I am not myself…

..if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 15.14&15,20,42-44,55-57)

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.

(Rom 6.6-8,10&11,13)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Cor 5.14&15,17)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.. you will be my people, and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

Easter day…Resurrection day…. whatever one chooses to call it, after that day, all the world was changed for ever. The creator had become a creature. God became human, entering into our darkness and despair in order to do the only thing which could restore us to our place as God’s beloved people, for whom the earth was formed, and with whom He desires to live eternally. When God becomes human, anything may happen: the dead are raised to life and the blind see; the ‘rules’ of creation are joyously suspended, so that food is multiplied and the storm stilled at a word. The outcast is welcomed home, and to each and every one, their dignity and worth as God’s child is restored.

The world in those days couldn’t stand it – Jews and Romans, rich and poor, religious and secular, they united against him and condemned him to death. He was unspeakable, worthless, to be despised and destroyed. Today, our world continues to reject him, to cancel him and persecute those who would speak out in his name.

But he broke death…on the first day of the week, he rose, clothed in the imperishable and glorified body which will one day also be given to each of us.

And today, millions around the world will sing ‘Glory to God’, for his power in salvation through Christ – because in spite of thehuman arrogance born of two millenia of ‘progress’, the risen Christ lives in the hearts of his humble people. What does human scorn matter to us, when we have life in all its fulness and the hope of glory to come?  What hope does a godless universe offer us to compete with full salvation, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus?

I found these words many years ago on the internet, and cannot now track an author to give credit to for them. I share them here, because they powerfully express the truth about the lives of God’s redeemed people. I invite you to read them aloud to yourself – often – as you praise God for his grace and salvation today!

I am not myself. I am Christ raised on high. I am not who I was when I stumbled on sin and lost my way, when guilt or fear kept a close watch through the night, when striving to perform or please marked my day.

I am become another, and what a life is now mine. The fullness of the freedom of the blessings of heaven fills my days and velvet guards my dark. Each part of me is welcomed and loved. I am whole. I am one. I am uncluttered by the past. I am done with death dealing and dogma, with mounting stairs to God. I am not climbing, I am here, raised on high.

I am alive with the life of Christ. I have the fullness of God in my veins, the wisdom of God a treasure in my heart. I can live in His glory, I can serve with His splendour. I can know His ways for they are mine. We are one. I have been raised with Christ.

Lessons from history..

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.

(Isa 9.2,6&7)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pains.”

(Matt 24.4-8)

“..The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. “

(Mk 14.7)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(Jn 18.36-37)

One of the things which most bewildered Jesus’ followers was his insistence that he was not a warrior or freedom fighter, that his mission was not the removal of Roman rule from Israel. It was not until after his death that they began to glimpse the truth, the glorious reality of an eternal freedom – not from mere human tyrants, but from the greatest enemy of humankind – death, and its handmaid, sin. Jesus always had his sights set on something greater than they could possibly imagine.

We are saved from sin and death in order to enjoy citizenship of God’s kingdom – and crucially, that kingdom surpasses every human kingdom that has ever existed, in glory, justice and duration. When human beings dream of a world without fear, oppression, suffering and sin, they are tempted to believe that if only we could fix ourselves – through education, through better technology, through justice and equality – then we would realise that dream.

This has never been possible – that is why Jesus came to die for all who would believe and accept his remedy for the blight of our brokenness and rebellion. The kingdom of which we dream will one day be realised, when God winds up time, and ushers in a new creation, where his children are welcomed in to live with him forever.

In the meantime, we should listen to Jesus’ words to his disciples, as he warned them of the darkness that would continue to haunt human life until he returned. Wars, natural disasters, political upheaval, and all the poverty and suffering that goes with such things – all these things dominate our media, and people react as though they are somehow surprising, new and in some way avoidable! They have been part of human history for as long as it is recorded. Our species spends itself, in every age, in conflict, in oppression, in exploiting the world’s resources and its people. These open wounds in the experience of our race are – according to Jesus – normal. They are the inevitable consequence of sin. And we are not to be alarmed, but to hold fast to his promises, obediently working and praying for his return and the final elimination of all that lies at the root of suffering.

Please don’t misunderstand my words. I am in no way saying that suffering doesn’t matter. But, we are not to be unsettled by these things, not to allow them to unseat our faith and make us doubt God’s goodness. He is working on a bigger stage and scale than we can possibly comprehend, and one day, when he reveals the new kingdom, we will no longer have to trust, but will see for ourselves. And then, our response will be to worship in fear and trembling – that we should be loved and saved and adopted by such a God, for such a purpose! Then we will join with the numberless throng in praising our King, resting in his love, and all the pain and darkness will be swallowed up in light.

