNB)[5]If we do, then we are at that point where we too join with the Fathers and Mothers of the church who created traditions to cover up the subversive nature of the historical birth of Christ.

We might build ideas that include the perpetual virginity of Mary who was not only a virgin at conception, was also preserved as a virgin through the birth of Christ and remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. The Virgin Mary’s birth canal becomes so important to some, Mary is believed to have been impregnated by the Holy Spirit through her ear[6]. Some have decided it is best to side-line Mary all together and avoid the questions.[7]

I have looked at all of this and, despite all, I still hold that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly what I wrote at Easter 2017, I still hold to.

[1]https://memlynhumphries.me.uk/2017/05/03/easter-2017/

[2]https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/24/story-virgin-birth-christianity-mary-sex-femininity

[3]http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2017/12/virgin-birth-incarnation-cant/

[4]http://reknew.org/2017/12/podcast-jesus-god-human/

[5]https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/read/eng/GNB/Heb/4/

[6]https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/22-december/comment/columnists/angela-tilby-letting-the-virgin-birth-mystery-be

[7]http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2017/12/22/protestants-dont-know-mary/

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.

 

Fire and Brimstone

“It is worth noting that the ‘fire and brimstone’ school of theology who revel in ideas such as that Christ was made a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or that the cross was a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others, a propitiation of a stern God, find no support in Paul. These notions come into Christian theology by way of the legalistic minds of the medieval churchmen; they are not biblical Christianity.”
(William Neil in The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p202)

“The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent…to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character… The biblical gospel of atonement is God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.”
(The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p188)

The biblical gospel is one that promises peace with God and a life of holiness. This is a gift of God; faith. Knowing God and his peace is our rock and foundation in good times and in troubled times. The gift is precious and it breaks our hard hearts so that we might receive grace to live in the knowledge of our own forgiveness.

Our lives so often are at odds with this truth, as we live as part of the world. Through the message of the cross we discover God is above all, through all and in all; a redeeming presence in our lives to free us from the bonds of sin. We find a calling to live as the redeemed in the world, as those not of the world.

We are forgiven, is a sweet sustaining truth that anchors us in the storms of the day. God is good. As we feed on this truth it enters us, we digest it and we are formed by it. Yes, God is good. Our hearts are stirred by it but, how often do our stomachs churn as we encounter our own failings, our own culpability in the injustice and cruelty of our times? What was sweet to the taste becomes bitter in our stomachs. Our hearts cry out for justice and mercy. As we dwell in the truth and listen to our hearts, the voice of Christ becomes clearer. Being saved is not being self-satisfied and inward looking.

This is what the life of faith looks like. We are given the truth, it sets us free and then we live the truth and grow in the truth. The truth is at odds with the daily life we live. Outwardly, we live and breathe and have our being in a world in bondage to sin, subject to chance and time, but inwardly we carry the presence of God however fragile. Living out the truth and persevering in it forms us.

This life becomes our blessing; strength for the day and hope for tomorrow. As we draw near to God he draws near to us and we are kindled into a life of blessing. However useless we feel, weak in our humanity, it is enough to live by our revelation in our heart.

This is becomes the power of our testimony. It doesn’t look like much of a victory. Is this how we proclaim that God is alive and active a counter narrative whispers? We can think that in the face of martyrdom we might stand and it would be glorious. But standing in the onslaughts of the day is a testimony?

How many times does the accuser parade our failings before us and the Father? How many times does the accuser, our adversary, parade our failings before God? My pitiful failings paraded before my Father in heaven? Surely they deny the truth of my salvation Satan insinuates.

To be martyred is to be wondered at, but the daily onslaught of stress, emotional vulnerability and the expectations of life- the daily grind of troubles is poisonous. What can we do? What can we say? We proclaim Christ crucified. His death has saved me from sin. The cross is the victory. As we gaze on the cross are we healed?

We live this life of hope in contrition; brokenness in the face of our own fallibility and find victory in the knowledge of the Holy. It is enough. This is God’s grace to us and his peace in us.

Look at Revelation 14: 18 – 20

 …“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgement.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great wine-press of God’s wrath. 20 The grapes were trampled in the wine-press outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine-press in a stream about 180 miles[d]long and as high as a horse’s bridle.

Here it is, fire and brimstone to shock you. Not in the Old Testament but at the end of the New. Having taken the message so far set before us, we might have hoped that John’s long journey of faith might have resulted in a gentler gospel. Have we been led astray by our own sentimentalism so far? Am I speaking peace where there is no peace and we should be more fearful that our actual condition is that God is holding on to us as we dangle over the abyss, only to let go of our hands to let us slip at the last in to the pit where we deserve to be as some have suggested?

The grapes are fully ripe and are being piled up into the winepress of God’s wrath where holy feet trample on them, releasing their juice. The blood of the evil ones rises as high as a horse’s bridle for miles. The fruitfulness of the grapes is their evil. The whole event takes place outside the gates of the city. The image is of God treading to a pulp those who have not repented and are evil and their blood is a symbol of death.

God has allowed the fruit to ripen; evil comes to its full fruition by God’s will. God allows it to flourish. This is the reality- the real world. Hope calls in the face of daily evil and together we are taught to pray for deliverance from evil. Hope is that, in the end, God’s wrath wreaks vengeance on evil and treads out the life of all evil. God’s goodness is satisfied as, in wrath he at the last treads out the life of the evil. Vengeance belongs to God but none the less there is vengeance, fulfilling a visceral need in our being.

Maybe we recoil at the monster God portrayed, and wonder how we can trust him when he teaches us to love our enemies then tramples to death his enemies. Where has the message of the gospel gone that enables us to forgive? Are we fearful that we have not forgiven enough to be forgiven and we will find ourselves in the winepress? Or is our comfort, there is no winepress? Silly John!

The story of the cross tells us Jesus was taken outside the city gates and he took the wrath of God in our place. Jesus’ blood flowed outside the city gates. God in Christ gave himself so that we are not crushed. God is satisfied in substituting himself for us so that in Christ he is crushed. The blood of Christ was shed for all men; it was a mighty flow.

The blood that flows, I see as the blood of Christ. Can this gruesome picture awaken in us the scale of what Christ has achieved? Do we come closer to understanding what Christ has achieved by looking at the violent portrayals of God and realise they have achieved their fullness on the cross? In the disgust, can we feel wonder? How is this good is rational question? As it lays bare our doubt, can we find reassurance?

Jesus gave himself for our sins, for now, for today. The evil, present age has an end and God is good. I hold there is a hell for the evil, but that where Jesus finds life, it is his nature to redeem life. What is God like? Look at the cross. As to what hell looks like, look at the cross. And as has been said by another, heaven is not yesterday or tomorrow but here and now, the ever-present age revealed in Christ.

Galatians 1:3-5

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ[b] give you grace and peace. 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

 

Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.

Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.

Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.

Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.

In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.

We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.

I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.

To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.

Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.

The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.

Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.

We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.

Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.

Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.

The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone,  by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.

You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.

Easter 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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