Category Archives: love

Infinite beauty

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4.6&8)

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

(Isaiah 53.5 & 61.1-3)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

(John 1.14-18)

There is a common misconception about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this messy and troubled world, where life can be unbelievably hard and painful for so many people. It arises from this verse in Philippians, when Paul exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice’ always in the Lord. It is not only false, but also deeply unhelpful, to argue that this means that we are all meant to triumph continually over every adversity, to smile perpetually in the face of pain or tragedy, and to face injustice and oppression as though they were nothing.

Look carefully at what Paul says – we are to rejoice in the Lord, not in our circumstances, nor in some pretended victory over those circumstances. It is only right that as mortal beings, created in God’s image, we should grieve over death and destruction, should be provoked by injustice and deceit. As followers of Jesus – who wept over Lazarus, and delighted to heal those who suffered in their bodies – we should feel the pain of this broken world, not pretend it doesn’t exist for those who profess faith.

So what does Paul say? That our primary source of gladness, of joy and the strength which comes with it, is to be Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is as we contemplate this man, this God-made-flesh, that we are refreshed in our spirits,  growing in faith and trust, and thus able to continue to witness to God’s goodness and saving power. This source of joy can never fail us, never dry up or become contaminated. We can never reach the end of his loveliness. This Jesus combines in himself all the wonderful attributes of God, and a perfect humanity, and therefore ticks all the boxes of things Paul is exhorting his readers to think about!

Every good quality that we celebrate in one another, is seen to perfection in Christ.

Every need that we find in ourselves, and most desperately the need for forgiveness, restoration to fellowship with God, and freedom from sin; is given abundantly in Christ.

Am I weary? He is patient and strong.

Am I grieving? He is my tender comforter, and ever-present companion.

Is the devil stirring up dead ashes of guilt about old sin? He is my all-conquering captain, victorious over that enemy and blowing the ashes away with the strong breath of his forgiving and cleansing love.

Am I toiling with private griefs and seemingly endless trials? He is faithful in bearing the burden as I repeatedly lay it upon him; and as I contemplate his death for me on the cross, I am comforted that even through my troubles, he can work all things together for good.

My beautiful Lord..faithfulness made visible, love made flesh and blood, holiness completely allied to mercy..

Praise God, praise with great praise, for the joy which we receive as we gaze upon the infinite beauty of Christ.

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My baby!!

Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones..”Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; 

(Isaiah 49. 13&15)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

(Psalm 103.13-17)

When my first child was born, it was as though a whole new world of understanding and experience opened up before me – all of a sudden the miracle of the incarnation became something more profound, more deeply mysterious and moving; the burden of Jesus’ mother as she watched her son on the cross became more excruciating; and the tenderness of God towards his wayward children became even more awesome!

Now, I am launching my little one, the baby, upon her next stage of education, which means leaving home to study at university – the same institution at which my parents launched me a good many years ago!

Does this mean that because I have no one at home to look after, that somehow all this love, the mothering that has been a huge part of who I am suddenly ceases to exist?! As the apostle Paul would say – By No Means!! What it does mean is another transition in life, another change of circumstances, and another opportunity to lean hard upon my God, depending upon him and clinging on to the identity I have in him.

I believe that God created humankind in his image, and that in mothers – and by that I mean all those who nurture the lives of others, whether those to whom they gave birth or others – we see a huge part of God’s character. When we see the lengths to which a mother will go to protect, nurture and obtain what is best for her child, we see the heart of God for us. When we see the joy and delight a mother takes in watching her child, in noticing all the little details, in listening to the endless chatter, then we see the heart of God for us.

Because this is true, I believe that in God, I have one who understands fully what I am going through and will face in the days ahead, as I learn to live day-to-day without the presence of my baby. There will be times when her absence may be like an open wound – my God is a great and tender physician, he can bring the right balm and comfort to me. There will be times when I find myself questioning whether I have any purpose in life now that she is gone – my God is the lover of my soul, he delights in who I am, and has enrolled me in his great plan of redemption; he can show me that my life matters even though this chapter is closing.

His heart for me has been mirrored, however faintly, in my heart for my own children. I matter to him as they do to me; he cares that I get tired and sad, he will listen and encourage me from his own store of tender, compassionate love. He will share my joy in my children, and also my concerns for them – because they matter even more to him than to me. He will not ask me to take on a burden or task for which I am not fit – although he may show me that I am stronger than I think!

My children are the children of believing parents, they were brought before him as infants and God’s promises claimed on their behalf. If I care that they should commit their lives in faith to Jesus, how much more does my loving Father care! I have a faithful God, or rather, he has me. And I will choose to entrust my children to him – releasing them to the care of one who knew them before they were born, and who gave me the inestimable privilege of raising them to live for and with him.

My immediate task is finished, and a new relationship lies ahead. May God enable me to fulfill that faithfully, that I may be a blessing to my children, and bear witness to the steadfast love of God as my strength.

From everlasting, to everlasting, He is God, and He is good..Hallelujah!

Looking for my lover…

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing..

