Category Archives: Christ’s sufficiency

With my own two hands…

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127. 1&2)

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down..The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy..The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good[man] rewarded for [his]..

(Prov 14.1,8-11,14)

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 whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, and as I read in the book of Proverbs this morning I was forcibly struck by the relevance of the words in chapter 14, with their challenge to be a wise builder. Certainly, it takes two people to make a marriage, but God calls me to take full responsibility for my part and not to make any shortcomings or flaws in my husband an excuse for my own folly. 

I believe that God ordained marriage for many good reasons, and that it remains a unique type of relationship, quite apart from the blood ties of kinship, or the bonds of deep friendship – although these may play their part within the marriage. The deliberate act of two people to commit to living together for life, to forgiving one another, bearing with failure and weakness, supporting through thick and thin, accepting the changes of ageing and continuing to choose to love, this is – as one long-married pop singer recently observed – ‘an heroic act’. I agree whole-heartedly, and frankly have no idea how those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus, can cope with the pressures of marriage!

There is so much in Proverbs which unpacks what the wisdom of God’s children in daily life should look like, and I have been appreciating the stimulating soundbites which cause me to reflect on my own behaviour. Do I build? Am I actively engaged in seeking the good of my spouse, regardless of his behaviour to me, of my own moods and circumstances? It is work, of course it is! But it is also what I am called to in marriage; called to choose forgiveness over revenge; to choose patience over temper; called to choose humility over assertion of my own rights and opinions; called to extend to another sinner that same grace which I have received from God – and to receive from them, the forgiveness that I need when I offend, fail and hurt them. Sacrificing pride is hard work; accepting that I sometimes deceive myself about my motives and actions is painful work; apologising can be excruciating work; believing the best about my spouse, even when I cannot begin to understand what is in their heart, can be wearying work.

But this is the work of love, this is the central beam which holds the whole structure together and around which the building grows over time. For me, as a follower of Jesus, His love for me is what enables my love to my spouse to grow, to endure hard times, to keep on doing the work. The perfect love and acceptance offered by my Lord has set me free to love another human being – flawed just like me, forgiven just like me, but never in this life to be perfect any more than me! What a privilege, to have the opportunity to show one human being, over the course of years of intimate acquaintance, as much as I can of the perfect love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – to dignify his feelings by respecting them, to put away into forgetfulness his flaws and failings, to publicly declare loyalty and delight in him as a person, and to choose to be present – in sickness and in health; in wealth or in want; in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.

May the God who has brought us safe thus far, continue to enable and bless us in the days ahead, so that our work in his name, in this marriage, might glorify him and be a blessing to others.

Get wisdom..

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight..Blessed is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding..By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew…Get wisdom, get understanding..wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

(Prov 3.5,6,13,19&20; 4.5,6&7)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord…with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth..

(Isa 11.2-4)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

(Matt 13.45&46)

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of  God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe..For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(1 Cor 1.20&21,25,30)

We spend our lives today in a culture which continually bombards us with information, more ‘stuff’ comes to our attention in a few hours than our ancestors would deal with in many years – but has this made us wiser?

Our lives are increasingly dependent on complex technologies, and the advancement of science has enabled astonishing achievements in medicine, communication, and industry – but has this made us wiser?

Knowledge is not wisdom. Understanding is not necessarily wisdom. I believe that wisdom is what we do with what we know and understand – how does it inform our thinking, underpin our values, change our choices?

I believe that the Creator of our universe has woven his wisdom as well as his knowledge and understanding into the very fabric, the sustaining power that keeps us all here. True wisdom then will be in tune with what is made, will chime with the Creator’s vision for his handiwork, and will contribute to its flourishing. The author(s) of the book of Proverbs urge their audience to get wisdom, at any cost, in order to navigate the path of life in accordance with the great Author of all life – and to ‘get’ wisdom is to internalise and absorb it, so that without effort, our thoughts are running in harmony with God’s will.

Ultimate wisdom is to know oneself – and as a Christian, I believe this means to know my own situation as a sinner in the presence of a holy God. I cannot earn my safety by rule-keeping, because I am incapable of it. I cannot bribe or cajole this transcendant and mighty judge into reducing my sentence for good behaviour, his righteousness and integrity make that impossible.

