Category Archives: love

But I will boast!

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of  that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle, they are the new people of God.

(Gal 6.14-17)

This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in the power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

(Jer 9 23-24)

The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…. there is a subject upon which one could lavish a lifetime of study and reflection and still never reach the end! It is the pivotal point upon which all of history revolves, and by which the eternal destiny of humanity is determined. And for every individual follower, it is the foundation of their new life, the power which re-creates them as children of God with the promise of eternal life and the guarantee of his constant presence.

In the cross, God demonstrated that he was indeed a God who brings justice to the earth, because it was there that the price demanded by holiness for sin was paid – the wages of sin is death. And there too, was demonstrated the unfailing love of God, because it was God himself who paid the price, so that we might be spared! Our God, he it is that delights in justice, in unfailing love, and righteousness – that all should be done well. How great should our delight in this God be! We can most legitimately boast in our God, the only one who can fully deal with the brokenness of our hearts and our world, while at the same time restoring us to the perfect relationship with him for which we were designed.

What human wealth could ever buy a clean conscience or a quiet mind? What power on earth can bring a holy God back into fellowship with rebellious, proud and stubborn creatures? What wisdom could discern the only way to restore the broken image of God in his creatures? When we begin to understand what was achieved on the cross, then we begin to understand our great God, to glimpse the unfathomable love, the amazing grace, which are his essential character. There can be no end to the ways in which we can truthfully glory in, boast about our wonderful God.

This afternoon, I watched my small nation’s rugby team winning – against the odds – the opening game of the 2017 Six Nations tournament. It was thrilling, nerve-wracking, exhilirating – all the things a great sporting occasion can be; and I am proud tonight to be a Scot, to identify with the team in their commitment, passion, skill and doggedness. But as we all know – especially Scots! – sporting greatness is a fleeting thing, and not to be relied on for national pride or peace of mind. As individuals, we dare not invest our security or identity in such things, because they CANNOT be relied upon, they will fail us and leave us adrift and vulnerable. That is the point which Jeremiah is making when he dismisses the claims of wealth, power and wisdom to our loyalty and reliance.

There is nothing upon which it is safe to build our identity, our lives, except the Lord of unfailing love, who delights to bring justice and righteousness to the world. And it is supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord that we see this God revealed to us, when everything  needful was done to restore us. We add nothing, no matter how wise, powerful or rich we are, to the cross. If we cannot accept it without paying or contributing in some way, we have failed to understand what God is doing, and what a state we are in before his holiness. Let us rejoice in this complete work, in the cross, and be at peace!

I will not boast in anything, no gifts no power no wisdom;

But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection!

Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer;

But this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.

(Stuart Townend) 

 

Just wondering….

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband – Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted…

(2Cor 11.2&3)

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.

(Eph 5.25-27)

Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.

(Isa 54. 4&5)

What does it mean, to call God ‘Husband’? Why do the hymns refer to Jesus as the ‘Lover of our souls’? What does it look and feel like in daily life, to live the reality of this aspect of our relationship with Almighty God?!

I wrestled for a long time with this particular imagery, and it is only in recent years that I have come to understand a little better just how sweet and precious a picture it is, and to rejoice in the reality which lies behind it. I am not planning to write some profound analysis of marriage in this column, only to try to articulate something of the blessing which it is to have Jesus as the lover of my soul, my Redeemer as my husband…

In many cultures today, the situation for women is still as it was in biblical times – an unmarried or widowed woman was without rights or status, vulnerable to exploitation and without protection. A husband was a woman’s guarantee of security, with prospects for a peaceful and fulfilling life. He took upon himself the right and duty of providing for and protecting her, and as a unit they would grow together in affection and through their daily labour, relying on and complementing one another. It is crucial to remember that the bible does not give us examples of perfect marriages to follow, but the real messy stories of human beings making an attempt to live out the ideal which God always intended for us. What we experience is only a pale imitation of the depth of union and love which God made us capable of before sin broke the lines of communication and left us vulnerable in this most foundational of relationships.

When I call Almighty God my husband, I claim the right to use his name as my own, his authority gives me status and rights to an inheritance. When I call on my Redeemer as my husband, I call on the one whose strength is sufficient to keep me through every trial and to bring me to a place of honour. The stigma of being unwanted, rejected or abandoned, is gone, because I have a husband who makes public his love for me and his commitment to my well-being – that is what happened on the cross! Jesus stretched out his arms, and said “I love you.. I am for you…you are precious and beloved, and I will do anything to ensure that you can be mine for ever”.

The words from Ephesians make it very clear that Paul understood the ‘husbanding’ of Christ in this way – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or blemish..”