Living is a messy business

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

(Ps 130.1-5)

But [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

(Job 23.10-12)

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

(Ps 57.1-4)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

(2Cor 4.6-9,16&17)

The saints of the Hebrew scriptures – the psalmists, prophets and faithful servants like Job – lived before the full revelation of God’s great plan for dealing once and for all with the consequences of sin. Their confidence in God’s love for them, and their conviction that somehow, their personal sin was dealt with and could not cut them off from the God whom they trusted and worshipped is astonishing to us, living as we do on the other side of the Cross. But their words show that in spite of the consequences of personal sin (Ps 130), or of the sins of others against them (Ps 57), or even the inexplicable tragedies of life (Job), yet they trusted God and rejoiced in Him as Lord.

Life in this world is a very messy business. History teaches us that every era brings its own experiences of war, natural disaster, human exploitation and oppression. Each human who has ever lived, bears the seeds for sins against others, against themselves and ultimately against their maker. We live with the consequences of all those things. In the same way that each generation can build on the prosperity and success of previous ones, so also it reaps the harvest of their bad choices, destructive behaviours, and inherent sinfulness.

The miracle of our salvation is that not only are we to be ultimately delivered from this messy, often painful, and seemingly inevitable progression, but even in the midst of it, we have hope and confidence that our lives matter, and that God is not wasting the small things we bring in response to his overwhelming gift to us.

The saints of old trusted in God, often in spite of the evidence of their lives, and clung to him as their rock and the one who would declare them righteous in his sight. We, who have the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate declaration of God’s love for and commitment to us, surely have so much more reason to trust him with all that we are. Our own sin and its consequences; the sins of others against us; and the tragedies of life: all of these are opportunities to choose God’s glory, to cling to him by faith and to stand firm on his goodness.

With Paul, we can say that the treasure of Christ in our hearts is displayed most fully as we increasingly recognise just what dull and unworthy material we are made of – His light illuminates our shabbiness. With Job, we can say that we will come forth from our trials refined like pure gold, as we persevere through them in an attitude of dependence on God and a refusal to ascribe evil to him. I think that Job would have recognised himself in Paul’s description of the refining and purifying work of the Spirit in a believer’s life.

All praise and glory to the one who redeems and forgives us, who weaves our small, messy  lives into his glorious plan of redemption, and in the process, makes us into his treasures – pure and beautiful, reflecting God’s own character back to him.

Loving others as God loves us…

“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy…. love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

(Lev 19.1&18)

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God….. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1. 3&8)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.. There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.

(1 Cor 13.4-7&13)

If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart… We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us.. Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions….. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.

(1Jn 3.14-18; 4.7-12)

Did you notice those last sentences in the words from John’s letter? “No one has ever seen God. BUT if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” 

I find that frankly, staggering. The idea that anything involving humankind could possibly lead to a full expression of God’s love seems outrageous! But, if true, it is surely one of the greatest incentives to the church to love one another. In our lived-out gospel, it is as we love that we reveal God in his fulness to the world.

The love of God for his rebellious creatures, his eternal intention that we should be his dear companions, is the driving force behind the entire narrative of human history. We are created to know, and to be known; to love and to be loved. This is no sentimental thing, no affair of emotions, but a relentless and clear-sighted commitment to doing what is best for us, no matter what it costs. The love of God is unchanging, relentless, even ruthless in the same way that a surgeon is ruthless in cutting away disease in order to bring healing.

We, in turn, obey Christ’s command to love one another – relentlessly, sacrificially, ruthlessly desiring what is best for the beloved. Ultimately, we know that our highest good is to belong to Christ, to submit fully to his will and to obey him in all things. Daily, we know that we fail, we settle for lower goals, and we are beguiled into thinking that health, prosperity and popularity are our greatest good. But over and over, we are forgiven, prompted to return to our first love – the One who loved us best and first – and to respond in renewed commitment and love.

As God’s children love one another – in patience and kindness; in acceptance and service; in forgiveness and being forgiven; in humility and thankfulness – so the bible tells us, God’s love is brought to its full expression – like the realisation of a picture into a three-dimensional object. The love of God becomes tangible and capable of touching lives as it is manifest in the love of believers for one another. Such love must speak of God to a watching, weeping, broken and hopeless world.