The pearl of great price, the treasure which is worth everything I have, is this wisdom – to know that God has chosen to do for me what I cannot do for myself, and to accept that gift. It will take all that remains of my life in this fallen world to assimilate that gift, to learn day by day, a little more of what it looks like to live as one who is totally forgiven, washed clean and renewed within by God’s own presence. And, how marvellous is this, I am assured that Christ himself, God’s wisdom incarnate – is my own wisdom, my beautiful and beautifying adornment and jewel. Because I have Christ, I am decked in finest garments, fit for the presence of Almighty God, crowned with honour and bearing the pearl of perfection.

The diamond drops furring the rose are a transient reflection of the glory with which I am clothed now in God’s presence. I am a sweet perfume before him, because I have Christ, the wisdom of God.

Father God, how I thank and praise you today for this greatest of gifts, this priceless treasure of your wisdom in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Thank you that I can trust you to be at work in me today, saturating my heart and mind with your wisdom so that increasingly I think and speak and act in full accordance with your will. May I rejoice and delight in this gift, giving all the honour and glory to you, as I live in the freedom, hope and joy which is mine through your wisdom in Christ.

Which way lies wisdom?

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?…”To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom.

(Isa 40.13&14,25&26,28)

The message that points to Christ on the cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

“I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things!- to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

While Jews clamour for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle – and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

(1 Cor 1.18-25, in The Message paraphrase, by Eugene Peterson)

There is reasonable evidence in historical sources to verify the existence, some 2000 years ago, of a man who caused a brief stir in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. He made some outrageous, even laughable, claims, alongside some persuasive moral teaching, and generally stirred up the Jewish religious establishment enough to provoke them to contrive an unjust trial and execution, with the connivance of the Roman governor of the day. The subsequent rumours of his resurrection and so-called ‘ascension’ are clearly nonsense, such things don’t happen. Nonetheless, his teachings, and the Jewish scriptures to which they frequently refer, have been preserved, translated and form the basis for a faith movement which continues to grow..Isn’t is all another example of the foolishness of human beings who can’t bring themselves to take full responsibility for their own lives and actions?..How on earth could the life, death and resurrection (if such a thing were even possible) of one man (and he deluded enough to believe himself divine), make any difference to humanity and the problems we face? It makes no sense…

That is one way of looking at the story…is it yours? Does this way give you peace, contentment, hope, ambition for change and the motivation to believe in better? Does this way deal with shame, guilt, all the messiness of living in a broken world? Does it account for what we see day by day unfolding around us as humanity in its pride continues to fail and plumb new depths? 

What if, just maybe, Jesus’ story is true? What if the ‘absurdity’ of a God who claims to reveal himself to the world he made, and the people whom he loves, is actually the absolute reality? What if the life, death and resurrection of the God-made-man, Jesus, is really the means by which our individual, inherent rebellion against God can be undone, and we can be made new, clean and wholesome, with hope for an unimaginable future of joyous life with one who loves us completely? What if those who choose to be considered foolish for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ are actually the wisest? 

They will not be able to give you answers to all your questions – they can’t answer all their own questions! But they will tell you that in believing that Jesus Christ is God, made man, who died to take the blame for all that they have done (and will do) wrong, they have been transformed. They will tell of a friend who walks with them through every storm; of a healer whose love and wisdom has dealt with wounds and scars from years of guilt and pain; of a champion whose strength defeats the enemy of their peace.

The good news about Jesus Christ takes the brokenness of this world, of humanity very seriously, and deals with it head on. Easter is when the church around the world remembers especially the fierce climax of the contest, and celebrates the absolute victory of her Lord over all the powers at work against him. The church affirms that the wisdom of an Almighty Creator cannot be grasped by the puny minds of his creatures, and rejoices in the mystery and majesty of the Eternal.

Is it wisdom, or foolishness? That depends on your perspective..from where I stand, the only way into the peace, joy and hope which I desire, to the healing of this precious world, is from the foot of the cross, where human pride dies, and in total surrender of human wisdom. I am glad to be counted a fool for Jesus, to set aside human wisdom, and to put all my faith in the ‘absurdity’ of Almighty God. What about you?

