Tag Archives: life

Fully Human: a reflection for Sunday 20th May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 2:1-21

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

Romans 8:22-27

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

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

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

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

 

Blessed are the pure in heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 98

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

1 John 5:1-6

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

John 15:9-17

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

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.

Prayer is walking with God

Prayer is walking with God. It is turning our very selves to being in his presence, to hear by faith that in us God is well pleased and to ask for what we need. In asking we are being obedient to God’s call and we articulate our faith.

Hearing scripture, meditating on it and contemplation; singing psalms and resting in God’s presence; wrestling with what we hear, read and our faith and sharing our walk together, leads to action. Our lived life embodies our prayer life, giving it expression in acts of compassion and a life together.

Our offering to God is to live out the love we learn through prayer. We, by abiding in God, have the promise that he abides in us. In loving we know God. In giving ourselves to good we know God. God is experienced in our life of being alive in Christ. Like Abel we may be hated and even lose our lives in the offering. In our selves, our hearts might struggle, but we are reassured that in living the life God calls us to he is true to himself and we are loved despite our failings. Gentleness extends this privilege to others.

The Cross is a revelation of our spirituality. Our spiritual life is revealed through the Cross. We love and serve and, by faith, willingly give our lives despite wrath in the world. We take up our cross daily and in being misunderstood and in our suffering, we know death. There is purpose in our dying: the joy set before us is the revelation of our true selves in Christ. In our submission to living a life of faith in all circumstances and following the narrow way of peace, the world is blessed and there is no condemnation. We know peace in Christ: we know our salvation is in him, not in our selves and the wide way. This wide way leads us to hate our enemies. Through the Spirit at work in us we reveal Christ to the world. From the place of prayer comes prophecy that transforms not only us but those around us. Our spirituality is found in forgiveness.

In the stuff of our lives, God is present. This is the foundation and goal of our prayer life, that we can live forgiven. Out of this transforming faith great works are done. Our prayer expresses eternity and we make present God’s presence.

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.

 

 

Wisdom

Our hearts are so precious; the place of God’s image; our source of life.

Abraham in faith seeks to sacrifice Isaac, Paul kills Christians and Peter keeps Torah. All done in Faith and God supernaturally moves them on. The power of the Cross is there – there is forgiveness; an angel speaks; scales fall from eyes and deep dreams transform faith. There is no condemnation and we are called into this way of being.

Our faith is transfigured by an encounter with God and God is glorified in our moving in faith as we are emptied of our selves and filled by him. Christ is trustworthy and will guide us. We live in forgiveness, loved through the grace of the Cross and are empowered to live a better way.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ygnuu-625fe5

The Church: Voice

 Sunday 31st July 2016

Jeremiah 31:27-37 (NLT)

 …   33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbours, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”…

John 10:14-30 (NLT)

  27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (NLT)

 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit….

 

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Our religion is to do good, to act in wisdom, humility and faith but above all to love. The church is a revelation of the heart of God- a community of forgiveness and welcome – a community where, together, God is known and loved. And we are to listen to God; God speaks his word to us and we are to obey it.

God’s word is not something we can grasp at and possess, it is a revelation that brings life in us. The word speaks in each of us to bring healing, to bring faith. God speaks his word in our midst to make his presence known in us, as individuals, and through us, as a community. The fruit of God’s presence is unity and peace.

God has placed his image in us; he has set his Spirit within us so that hearing God’s word we can act in faith. God speaks into who we are to redeem us and redeem the world through faith in his voice. This is no different to what we see in the heroes of the faith in the scriptures. Through their failings and lack of grace, those who heard God acted in faith. When God speaks, he pours himself into broken vessels, jars of clay, filled with precious water that overflows for the refreshing of the world.

However flawed we are, he is pleased to pour his message into us. God spoke to Abraham and he heard God tell him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise. To sacrifice a human life is strictly forbidden to us but Abraham heard God call his name and speak. He was faithful to the voice he heard. Abraham was not different to how we are- he did not mishear, he heard and was obedient and acted in faith. God spoke through an angel and Isaac was spared. Abraham’s faith pleased God and it was counted as righteousness.

Abraham sacrificed a lamb, and the dishonour of human sacrifice was transformed by God speaking through an angel and Abraham choosing a lamb to sacrifice as a substitute. For Moses the blood of the lamb was a sign of deliverance from oppression and death. What God spoke through the angel transformed Abraham’s heart and the faith of Abraham was credited to him as righteousness.

So precious is God speaking to each of us; it is more precious than the voice of God brought by the angel. Jesus says we will know his voice and the prophet brings us forward in the knowledge that we have no need of a teacher. Paul calls us to love and to trust the voice of God, causing us to speak even in tongues we do not understand, but always acting as the angel of God for the building of the church.

Our building of our church needs to have no walls that cause division or ceilings that limit God’s voice speaking even in the brokenness of people’s lives. We are to be angels of the Lord speaking to transform vessels of dishonour so that they carry a message of honour.

The church is to be prophetic in our culture, speaking up for the weak and downtrodden. We need to speak words of healing into places of conflict. We must honour truthfulness and transparency and act for the good of the powerless and poor. Our gatherings must be united in diversity, our leadership being inclusive and representative- showing a heart of service. This is the legacy being the church will give to our localities and our nations.

What of us who know salvation, made alive by knowledge of the holy, perfected by grace? What of us who in the gathering discern the presence of Christ? What of us elect in Christ amongst the people- we, the humble and contrite of heart? What is our life together in the world?

In our twos and threes , we are to baptise and make disciples. We are to remember Christ, fully human, fully God, in the sharing of a simple cup and bread, gathered to a table. This is our life together in faith: baptism, discipleship and the sharing of Jesus through the feast that recalls the sacrifice of Jesus. Our sacrifice is one of praise; a life together through reading scripture, prayer and the sharing of the Lord ’s Supper. We are to do good and bless the world, redeeming our culture to creation’s values.

In our discussion, again we heard the picture brought of our mission being to be those who adopt into a family, embodying the message that God adopts us into his family through Jesus. We are to carry the message of abiding in God. We also heard in our discussion of the work of the deep brokenness of culture and how the voice of God with the scriptures and life together changes things, “not in swarms” but one by one.

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

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.

 

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.