Category Archives: sacrifice

Relationships, not rules..

..Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your god my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me , be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

(Ruth 1.16&17)

Therefore, I urge you, sisters and brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual or reasonable act of worship.

(Rom 12.1)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

(Eph 6.25-27)

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 the all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

We recently completed a short study in the story of Ruth, and as I came to write this blog about sacrificial living, it struck me that she is the embodiment of what Paul wrote about. Ruth freely chose to embrace uncertainty, danger, poverty and alien status – why? She committed herself to loving Naomi, whatever it took. Her whole being was involved in that commitment, she left nothing behind in Moab, and so far as we can read in the story, never looked back in longing for her ‘freedom’. This was unconditional love in action, a rather one-sided relationship perhaps at times, where Ruth got virtually nothing in return. But she never seems to have wavered in her commitment and faithfulness, and as a result, her story is one of the most beloved of all scripture, her character held up as a pattern for us to follow and admire.

Ruth personifies for us the love of God, ultimately revealed in Jesus; the mercy which Paul speaks of in the letter to the Romans. It is a pattern of living which brings life and hope and love to those who need it so badly, and asks nothing in return but the privilege of serving. If our Lord and Saviour, who lived a perfect life which glorified God – and thus worshipped His Father- then why should not we follow that example. In this way, we too may worship God most acceptably. And this kind of worship has little to do with an hour in a building once a week, and everything to do with the kind of people we are every hour of every day in every place which we go.

What might sacrificial living look like for you and I today? There may be seasons in our lives where the needs of others will be clear – dependent children or relatives, neighbours who have a call on our time and abilities – and then out of love for them – not because somehow by serving them we gain credit with God – we give and serve in love. At other times it may be less obvious, but as we offer our gifts, money and time to God, he will show us where they are to be used – for the body of Christ in the church and in the wider world. We all have something to offer, and we can all receive from others as they serve us!

It can feel frightening to commit to unconditional love – and it goes against the grain of much contemporary culture. We fear being trodden underfoot, left behind in the race for self-fulfilment and success. But we are not called to measure success and fulfilment as the world does. When we look through God’s eyes, we see clearly that our human measures are false and temporary. True and lasting joy, fulfilment and success come as we follow the servant-King, looking to love, not merely obey rules. It is not in some ‘rub-my back and I’ll-rub yours’ sort of transaction that we live lives of worship and love. Rather it is as Christ lived – pouring himself out unstintingly, and trusting God for the outcome – for himself and for others.

A consuming fire

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy, in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.'”

(Lev 10.1-3)

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord..'”

(Ezek 34.11,12&16)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

(Jn 10.11)

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God…. You have come to God, the judge of all men…, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel….Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Heb 12.18,22,23,&28)

It is not easy for us to begin to appreciate the holiness of God – the ferocious purity and abhorrence of evil – which characterises the Creator and upholder of all things. We live so intimately with sin, subtly excusing and softening it in order to give ourselves an easy time, that we find God’s reaction to it a little excessive.. But that is our weakness and not God’s. He is goodness, light and love. He is right and true and entirely other than the corruption which is our nature.

From the beginning, the story of scripture makes it clear that holiness cannot be in proximity with sin; it must be destroyed – even as the power of the sun destroys everything that comes too close to it. And yet, God desires to dwell among his people, and all the story of salvation is designed to make this possible; from the sacrificial system, through the temple era, until Jesus came to be the living fulfilment of all those foreshadowings and models. He came to be the means by which holiness could be reconciled to sinful humanity, the one through whom intimacy could be restored.

In Jesus, all the destroying power which had to be unleashed against the offence of sin found its focus. As the good shepherd, he literally stands between us and God’s wrath, taking its full force upon himself – and being consumed. Thus and only thus, our sin is dealt with and we can enter into the perfect relationship which God has long desired. We receive his perfection, and he takes our sin. By dying and rising again in his new resurrection body, Jesus inaugurated the new nature which will enable all God’s chosen people to dwell intimately with his holiness in the new creation. There will be nothing in us from which God will shrink, or that could call forth his wrath on us.

