Monthly Archives: November 2014

My own flesh and blood?…

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But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,

the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since death came through a man,

the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

(1 Corinthians 15 v 20-22)

This may seem an odd verse to use at the beginning of the season of Advent, looking towards the birth of Jesus, the coming of God clothed in human flesh. But the incarnation, already stunningly good news in itself as we see God reaching out to us in love, is so much more again!

I have been thinking about what it meant for Jesus to be human – like us, made of flesh and bone, full of emotions and thoughts – and what that means for me. I think that too often I have a degraded view of humankind, forgetting that when God reviewed creation, He declared it all good, and stated that humanity – men and women together – reflect God’s own character. We represent the ecstatic heights of God’s creative act, and I believe that the story revealed in the bible is of how – in spite of our rebellion, our destructive habits and utter inability to redeem ourselves – God is still planning to fulfill his original purposes in creation.

In Genesis, we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, enjoying their company in the world which had been created to sustain and delight them – in their human form. In the book of Revelation, in the vision which the apostle John was given of the future promised to all God’s children, we find a new earth, where God dwells with his people, and all the barriers caused by our sin and rebellion are gone. All that God ever wanted, was us… Do I really let that sink in often enough? Out of his abundant love, he created a universe and galaxies beyond understanding in order that he might share joy and love with us. And this is still his plan.

When Jesus humbled himself and took on human likeness, it was also the likeness of God, and should remind me continually of the value of each and every human being that every lived. There has never been anyone who did not matter, or was not worth caring about. When Jesus lived for over 30 years on this earth, eating and drinking, walking and wearying just as I do, it reminds me that my Lord and God knows and understands intimately what it is to be human, and nothing about me is unimportant to him. But, when I consider that Jesus came back to life with a human body – albeit with some unprecedented qualities – that is simply electrifying!

My eternal destiny is not in some disembodied state, but in a transformed, glorious, but still human body – because I will inhabit a transformed and glorious but still recognisable earth! God plans to live in uninterrupted fellowship with his beloved children, as He has always desired, and to this end, will make all things new when Christ returns. I freely admit that my mind is far too small to begin to deal with all the implications of this truth – and I would also suggest that if we don’t know all the details, it is because we don’t need the details just now!

Is it not enough to know that when we delight in this world, in our humankind, in all we can do and create, share and enjoy, we are following God’s heart? These are good things to give thanks for, and in which to recognise and celebrate the goodness of God. But we can rejoice even more in the certain hope of a life to come, in a new body – just like Jesus – when all the things which make this world painful will be gone. Then, oh then, what joy awaits, as we revel in a perfect world, in uninterrupted communion with our God, exercising our gifts, pursuing our interests, fulfilling our truest destinies – really living at last.

As we enter into this period of preparation for celebrating the first coming of Jesus as our Saviour, let us also look ahead with eager anticipation to his return in power, when we shall truly be ‘made alive’.

Amen. come, Lord Jesus. (Rev 22 v 20)

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On the receiving end…

Alison C2 I give you thanks,

O Lord, with all my heart; I will sing your praises before the gods. I bow before your holy temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honour of your name. As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.

Psalm 138 v 1-3

Do you find it easy to let people say thank you to you, to express their genuine appreciation for who you are and what you do? I find it hard sometimes, and squirm inwardly, wishing they would just get it over and leave me in peace – especially when I know that my heart has been less than rejoicing in my work, and I feel I don’t deserve any gratitude!

Sometimes, the means that is chosen – the form of the gift, or the actions used – make me uncomfortable. We all have our own preferences and tastes, our own emotional make-up, which affect how we react when presented with gifts which others have chosen. How many primary class teachers actually really love all the gifts and cards they receive from their doting children at the end of the year?! If you are not a demonstrative person, then an enthusiastic hug from someone will have entirely the opposite effect from that which they intend, and you shrink inwardly from their touch.

Over recent weeks, my husband and I have enjoyed celebrations in our church marking the 20th anniversary of his coming to be their minister, and it is truly humbling to have so many people being grateful to us! Would it have been loving of us to dictate in advance the ways in which we were willing to be thanked? Of course not! Our church family love us, and we are privileged to have shared deeply in many of their lives – during great pain and suffering as well as in joy. We are one in Christ Jesus, members of the same body, and ultimately all the glory and praise goes to him for what has been done in our lives. But people need to give voice to their appreciation of one another, indeed this is a ministry of encouragement that we can all practice; it is as though through God’s designing of our natures, we cannot rest until thanks has been given.

So there have been cakes and speeches, cheesy songs, cards, gifts, flowers, a special dinner (for which my poor husband had to get smartly dressed – not a treat as far as he was concerned), and a general feeling of being the focus of attention in a very unusual way. Perhaps we might have preferred not to have had all the fuss, but how loving would that be towards those who have allowed us to serve them and be loved by them?

In the same way that each of us receives love and appreciation in our own particular ways, so also we express them individually. Some will say little, but give privately and generously to a gift. Some will want to make a public statement, others to quietly talk, or give a hug. Does our God reject our thanks because it does not comply to some particular formula? Of course not! (I am beginning to sound a bit like Paul in his letters, my apologies!). Our expressions of love and thanksgiving to God all bring Him delight because they are our true natures, as He designed them to be, glorifying and delighting in Him and all He so generously gives us.

