Showing posts with label Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christ. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of 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.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also


06 February 2013

Small and informal

Choudhrie's steps, Part 3 of 21
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This is Victor Choudhrie's third step in transforming church life. The idea is that we meet in quite small numbers and don't attempt anything like a traditional church service. Instead we meet very informally, much more like a family than a congregation.

Meet informally, like a familyIn step three, Victor Choudhrie suggests we keep our meetings very small and informal, not replicating the idea of a church service, but letting the Holy Spirit lead moment by unplanned moment.

Phase out programmed Sunday ‘services’ while implementing informal, small gatherings. The Bride of Christ must have intimacy with her Lord every day, not only for a couple of hours a week, lest she become unfaithful. However, discourage cross-gender disciple-making, lest chemistry foul things up. Acts 2:46-47; Hebrews 3:13

In step one we dispensed with the pastor, in step two we lost the building, so on the face of it there seems little option but to meet at home in an informal way. But our habits and traditions might lead us in other directions.

The danger of tradition - For one thing, we might feel a need for direction and look to leaders to provide it. Even if we really, really intend to follow Jesus we may still fear we won't hear him well, or we won't understand what he tells us. We may want an 'expert' to guide us. We might also feel that we are too exposed with only a few people meeting in someone's home, larger numbers are safer and a sign of success - aren't they?

But Jesus says, 'Come to me and I will give you rest', 'I will build my church', 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be right there amongst them.' So how can we doubt? He is our security. He is our guide. We are safe in his hands!

Opening ourselves to the new - I think Choudhrie's main point is that we need to avoid programmed, organised, structured meetings and instead allow The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) to lead us moment by moment as we meet together. If we organise the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by humans. If Jesus organises the meeting we will get a meeting designed and built by the One who said, 'I will build my church'. Which do you prefer? Go ahead, choose.

Choudhrie also reminds us that we should be meeting daily, not just once or twice a week. That would not be practical at all if we had to arrange everything ourselves. But if we just turn up ready to accept what Yahshua has prepared we will feast on truth and wisdom and encouragement and healing and power and joy and peace every day of every week. Do you want this? Do you want it enough to do it?

But be careful - Ideas like 'Church of two' (CO2) and 'Life transformation groups' (LTGs) may help with this, but even these should be considered carefully and prayerfully. It may be better to let the Spirit lead us day by day in a completely unstructured format. Don't be afraid to take things that work for you and adapt them or employ them for a season. But whatever you do, don't become married to a method.

I would recommend taking the warning against cross-gender discipling with a pinch of salt too. It's right to be cautious and aware of potential difficulties, and it might be right to avoid such situations most of the time. But there is always a danger of ruling out what the Spirit is showing us to do. Be careful and be wise, but remember it is also unwise to quench the Spirit - even in order to be careful.

Body life! - What are the advantages of meeting informally without making prior arrangements?

Spontaneity is essential if Jesus is to have his way in our meetings. His presence and his guiding hand are huge advantages, advantages we can never exaggerate or over-emphasise.

The Holy Spirit is gentle like a dove. He will fly up and perch in the rafters if we are not patient, quiet and expectant; he will look on from a distance if we insist on doing things our way. But with him in control our times together can take us to places we cannot imagine. Freedom to use gifts like tongues and interpretation, prophecy, healing, knowledge and the rest, freedom to sing as and when each one is led, freedom to share a Bible text, a picture, a prayer, freedom to teach, to share a problem, to encourage, to weigh what is said, to build one another up - these are the freedoms we need. Mostly we need them far more than we think!

If we meet like this we will find ourselves doing what Paul describes, building one another up in love as each plays their part.

This is body life. This is body ministry. This is Christ at work amongst his people. This is a hint of the Bride growing into maturity.

The value of the small - Small groups have the potential to be much more intimate than large gatherings. There is a place for larger groups, but intimacy with one another enables intimacy with the Spirit too. And for most of the time this is what we need, times where we can be close and personal, where we can share our hearts and Jesus' heart. These are the conditions that allow one anothering to flourish and all our needs to be met as the body of Christ.

Probable responses - How will people receive the suggestion to meet simply and in small groups?
  1. It seems safe to be in an audience, but risky to speak out. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure will cause some to reject the idea of unplanned meetings. But Jesus says that love rejects fear. The answer to fear and doubt is to love him and love one another enough to give it a try.
  2. Some people might choose to add in elements of freedom but keep a planned framework for times together. But the more we plan, the less space we leave for the Holy Spirit. It may seem safer, but it restricts and controls, limiting what is possible.
  3. Others will seize hold of unplanned and intimate meetings with joy. They will experience great rewards for their bravery and boldness and willingness to take a risk.