Without Jesus, humanity stands before God as Nadab and Abihu did – presuming on our own notions of what is good and right, and being destroyed. With Jesus, our prospect is totally different. No dark mountain with destroying fire, but rather light, love, celebration and worship. The consuming fire HAS gone forth, but another has been burnt up for us, has completed the sacrifice, and as we – by faith – stand in him (Christ) so we receive all the blessings promised in his new covenant. We have an inheritance in glory, a place in God’s family and citizenship in an eternal, unshakeable kingdom.

Let us then worship him with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!

(Image is part of ‘A Garment of War’ by Sir DY Cameron 1864-1945)

Unfathomable depths..

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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Isa 51.5&6)

“I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies…. go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland… parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.  They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. So bear the shame of your harvest because of the Lord’s fierce anger. “

(Jer 12.7,9-13)

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,… “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matt 27.46)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

(Jn 15.9&10)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…. 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.

(1Jn 3.16; 4,9&10)

Just look at those final words in the quote from John’s gospel again, “just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Jesus spoke these words on the night when he would be betrayed to his trial, humiliation and death. He speaks with absolute conviction that he is held in his Father’s love, in spite of what lies immediately ahead of him, and fully aware that his imminent suffering is what was planned by this loving Father.

We do not find it easy to accept that love will not always protect the beloved, our instinct is to shield and divert the danger, to go to any lengths to avoid their pain. How then do we understand what God, through Christ, is doing on the cross? Why was the only begotten Son of the Eternal Father abandoned to the full power of death, and the unspeakable agony of rejection?

The words spoken by Jeremiah, among many prophets, gives us an insight into the truth, as we hear God’s words of pain and horror over the fate of his chosen people. Their disobedience cannot fail to have consequences, but even as the invading armies gather, so God mourns for the grief and loss which is surely coming. Have I ever really grasped just how much love is in these words? How much it cost God to let his beloved go into exile? Their fate was a foreshadowing of the future which awaits all humankind, unless we can be restored to relationship with our holy and just God. The exile which awaits us is not merely removal from our homeland, but eternal separation, an alienation without hope or light or anything good. It is truly awful.

And so, in order to rescue us from that ultimate exile, in order that we might live in his love, God sent his Son to be abandoned in our stead. In the mystery of the counsels of the Trinity, out of a fierce and relentless love for lost humanity, this plan of salvation was forged and committed to by Father, Son and Spirit. God loves us so much, that even his beloved Son was not protected from what had to be done, and in love, the Son obeyed the Father.

In their astonishing love for me, for you, Father and Son endured that agony of separation and abandonment in order that I, that you, might NEVER be cut off and lost to the darkness of a godless eternity. How profoundly this stills my heart, as I contemplate the depth of divine love, and its relentless, unflinching commitment to paying the price for my sin. I need have no doubt that my Father loves me…

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan; oh, the grace that brought it down to man; oh, the mighty gulf that God did span, at Calvary!

Mercy there was great, and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my guilty soul found liberty, at Calvary!

(WN Newell, 1868-1956)

The gift of salvation

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

(Isa 52.7&9)

.. an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

(Matt 1.20&21)

Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel

(Lk 2.28-32)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

(Rev 7.9&10)

As we enter the season of Advent – of remembering in advance what the Christmas celebration is all about – we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to what happened in that disturbed season in the Roman Empire, when great movements of people in order to make a census, took a man and his heavily pregnant fiance down the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We look further back to millennia of Jewish expectation that something would be given, would come from their God, something that would make all the difference in the world to their relationship with Him – because it would remove for ever the barrier caused by the stain of sin in every human heart.

It is not easy to assert in our culture that humankind needs to be saved from itself, that every living soul is naturally oriented away from God, and that what is counted a ‘good’ life by our standards is yet in God’s eyes as far from his standards as that of the greatest tyrant. But this is what the bible tells us, and the work of salvation is assigned to the person of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – how wonderful to see the assurance in the angelic message, ‘he will save his people’, not ‘might’ or ‘will try to’! There was no doubt in the realms of glory that victory would be gained..