Standing firm, or hanging on..or being held?

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you….I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life… To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless.

(Ps 119.89-91,93&96)

Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please

(Isa 46.8-10)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

(1 Cor 1.18,20&25)

As I read this morning in Psalm 119, it hit me like a wave of relief….it is not what the world may say that matters, but rather what is true. What do I see around me? What does the testimony of centuries speak of? What above all does the book of Revelation assure me ? That the God in whom I am fighting to trust, that Almighty who reveals himself through the scriptures of the Old and New testaments, He is..He is good…and astonishingly, I am his beloved.

The darkness of the world has not changed; the bleak outlook in economic, political, environmental and social terms is the same. But – thanks be to the kindness of my Lord and the work of the Spirit – my eyes have been guided back to the only worthwhile truth, the eternal word of God. While the world continues to perplex and trouble me, I know deep in my heart that it makes even less sense if I try to leave God out of the picture. I rejoice with the psalmist, even as I call on God to fulfill his purposes in our broken world, even as I cry for his mercy on my doubts, and his active care for the untold millions in distresses without number.

The testimony of God’s people down the years – first his faithful among the Jews, and now those from all nations, tribes and tongues who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour – is that God chooses to confound human pride and strength, in order to demonstrate our limitations and his own glory and might. Our God will not share his glory with another ; no state apparatus, no empire – however secure and impregnable it may look at its height, no power-hungry leader, no commercial system or social trend.. All human institutions come and go, but our God reigns and rules for ever and he will accomplish all that he pleases.

I want to be on the winning side! I want to stand at the end with Jesus, and say thank you for bringing me into your family, at such a cost and in spite of all you knew about how I would fail you – because all of this will resound to his glory and will magnify the love which planned from the beginning to redeem a fallen world. I want to be part of the new creation, to finally live as I was made to live in humble and glad service of God, and enjoying his presence without shame.

For the moment, this means accepting the world’s judgement of me as foolish; it means living with the agonising tension between the dark and broken reality of the world, and the certainty of hope which is mine in Jesus – a hope which is offered to all who are willing to lay aside their pride and accept the ‘folly’ of the gospel.

Can I encourage anyone reading this who is struggling like me to live faithfully in this tension…it is God’s tenacious grip on me which is my security, not the assiduity of my bible reading or prayer life. It is God’s certain adoption of me into his family through Jesus which gives me peace, not the credit of my good works or exercise of the talents which I have been given. This is called foolishness in a world which preaches self-help, and rewards those who have confidence in themselves…

Keep on talking to your heavenly Father, keep bringing your grief and lament into his presence, keep putting yourself in the place where you can hear his voice – so many things have been used to help me this past week, the words of hymns, the prayers of others, remembered phrases from books..You honour him best in these trying times by clinging harder and harder to that eternal word, pushing into that faithfulness and covenant love.. There is no one like our God, we are on the winning side, and he will indeed accomplish all that is good and right – how we long to see that day!

Pressing the ‘reset’ button…

A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the  morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts! The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will for ever be destroyed.

But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever.

For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered. You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured upon me. My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries; my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock and there is no wickedness in him.”

(Psalm 92)

One of the most sustaining, helpful disciplines which we can cultivate as followers of Jesus, is that of speaking truth to our own spirits – the truth about God as revealed in his word and especially in his son our Saviour, Jesus.

Our lives in this sin-stained and fractured world are continually exposed to the results of evil – in ourselves, through the actions of others, and through the impact humankind is having on our planet. If we dwell exclusively on what we see, or even more deadly, on how we feel on a daily and hourly basis, then we are lost to a turmoil which brings us no peace, and undermines our witness to the good news about Jesus.

God’s unchanging character, his attributes and glory, are a surer foundation on which to ground our daily lives. He has revealed himself as a powerful Creator, a holy and just Judge, and an intimately interested, involved and sufficient Redeemer. He has promised that his chosen people will dwell in his presence in an eternal, joyful and fulfilling relationship which is simply beyond our imagination, and which means that physical death is simply a gateway to glory.