A human husband knows that loving his wife should mean seeking the best for her – encouraging, nurturing, sometimes perhaps confronting or challenging, but always putting the fullest realisation of her potential first. A human husband also knows that he will fail, and fail often…

But our heavenly husband, our divine lover, is one who never fails in love, patience, compassion and tenderness. Oh how good it is to have such a lover, one who never fails me in my need, who never gives up on his ambition of seeing me made perfect, radiant and lovely!

Let me never give up on saying ‘I do’ daily to this dear Lord, but go on seeking to know him and his love as the foundation for my life, and as the sweetest blessing that I can share..

A renewing draught..

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something in it. 

For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him.

Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us.

(1John 3.18-24: The Message)

One of the wonderful things about the human race is the variety of characters, as well as looks. God never runs out of ideas and new ways to combine the elements to create another unique individual, born to reflect him in their own way in the world. Unfortunately, since we live between the coming of sin into the world, and the return of Jesus, and the remaking of all things, we live also with the brokenness of the human race, with character traits which can be debilitating and even destructive.

God’s message of salvation, and the power he sets loose in our lives is transformative, and down the centuries, his people have testified to the ways their faults and besetting sins have been dealt with. But few are perfect before they die!

Some suffer – and I believe it is the right word – from tremendous self-confidence, a dangerous quality, and one which makes it hard to fully depend upon God and truly live in fellowship with other believers – accepting their love and assistance with humility and grace. Others – of whom I am one – suffer from a terribly tender conscience! We are the ones who take even the slightest rebuke in any sermon as a personal message, and spend the remainder of the service deaf and blind in our misery and regret over the sin we think we have identified.

We know perfectly well that no one sees the reality of our hearts, so that the counsel and encouragement of fellow believers is powerless to dispel the gloom – ‘If you only knew!’ is our cry, and we hang our heads before God, despairing of ever living lives fit to bear witness to him. We see the greatness of the sins, both things done wrong and good things not done, and forget so easily the utterly sufficient death of Christ to cover them. We blame ourselves for failing God, who has surely deserved better of us, and despise our weakness and continued inability to live in the peace, joy and hope which we know our sure salvation has brought us.

So John writes to such people in his letter, giving them a sure way to deal with the problem – to practice real love; to seek the ultimate good of others in all our dealings with them, and to put all our resources to that end. If we love like this says John, then we are obeying God, and there is nothing to fear, nothing to hold us back from enjoying all the gifts God has to give us. It is surely significant for such introspective souls that to truly love others, requires us to stop dwelling on our own misery and start thinking about other people instead!

As this lovely Message translation puts it; “For God is greater than our worried hearts, and knows more about us than we do ourselves.”

We cannot ever see ourselves properly, our vision will always be clouded and vulnerable to distortion. So we are called to focus our minds on Christ and his beautiful sufficient atonement; to focus our attention next on those whom God has given us to love; and to trust that as we do these things, God sees the direction we desire to go – the lovely old phrase the ‘inclination of our hearts’. He is glad that we desire to be holy, and by his spirit at work in our lives, he is changing us: we need not worry but rather accept his love and grace-gifts like refreshing water, giving us courage for the next day of living in love for one another.

All glory to him who has saved and is transforming us; what patience, love and tenderness he shows us; may we do likewise for each other!

Choose life!

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

(Deuteronomy 30.19&20; 32.3&4)

I have  been listening to the early books of the Old Testament as an audiobook, read by one of Britain’s most respected actors – himself a devout Christian. It has been wonderful to receive the word in this way, and sometimes a phrase has jumped out with particular impact. This time it was those words ‘ for the Lord is your life..’

Moses, as God’s prophet and the one who stood between the inconstant Israelites and their jealous God, is pleading with them in his last days as their leader, to choose life, to choose to faithfulness to God. He has poured out his life in their care, leading them according to God’s guiding word, out of Egypt, through the wilderness, to the brink of Canaan’s promised bounty, and back again into the desert. He will see the land, but not enter it, because the burden of leadership on one occasion was too much even for him, and he dishonoured God. How he must have yearned over them, longing that he might have assurance of their future obedience, even as believing parents long to see their children grow up into true personal faith in Christ.

By this time, Moses could have no illusions about the capacity of this people to forget all that God had done and to choose other paths to follow, other gods to worship. Nonetheless, he obeys God, and sets out before them the terms of the covenant relationship, reminding them of all God’s wonderful provision for their race, of all the promises of blessing which were to come. And he reminds them of the consequences of breaking the covenant, in the most horrific details.

God would not hold Moses responsible for the future disobedience of this people, because Moses had been a faithful servant, proclaiming God’s message, living out for them the words he spoke. Moses’ exclusion from Canaan was for his own particular failure, not the repeated disobedience of the people he led. There is some comfort here for those in leadership – whether parents in a family, or individuals in a church family  – as we are reminded that a person’s destiny is ultimately a matter between themselves and God. As leaders, we must proclaim truth, we are not held accountable for what others do with our message.