Questions:

  • Have you ever been in a meeting that was unplanned and open? Consider trying it some time with a small group of friends.
  • How much planning goes into conversations with your parents, your children, or your friends?
  • Can we trust the Holy Spirit? Do we know him? Is he welcome among us?

See also:


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30 January 2013

Psalms 22 and 23

Psalms 22 and 23 seem to be inextricably linked, death on the one hand and life on the other. Jesus received one, we receive the other. This post digs a little deeper as it examines these two psalms and those around them.

New life springing upA few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 22 which is full of references to the coming Messiah.

There are passages here that Jesus quoted about himself and there are descriptions of him in his bodily suffering and emotional torment. We'll come back to some of those things in a moment.

But what struck me quite suddenly and forcefully was how this psalm is followed by Psalm 23, a firm favourite for so many people.

Psalm 22 is about Jesus' suffering and where it will finally lead, Psalm 23 is about our inheritance as our Father's children. These two psalms are like mirror images of one another. Psalm 22 describes what we deserve but Jesus received. Psalm 23 describes what Jesus deserves but we receive.

Illuminating our hearts and minds - These two psalms would not have been seen that way when they were written, of course. But from the days of the early church right down to our own time they have had the potential to illuminate our hearts and minds in a new way by what they proclaim. And Yahshua himself clearly saw them in this way during his life and particularly as he was hanging on the cross.

I dare say it's been pointed out many times, but I was really excited to have seen the link between these two psalms. Isn't it amazing how he reveals truth while we read and consider his written word? This, of course, is just one of the avenues the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our hearts and minds.

I wondered if this idea might be taken further.

Psalms 1 to 21 are full of references to Old Testament themes. There are references to creation, the  tabernacle and the temple, and so much more. But Psalm 24 describes the kingdom of heaven. And Psalm 25 and following unpack some of the details of this new kingdom life and inheritance.

But let's return to Psalms 22 and 23. Some of the words and imagery are very familiar to us.

Death in Psalm 22 - Take, for example, Psalm 22:1 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It's worth mentioning that the Hebrew word translated 'God' is 'Eli' which is related to 'Eloh' and the plural 'Elohim'. The word simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Powerful One'. It is in fact the same word as 'Allah' in Arabic which also means 'Mighty One'. A good translation in English is simply 'Almighty'.

When Jesus quoted this verse from the cross they thought he was calling Elijah because the sound is similar. (Elijah means 'Yah[weh] is the Mighty One'.)

The onlookers shouting at him while he was hanging there unwittingly fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8. Psalm 22:14-18 is a very clear reference to the crucifixion. From verse 22 onwards the psalm turns from his death to what was achieved by it.

Life in Psalm 23 - But Psalm 23 deals with the personal benefits we receive individually in Christ. If we are not in him we have no part in these things although they're available to all who will come to him and believe on his name for rescue. Just as words from Psalm 22 were on Yahshua's lips as he hung dying, so words from Psalm 23 should be on our lips as we live this more abundant life that he gives us.

All these things in Psalm 23 were his, but now they can be ours because he longs to share them with us. He will be our Shepherd, leading us to safe places to eat and drink. A Shepherd makes all the difference, the sheep can safely feed even with a prowling lion in the area. He pours his Spirit over us like oil and we can live with him, not only 'all the days of [our] life' but 'for ever'.

Jesus is new Life springing up in a cold, dark world. Thank you, Lord! HalleluYah!

Questions:

  • What, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 22?
  • And what, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 23?
  • Apart from the snowdrop, what other examples of new life can you identify in the natural world?

See also:

19 August 2012

Is the church alive?

Jesus says we are his body here in the world. He is alive so his body is also alive. We are to do the things he did (and even greater things). We are to say the things he said. We are alive, not just as individuals but as his body expressing his love, his wisdom, his authority.

Biological processes
We are not just able to express love, wisdom and authority individually, but communally. It is not enough that you and I express our own love. It is not even enough that we individually express Christ's love.

The mystery is that the church herself, the Bride of Christ, is also able in her own right to express Christ's love. We are not a bunch of loosely associated individuals, we are Christ's Bride.

I am deeply troubled that the Bride is fragmented and damaged. So many different forms of church management and government compete for our loyalty. Differences in doctrine, in faith, and in tradition are everywhere.

So let's take one of the many ways of understanding church and see if we can usefully extend it.

