Category Archives: divine love

Gathering clouds…

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!..”

(John 1.29)

Moses said to them, “Go..and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood…and put some on the door-frame…When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the door -frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

(Exodus 12.21-23)

Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will  mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

(Luke 18.31-34)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. ..those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins….But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God..because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those  who are being made holy.

(Hebrews 10.1, 3, 12&14)

As a boy growing up in a Jewish family, Jesus would have celebrated the Passover many times before the night in Jerusalem when he shared that final meal with his disciples. Do you ever wonder at what stage he began to discern that it was to be his privilege and pain to become the ultimate Passover lamb, The One who would die once and for all, so that God’s wrath against sin might be turned away from all who accepted the offered sacrifice?

The only scriptures he had were those of what we call our Old Testament, and that in itself should encourage us as 21st century believers to take those books seriously. In them, Jesus found mapped out the path which he was to take – as he reminds his disciples when he says that he is going to Jerusalem so that all that the prophets had written about him should be fulfilled. In the book of Genesis, he found the first promise of the coming saviour, and the assurance even then that suffering would be involved. In the story of Abraham and the covenant promises, he found that God’s blessing was intended for all the peoples of the earth. In the miraculous Exodus narrative, he found the decisive image of a sacrifice to avert destruction, and later a whole structure of temple worship which demonstrated that the wrath of a holy God against sin could not simply be set aside; that there was a price which must be paid; and it was a blood price.

I grew up in churches where the Old and New Testaments were held together, taught together, and I am so thankful for that heritage, which means that the oldest stories are full of symbolism, fore-shadowing what was to come, and that all through the wandering, rebellion, exile and restoration, the fine line of God’s faithful promise can be discerned.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem for this last time, after all these years of celebrating Passover in peace, he knew that his time was come, that there would never again be any need for sacrifice of lambs or any other beast in the temple, after his body had been broken and his blood poured out. These days were the culmination of centuries of God at work in his people, they were the centrepoint of time and the object of all His Father’s loving plan.  If the angels and heavenly beings had been “on the edge of their seats” at his birth, how much more were the host now intent upon the drama of the coming days? What weight of expectation lay upon those human shoulders, and coloured all the thought and actions of the son of Mary?

As we approach the season of Easter, and remember particularly – and fittingly – all the events of that last week of Jesus’ earthly life, I am humbled and drawn once again to worship this God-made-man, in his incredible love for humankind, and his complete submission to his Father’s will.

Worthy, worthy is the Lamb, all praise and glory to the One who walked unwaveringly into death, that we might live!

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I just wanna be a… sheep!

Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the glory of your name. Save us and forgive our sins for the honour of your name…Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.

(Psalm 79.9&13)

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need…

(Psalm 23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep……I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. …My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

(John 10.11,14&15,27-30)

One of God’s many gifts to his children, are the rest of his children! How often are you comforted, encouraged, inspired or helpfully chastened and challenged by other believers? Recently, a friend challenged me to think again about a passage and a concept with which I am so familiar that I realise I had stopped thinking about it! I think it is one of the traps into which long-time believers can easily fall, failing to register the depth of meaning in a passage because we think we understand and have already grasped all it has for us..Praise God, that he doesn’t leave us to our foolishness, but stirs us up to look again, to seek to learn again – old lessons for a new time of life, or new lessons altogether!

The gospel of John contains several passages in which Jesus refers to his people as sheep, and himself as shepherd, building on an image used in the Old Testament by the psalmists and prophets where the people of Israel are God’s flock, and most famously where David rejoices in having the Lord God as his shepherd. Sheep and the whole business of shepherding was as familiar to Jesus’ audience as our own daily routines are to us. The character of sheep, and the necessary qualifications of a good shepherd were  widely understood, so that when Jesus used these things in his teaching, everyone could grasp the message.

We – as sheep who have gone astray, vulnerable and foolish, needing care and protection – have in Christ the ideal and perfect Shepherd for our souls. His love for us – the love which took him to Calvary on our behalf – has shown the value which is placed upon us, a price beyond imagining. He knows us, not merely about us as statistics, but an intimate understanding and delighting in, which mirrors the joyous communion within the Trinity. How hard we find it to let this truth sink deeply into our understanding, to let it inform our thinking about God, and about ourselves as his beloved and chosen people!

