Monthly Archives: April 2019

Can’t help myself!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “let there be light..let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear…let the land produce vegetation… let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night”…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

(Gen 1.1,3,9,11,14&31)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is the son of man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.

(Ps 8.1-5)

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 108.1-5)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

(James 1.17&18)

Do you ever think about praise as a means of defeating evil? That is how the psalmist describes it in Psalm 8, giving the voices of children raised in faith the power to advance God’s kingdom and silence the wicked! I love this, because it helps me to understand why it is always good to praise God, even when we are in trouble, weighed down by burdens of our own, or those of others.

When we declare in the face of the darkness that God is, that he is good, loving, faithful and utterly trustworthy, then the kingdom is being built. We may not see how God uses those statements of faith, sometimes whispered from breaking hearts, but he does.

And sometimes, in spite of the darkness in the world around us, we are simply prompted to praise by the beauty we see around us – and living where I do now, this happens very frequently! I sing with the psalmist, from a heart that overflows with delight, gratitude and deep joy, responding to the light, the colours, the sights, smells and sounds around me. I am so thankful to be alive today; so thankful for the physical strength which I have been given to move and work and play; deeply grateful for the mind and spirit which enable me to appreciate and grow in love for my God and all he has done.

God made it, and made it very good; and even all the consequences of human rebellion cannot disguise the vision of the creator, or take all the joy out of creation’s natural constant song of praise to its maker. The mountains and seas rejoice in their elements, the wind whispers and roars songs of praise; the trees and flowers of the field shout ‘Glory!’, and the creatures each in their place display his power, might, and delight in details and in the ridiculous.

I am made in God’s image, I share in some small way the delight which God has in all he has made – so that my joy in the beauty around me is a right and proper thing; a gift to be rejoiced in, and given thanks for. When I am gladdened, lifted up in my spirit, I sing thanksgivings in my heart to my Father God, and in sharing my joy, I am enriched and He is exalted because all the glory goes to Him.

Let me never neglect this ministry of rejoicing before my God, of fulfilling my debt of thanksgiving and praise, so that I might do my part in advancing his kingdom, standing against evil and proclaiming Christ’s victory. Let my voice not be silent among the chorus of creation, because I am both made and remade, I have double reason to shout alongside the trees, the birds, the glory of light upon the water and the wind over the moors!

Shout with joy, all my being rejoice and sing before your Lord and King; exult in his goodness and acknowledge in all things that He is God!

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A sure and certain hope!

Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…You are witnesses of these things.”

(Luke 24.44-48)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

(John 20.19&20)

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear….therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

(Acts 2.22-24,32,33&36)

On the eve of Passover, as darkness fell, the city of Jerusalem returned to the business of preparation and observance of the coming feast, a great time of rejoicing and remembering God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt – when many signs and miracles had accredited Moses as God’s servant and they had trusted for deliverance.

The Pharisees and leaders of the religious community were hugely relieved that the trouble with Jesus of Nazareth was over just in time; the body was gone – it didn’t really matter where, there could be no doubts that he was dead because Roman executioners couldn’t risk getting it wrong. The people would forget soon enough, and be content to return to the routines of temple worship, of looking back to God’s faithfulness in the past, and looking ahead to the Christ, the Messiah who was yet to come in power to save them from Rome…

But life would never return to the old ways, because in the quiet tomb, out of sight and in the mystery of God’s power, the Messiah whom the people had so utterly failed to recognise – in spite of the signs and wonders he had done – was not to remain dead, his body would never decay and be gathered into a jar of dry bones for storage…

On the morning of the first day of the week, something happened in that forgotten corner of the city, something utterly outside human comprehension, when the eternal divine erupted into the temporal and earthly, and a dead man breathed again, walked again, talked again! In a body utterly transformed and yet immediately recognisable, he encountered his dearest friends and blew apart their grief, engulfing them in a joy and excitement beyond anything they could have imagined. He that was dead, now lived! The grave had been no more than a resting place for him, and now he was alive – more fully alive than anyone they had ever known.

I sometimes catch a hint of that incredible experience, can almost sense the wonder and the shattering power of realisation, as the women and men who knew Jesus so well held his hands, heard his voice and saw the love and joy and exultation in his eyes as he shared with them the victory which he had realised so completely.

I think we hear that sense of triumph in Peter’s words in Acts as he laid out with brutal clarity for the crowds at Pentecost just what God was doing when Jesus died. This life, this death and above all this resurrection were all God’s doing; in them the eternal plan for redemption was fulfilled. All the signs and wonders had been from God, showing that He was about to achieve a deliverance far greater than that of the Exodus, by means not of slaughtered lambs, but the sacrificial death of the perfect Lamb, the promised Messiah.

This life, death and resurrection are our sure and certain hope for the one deliverance we need – from our own sin and the penalty which it requires. The testimony of the disciples, so carefully recorded for us, is our foundation for belief, and on that we rest.

Today, I rejoice that my Lord lives; that the grave could never hold him; and because of him, I too may live. He has triumphantly completed his work, and I have everything I need. One day I too will know the resurrection power and exultation of a new and perfect body, but even now I can rejoice in the glory and power and mercy of my God, prostrate in wonder and love and soaked through with deep gladness and thanksgiving.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

Whose body?