It is not easy to explain that we believe in judgement for sin – that a price must be paid in order to turn aside the just wrath of a holy God against the rebellion of his creatures, and all the destructive fruits of that rebellion. Once again, the bible is consistent in its message – sacrifice for sin is the only way to restore our relationship with God, and as imperfect, sinful creatures, we cannot provide the perfect sacrifice necessary to deal with sin once and for all. Instead, we have Jesus, recognised by his cousin John the baptiser as the Lamb of the world – why a lamb? Because this was the creature of sacrifice, and as Isaiah had prophesied – all our griefs and sins were laid on him, so that we might be saved and healed.

So we look back to the birth of Jesus as the coming of God’s perfect gift of salvation to the world, the full realisation of all the promises that the Jews had lived by, and on which the eternal establishing of God’s kingdom would rest. Without the work of salvation, without the brutal realities of atonement for your sin and mine, Christmas would be an empty celebration, a pointless party, with gifts of no lasting value.

But, because of what Jesus did, we can celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour as the beginning of a new reality, where sin no longer has the upper hand, and death is no longer the end of hope. Because of him, christians can live forgiven, can live hopeful, can live out grace to one another – because we have been saved from ourselves and all the old tyrannies, to love and serve another, in whose service we are fully alive.

Finally, we look ahead, to the great day when all those who have accepted the complete salvation from sin which is found only in Jesus, join together in the new heaven and new earth to celebrate that glorious work, and to praise the amazing love which conceived and carried it out.

I worship you today my God, generous beyond imagining and loving beyond reason. I praise you for the gift of salvation which came to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you that I can live forgiven; can live without guilt; can live with hope. May I know how to value this priceless gift, and seek to share it with all who will receive it. Because of Jesus, I can pray this prayer; praise to his name, Amen!

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)

Sweet fragrance…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices..and make a fragrant blend of incense..It is to be salted and pure and sacred..place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.

(Ex 30.34-36)

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

(Jn 1.29)

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent with life. 

(2 Cor 2.14-16, The Message)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

(Heb 13.15&16)

In the regime of temple worship which God instituted with his people, there was a special incense – to be used only within the confines of that building, and for one purpose only. This particular smell, composed of rich spices, would instantly alert the worshipper to the fact that they were in a place set aside for meeting with God.  This building would smell different from every other, a perfume different from any flower, shrub or spice they knew in daily life, a building set apart for a special purpose. The scent would speak immediately of a holy place, one where God was pleased to encounter his people, where they were put right with him through the sacrificial system.

I believe that it is this instant recognition factor which is so significant about the incense in the temple. Even those who only occasionally made the journey to worship there would carry in their sense-memory that particular scent, and each return visit would bring a sense of homecoming, as the smell of incense reached them. Here, in this place, God is..

Our sense of smell is amazing, and scents are strong triggers for memory and recognition. How often have you been jolted from your present situation by a smell, pleasantly or painfully reminded of another time, place or person? My daughter inherited the end of a bottle of perfume which my late mother used for years. I find myself confused by the scent, worn by the one and reminding me so powerfully of the other. In a less serious vein, how many of us treasure the smell of freshly mown grass?! Reeking of spring and summer, of school games fields ready for lunchtime games, it speaks of heat, life and freedom.

What then is the significance of the aroma, or scent which Paul attributes to believers as they follow Christ? Is there something here of the unique fragrance which belongs to the place where God and humankind are reconciled – the cross of Jesus, which once for all replaced the sacrificial system of the temple?

The bible tells us that as we receive Christ’s sacrifice for us, by faith, so we receive new life – his life in us. We are now welcomed into God’s presence because we are ‘in Christ’, and all his triumphs and blessings are counted as ours. This surely means that we are to God as an acceptable fragrance too – we speak of atonement for sin, of reconciliation, of peace. As we seek to live faithfully, increasingly transformed by the Spirit into likeness of Christ, our lives yield the unmistakeable scent of grace. In the same way that the hyacinth fills a room with its fragrance – simply by fulfilling its nature and coming into flower – so also as believers, in obeying and trusting God, we are spreading the scent of the gospel to all with whom we come in contact.