By the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we are increasingly able to recognise the voice of our truth-telling beloved Shepherd, to discern the false voices which might beguile us away from him, and to reject them. That Spirit is also the guarantee of his gift to us, the gift of eternal life, which is the hope of all who trust in Christ – every straying, tired, despairing, or wilful sheep has a place in the Shepherd’s heart and he will not give up on any who truly call him Lord.

Finally, we are safe, and can have absolute assurance of the grasp which Christ has upon us. It is almost as though Jesus were gently boasting here, in the manner of a child..’my Dad is so much stronger than anyone else!!’ But in this case, it is no idle boast, but an earnest reassurance from our Good Shepherd that we need have no fear about our eternal security. I wonder if Paul was remembering these words of Jesus when he wrote this:

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 8.35-39)

I am content to be a sheep; to accept my foolishness and utter need of constant care from a shepherd who has demonstrated such love for me and promised such a future. And I am thankful for other members of the flock who do so much to help me to hear his voice more clearly, and to follow him more nearly!

Of course..Christmas is for the children

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac was the father of Jacob..Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam…..Matthan the father of Jacob and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

(Matthew 1, various)

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…born of God.

(John 1.11&12)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! the reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

(1John 3.1&2)

I am that child, the one who was never popular, never cool, the one who didn’t push herself forward or think she was anything special.

I am that child, the one who looks at the world and feels the fear, cowers at the darkness, shivers at the evil and malice, wakes from screaming nightmares of the power of humanity to wound, humiliate and destroy.

I am that child, the one who is tired of trying, of finding her own strength inadequate to the adult-sized task, tired of being patronized, dismissed, ignored and demeaned, who is beginning to believe what the stories of others tell her about her own worthlessness.

I am that child, the one who lashes out in her own weakness, and then stands appalled at the damage she has done, the one who holds back for fear of hurting others and is then trampled all over, her restraint mistaken for surrender.

I am that child, so ashamed of her own mistakes that she wants to hide away for ever, to punish herself for the mess and pain she has caused, the one who knows the truth behind the big public act, knows only too well that she is a fraud.

 

Who will comfort this child?

Who will be her shelter?

Who will show this child that she is beautiful, precious beyond all telling?

Who will teach this child that she can be whole, pure and fiercely, gloriously holy?

Who will heal the wounds of this child, and pour the cleansing of true forgiveness over her stains?

Who will lift this child’s head, look into her eyes, and show her that there is a life worth living, a journey worth taking, a love worth giving, that she is called and qualified to give?

Who will bring this child into the light, and say, “This is my beloved daughter, she is perfect, because she is as I made her to be; and in her I delight!”?

Who, if not her perfect heavenly Father?

Oh, how I need the good news which the angels brought, of a child born in Bethlehem who would be Immanuel, God with us! How I need to know my Father’s love, his will and power to save me, to transform me, to show me my true worth.

In the birth of Jesus Christ, all the children of the world find firm ground for hope, and good cause for joy.

Let us be the children who make much of Christmas, who rediscover with delight the gifts being bestowed on them by their Father, who nestle in the security of his arms and face the days ahead with confidence knowing he will go with them.

Glory to God in the highest!

 

 

And then you take my breath away..

This world, green and blue, suspended in one of countless galaxies, so small and insignificant, yet so large as to contain the lives and ambitions of billions of people. This world, teeming with life and yet existing only because of an exquisite balance, which you uphold Lord my God; daily and hourly you decree that we should continue.

All our boasted scientific knowledge only reveals to us more about your creating genius, leaving us more to marvel at and a humbling sense of the responsibility you gave us in putting all this into our hands as your stewards. How unworthy we have proved to be of that great trust, squandering your riches; destroying your creatures; polluting the air, the water and the land.

And not only have we abused the bounty of nature, but one another too. Our failure to see that every human creature bears the imprint of a heavenly Father’s nature, reflects – however imperfectly – his character, has brought untold misery and suffering upon our race.

We are deserving of judgement and destruction – indeed, we are perhaps hastening the day by our own actions! We have rejected you, rejected the idea of ourselves as subjects, and grabbed selfishly at some pseudo-lordship of our own.

Oh God, in your holiness and utter ‘otherness’, we are so completely cut off from you, rebellion against you is in our very bones, and we cannot overcome it of our own efforts. What hope do we have?