Church Multiplication Associates considers that church life, like biological life, depends on its DNA. The idea is that her DNA determines the nature of church, in particular how she is structured, functions and expresses herself. See Neil Cole's article 'What is at the heart of the organic church movement?'

Controlling DNA - Taking this a little further we might recognise that a living organism is more than the product of its DNA. There are subtle factors at work controlling how and when that DNA is expressed. For example these factors are responsible for the fact that babies in the womb do not develop ears on their legs. Every cell in the body contains the full set of instructions, but cells only act on a subset of the DNA.

It's the same in the church, we all have the same DNA which is the nature of Christ, and we all partake of that one nature. Yet we are not, as Paul points out, all ears. Why not?

The Holy Spirit - One factor I can identify immediately is the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the moment. How I behave is controlled, not simply by the DNA, but also by what I am hearing at this present moment. The DNA is not diffused throughout the entire body. Every cell, whatever its function, has a full set of DNA while only using a subset.

Perhaps we should not expect every member of Christ to express all of the DNA. Or, even more significantly, perhaps we should not expect any member of Christ to express all of the DNA!

Instead, perhaps we should expect that particular parts of the DNA will be expressed by particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes, and that each individual will do so based on constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

The environment - Another important factor in living systems is the environment. The expression of DNA is affected by the environment. For a simple example consider the effect of sunshine on human skin. Too much sun causes damage - burning in the short term and perhaps skin cancer in the longer term. Melanocyte cells in the lower epidermis respond to exposure by creating increased amounts of a dark pigment called melanin. The DNA contains the instructions for making melanin, but the environment determines when and how much it is expressed by skin cells.

In the church, one such factor of the environment is persecution. The persecuted church is different from the unpersecuted church.

Prompting by the Spirit and environment both affect the appearance and behaviour of the church. We should not overlook these factors.

Can you think of other factors that might control the expression of the the church's DNA?

13 June 2012

A letter from the heart

What follows is in the form of a letter - a letter from my heart to yours. It's a letter I imagine writing to people who will understand it and be excited by it. It's an invitation to experience Jesus more powerfully and to do so together, in community.

A letter to friends
Here's the letter. And yes, I have particular people in mind as I write.

In fact, I have in mind friends right here in and around St Neots. Are you one of them?

But wherever you live in the world, this letter is for you. This experience of Christ is your inheritance. It is your birthright. Don't let the world snatch it from you.


Dear brother/sister,

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone loses themselves in Jesus and his Spirit soars and flows amongst us and around us? I love it when he has the opportunity to be really free amongst his people. It's what I have always wanted, but I've experienced it all too rarely over the years since I first tasted his overwhelming presence like this in the mid to late 1970s. Sometimes parts of meetings carry hints of that familiar aroma.

Why does this happen so rarely? I think that unless we can allow him the freedom to have his way we will miss the best he has for us. Nothing we can devise or arrange or intend can come close!

I'd love you to read this guest post by Steph. She captures the essence of life with the Spirit of Jesus far better than I can hope to do. See what you think.

I suppose I'm looking for people who might join me in the adventure of recapturing this life of community around the King. And as I grow older I'm looking for those to whom the torch can be passed. The church seems so needy and there is such treasure stored up ready for her - a mighty inheritance of everything that is Christ's - his intimate presence, his power, even his glory (John 17:20-22). He wants to restore things to be the way they began and should have remained. But to receive this we must let go of everything we have thought of as necessary. Structure, planning, goals, vision statements, all that hurly-burly of humanness has to be stripped away. It must be Christ and his bride without any interfering clutter. And that has been so hard to find all these years.

I am getting desperate! His call is so strong. Who will come with me? Or must I go alone? OK, not alone, Steph certainly understands. She is on the same journey but in a different continent :-) There are others here in the UK, too, who understand well. Father knows no boundaries.

But for those of you who live in or near St Neots, would you consider exploring these things with me? Maybe we can meet to talk about this and test it - what say you? I'm not suggesting leaving what you are already part of. I'm talking about exploring an extra dimension.

Grace, peace, blessings and abundant love in Christ,

Chris

PS - If this excites you please leave a comment below. This is a letter you can add to. Tell me about your own experiences of Jesus amongst his people. Or if something seems unclear, ask a question.

23 April 2012

The symbolism of Rochester Cathedral

Jools Holland relates the history and symbolism of Rochester Cathedral. It is an amazing place, and like all cathedrals it is designed to remind us of who we are and what we have in Christ.