(1Peter 3.8&9)

Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?…Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away…

(Song of Songs 8. 5,6-7)

As a sinful creature – saved, yet vulnerable to the old temptations and weaknesses, open to many distractions and easily swayed – among other sinners, I am answerable to the King of Kings for the way I treat his precious children. I am commanded to live peaceably, and not only that, but in a way which consistently seeks the good of others.

I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to love people when they are a generalised grouping, strangers whose lives have little impact on mine. It is a good deal harder to love those whose daily lives impact directly on me – for good and ill – because my own experience of them seems to get in the way all the time! It becomes hard to know what will be good for them, and harder still to do it, when I am preoccupied with how their latest actions have made me feel. It is as though “I” am getting in the way of the calling which God has given, to love and serve him in his people. My own needs for unconditional love, forgiveness and tenderness shout too loudly, drowning out the quiet voice directing me to obedient love for others.

I love that verse in the Song of Songs where the bride is described as coming up from the desert, “leaning on her lover”. She has found in a dry and arid place, the one who delights in her, and because of his love, she has the courage to return to the city and face the business of life again.

I too, have a heavenly Lord and Lover, who loves me – sacrificially – and who delights in me, who actually likes the person I am. He enjoys the playful spirit he gave me, so that while I may feel oppressed when the company of others suppresses it, when we are alone together, I can play and be glad, knowing I am loved.

He gave me a heart which loves to share, to listen to the hearts of others. When those around shut me out and refuse to be known by me, I go back and listen to his heart, and it speaks strong and loud of his joy, his beauty, his goodness. All these things are spread before me like a rich feast, with his great ambition for creation together with the pain which it is costing him. Here I find one who never keeps me at a distance, but reveals himself and is glad that I should be learning to know him. What a marvel, that God should choose to reveal himself to such as we are.

And this, my God loves all his children thus, seeing and cherishing each one; full of compassion for the struggles and pain which they feel. This, my God, longs to be known and delighted in by his people, and holds out his arms in welcome.

When I experience rejection by those I love, when I am not at liberty among them to be myself gladly and be delighted in, let me remember the heart of God. That great heart which is continually rejected and shut out by those he loves, whose tenderness is wounded again and again by their refusal to enjoy and accept him as he reveals himself through Jesus Christ. God knows my pain, and calls me to accept it in obedience, not dwelling upon it, but coming back again and again for refreshment and to lean upon the strengthening arm of my lover.

Then I will be in the right position to react as God reacts to us – in forgiving, loving patience, bearing with us in spite of all we have done and continue to do. As he has loved me, so may I love others, depending upon his strength and drawing on his love, so that all my needs are met in him and I am free to give as he does – to overflowing!

 

Log?..What log?

By the grace give me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.

(Romans 12.3,9&10)

..And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

(Matthew 7.1-5)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

(1Corinthians 13.4-7)

How tempting it is to use higher standards when we judge the conduct of others than when we review our own…and how very humbling when God mercifully reveals to us just what we are doing! This is the thrust of Jesus’ warning in the passage from Matthew, when he points out that all too often the very fault which we are so quick to identify in another person is present in much more significant measure in our own hearts!

The exaggerated image makes the point very clearly, laughably even – I can picture the listeners being very amused by the thought of a person with a log in their eye trying earnestly to undertake the delicate operation of removing a speck from another..How easily we overlook our own persistent sins, and criticise others, blaming them all too often for our troubles – when in fact we will answer to God for our reactions to them, as they will answer to him also for their actions. If a person is rude or deceitful, difficult to live with, proud or quick to anger, then my first reaction must be to humbly examine myself before God, asking where these things are in my life; and secondly to pray lovingly for that person, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, and seeking their good as God does.

My excuses and evasions, attempts to pass responsibility for my failures to other people, are all exposed as the sins they really are – with their roots in Eden, when Eve blamed the serpent for her disobedience. Such behaviour is far removed from the love in action to which we are called as followers of Jesus – the love which is patient and kind; which seeks the good of the beloved; which honours them above itself and delights in all that is true and of God.

Yes, the sins of others will have an impact on me, but with God’s help and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in me, I can react in a Christlike way – a way which I need not be ashamed of before God when he calls me to account. If God reacted to us in our sins, in the way that we react to one another, what hope could we have?! And we are called – and crucially enabled, by the new Christ-life pulsing in our transformed hearts – to be like God.

Peter encourages his readers in his fourth letter to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1Peter 4.8). He is pointing our that it is our business as followers of Jesus, to love our fellow believers – the business of dealing with each others’ sins belongs to God. Our love is not blind, but our awareness of sin in others should humble and soften our hearts, reminding us that we too are always in danger of falling – not driving us to harden our hearts and sit in judgment.

When we love like this – humbly, forgivingly, prayerfully, then our fellowship becomes a safe place in which to receive God’s exposure of our own sins – and this is crucial, since it can be a very painful experience in which we will need the loving support of others.

May we be given grace to love in this way; understanding our own need of forgiveness and vulnerability to sin, and dealing as gently as Jesus with those who – like us – have fallen.

 

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!