The onlooker may want to say , ‘Oh, they are such nice people, such good people, see how they care for one another’. To which our response must surely be,’ Oh no, it is the Lord who loves us and lives in us who makes us able to live and love like this! It is all of Jesus, who is making us like him! Left to our own devices, we would not love like this…’

Heavenly Father, we want to be holy because you are holy; we want to love others, because you have loved us. May our hearts grow warm to reflect your love, may they expand to find room for others, so that as we love, you are revealed among us, and the world cannot help but see you. Be glorified among us, O Lord, make us lovers after your own heart. Amen.

for the helpers…

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Ps 121.1&2)

God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it…. in the church God has appointed.. apostles, .. prophets, ..teachers, ..those having gifts of healing, those able to help others..

(1 Cor 12.24-26,28)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

(Col 3.12-15)

Today, in my weakness and distress, I have known gentleness and compassion. In my confusion, there has been one who understands. In my weariness, there has been one to carry, and think, and do for me.

Thank you, Lord God, for the one who ministered to me, who brought your kindness and patience, clothed in human form, and gave what I needed.

How precious it is, when God’s loving kindness is brought to us by a person, a pair of hands and a gentle heart; a listening spirit and wise counsel; a strong arm and the fruit of experience; a generous gift of time, talents or money which meets the need of the moment. How good it is, to reflect on the ways by which we have been helped, in great or small ways, all the days of our lives, and to recognise God’s good hand in these things.

How humbling it is, to see ourselves as others see us, in our frailty and changeability. How sweet to know that we are loved and accepted, with all our faults and that the veil of their love is drawn over our shame and it is hidden in the hearts of our nearest and dearest. We cannot be all-sufficient; we must accept our limitations and gracefully allow others to do for us what we cannot do. God has placed helpers in our lives, how stubborn and foolish it would be to refuse them the privilege of serving us, even as we seek to serve them!

How marvellous it is, to know that others are praying for us, and that often the help that comes is because of their intercessions and the mysterious providence of God, working all things together through time, across geography and in all human intention, to fulfill his glorious purposes. We cannot be all-seeing, all -knowing, but must trust ourselves to God each moment of each day, and therefore we pray for his provision for ourselves and others – for his help and direction to undergird our ways.

Lord God, almighty and all-knowing, ultimately all our help comes from you and we praise and thank you today for your care for us, the least and lowliest. 

We thank and praise you for those by whom you so often send your help, for our families and friends, for our fellow-believers, and for the random strangers who appear at just the right moment to help us in our need. May we never tire of saying “Thank you”, to your human helpers, as well as to you.

We confess again the sin of pride and independence which causes us to resent or resist the help of others, to envy their gifts instead of valuing our own, and to doubt your wisdom in creating us in the unique way that you have!

Thank you, most of all, for the greatest help you give us, in our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who gave everything that we might be helped out of our hopelessness, whose aid never fails, and who remains with us by his Spirit. In Jesus Christ, you came to us in flesh and blood, and in his name, we praise and thank you for all your faithfulness and mercy. Amen.  

Trusted to be truthful..

And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies… I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

(Job 27.1-6)

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry…

(Ps 34.11-15)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us… Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.

(2Cor 1.8-10, 12)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Phil 2.12)

Can I be trusted to be truthful? Can God have any confidence that his reputation and character, the great narrative of his work in creation and redemption, are honoured by me in word and deed?

When Job came under extreme trials, he clung to his belief that God was good, was just and righteous, and also that Job himself had not committed sins which ‘deserved’ the judgement under which he suffered. In all these things, we are told that Job did well, speaking truth and not lies. Job proved himself trustworthy under his sufferings, honouring and rightly fearing God.

In fact, it is Job’s integrity which holds him right in the centre of the storm, wrestling with the unanswered questions, wondering what God is doing and why, longing for a chance to argue it out but never doubting that there is some hidden purpose. Such mature faith comes only as we in turn wrestle with our circumstances, refusing to speak lies about God – his holiness and justice, his love and mercy – or about ourselves, as his people and those on whom his favour rests.

In his letters to the churches in Corinth and Philippi, Paul speaks truth about his trials too – both their severity and also his conviction that they were part of God’s work in  spreading the gospel and in glorifying his power through his servants as they depended on him for deliverance and hope. Paul reassures the suffering saints in Philippi that as they ‘work out’ or discover in practice, what it means to be saved by Christ in the midst of trials, their experience will be of God working in them by his Spirit to fulfill his glorious purposes.