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133.1&3)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf…So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves

(1 Cor 10.16&17, 11.27-29)

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body…after all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.

(Eph 4.25&5.29-30)

On the night before he died, and after he had celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, showing in the wine and bread what lay ahead for him, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would believe in his name for their salvation.

He prayed this way after commanding his disciples to love one another as he had loved them, namely patiently, perseveringly, selflessly and sacrificially. This unity is therefore not something which comes easily as a feeling, but rather one which is a deliberate acting out of foundational truths, and it requires our commitment and continual focus of attention.

The remnants of our brokenness, even after we have become followers of Jesus, are at war with this desire for unity and fellowship – honesty compels us to recognise within our own church families that we are divided from one another, hiding behind polite facades of competence, nursing grudges, unable to embrace change for the sake of others because it makes us uncomfortable. Our weakness undermines our fellowship, and yet, through those very things, God chooses to demonstrate his power. When we recognise Christ in the believers around us – seeing their inestimable value as his redeemed children – then we find we can love as we want to and ought to! God’s grace is seen as we learn to forgive, to serve (and be served), to bear with one another and to keep lifting up those who stumble. It isn’t about feeling, but about doing and putting ourselves in God’s hands for the good of our neighbours.

As we celebrate the Lord’s supper, communion, or whatever we happen to call that wonderful time of remembrance, Paul is advising us (through his letter to the Corinthians), to see the body of Christ around us, the people for whom Jesus died. We are all equally hopeless without Christ; dependant upon Christ; and gloriously transformed by Christ – and we belong together. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. Christ’s sacrifice is not for me alone, but for all those who call him Lord, and as I take the bread and wine, he calls me to remember that and to consider just how much I am dwelling in loving unity with my brothers and sisters. We do this ‘in remembrance of him’ – whose human body was broken for us, and of whose spiritual body we are now a part.

He died, that we might be his and be one. Am I actively undermining that purpose, am I hurting one of his children, withholding love? Am I neglecting opportunities to build others up in their faith? I am called into the body of Christ to serve him by loving others – what am I doing to fulfill my part in that purpose?

We are the body of Christ – gathered, redeemed, precious and holy to him. Our unity is beautiful in his sight, and as refreshing and blessing to us as divine dew on dry ground. May our celebrations of communion be times to remember and discern the body of which we are part, so that his love for us becomes our motivation to love others, undergirding and informing our conduct so that we do all for and with one another.

Grace – it’s God’s gift to share, not ours to keep…

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Ex 34.5-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom 5.1&2)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God

(2Cor 5.13&15)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..

(2 Pet 1.2 & 5.18)

What is this ‘grace’ of which the New Testament of our bibles is so full? Was it invented by the church retrospectively to explain what was going on, or is it part of the great narrative of time?

Grace is understood – in the context of God’s revelation of himself – to be the free and unmerited favour which He (as supreme and superior to us in every way) chooses to show us, mere creatures, and in rebellion against Him. That favour is compounded of many things, well beyond the scope of a brief piece of writing, but the word itself is basically shorthand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is represented in God’s choosing of Abram, and the making of a covenant with him – one in which all the promises were on God’s side, and which God kept in spite of Abram’s failings and sin. Grace is seen in God’s powerful deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt – and especially in his bearing with them all through their sulking, rebellious and uncooperative wanderings in the wilderness. Grace is seen in their establishment in a land which was rich and plentiful. Grace is seen in God’s faithfulness to David, in spite of David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Grace is seen in God reaching out to the people of Nineveh in their sin, with the offer of salvation. Grace is seen in God’s ministry to his people even in their exile in Babylon, where the prophets spoke of God’s presence among them and promise to restore them to their land.

Grace does not arrive with Jesus…but, John tells us that Jesus – as God’s perfect representation in the flesh – showed us more clearly than anything had done beforehand just what grace looks like.

Grace is to love people when they despise you; grace is to bear with people when they misunderstand and misjudge you; grace is to go to the cross, bearing all the appalling weight of a world of sin and grief, so that those who have rejected you might be saved from the consequences of their own sin. This is what God’s grace – in the person of Jesus – did. He did not wait for us to recognise his worth; did not wait until he was popular and liked; did not require that salvation be earned by lavish good works, acts of extreme piety or self-sacrifice. He died, while we were still utterly estranged from and hostile to him, so that we might live never to be estranged again from God.

If I, as a follower of Jesus, and one who calls him Lord, am not willing to show grace to others as it has been shown to me – not willing to allow the riches of God’s forgiveness and love to be offered – then I am not worthy to be called a christian. This free gift – encompassing all of God’s riches – was lavishly poured on me, and continues to be my daily portion. How dare I then choose to whom I will show it? I am no more worthy to receive God’s riches than anyone else – and no less worthy.

Lord God, forgive me when I judge that someone is not worthy of grace, when I choose to condemn instead of being compassionate; to hold a grudge instead of forgiving; to withhold love and kindness instead of reaching out. Your grace outraged the religious leaders of your day, because it was freely offered to the wheeler-dealer Zaccheus, to the disgraced woman who anointed your feet with her tears, to the lepers and the maimed, the socially marginalised. And it was offered to those who thought themselves above you, above needing forgiveness.

You invited everyone to come and receive grace, may I follow your example, and by my words and actions make it clear that all are welcome..