This psalm, which the Jews use especially to celebrate the ‘rest’ of the Sabbath – when they anticipate the complete rest from striving which God has promised his people – is a marvellous meditation on God’s character, works and promises, and acts as a ‘reset’ button. By that I mean the idea of restoring the original settings in a device, so that it functions as it was designed to do – a clearing away of unhelpful and distracting activities/actions. When the mind is fixed on truth, when ambitions, will and desire are continually directed and redirected towards godliness and obedience, towards the glory of God, the whole person is refreshed, sustained and able to thrive as they were designed to do.

As a follower of Jesus, I celebrate the Lord’s Day, when the resurrection proved with great power that his work of salvation had been completed, and God declared my debt had been paid in full. I celebrate the ‘rest’ into which I have entered, where I need not strive after perfection in order to be saved, nor wallow in self-pity and remorse in order to be forgiven. Instead, I rest entirely on what Jesus did for me, and worship Father, Son and Spirit – the author and agent of the great plan to restore human fellowship with a holy God. This psalm speaks for me as it did to the people of the Hebrew bible – of the greatness of God’s works, which include the atoning death of Jesus; of the sure judgement and final defeat of evil which will be accomplished and which sustains my faith as I walk in a darkened world.

As I take time regularly to ‘reset’ my faith, clear my thoughts of distractions, remembering Jesus and all he has done for me, I am refreshed, and – please God – come to resemble more and more those wonderful flourishing trees which continue to bear fruit down the years, because their roots are deep in the truth.

My Lord is my Rock; He has dealt with my sin and I sing for joy at the work of his hands. Jesus has vanquished every enemy, and I have seen their defeat at his cross and empty tomb. 

O Lord, my Lord, be exalted for ever!

Bad debt..or good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations..Circumcise your hearts, therefore and do not be stiff-necked any longer..Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him..He is the one you praise, he is your God who performed for you those great and awesome wonders …Love the Lord your God..

(Deut 10.14-11.1)

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.

(Ps 50.14&15)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – some wandered in desert wastelands..some sat in darkness, in utter darkness..because they rebelled against God’s commands…some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction… Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things..he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron…Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

(Ps 107.1,2,4,8-9,10,16-17,22)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thess 5.16-18)

I love the fact that everything in the bible is there for our good, to help us learn about our God, and to have confidence in living for him in this weary-yet-wonderful world. I love the fact that the whole sacrificial system instituted under Moses, directed by God, was to teach people how much God yearned to dwell with them, and how sin must be addressed in order to make that possible. And I really love the fact that there is a whole category of offerings/sacrifices which are simply described as fellowship offerings – distinctive because there was no element of atonement for sin or cleansing of guilt, and the worshipper shared in the communal meal associated with the sacrifice. The focus was on the fellowship which God delighted to share with his children – they had a meal together and enjoyed one another’s company!

Thank offerings were one particular type of fellowship offering, perhaps for occasions when something special had happened, or to celebrate a trial endured with God’s help. Above all, while they express a sense of indebtedness to God for all he is and does, they are NOT an attempt to repay the debt. When we make a sacrifice of thanksgiving, we express love and worship to God, recognising that he is the source of all good things, and his power in us is the reason we are able to achieve anything.

Are we sometimes tempted to think of our relationship with God as one where we need to keep up with him in terms of generosity in loving? In human relationships, there can be a struggle to accept gifts which we feel unable to repay; we may take pride in being “no man’s debtor”. And there is the dangerous word – pride – which has no place in a relationship of love and trust. Parents do not love their children and provide for them with a view to getting services and gifts back again in equal measure. Spouses do not love according to strict rules of equal generosity – or if we do, it is fatal to the health of the marriage.

There is equally no room for pride in our relationship with God. Who are we to think that we can ever repay the debt we owe the Creator of the Cosmos? Consider all that has happened in order to make your life possible, and it quickly becomes clear that we have nothing to offer in return. When we add the incredible gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ Jesus, and the transforming power of the Spirit – by whom alone we think, act and live godly lives – our debt becomes infinitely greater.