The nave of Rochester Cathedral, looking eastWe spent the weekend at Rochester in the county of Kent, the south-eastern corner of England. The historic old town with its imposing castle and beautiful cathedral is today part of a large conurbation including the dockyards and industries of Chatham. But Rochester still retains much of its ancient character with lovely old shops lining a long, straight High Street - part of the Roman road called Watling Street.

We visited the cathedral on Saturday and I enjoyed a recorded commentary narrated by Jools Holland. There are several commentaries available including the reflective one that Donna chose. But I picked the historical guide and it was indeed fascinating. I'd like to share some of the things I learned, and reflect on them because they still speak about our individual spiritual journeys.

The entire building is full of mediaeval symbolism. The ground plan of the cathedral is a cross, and this immediately reminds us of Christ crucified. But there is so much more. And this ancient symbolism is just as appropriate to life today as it was when the cathedral was built.

At the western end of the building is the main entrance, situated at the end of the long arm of the cross. Looking out from the great doorway we see the part of the horizon where the sun sets at the end of each day. So to enter the building it's necessary to turn away from the setting sun, leaving the dying world behind. This is lost on modern visitors, but it would have been very clear to people in mediaeval times. Without electric lighting, evening would be a time of darkness. It was a time when work could no longer be done, truly an ending of the day. Turning our backs on the place where daily life ends we climb the steps to a higher level and enter the Almighty's house. Once inside we are awestruck by the space and openness and beauty. This is a picture of turning our backs on the world and coming into the presence of the Most High.

We are now facing east, looking towards the place where the sun rises and the new day begins. Far ahead of us and at a higher level is the high altar, representing the Presence. Having rejected the world and entered this special place we are at the beginning of a journey forwards and upwards towards the Almighty, towards the new day, and towards the place of new and eternal life.

After walking the length of the nave we come to the place where the north-south and east-west arms of the cross meet. This place represents Christ. It is the place where the bread and wine are received in communion. A rood screen blocks further movement towards the high altar, only the priests and the monks of the choir would have been allowed beyond. For ordinary people it was sufficient to come into the presence of Jesus. The photo shows the carved, stone screen with the organ pipes above it.

And beyond the screen, up futher steps, is the high altar (visible in the photo through the arch in the screen). A lamp hangs from high above, a red light burning in it continuously. This lamp was given to Rochester by the Orthodox church in Jerusalem. It represents the Almighty's presence hovering here. And at the back is a small white light, also continuously burning but not immediately seen by many. This symbolises Christ, a source of light patiently waiting for us to notice him.

We don't need the symbolism of course, but we do need the truth to which it refers. In mediaeval times the symbolism would have been very powerful and would have spoken equally to rich and poor, literate and illiterate, powerful and weak. When it is explained it still speaks to us in the same way.

So here is what Rochester (and all cathedrals) have to say...

Turn your backs on a dying world and enter in to my presence. See my power and majesty and glory. Approach me, trusting and sharing in Jesus Christ my Son. Come to the place where he is, trusting in the effectiveness of his death and new life. Share in his body and blood, given for you. And recognise there's a place you can't yet go, where a new day will dawn. The place where the Father and the Son together will rule for all eternity, their light will never go out.

You may not notice me at first, but I am here. I am waiting for you. Come and find my light in your life, seek me out.

23 February 2012

Oneness and reconciliation

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

This time we focus on oneness with Christ and reconciliation with one another. In the previous post we considered oneness in the church. Reconciliation underlies and leads to this, without it the church will remain disjointed.

I and the Father are oneContinuing the series based on revelation at Coventry, this week we look at the second topic - 'Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation'.

As we saw last time, Jesus really is building his church. We need to seize this as a source of supreme hope and comfort at a time when men and women (more often men) have been inclined to take control.

Last time we considered the centrality of Christ. We also took a look at the requirement for unity in the church which his centrality demands.

This time we will look at unity again, but this time unity with Christ rather than unity with one another. Both are essential, of course.

Oneness with Christ - Along the east interior of the new cathedral at Coventry is a series of Bible texts carved on large, stone tablets. One of them is shown in the photo above; it reads, 'I and the Father are one. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father'.

These words from John's gospel (John 10:30, John 14:9) spoke powerfully to me. Our oneness with Christ depends utterly on his oneness with the Father. How so? Read the whole of John 10 and then consider these points.
  • In verse 7, Jesus makes it clear that he alone is the way in and out.
  • Verse 8, others who had made this claim were thieves and robbers.
  • To be saved we must enter through Jesus. There's no other way (verse 9).
  • Verse 11, he lays down his life for the sheep.
  • Verse 15, he and the Father know one another. (They are one, verse 30). We know him and he knows us in the same way (verses 14 and 15).
  • And then John 17:20-23 - arguably the most amazing few verses in the entire Bible. 
'I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.'