I am trying to learn to love others as God loves me, welcoming me and my thanksgiving – whatever form it takes. In this way, I can learn to model Christ in his acceptance of us – think how shocked everyone was when Jesus allowed the woman to weep over his feet, dry them with her hair, kiss and then anoint them! The teachers of the law would have recoiled in horror, but Jesus accepted her, loved and affirmed her. In my gracious and humble acceptance of the thanks and appreciation of others, may I increasingly demonstrate the staggeringly generous way that God loves and accepts us.

Brace yourself, there’s a hug on the way!!!

Mine to spend?

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I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

And I trust that my life will bring honour to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living, means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (Philippians 1, 9-12 & 20-21)

There is an insidious habit of thought which can take me down unhelpful paths if I am not careful, a clever synthesis of Christian teaching with cultural assumptions, that will lead me to deep unhappiness. We live in an age, here in the UK in the 21st century, where the cult of self-fulfillment is at unprecedented heights, and the urge to ‘be all you can be’ is constantly sounded in our ears.

Our children are encouraged to dream of doing great things with their lives, and to believe that putting themselves first in terms of their money and activities is right because they are ‘worth it’. And of course, in one sense as a Christian, I understand the priceless worth of every individual under the sun – each unique, and fashioned to reveal God’s glory in a particular way in the world.

But in another sense, I am deeply troubled by this emphasis, failing completely as it does, to recognise the flawed realities of our world, and in particular the sin which skews all our thinking and feeling. The root of human sin is the denial of God as rightful sovereign of our lives, and our determination to put ourselves in God’s place – to trust no one else with our lives, and to believe that we alone know what is best for us.

If I think that God’s plan for my life as a christian is my complete self-fulfillment (in so far as I define it) , then I am going to be deeply frustrated with the world, my fellow-believers, and with God! This was certainly not the apostle Paul’s understanding of his purpose in living. Yes, we can argue that God is glorified when his creatures are most fully being what he made them to be, and we know that in the new earth and heaven, this will be our destiny – and what a glorious one too! But… we are not there yet, we are not in our perfected, resurrected bodies yet, and our world is still broken.

If I demand that all the gifts and talents which I think I possess be given ample opportunity to flourish and be exercised, before I can accept that I am in the place where God wants me to be, then I will never be satisfied, but always seeking to change my circumstances. In effect, I am dictating to God about the ways in which he may work in and through me. When I put it into words like that, I can see clearly why this is wrong!

If, as I believe, I am surrendered to God in loving submission, in response to his overwhelming love for me, then I must also resign any right to dictate how and where I am to be used by God. The bible narratives demonstrate over and over that it is in allowing God to work according to his plans which sees blessing and glory coming to his name, and that when human beings demand their own ways, the results are painful and sometimes disastrous – look at Abraham and Sarah’s misguided efforts to get an heir, and the suffering which came about  as a result.

All that I have – health, wealth, family, intelligence, talents and experience – is a gift of grace from God. I must hold them on open hands, and continually offer them to God to be used – or not to be used at any given time in my life – as He sees fit. So often we are reminded that it is in our weaknesses that God displays his strength – how could that be if we decline ever to act unless we feel strong and gifted in a particular area of service? And will I not trust my heavenly Father to keep safe, for my resurrected future delight, all the things which he doesn’t need me to use just now?

There is an old hymn ( of course, I find some of my strongest theology there!!) which beautifully expresses this complete offering up of myself into God’s hands for his glory:

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart – it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-79

May God grant us humility to serve him, and be spent by him, wherever he has placed us just now, especially if – in the world’s opinion – it makes no sense!!

Hope in time of remembrance

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Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?

Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?..

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans chapter 8 v 35,37-39)

The custom of Remembrance, which began nearly 100 years ago at the end of the First World War has become a hugely significant time in our nation over the succeeding decades, as it has become clear that, far from ending all wars, it was the fore-runner to many other conflicts. We live in a world which looks less able to live in peace than ever before.

We remember with gratitude and humility the deliverance which our land and many others obtained, and the willingness of so many to go to war in order to protect our freedom, and to deliver others from oppression.

We remember with grief the price which was, and is being paid in deaths, in broken bodies and minds, and in families fractured by loss.

We remember with shame that war breaks out because of the darkness at the core of all human hearts which causes us to enter into conflict at every level of our lives.

We remember the truth revealed in the bible narrative, that while we inhabit this world, these bodies, we will have trouble. There is no lasting solution ahead for humanity, because the human heart is of itself incorrigibly wicked, and no amount of ‘education’ or ‘progress’ is going to change that.

We do no one any favours if we buy into the myth that peace can ever be a lasting reality for the world if we would only work hard enough for it.

Instead, we remember that because of the radical work of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have real hope for a peaceful future based on the transformation of the human heart. We have seen that God can make us new – Jesus went ahead to show the way – and that in dwelling in our hearts by faith, He is already at work to transform lives all over the world. One day, all things will be made new, in a way we cannot begin to imagine, and all war and sorrow will cease, because sin, that brokenness in us, will be gone forever.

So while we grieve for all the pain of ongoing conflicts, we also pray into the situations and work with all our strength to bring the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ into the lives of those affected.

We have a sure and certain hope that God is working, that nothing can ultimately separate Him from those who love and trust in His son. The hymn-writer, William Walsham How gives a lovely picture of the way that this hope inspires God’s people, in the hymn “For all the saints who from their labours rest”, and I share it here to encourage us all in the days ahead.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!