With the coming of Christ, all our sins are paid for, and the only sacrifice which is now necessary is the fellowship offering, when we come and share our delight in all that God has done for us. We have an unpayable debt, which God delights that we should not even try to address – rather we are to exult in it! The magnitude of our debt simply makes the work of Christ and the love of God even more splendid, and his grace more beautiful.

When we make a sacrifice of praise, we are focusing not on the sins (forgiven, and yet to be), but on the new life and relationship we now have with God. The root of sin is defeated, and we are always welcome to share the fellowship meal with him, celebrating Christ and anticipating his return. Our right response to this great debt of love and mercy is humility, fearless witness and continual thankfulness. On this debt we can depend as on a sure foundation, and a resting place where all fear is banished. I am loved, accepted and forgiven..Alleluia!

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear with thy righteousness on, my person and offering to bring.

The terrors of law and of God, with me can have nothing to do; my Saviour’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete; his promise is yea and amen, and never was forfeited yet.

Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above can make him his purpose forego, or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase; impressed on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace.

Yes I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven.

(AM Toplady 1740-1778)

 

It was the only way..

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals…I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

(Ex 12.12&13)

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement..

(Lev 17.11)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me…All who see me mock me…”He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.”….they pierce my hands and feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment

(Ps 22.1,7,16-18)

I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight….I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.

(Am 8.9&10)

But when Christ came..he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption..without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness..Christ..appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself..

(Heb 9.12,22&26)

‘Like mourning for an only son and the end of a bitter day…’Those words jumped out at me recently when taking part in a bible study on Amos, as the Lord spoke through his prophet of the pain and anguish of the day when the full price for human rebellion against God would be paid.

The narrative of the Bible makes it so clear that humanity is incapable of keeping to the covenant which God has made with them; our hearts are unable to remain faithful to God, even when we are most in earnest. If we do not sin by falling away from God, we sin by trying through our own efforts to remain close to him – as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day, and making legalism and ritual a means (as they thought) to salvation. From the beginning, God made it clear that sin would have to be dealt with, and his righteous anger satisfied before true peace could exist, and we could once more enjoy fellowship with our creator.

God’s anger against sin is an expression of his holiness, it is absolutely just (unlike most human anger), and he cannot simply set aside our sin because he loves us without violating his nature. If God is to love and welcome us into his presence again, then his perfect wrath must be satisfied – the full penalty for sin must be paid. While this may sound extreme to many in our day, the bible makes it clear that the problem is our lack of understanding of God’s holiness, not his anger with sin.

The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice – of the perfect Passover Lamb who would take God’s wrath so that we might be protected, provided for. Blood had to be shed, and in Christ, the only spotless person who ever lived, a perfect substitute for humankind was provided. But as well as our perfect Passover Lamb,  he is the only begotten of the Father, the beloved one. And so on Good Friday, when the full weight of sin was finally laid upon the son, what agony entered the heart of the Father, and what grief into the son, as they endured that separation which was the proper fate of humankind.

We cannot ever fully comprehend the pain of that hour, and indeed this is cause for humble thanksgiving, since we could not have borne it. Christ did all for us, and then offered it freely as his love-gift, and so we should surely fall in worship and praise as we accept him. God mourned for his only son, and endured the bitterness of that dreadful and glorious day – because of his unfathomable, unaccountable, unstoppable love for humankind.

Surely, our praise this Holy Week should glorify the Father who loved us; the Son who died for us, and the Spirit by whom we receive the faith to believe in and accept the freedom and new life which have been bought for us at such a price.

There is a green hill far away, beside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear; but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.

Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too; and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do.

(Cecil Frances Alexander 1848)

I am enough…because I belong

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard.. for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

(Rom 12.4-6)

For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”…On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.13,21-23,24-26)

When people are saved by faith, made new in Christ and come into God’s family, they do not suddenly become different people. Instead, what happens is that their essential and unique qualities – weaknesses and strengths, gifts and limitations – are all brought into the community where they belong and thus find purpose, fulfillment and support. As creatures made in the image of God, we are formed for community and relationship, not independence. We are not made to be sufficient of ourselves, but to be needy! Is that not a huge relief?! It certainly is to me; to find that I am right to long for others to share burdens, to rejoice in the skills and gifts of those who tackle jobs which I am not fit for, to celebrate that when we serve one another, God is glorified, we are blessed, and his will is done! I am enough, because I belong to the family of God, and so I face nothing alone. I rejoice in my dependance.