Job did not know that the advocate in whom he trusted was Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, but he clung to that hope and was sustained through his trials. We have the great revelation of the Son, of our loving Saviour who always lives to intercede for us and the Spirit who minsters to us continually. Why then should we not find that whether prosperity or trials come, we can be trusted to speak truth about our God, in all his holiness and the mysteries of his providence?

In plenty or in want, in sickness or in health, in time of peace or time of war, I am in Christ. I am redeemed, justified, and adopted into the family of God. My circumstances do not define me; my sins no longer define me; my own strengths or weaknesses do not define me. By grace, I am a child of the Most High, and whether he appoints my path to peace or troubles; to bright calm days, or the darkness of suffering, I will speak truth about him, and about what he has done for me.

May God grant each of us grace to accept prosperity or trial from his hand with humility, and with the desire to use all that he sends as means to glorify him and serve others.

On being filled..

And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(Jo 2.28-29)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…. [He] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

(Jn 14.15-17,26)

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

(Acts 1.4&5,8)

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… [when] we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

(Rom 8.16&26)

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Eph 5.15-20)

God’s gift to the church, to his representatives on earth, so that we might continue the work begun by Christ, and spread the good news to all people and glorify our Lord – this is the Spirit promised by Joel and realised at Pentecost. In a recent bible study, it was pointed out that the Spirit is always ‘sent’, always a ‘gift’, never manufactured or summoned by people for their own ends. We may resist or reject him, but we cannot control or direct him. We may choose to ignore his promptings, and grieve him by our stubborn pride, but we can never presume to summon him.

The Spirit is sent from God the Father, to do many things for the church in the world, not least to empower every single one of God’s children for the task appointed to them. In a world where women were of little significance, and no legal standing, the thought that God’s Spirit might come to them as powerfully as to their brothers was shocking. But so it was to be – all would receive this gift as their inheritance, as the pledge of their eternal home, as the assurance of their adoption into God’s family and their security there.

By the Spirit, we are empowered for the mission of the church – the task of kingdom building and gospel sharing wherever God is pleased to place us. By the Spirit, we are enabled to grow in understanding of God’s work, of his character, of how we might live wise and godly lives in a broken world. By the Spirit, our prayers are brought acceptably before God; even our most inarticulate expressions of need, and of worship, are assured of being heard on high. By the Spirit, the body of Christ ministers to itself and to the world – we encourage and bless one another, exalting Christ at all times and in all circumstances as the Spirit continually points to his supremacy in power, love and faithfulness.

Friends, how could we not want to be filled with this gift? And yet, I wonder if sometimes I keep parts of my life shut up, unwilling to allow the transformation which may come as I surrender to the Spirit’s teaching and leading and illuminating work. We don’t always want to see the truth about ourselves, or to surrender control over our lives.

Will I resist? Will I remain full of myself, my aims, my false confidence and stubbornness?  Or will I accept the gift which my Father is pouring out on his church continually, for our refreshing and his glory? May God, in his mercy, not leave us shut up, but help us to open fully to his power, to the indwelling and daily refreshing Spirit.

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)

When there is no (obvious) happy ending..

But the Lord said to me, “.. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you… See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.. Today I have made you a fortified city.. to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you”

(Jer 1.7,8&10,18&19)

“O remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’…when Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God.. all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!.. Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you to hand us over to the Babylonians, so that they may kill us or carry us into exile.” So.. all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command .. and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah.. and Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord.

(Jer 42.19; 43.1-3,5-7)

‘This is what the Lord says [to Baruch]: ‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’

(Jer 45.4&5)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

(Heb 11.1&39-40)

So I finished reading Jeremiah: at 52 chapters it is quite an undertaking and full of fearful prophecies of judgement. As a follower of Jesus, who would have known this book all his life as part of the Hebrew Scriptures, I must trust that there is truth here for me as a disciple, wisdom that can help me to live in the world as a faithful witness and remain steadfast.

There is much that grieves, as we read Jeremiah’s deep lament both for the way his people reject him and the message that God has given him, but also for the wayward people themselves as they face a dreadful reckoning at the hands of the Babylonian armies. There is much to bemuse, as slaughter, starvation, humiliation and the destruction of the temple come to Judah because they have broken their covenant with God over and over again. I am not able to unpack the whole business of God’s judgement on his people in this time, so instead I have been reflecting on what I can learn from Jeremiah.

