Tag Archives: spirit

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…

 

God said… Part 2

 

The opening of the meaning of scriptures is a spiritual event. We can devise all manner schemes to know the meaning of the words but only true insight is gained through knowing the Word, Jesus. It is right that we have sound doctrine but the message for life is in the whisper, as well as the whirlwind and thunder, and rooted in Jesus. For many this mindset is difficult as it seems to undermine our understanding of authority.

It is not clear on mount Sinai whether God spoke or thundered and Moses wrote. In both cases Moses was the mediator of the “voice” of God; the human who responded to God’s message. There is an ambiguity in the word. For the Jews, the tradition and the text become a means of encountering God because of this ambiguity. Study, doubt and debate about what happened on the mountain become an act of worship. In listening to one another, what God is saying or thundering becomes a living encounter.

Jesus enters this tradition. In his anguish, Jesus called out to his Father to glorify his name and God thundered. Some heard thunder and some an angel. Jesus heard, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” The message to the people was, “Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out…” Jesus interpreted the event and the message was mediated through him. The thunder became words.

God thunders and whispers in the scriptures and we are commanded by Jesus to respond in grace, mercy and peace with faith. Jesus is the fount of our understanding and without love our interpretations become a noise and a clang. Without love, we close-down the voice of God in others and stand between God and his children.

Basing our faith in Scripture commits us to perpetual reformation[1]. In scripture, Jesus teaches us that every jot and tittle of the scripture is to remain and points us to him being the accomplishing of it. He talks about the random distribution of the seed and its generous and wasteful throwing out, of sun and rain falling on all, of treasures old and new being brought out and of new wineskins and old wine. He speaks of a small seed becoming a tree and providing shelter, a miracle of faith we can only watch and wonder at. The seed of God’s word is planted and we watch and wonder as it grows into a tree. God provides the rain and the sun; mountains are moved.

John says no one has seen the Father except the Son and we are left to ponder the scriptures that say otherwise. Paul takes the roar and rumble of scripture and compiles them into meanings hard to follow but rooted in tradition not the scripture and makes them scripture with gay abandon. No word of scripture is to be abandoned, it is breathed by God for a reason. One of those reasons may be to challenge our mindset and perpetually renew our thinking.

The rigour of our mindset that brings us to a scientific understanding of everything is disrupted by the words of scripture. We approach them subjectively needing certainty and a firm foundation. Jesus says faith in him is the firm foundation. The very words we would set our foundation on, on the tongues of men, shift their meanings like sand. Some rail and rant at us and call us to abandon reason or what we feel to be true. They label us as filthy and baying wolves, dehumanise us, because we dare to question their precious tradition or interpretation.

The scriptures throw is into the arms of Jesus. In the roar and rush of life, the power-plays of humanity, Jesus pulls us up out of the anger and violence of humanity, into the embrace of the One who walks on water and stills the storm. We have one Mediator, the Holy One, Jesus Christ crucified.

We need to listen to the doctors and luminaries to hear the foolishness of the good news of Christ. We need to be those who are learning and are teachable. Our faith in scripture is because we see Jesus and are saved. In the preachers’ and teachers’ words we hear the truth and can be set free, because we know Jesus and are lead to worship him and him alone. Scripture and teaching digs the hole but the rock and foundation is Jesus.

It is faith in who Jesus is that is the rock on which the Church is built. Yes, our faith is in scripture, but only read through the eyes of the knowledge of the crucified Christ. Jesus sets the words on the page alight in a consuming fire burning up our pride and arrogance so that we can live forgiven and forgive and live generous lives full of hope and love. In Jesus, we are enabled to live life in its fullness without fear.
[1] The Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann, SCM Press, 2015, page 118

God Said…Part 1

 

Genesis 22:1-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Failure and doubt.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Church: a Life Together

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

http://www.benandhannahdunnett.com/shop/notecards/the-lord-is-my-strength-and-give-thanks-to-the-lord/

 

1 Corinthians 13

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

New Living Translation (NLT)

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