Let's be clear. Yahshua says that the glorious Father (the Most High) is in him (Yahshua, Jesus, Isa) and has given the glory to him. He further says that he (Yahshua) is in us and that he (Yahshua) has given the glory to us.

In other words the Most High is in us and we have been given the glory. It's all the same oneness, we are included in their oneness.

If that doesn't blow you away, nothing will!

Reconciliation in church life - In the ruins of the old cathedral is a statue entitled 'Reconciliation'. It represents reconciliation between nations that had been at war, a war that caused the destruction of the cathedral and many other beautiful buildings all over Europe. Millions of lives were lost.

But this sculpture also spoke to me powerfully about reconciliation in the church. Like the sculpture we are surrounded by the wreckage of a broken and fractured building. We need to be reconciled to one another.

We saw in the previous part that Yahshua wants us to be one, just as he and the Father are one. The Father, Son and Spirit are three representations of the One. They are three manifestations of the Almighty.

ReconciliationIn the same way we are to be one. We are all to be representations or manifestations of church. Each one of us is to be representative of the love of Christ, our head. Unlike the Father, Son and Spirit we can be seen as many disconnected individuals, or many sub-groups within the church. But this is not how we are meant to be. Instead we are supposed to be one body to which Christ will be attached as our one head.

That's why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 'I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.' (1 Corinthians 1:10)

And it's why in Ephesians 4:4-6 he wrote, 'There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.'

So you see why reconciliation is so important. Yahshua came to reconcile us with the Almighty, but he also came to reconcile us to one another. That is why the fruit of the Spirit is a reconciling fruit. Think about it! What are the characteristics of this fruit? They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It's the fruit of Jesus in our lives, it's the fruit of the Father. We are grafted in to the Son. Our Father, the gardener, did that work. Read John 15.

It's time to recognise our need for reconciliation to one another, and we will have to recognise it in our hearts, not merely as an intellectual exercise in our minds. It goes without saying that we should have the mind of Christ in this, but we also need his heart towards one another.

Every tiny, little step you can take towards reconciliation with a brother or sister or with a denomination or group (every little step) is a step towards oneness and the fulfilment of Jesus' mission. Every angry word, lack of patience, every unkindness is a step away from that supreme goal. I have been guilty of that so often.

It is impossible to have oneness without reconciliation. So hold nothing back in your striving for reconciliation! Ask Father to give you more and more of the reconciling fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. It's the only fruit that has the flavour and aroma of the Father's love, made manifest in Christ our Lord and King.

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

UK Fellowship Friday Blog Hop - This blog hop is for Christians who live in the UK to link to a post you have recently written that might encourage other Christians. Started by Rhoda, please visit her original article.

17 February 2012

The centrality of Christ

< Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry | Index | Oneness and reconciliation >

This article returns to the results of visiting Coventry Cathedral late last year and considers some aspects of  what it means for Jesus to be central in our lives. It's all about him.

The tapestry of Christ at CoventryBack in December I posted some reflections on my visit to Coventry Cathedral. I always intended to revisit those thoughts and now I'm beginning to see how it all fits into the bigger picture.

Jesus really is building his church, just as he promised he would. I'm seeing it now much more clearly.

I'm seeing it in what is happening in my own life and I'm seeing it in what others are writing, saying and doing. This is so exciting!

Here are the topics from the previous post in this series. I'm going to expand on the first one this time.

  • The centrality of Christ, his majesty and glory.
  • Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation.
  • New and old in terms of church. They are connected. We need to remember the old but live in the new.
  • The old was brought down by intense fire.
  • The new is a different kind of structure.
  • Jesus expresses himself through the new.
  • The new touches the world and should transform it.

At Coventry - There was so much about Christ in the two cathedrals.

The enormous tapestry at the northern end of the new building is very striking. It is so large (it weighs more than a ton) that it dominates that end of the building and is clearly visible from every part of the nave.

One thought that was sparked by looking around the new cathedral was this - 'The view is very different depending whether you are looking towards me or away from me.' And that is so true of our view of Christ. He can only appear to have a central place if we are looking towards him. If we look away from him we will not see him at all!

There is also a strong theme of reconciliation in both old and new, and reconciliation is essential if we are to be one.

The centrality of Christ - It's just not possible to overstate the importance of this. If Jesus is not central in my life, who is in control? Often we fail to see what it means to have him central in our lives, or we begin to see but shudder and quickly move on to an easier topic.