Some will react against it, finding all that the gospel stands for abhorrent, and condemning all that we hold most dear. But even as the hyacinth cannot change its scent simply because some people find it unpleasant, so we as believers cannot change the truth about us – that we are saved, because we needed to be rescued, because sin is a reality which humanity alone cannot deal with. The gospel is indeed a stumbling-block to many, but we as believers are not accountable for how people react to it, only to for sharing it.

As I live by faith in Christ, depending on his once-for-all sacrifice, and representing in myself the place where God by his Holy Spirit dwells with his people, I pray that the aroma of grace might be the most noticeable thing about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relentless, single-minded…love?

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

(John 15.12-14)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love….. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1&2; 15&16)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

(Mark 11.25)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?….You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye……If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you…”

(Matt 7.3&5;18.15)

Lord, your love is perfect: mine is so imperfect.

You fear nothing: I fear so many things.

Out of your love, you cause me to face pain and difficulty, that I might become the glorious creature you know that I can be.

Out of my feeble shadow of love, I shy away from inflicting pain or causing others to face difficulty, because I am afraid of what they might do to me.

If I loved you as I ought; if your will truly ruled in my heart; if I truly loved others, then nothing would stop me from speaking the truth in love that they might grow according to your glorious purposes for them.

Oh Lord, forgive me, that I do not love as I ought. Forgive me, that I have failed to love others as I ought, and have let fear of my own pain hold me back from obedience to your will.

Have you ever considered that laying down your life for others might look more like a sentence of hard labour than a death sentence? That sounds a little severe, but let me unpack what I mean..Jesus spoke these words on the night before he died, and so we often associate them with his sacrificial death – and rightly so. But is it not also possible to apply them to the years leading up to this night?

Jesus had given up his life for his disciples, for three years. He had lived and worked with them, walked and eaten with them. He had borne with their foolishness and ignorance, their misplaced ambitions and squabblings, he had even borne with the presence of the one whom he knew would betray him. His life had been a living sacrifice of service to these men, a worked example of divine love in action.

I have been challenged recently to apply this to myself, to see that my life is also poured out in love to others, for their blessing and growth in grace and faith. If I choose to follow my own instincts – which are for peace at any price, and the avoidance of all confrontation – then I will effectively fail in my calling. God asks me to be his agent of love to people – to speak truth in love to them, that they might hear through my loving voice the word of God calling them to repentance and change. This is a huge responsibility, and for one like myself who goes in great fear of doing “the wrong thing”, it is terrifying!

But God gives me no choice; as his child, one in whom Christ dwells by the Spirit, I am called to play my part in building up the individual members of his body and that means helping others to see the truth about themselves. Will I choose to trust that He can and will direct my words; give me wisdom and humility; use what I say for the good of those to whom I speak; and above all, help me to overcome my fear of everything except disobeying him?

Loving Lord, I pray that you will so fill me with your relentless love that I will no longer hold back, but will speak the truth in love; humbly acknowledging my own great sinfulness and need of forgiveness; depending on your grace and power to change us all according to your will and looking forward eagerly to the day when we all stand revealed in the glory that you have in store for us. 

It’s not about the music….

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 12.1&2)

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth!

(1 Chron 16.28-30)

But the Lord said to Samuel,..”The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

(1 Sam.16.7)

Jesus declared,…”a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

(Jn 4.23&24)

Worship….what does it look like in my life, to really ‘worship’? I believe that to worship anything is to give honour, to defer and make that object the grounds and goal of all one’s decision-making. It is to express humble adoration, to elevate the adored object and rejoice in being in a position to serve, to dedicate all that is best in myself, to the glorifying and blessing of that which I worship. A worshipper delights to be with others who share the same faith, but is also delighted to have solitary time to contemplate and dwell with the beloved.

The worshipper who is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who is – by faith in the redeeming power of his death – privileged to enter freely into the presence of Almighty God and to call him ‘Father’; that person has the joy of giving their adoration, service and  commitment to one who is utterly worthy. We need have no doubts about our God, our King, He is splendid in his holiness; glorious in his purity; faithful in his justice; and awesome in his grace.