Of ourselves….none.

And into that void, you speak.

Into our despair, our rebellion, our darkness, there came a voice, a man, who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

And you took our rebellion, our shame and guilt, and he bore it away, so that we are free for the first time. Free from the stranglehold of sin on our lives, free to see and taste, smell and touch, hear and speak of all your goodness and love to us. 

Such love: selfless, sacrificial, soul-searing and saving.

Your love,

takes my breath away.

Whispers of hope

Rejoice greatly; O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey…… He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners.. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!

(Zechariah 9.9,10b-12)

The bible narrative from Genesis onward is not an easy read, as the consequences of sin make themselves felt at a personal and national level for God’s chosen people. Time and again they rebel and pay the price for their disobedience. But alongside this sadly realistic picture of human nature, we find words of hope – hope for temporary relief from distress, but also of a future perfect peace, a dwelling together of God and his creatures in mutual delight and harmony. This prophecy from Zechariah, addressed to a people in long-term exile, is one such word. The promise of a coming deliverer, bringing freedom, rejoicing and justice without borders.

The exiles circumstances were bad; there was no earthly reason to hope that the future might see an improvement – and their hopelessness was compounded by the knowledge that their exile was a direct result of persistent disobedience to God, and of breaking the terms of the covenant God had made with them!

Once again, God sends through his prophet a word of encouragement to the people, a word of grace, of unmerited favour and his faithfulness to an unfaithful people. Once again, God is revealed as the  hero of the story, preparing to bless those who have so deeply grieved him and got themselves into a dreadful mess as a result. He alone can and will deliver the imprisoned and despairing. Any hope for salvation depends utterly on this grace of God, who chooses to act because he must be true to his own promises.

 What makes us prisoners? Too often it is our fears; sometimes it is our success in the world’s eyes; and for some it will be circumstances which are beyond their control and which bring great distress. Think of the prophet Daniel, who spent his entire life in captivity in Babylon, or the exiled Ezekiel, born to be a priest in the temple but doomed never to fulfill his ambition.This passage in Zechariah promises that in God, we have a deliverer, and a sure hope for future freedom from whatever binds us now. We are called by faith to turn again to the stronghold which in this case is not a physical fortress, but the Lord God himself! The psalmist writes enthusiastically of this truth:

In you O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me for you are my rock and my fortress… For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (Ps 71.1,3&5)

When by faith we are drawn to hide ourselves in God, our fortress, then we are no longer prisoners of our fears or circumstances.Our obedience in clinging to him means that we are now capable of receiving his blessings – and our whole view of our lives is transformed.

We will be hope-prisoners in the tower of the Lord, walled about by his promises, with the light of his love shining in our lives and holding us as close to him as the tightest chains. This kind of imprisonment is not something to shun, but rather to seek! There is no safer place than in God: our great,powerful and good God.

This hope can open the door of the deepest, darkest places, bringing assurance that our God is always with us, and where he is, there is life now and will be abundance to come. Our hope is certain because it is based on the character of God, not on our own strengths, or ability to work out our own salvation. And it is the fulfillment of this hope which we celebrate in the birth of Christ, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately recalling this prophecy, and through whose death, the basis for peace between God and man would finally be established.

Let us rejoice in this promise fulfilled. Let us live as prisoners of this great hope, turning ever and again to the stronghold which is our God, and seeking to share the good news with our neighbours.

Not the best china..

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit…..for God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

(2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.6&7)

Glory and light, brilliance and beauty, purity beyond telling and might unimaginable. These verses take my breath away, and move me to cry to God in prayer for more, ever more transforming power to be at work in my life, that I might reveal this glory to the world I live in.

I am indeed like a clay jar, an everyday household pot. Nondescript and mundane, patched and worn with chipped edges, useful but hardly spectacular. And that is the whole point of Paul’s use of the image here, that no one, not even the great apostle himself, is worthy to receive and show forth this light. It is not we but the God who dwells in us, that is the source of glory and power. In the same way that a flower or a leaf can seem to glow from within when the sun catches it a certain way, so also believers in Christ can shine, illuminated by his love.