What does it mean?

He said, 'Pick up your cross and follow me'. He said, 'I will build my church'. He said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. And he said, 'Nobody comes to the Father except through me'.

Some negatives - I must lose any ambition I have, and cease any attempt to make my life 'safe'. I have to give up what I regard as mine and see that it is all his - and always was. I have to die to self and I have to let go. I have been called to a new life and a new way of life. I have to see that if I lose my life while honouring Jesus that will be better for me than keeping my life. I have to understand that just as the world was implacably against him, so it will be against me too. I have to appreciate that with Jesus in charge my life may at times be very hard and unpleasant.

It's taken me a long, long time to discover that I am no good at managing my own life.

The positives - But if some of this sounds very negative, it's because I'm relating it from my point of view. What will we find if we view it from Christ's point of view? In John 17, just before he went out to be arrested in the olive grove, we are allowed a glimpse of Yahshua at prayer. We get to hear him setting out his deepest heart's desire before the Father.

In verses 1-19 he prays for his disciples, and there are one or two principles we should consider carefully.

  • In verse one, Jesus asks the Father to glorify him (the Son) so that he can give glory back to the Father. He cannot give what he does not have. Make a mental note of that. It's true for all of us, isn't it? We cannot give something we do not have. Remember that.
  • In verse two he makes it clear that he has authority over everyone.
  • In verse three he says that eternal life is to know the Father and the Son.

But from verse 20 to 24 he prays for you and me. He prays for everyone who believes in him because of his followers' words. In the light of the three principles listed above, we need to understand these next five verses in the deepest places of our hearts and minds. Here is where we find the positive set out for us!

  • He prays that we will all be one, just as he and the Father are one. Just as he is about to give himself into the hands of those who will kill him, his thought and prayer is for our unity. Do we attach as much value to unity as he does? We should! It is the first thing he asks for us at this terrible time. He puts it ahead of everything else - and so should we. Jesus is our unity! We are one in him, he is central. That is the only basis for our oneness. If we are not one in him, we are not one at all.
  • There is a purpose for our oneness. We are to be one so that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.
  • And now hear his words in verse 22. These words will change your life forever if you allow them into your heart. 'I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.' Hang on a minute... The Father has given his glory to the Son. And now the Son is giving it to you? Why would he do that? 'So that they may be one as we are one.' If you stop reading at this point and just reflect on this single verse for the rest of the day, that is OK by me.

In the last two verses of this amazing chapter Jesus prays again for his followers.

What Jesus wants - Now ask yourself, what does Jesus want from us? The answer has to be unity with one another, doesn't it? And remember that first principle - we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot give Jesus what he wants from us unless we have unity with one another.

So if Jesus is to be central in our lives the implication and the requirement is that we are one people, one church.

He has given us the glory that the Father gave to him so that we may be one. Our unity is worth everything to him.

Remember the other two principles - he has authority over everyone - eternal life is to know the Father and the Son. That authority and that life are also ours if we are in Christ. Truly Christ is central.

He is majestic - His majesty arises from all of these things. That majesty cannot be separated from the glory that he receives and bestows, from the oneness we have in him, from his authority over all, or from his life that lasts forever.

'The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.' (John 5:19)

'Apart from me', Jesus said, 'you can do nothing' (John 15:5).

< Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry | Index | Oneness and reconciliation >

21 December 2011

Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

Sometimes the Holy Spirit pours his truth into our lives like a flowing stream. That's exactly what happened to me recently as I visited Coventry. I went because he told me to go and said that he would speak to me there. But he did even more than he promised. Isn't that just typical of his grace?

The remains of the old visible through the newAs I was preparing to visit Coventry, the Holy Spirit began surprising me with thoughts and I started to write them down. There was more revelation as I visited the old and new cathedrals; much that I saw prompted further thoughts. And finally, after I arrived home there was a third flow of spiritual truth.

The major themes I have identified are...

  • The centrality of Christ, his majesty and glory.
  • Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation.
  • New and old in terms of church. They are connected. We need to remember the old but live in the new.
  • The old was brought down by intense fire.
  • The new is a different kind of structure.
  • Jesus expresses himself through the new.
  • The new touches the world and should transform it.

What follows is taken from the notes I made on the day. The notes themselves are in italics, the rest is comment added later. I have not expanded all of the notes, there is simply too much for one article. I may revisit these notes, perhaps under the seven headings listed above.

Before the journey to Coventry

The contribution you can make to one church is to encourage people in having good, welcoming attitudes to all believers.