God takes sin very, very seriously. His covenant people cannot break their pledge to him without consequences, and the price to be paid is so high.

God is full of compassion towards his people, and the grief which their rebellion and subsequent sufferings cause him is unspeakable. He views separation from them with horror, and yet cannot dwell with their sin.

God is sovereign over all the nations, and in holiness and justice will act to fulfill his purposes in and through them. His ways are beyond my finding out, and I am called – like Jeremiah and the people of Judah – to trust that when it looks as though all is lost, yet He is still at work for good and for His glory.

God calls us to faithfulness in difficult places, among rebellious people, where we may experience rejection, mockery and persecution.

God goes with us when – like Jeremiah and Baruch – we are unable to resist the tide of history around us and are carried off into the land where God had commanded the people not to go.  In such days of judgement, it would be counted a great blessing to escape with one’s life, a sure sign of God’s favour and protection.

It is our personal faithfulness, so far as we are able to live it out, which matters most. Our relationship with the living God, and not our geographical location, or the trappings of ‘religion’, are what keep us safe in the ultimate things.

God calls his servants to apparently fruitless ministries, to death in exile, to suffering and hardship endured in faith.

There is surely much here from which we can learn in these days for the body of Christ which is the church in our world, a world where the gospel and its messengers are often rejected and mocked, or else actively persecuted and attacked. We can pray for those who are called to lead and teach, but also for one another as believers.

Heavenly Father, let us be like Jeremiah, living by faith, trusting in your love and provision for us in what appear to be fruitless situations. Encourage us to be faithful in the places where we are called to live, blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, whether they want to hear of his love or not. In obedience, may we be content, trusting that very soon, we will hear the trumpet sounding for your return, and the dawning of the day when all your faithful servants down all the ages are made perfect and united in your presence. In Jesus’ precious name and for his glory, we pray these things. Amen

Quiet confidence

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…. you will be my people and I will be your God.

(Ezek 36.26-28)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of Truth… The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 

(Jn 14.15-17,25-27)

“.. but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.. you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses..

(Acts 1.4&8)

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

(2Cor 1.21&22)

So I say, live by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..

(Gal 5.22&23)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Eph 2.10)

How good and gracious is our God, and how abundant his provision for the people he has called into his family and his great work of redemption and re-creation!

As Jesus prepared his disciples for their future after his ascension, he told them that the great prophecies of God’s anointing and indwelling Spirit were shortly to come to pass. By that spirit, God’s people throughout all time to come could live in intimate fellowship with God, dwelling in joyful harmony and unbroken communication with him.

The Spirit is within us is a guarantee of our inheritance as beloved children – a first taste of what awaits us. The Spirit within us is our teacher, taking the words of scripture and applying them, making the book live to us and feeding our faith for the journey. The Spirit within us is our constant companion, bringing Christ alongside in every situation and interceding for us in our praying. The Spirit within us continually reminds us and points us to Christ, to his love, sacrifice, power and glory, so that we might grow in love for the Lord. The Spirit within is our counsellor, prompting us in our thoughts and actions to be obedient to God’s will, and to discern where and how we might join in God’s work. The Spirit within is also our power, divine enabling and provision for every good work which is prepared for us to do.

Friends, I do not think that this is a matter of feeling, but of fact. As those who have confessed Jesus as Lord, we are indwelt by the Spirit, God’s gift to his church so that we might live to glorify him and enjoy him forever. The gift is for our blessing, and for the growth of the kingdom, and as we live in faith that this is our reality, we can have confidence in God’s provision for every task to which we are called.

The apostles, after receiving the Holy Spirit, lived every moment of their lives in confidence that God would enable and provide for their needs. The handful of women and men who received that Spirit went on – in that power – to turn their world upside down, and birth the church of which we are the heirs. They were ordinary people, indwelt and loved by an extraordinary God – our God, who longs to work through us in the same way.

As we face the everyday, and also the extraordinary, things which God has put in our way, we can do so in confidence that we will have the help of the Spirit for every need. We do not start each task in fear, in case somehow the Spirit has abandoned us, but rather quietly commit ourselves to obedience and to glorifying our God as we go.

Am I living in fellowship with God? In so far as I know, am I obeying his commands and sensitive to his direction? Do I long to please him above all others? Then, let me go out in quiet confidence and thankfulness, rejoicing that I am living in the strength which God gives, that his power is at work in me, and that all I need to tackle each situation will be provided for.