God crafted each of us to play our own specific role, and no other. I have received my own specially chosen bouquet of graces or gifts from my heavenly Father, and I can rest in his appointing. The devil may tempt me with comparisons, so that I become discontent with my own graces, and envy those which are more spectacular or apparently more useful. But I cling to God’s promise that I am enough, that he delights in the complete package and simply desires that I make myself available to the rest of the Body of Christ, since who and what I am belongs to them. I withhold my gifts and graces to their detriment… I may be called to be the equivalent of some small or unseen part of the body – but since God has appointed me to the task, I seek to be content..Some of us may be feet, but others must be veins, kidneys or lungs, otherwise, where is the body!!

I am fully known by God – whose perfect love is in no way diminished by my past, present or future. He has known the end from the beginning, and set his heart upon me – I am accepted and he delights in me as his child. I am enough, because he is my Father, and his perfect love asks nothing of me in return. I do not need the approval of others, because the God of the universe, the greatest and most glorious being has called me his beloved daughter, and brought me home to live with him. I delight in being fully known, and can in turn give myself to others because my heart is secure in him.

I am enough because I am renewed daily through the spirit dwelling within me. As I continue to trust in Christ for salvation, and receive forgiveness and mercy in every time of need, I live and labour in the strength which God gives me. Because I am completely forgiven, I am enough – I have nothing to earn, nothing to prove, and nothing to boast about. My sufficiency is Christ’s and I can rejoice in being daily his debtor for all that I need.

God’s plan for his children in salvation is perfect, and we can be sure that he will carry it to completion. We can rest in the sufficiency of his provision for everything we need, and in the wisdom which puts us into a community where we are designed to thrive. God’s purpose for us as unique parts of the body of believers should bring an end to comparisons. Instead we live a life of mutual love, interest in and celebration of God’s beauty in each person. I am called to be 100% who I am for the good of my brethren – I am here for them, and they for me, and together, we are enough.

The heaviness of holiness

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. All the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary….Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him all the earth..then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96.4-6, 9,12&13)

This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live;..Seek the Lord and live…Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good…Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light…I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!

(Am 5.4,6,14&15,18,21,22&24)

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Rom 3.21-24)

Jesus grew up in a devout Jewish family, with the traditions of temple worship, synagogue teaching, and the books of what we call the Old Testament were his only scripture. We forget this at our peril, and if we avoid studying these books because they make us uncomfortable, or if we claim that we don’t need them in order to understand the gospel, we are in danger of developing a very innaccurate understanding of God. Jesus was not ashamed of the God revealed in the Old Testament(He called him “Father”), he did not dismiss the narratives, or set aside the wisdom and the prophets. In fact, he claimed that these scriptures foretold his coming and that he was their fulfillment.

Our housegroup is currently studying the prophetic words given to Amos, a short book, full of grievous warnings of judgement to come on the nation of Israel. In fact, they would shortly be invaded, their rulers captured, and would never exist again as a distinct entity – the end had come. At the time when Amos spoke, they were enjoying political prominence and economic prosperity – but there was a huge gulf between rich and poor, and the religious systems were approving, rather than challenging this situation. The elite were secure and scornful of the threat which Amos described, deaf to repeated entreaties to see through their worldly security to their real danger in the eyes of a holy God. Their religious observances made them feel safe, but through the prophet, God speaks of his abhorrence and anger at their behaviour.

This message recurs through the narratives and prophetic books, as God calls out to his people to remember that their hope lies in him and not in rituals, good deeds, and an abundance of religious laws and observances. God longs for their hearts to be devoted to him, to be truly Lord of their lives – so that good deeds flow as a part of their worship and obedience, not in order to earn his favour.