But the way in which we tell the message will have an impact. We can be sure that Moses’ words were heard with greater weight because everyone who heard them knew the story of his dedication to their people and his life of service. And this service had not been merely with his mind and body, but with his heart. He had been passionately committed to seeing them through many trials, allowing his heart to be wrung over and over again. Moses had not only led the people, he had loved the people, and surely it is that love which made his final words to them hit home so powerfully.

Do I allow myself to love those to whom I am called to bring the word of God’s love, his offer of salvation, his equally certain promise of judgement to come? Does my life demonstrate the commitment to their well-being which Moses showed to the people he led? I wonder if this is, in part at least, what the apostle Paul meant when he said that the gifts of oratory, or wisdom and prophecy, of faith and sacrificial giving are worth nothing if there is no love.

If, after loving and serving them, weeping and rejoicing with them, I tell people of the faith I have, and of the promise which is for them too, then are they not more likely to listen as I plead with them to choose life? To choose the Lord, who alone is life and hope and health for our souls?

May I be given strength and courage to love, so that when I speak, I may be heard, and God’s word will bear fruit in other lives – to their blessing and his glory!

Can I help you?

So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.

So let’s do  it – full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10.19-25, The Message)

So I sometimes – often?! – get discouraged about life, about God’s work and the apparently impenetrable resistance of the people around me to any interest in the good news of the gospel.

I know that I am blessed beyond measure to be one of God’s children, to stand before him as beloved, cleansed, with hope and a future, purpose in life’s journey and glory to come. I know the power of that truth to lighten my dark days, strengthen my nerve in persevering service, and bring joy in every circumstance. I know that this is the best news anyone ever heard, that it is life-transforming and life-giving.

When I join with others in praise of Jesus, celebrating his character, his redeeming work and glorious triumph over sin, I am healed, my perspective on this world and all its trouble is restored. To be given fresh glimpses of the depths of love which are for me, reminded of the price that was paid, and the security of my hope.. all these things are precious beyond telling. And yet still, to my shame, I become discouraged.

It is surely good and right that we – as Jesus’ followers – long to see others responding to his love, so that his name might be made greater, and that their lives might share the blessings which are so abundantly ours! The writer to the Hebrew church reminds them of the truth about who they are in Christ – a blood-bought people, with free access to God’s throne; a people whom he delights in. These truths, combined with the promises of an utterly faithful God, are the basis for our life and witness. We have treasures to share, both with each other and with those who as yet do not believe.

I am relieved that the writer does not scold the readers for a lack of enthusiasm, but rather exhorts them on the basis of wonderful realities to find a new courage and energy for the work their Lord has given them. Some translations use words which imply a degree of reluctance on the part of the readers to be up and doing – one does not have to spur on a horse which is already galloping as fast as it can!! Perhaps the readers of the letter to the Hebrews were suffering from discouragement, even as we do, seeing the scale of the opposition and losing heart. It is fatally easy to see the task ahead in light of our own strength instead of God’s strength, and to assume that we can do nothing about it!

So how can we be ‘inventive’ in provoking one another into action, in stirring one another up to be loving and active for the sake of the gospel?

I believe that one of the most powerful ways we can do this for each other, is to share with one another the stories of God’s activities – in our lives, and those of others. I regularly attend a mission prayer meeting, and while there are plenty of needs to bring before God, we are always encouraged by the number of answers to prayer – often miraculous in our eyes, and always demonstrating that God is indeed powerful and wise. He knows and meets the needs of his people, and he can call men and women to himself in the most astonishing ways.

So my challenge for myself, is to be more conscious of God’s direct action in my life – what can I tell my friends of his goodness to me this week? How can I encourage them – not by boasting of special blessings, but by reminding them through my story that our God is good and great and faithful?

Lord, give us clear sight, to recognise your hand at work, your daily blessings and moment-by-moment grace. Let us take heart and encourage one another on our journey in faithful service of you, our almighty God.

Being the bride?

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord:

She is his new creation by water and the word;

From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;

With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

(SJ Stone, 1939-1900)

This old hymn, which we sang at a recent communion service, uses the image of a bride in describing the relationship between the church and the Lord Jesus Christ. As with so many old hymns, it is packed with ideas from the bible, truths which inform and give life to our faith and deepen and strengthen our relationship with God. I love to sing these songs, they go to my heart and head like a strong wine, filling me with joy and lifting my spirits no matter how much I am struggling. This is surely one of the main reasons why we are exhorted to sing and use our praise to recall all that God has done for us!