The idea that there is only one church has been much on my mind, and it was immensely helpful to have this guidance. It's not for me to demand or build unity. Instead, I must encourage everyone to accept others with different understandings and vision. Oneness is not about everyone being the same, it's about hearts of love touching through the differences.

Remind them that we're all brothers and sisters.

The 'wheel' emblemEven the emblem I gave you speaks of unity. There's a centre where all the spokes meet, and the periphery is held in place by every spoke. I AM the centre. My people are the spokes, each of them in contact with me. The periphery is out there in the world, far from me, their only connection to the centre is through you. Pray that they, too, will become spokes.

Read more about the 'wheel' emblem and its origin. There's a call to prayer here too; that's something I must not ignore or forget.  Father, remind me - often.

My expectation had been clear. The Lord would speak to me when I reached Coventry, but at this point I was still at home and he was already pouring out so much. I was astonished!

In the old cathedral

The old still remains, but it's empty.

The pillars have all gone.

There is no roof, no protection.

The windows are empty.

This is a place of memories, but few people are here to remember. Most of them are here to look.

The architect says that the new should grow out of the old.

In the new cathedral

A canopy connects the old and the new.

The new west front reflects the old cathedral in its expanse of glass.

The old is clearly visible throughout the new, it is not forgettable and not forgotten.

The view is very different depending whether you are looking towards me or away from me.

I am far more weighty than you might think.

The cathedral has an enormous tapestry portraying Christ, it is so large that it weighs more than a tonne. It's hard to imagine a tapestry being so heavy, and it is even harder to imagine the full majesty and glory of Christ himself. I think he wants me to focus both on his nature and on my inability to comprehend his nature.

This building speaks of life, a progression from the cradle. It's all about reconciliation and has contributions from people of all faiths.

This is an echo of what he showed me before I left home. Reconciliation is a prerequisite for unity. Jesus is our reconciliation, not only with the Father but also with one another. Oneness with the Most High and oneness with one another both depend on the reconciliation that only Jesus can bring. We cannot do without Christ, yet we need nothing more.

Back at home

The old building was brought down by the intense heat of the fire. It cracked and flaked stone, melted lead and glass, and consumed timber.

Fragments of the old stained glass remain.

The old and familiar, the very things we lean upon and think we need, these are all burned up by the intense fire of the Spirit. The old must make way for the new. Yet the old is still more than just a memory. Parts of it remain lest we forget.

Everywhere in the new are expressions of his love, glory, grace, peace, presence, and oneness.

There's a strong theme of reconciliation throughout both old and new.

Old and new are intimately connected.

These seem to be important ideas and should not be forgotten.

The old was brought down by an act of war, but the war was external - it was not a war between old and new.

The inner roof is not attached to the walls.

The technologies of old and new are quite different.

The builders of the old would have found the new literally incredible.

They would have been astonished and unable to comprehend how it could have been achieved.

There's an emphasis in some of the memorials on working selflessly together for a greater good.

There is a swastika on the bronze effigy. See how visitors have polished the swastika and the nose by touching them. Touch is so important.

Touch is transforming, turning dullness to brilliance. We need to touch Christ, we also need to touch one another.

The old cathedral is part of an old town and an old society, now gone apart from a few buildings. The new cathedral is part of a new town and a new city - the university, the shopping centre and so on.

The new fabric is already showing evidence of decay and shabbiness - especially outside.

Although there is a new move of the Spirit coming in church life, the new will go the way of the old unless there is maintenance and repair. It will be needed continuously.

< Coventry Cathedral | Index | The centrality of Christ >

23 November 2011

Simple gathering of believers

Stephanie Bennett
I have a treat for you today - a guest post from Stephanie Bennett.

She describes how she experienced family with fellow students during her college days and how Jesus was right among them. It was an experience to be cherished and something special and unusual, then and today.

I think she really has captured the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.

Celebrating Christ’s life in the Simple Gathering of Believers - Stephanie Bennett

Growing up in the midst of a nurturing, caring family where everyone is committed to each other simply because they have the same blood running through their veins is a wonderful way to learn the essentials of surviving and flourishing later in life. While many other factors contribute to ultimate happiness, it is relatively safe to assume that children growing up in the environment I just described have a greater chance at success and happiness than those who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional homes. It is the same for our spiritual lives, is it not?

I love the Body of Christ, perhaps because my first years as a new believer were spent in an organic group of Christians of all different stripes and sensibilities; each of us pursuing God to different degrees of intensity; some having grown up in Christian homes, others, straight out of the occult or atheism. For all our diversity we had several very significant things in common. Our most important commonality was that each of us had already reckoned with our own ability to produce a perfect self and upon realizing that this was impossible, we subsequently surrendered our efforts and our hearts to Jesus Christ, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior.