The truth is that God’s holiness is a burden too great to be borne by fallen humanity. Our innate sinfulness makes it impossible for us to be devoted to him as he desires – and the Old Testament bears witness to this as the covenant people repeatedly fall into idol worship and rebellion, or legalistic and superficial adherence to God. But all through the stories and prophecies, it is clear that when people recognise their sinfulness, realise how completely it alienates them from God who alone gives them hope, they throw themselves upon his mercy, and by faith depend upon him for salvation. This is the faith which Abraham displayed in trusting that God would fulfill the promise – that faith which was credited to him as righteousness.

The message of the Old Testament is that humanity needs a saviour, one who can deal with their sin, and transform them to live as God’s people ought to live – creating in them new hearts and transforming their minds by his power so that we can begin to live truly as companions of a holy God. We need a saviour to bear the proper wrath of holiness against sin, to see that justice is done, so that God can welcome us into his presence and call us his own.

The prophets call us to a profound awareness of our own sin and helplessness; they magnify the holiness of God until it is a great weight which threatens to destroy us. And so they greatly glorify our Lord Jesus, who in his life, death and resurrection opened the only way by which sinful humanity can enter into the awesome presence of the Almighty. Let us rejoice in the one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and give him all our praise!

 

Living with imperfections..

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me..When..you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways…I will hold you accountable for his blood..Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! ‘”

(Ezek 33.7&8,11)

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God..”

(Acts 20.26&27)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.

(Phil 3.10&12, 4.9)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…

(Heb 13.7)

The apostle Paul is revealed through his words – recorded in the book of Acts, and in his pastoral letters to churches and leaders – as a passionate evangelist and church planter, consumed with one desire – to make Christ known across the ancient world. His single-minded pursuit of this goal took him through dreadful suffering and persecution, and enriched his life as he saw God transforming lives through the preaching of the gospel.

Paul was urgent, earnest, and fully aware of the responsibility which God had laid upon him – to call the wicked to repentance and faith through Christ. In his powerful final address to his beloved friends in Ephesus, he declares himself ‘innocent’, a watchman who had fulfilled his calling and warned of the coming judgement and present offer of salvation. No one could accuse him of withholding good news from them; their guilt would be on their own heads for rejecting God’s grace.

Paul knew that he was not perfect, indeed he refers on several occasions to his ongoing weakness and struggle. But, it is not that which defined his ministry, it was his tenacious obedience, and total dependence upon Christ for salvation and acceptance with God. When Paul invites his readers to imitate him, it is not because everything in his life was holy and without fault. Rather it is because he knows it is not, and he has sought on every occasion to model how the believer should conduct themselves in light of that knowledge.

As redeemed sinners, we are free from the fear of sin because we have full forgiveness whenever we need it, and the burden of guilt is taken from us. Our sin no longer defines us, and cannot hinder God in the working out of his purposes. We are on the winning side and although our enemy is powerful, our captain is victorious and our very struggles are – by his grace – working out for our blessing and his glory.

When the writer to the Hebrews invites the reader to imitate their leaders, it is faith which is mentioned, not perfect lives. What is faith? It is the assurance of things not seen – our promised eternal life at home in glory, our future perfection and the full realisation of the sanctifying work of Christ in us. Faith is depending upon God’s promises, and basing our lives on the truth of what he says about us – forgiven, justified, adopted, beloved, glorious. This kind of faith does not pretend that there is no sin left, nor is it obsessed by the fear of sin, but rather it knows the quickest way to the Father’s side, to the mercy-seat, to the fresh cleansing fountain of forgiveness and the strength of Christ in us to resist temptation and if we fall, to get up in confidence that God is with us and we can keep going.

This is how we live with imperfections, by imitating Paul and others who have taught and modelled the christian life for us – as a persevering, a dogged and cheerful obedience which knows that we are not earning salvation, but living in it. This side of death, we cannot know complete freedom from our weaknesses, and from the pain of sin in the world. But we can live free from fear of those things, because Christ has conquered them, has promised that none of them can separate us from him nor prevent the completion of his work.

God grant us a burning desire to be holy for him, total dependance on Christ’s saving work and the Holy Spirit’s power so that as we press on, we will indeed be changed increasingly into the likeness of our glorious captain, to whom be all the praise and honour!