But what really touched me as I sang this time was the fact that the bride is one being, a single entity, not a multitude! It is so easy to lose sight of the truth that in God’s eyes, His people are one, across time and around the world. Our denominational tribes are not relevant, our preoccupation with defending purity of doctrine at the expense of fellowship and the sharing of the good news of Jesus is a source of sadness. The old creed, the statement of faith puts it quite simply…

……I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.   Amen!

In this context, the word ‘catholic’ has its proper meaning of “universal/relating to the entire body of Christians”, and what a glorious affirmation it is to make! I do believe that we are one in Christ, no matter how our traditions seem to divide us, or our expressions of praise and worship feel strange to one another.

It is our human weakness, our fearfulness and pride, which drive us into divisions, into putting up walls to make ourselves feel safer, better, holier, than those outside. What shame this brings to the name of Jesus, who prayed the night before he died that his people  might be one, might be known for their love for and unity with one another… But we can choose to sit lightly to those boundaries, to reach wherever possible out to those who worship Christ in spirit and in truth, wherever they come from. The reality is that what unites us is so great and glorious, that our differences should pale into insignificance by comparison.

There is a wry joke made by Christians that when we get to heaven we will be a little surprised to see who else is there – and they will be equally surprised to see us!! The point is being made that we none of us can claim to have all the answers, to be absolutely perfect in our interpretation of the bible and our practice of the faith. The important and overriding truth on which our salvation depends is the death of Jesus on the cross, and our trust in him alone.

We have been wooed, as a bride must be, drawn to love and commit ourselves to our beloved – the prophet Hosea speaks beautifully of how God does this:-

I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

(Hosea 2.19&20)

It is the love of God, revealed in Jesus which entrances and captures our hearts, and it is his death and resurrection which are the source of our strength, joy and hope. It is as we grow in faith in him, serving the world in his name, loving one another as he commanded, that we become beautiful in his eyes, transformed and made ready for our future. It will be at the dawn of the new creation, when all believers finally stand together before the throne, united in praise, love and adoration of the saviour, that we will truly be dressed in our wedding clothes and fit to meet the Lord. Then all our struggles will be past, all barriers to fellowship will be removed, and in glory we will rest. Let this wonderful vision of our future bring us joy and strength now, and inspire us to reach out in love to all who call on the name of Jesus as their saviour.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Revelation 21. 2-4)

Love is… am I?

The words of the apostle Paul to the believers in the church in Corinth – in the first letter at chapter 13 – are very familiar to us, often chosen at to be read at weddings. But when we actually put our own name into the list of qualities which characterise love, how many of us remain comfortable with reading this passage? I quote it here in the Message paraphrase, a fresh and modern expression of the text which helps me to hear it clearly.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first”, doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

When I deliberately consider each quality of love in relation to my own life, I am convicted, bowed before a holy God, because I know very well that I do not love like this. My heart swells with protests about the provocation I receive to act in unloving ways, the unfairness of life, the sins of others, the good excuses I have for failure. And the Judge waits in silence, until my words die away and I confess with grief that I have no goodness in me, I cannot, not by my best efforts, love like this, and never will.

Only one man loved like this, the man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to live the life I should have lived, and then – because of my failures – to die the death I deserved to die because of my lack of love. The wonder and the glory is that by faith in Christ, I am considered right with God, in spite of my desperate failure, and not only this, but in believing, I am given a new heart, the heart of God himself, beating with divine love, so that I may live as He would have me live.

While I remain in this mortal body, I will battle against the fallenness of the world, the devil’s activities in it, and my own remnants of sin, but the truth is that I am new. I have the victory over everything that conspires against this life of loving power. With God’s help, each day and year, that victory will  become clearer in my life, as I become more like Christ on the outside even as I have been made like him in my heart.

Paul goes on in the letter to the Corinthians to encourage them to persevere in this world of shifting shadows and uncertain lights, where the glory of God and the lordship of Christ can seem so uncertain to our mortal eyes. I find it enormously encouraging that the great apostle could struggle with this as I do, and express it so clearly. We are indeed all only flesh and blood, and it is foolish and unhelpful to any believer to deny how hard it can be to persevere in faith in the face of so much opposition and suffering.

Ultimately our perseverance is a work of God, and we know that it is not because of our efforts that we are saved, but rather His faithful love and Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We rest in that complete assurance of salvation even as we seek – in response to His love for us – to work with Him in realising our transformation into Christ’s likeness. Our failures do not condemn us, but rather drive us continually back to God in confession that without Him, we are and can do nothing. And every fresh embrace of Christ as our sole ground of hope and salvation is a step along the road to glory.

I will finish this post with some more words from 1 Corinthians 13 in the Message translation; words we can pray for ourselves and others, as we journey together, depending on God and rejoicing in His sufficiency for us.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.