Is the worship – the elevation of, the service to, the humble commitment and dedication of all that I am – of this God to be expressed only when I sing? Surely not! Music may form a very small part of my worship of God – for some people it may be more significant than others – but it cannot and must not be the only way in which we think of this word. My God sees my heart, sees my thoughts, and knows my secret desires and failings. This God is not taken in by the public face I may put on at church on a Sunday, not fooled by enthusiastic singing, or particularly delighted by ecstatic emotional experiences which can arise just as readily at a concert of secular music as in a church service of praise!

He sees my heart, weighs my motives, discerns my private rebellions and those things which I refuse to surrender to his will and purpose. It is here that my true worship begins, in the willed abandonment of any claims to self-government, in deliberate aligning of my own thinking to his law and his truth. True worship, stems from the prostration of my spirit at the cross and results in a life which – in every aspect – is at his command.

I am only too well aware of the extent to which I fall short of this true worship. And I am thankful for this awareness, because it keeps me from the dangers of pride or boasting, or of judging others. I am completely dependent on his loving forgiveness, and daily grace for the small measure of obedience and worship which I am able to render. Praise him for his fathomless mercy and love towards his wayward children, whom he is tenderly leading home!

 

Worshipping God faithfully requires that I remember that I am not my own, but His; bought with a price and for a purpose. My body, intellect, emotions and will are gifts, and I am accountable to God for the use I make of them. True worship requires that I steward these resources according to His will and for His glory – pursuing holiness, selflessness, a proper appreciation of all His gifts. I must continually be asking – why am I doing this, does it glorify God, build up His church, proclaim His love and mercy?

Joyful, faithful, humble stewardship – this is my worship.

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!

Looking around…

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath..Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: he bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

(Psalm 39. 4-7)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. so don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10.29-31)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16.24-26)

For many people, the end of a calendar year is a time of reflection, a time to reassess their lives and discern patterns, changes, new opportunities which might be opening up. There is also much – often hidden – pain at this time of year, as people remember those whom they have lost, to death, to breakdown in relationships; and also recognise disappointments, dashed hopes and unfulfilled expectations. Look around, and all the people you know will be experiencing this potent cocktail of emotions to varying degrees. We carry joy and pain simultaneously; anger and bitterness alongside thankfulness and appreciation.

Those who follow Jesus are human too, not immune to this annual malaise, and we need to think carefully about how we deal with these feelings. The bible shows us humanity in all its variety, expressing every emotion under the sun; and in the book of Psalms particularly, we find such transparency and honesty as should give the lie to any idea of the “stiff upper lip” and brave smile being the correct Christian response to life!

We have a perfect loving Father, and a great Saviour who is also a man. We have nothing to hide from our God; no emotion which can shock or make him turn away. Indeed, I believe that it is when we refuse to recognise and name our feelings before God that they begin to rule us, and that is so dangerous.

Our feelings change like the weather – and in my part of the world, that means from minute to minute! But our God is unchanging, and as followers of Jesus, we have a relationship with him which is grounded and held in his character, his promises, his love – not our feelings. The truth about our lives is not how we feel about them, but what he says about them!

So I bring my sometimes toxic cocktail of feelings to my Father, pouring it all out as I sit close and then I listen for his voice. In the place of my sense of failure and loss, I hear the loving voice which says that I am precious, that in him I can do all he desires for me – and all that he knows is good for me. I hear his repeated forgiveness for my failures and sins, and the promise that I have a fresh start. I hear the heartbeat of his love which is the only thing that matters, and which drowns out the clamour of the world around me, to measure and value myself on the basis of my looks, my status, my talents, my connections and achievements.

As I sit there, I receive confidence and courage to go on living quietly, living for him, living without worldly acclaim and trusting that this portion is all I need. My days are brief, but in his eyes they are not wasted; my voice is small, but he always hears me; the hairs on my head are increasingly white, but his hand is still over me in loving and tender protection. I am indeed worth more than many sparrows!

My life surrendered into his hands, is lost to me, but given back to be lived for him and in that transaction, I am the winner, the prize of eternal life is mine. A soul saved, a child brought home, who can look around her beautiful and troubled world, and be at peace because she knows the one who keeps her in it. May this be your experience in the year ahead..