As we learn to look more and more steadily into the face of Christ our Lord – by whom God reveals himself to the world – so the glory that we see begins to permeate our being. Our eyes become stronger, and hungry for more light, more beauty; our hearts are increasingly unsatisfied by all that the world offers. The glory that shines from Jesus is purifying, cleansing, healing, transforming power, it acts like a spotlight to illuminate the darkness in our lives and like a laser to burn it away. By that glory, we see clearly and truly, deeper into our own sinfulness and need of Christ, deeper into the need of our neighbour for salvation and the redeeming love of God.

Our growing knowledge of the glory revealed in the face of Christ is the channel through which God transforms our lives, as we see more and more clearly that in Christ alone we have hope, but that in him we also have all that we need. As we learn to depend more and more on his faithful love – giving us security and significance – and to trust his power at work within us – enabling and equipping us – so we are set free to love others as He has loved us.

It is this love, this irresistible force of God at work, which is the treasure we hold in our jars of clay, our chipped mugs and bowls. We are not the focus of attention, He is. Our cracks and flaws simply act to draw attention to the beauty and glory of the love which is being poured out through us.

The following verses beautifully express a prayer to be effective channels of love, utterly surrendered to our beloved Saviour and Lord. May they be a blessing to you this week.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling all I do and say.

May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.

May His beauty rest upon me as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the channel, seeing only Him. 

(Katie Barclay Wilkinson, 1859-1928)

Love is…. You are!

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

(1John 4.9&10)

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me this week to do no more than write out the words of some of the many hymns and songs of praise which have been written over the centuries in an attempt to respond adequately to the love which is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. As I sit, I have line after line running through my head, tunes swelling up in adoration and worship of the God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who loves me. And perhaps that the best place to start. If I can discipline my thoughts long enough at the start of this new week to deliberately focus on the wonderful love poured out through Christ, then I will have the best possible attitude to whatever the week will bring.

What does this love look like? It is the relentless pursuit of the eternal good of the beloved – even us, even rebellious, stubborn and proud humanity! It is the willingness to pay the ultimate cost of redemption – of putting right that which was so badly damaged – and to fulfill justice by dealing with the need for sin to be punished. And not only are we put right, but we are adopted into the family of God, given a birthright, and a guarantee of eternal life.This love pours out daily in grace upon our lives; it is continually working to transform us so that sin loses every foothold, and we become truly the image of God, reflecting his character, and finding fulness of life and joy as we live in him.

The Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford was a man utterly enchanted by his Lord and Saviour. Over and again in his writings, he exhorts his readers to look to Christ, finding there all and more than their heart’s desires. This little extract – although archaic in language – clearly expresses his frustration at his own inability to grasp the fullness of love offered in Jesus, and I am deeply comforted even as I identify with him. “Christ all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness; if I had vessels I might fill them but my old riven, holey, and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away. Nothing but glory will make tight and fast our leaking and rifty vessels… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand; as little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.” Praise God, there will be a day – in glory – when I will no longer feel that I catch but a glimpse, and remember but the tiniest fraction, of the wonderful love so freely given! Then I shall receive in full the answer to the wonderful prayer of Paul for the disciples in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3. 17-19)

This love waits patiently by my side as I dither and wander, as I doubt and rebel, drawing me back over and over in repentance and new dependence on God. This love is overflowing with kindness towards me – expressed  through other people, and through the gifts and signs that only I notice and appreciate as coming from my God. This love is never boastful, but always wooing, never forcing itself upon me. This love restrains anger, and has lost any record of my past failures. This love rejoices in every small indication of my true desire to serve and honour my Lord, and every little effort to be faithful and obedient – forgetting the frequent failures and unfulfilled promises. This love is constant in protecting me, faithful in believing that I will be transformed, relentless in seeking the best for me.

And the truth that I need to remember at all times about this love – the truth which sustains the thousands of our brothers and sisters across the world who are suffering for their faith – is that no one, and nothing, can ever take this love away from me! I am going to finish with words from Paul again – Romans 8 – as found in the Scottish Paraphrases, my heart language, where he celebrates and affirms this wonderful truth. May it bring you comfort, strength and joy this week!

The Saviour died, but rose again triumphant from the grave;

And pleads our cause at God’s right hand, omnipotent to save.

Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love,

Or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heav’n above?

Let troubles rise and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall; 

Through him all dangers we’ll defy, and  more than conquer all.

Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway,

Can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay.

Each future period that will bless as it has bless’d the past;

He lov’d us from the first of time, He loves us to the last.