Another commonality was that a day did not go by without actively seeking God, asking the Holy Spirit to give us light and guidance. We read scriptures together and discussed the Bible, going to the Lord in prayer if there was any discrepancy about a verse or fogginess in our understanding. And believe me -- there was fog. We were young adults, extremely passionate and full of zeal as we attempted to live lives in accord with God’s plan. We knew nothing, but that did not seem to matter; our youth and weakness did not work against us. Instead, it was in the acute awareness that we had nothing – no plan, no pastor, and no strategy for growth – that we learned that Christ was enough. He was enough to bring about transformation in our lives, enough to bring us joy, enough, period. We quickly learned the necessity of clinging to one another in love, giving up offenses quickly, and drawing from the richness of Christ in each other.

We also learned that being in Christ was not a monkish life. While times of personal solitude and quiet prayer were regular features in our lives, we were not called to lives of isolated existence; rather, we were called together to share life and express His life together, in one accord. What did that mean? For four years we lived it, figuring it out as we walked together, sharing His love and the lives to which He called us.

Another bit of interest during this four-year span of lavish life in the Spirit is that the group of about 30 believers was not a previously established club or organization. We came together as college students during our first semester and watched in amazement how the Lord grew us up together in Him. I often wonder if the reason so many hurting, disgruntled, and disheartened Christians got that way is because their experience in the church was so different from mine. If so, did the disappointment they experienced just become too much to handle? Did those who once knew Christ and once walked in the joy of the Lord leave Him because they grew up in a dysfunctional “church family”—one that tried to build and grow itself instead of simply learning to relate to God and each other in love?

There are probably many answers to these questions, but it seems to me that not one of them is sufficient to keep us from pursuing fellowship with God and each other. The church is a family – the more focused on Christ, the Head, the more the church will be a caring, nurturing family that can help us experience God’s love and Presence in practical, purposeful ways. But like any other family, no matter how committed to each other or how strong, the family of God is not perfect. The church is made up of imperfect people seeking God together – spurring each other on – walking daily in a life that is not insular, autonomous, or walled off from the world. It is a life that advances from faith to faith and from glory to glory. It is a life that is full of meaning and purpose, a life worth seeking. It is true life. Life ever-lasting and full of grace.

About the Author - Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida, where she enjoys teaching and researching topics concerning mediated communication, interpersonal and relationship development, and the church and culture. (See also Stephanie's web space) An internationally published writer, she has long written for the popular press and has recently authored her first book, Communicating Love: Staying Close in a 24-7 Media-Saturated Society (also for Kindle),  Stephanie invites dialogue at steffasong@aol.com. She and her husband, Earl, make their home in sunny, south Florida, USA.

Note added by Chris J: There's a great deal of veracity and life in what Steph has written here. I can identify a series of important and lasting truths illustrated from personal experience. How many can you identify as you read? Please leave some comments on anything that particularly strikes you.

07 November 2011

Brampton - A vision of Christ

< 29th October 2011 | Index | 14th November 2011 >

It's been a while since we last met, but tonight the Holy Spirit once again opened up great truth for us. This evening he reminded us of who Jesus is and what he is like. We were caught up into heaven, it was a time of rich and undeserved revelation.

An interlocking pattern, by MC EscherI've just finished Frank Viola's 'Epic Jesus' and was intrigued by his first person modification of Colossians 1:15-22, so I read it aloud.
I am the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in me all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through me and for me. I am before all things, and in me all things hold together. And I am the head of the body, the church; I am the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything I might have the supremacy, the preeminence, the first place. For God the Father was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in me, and through me to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through my blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now my Father has reconciled you by my physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Sean commented that he often sees things in these terms anyway, and as the evening wore on we kept coming back to the fact that Christ is at the heart of all we are and do.

I had the thought that every home has repeating patterns everywhere. They are on wallpapers, curtains, floor coverings, bathroom tiles and so forth. And Father said, 'The repeating pattern in my house is my Son'. And it seemed to Sean that the pattern of Christ interlocks with itself somehow, rather like an Escher drawing.

Sean observed that the wise man built his house on the rock, so our house should always be patterned on Jesus. This morning Sean was reading from 2 Samuel 23:1-5 and saw that King David had seen this same pattern.

Then I described how technologies consist of components that consist of components and Sean extended this thought by saying that Christ is a component of himself. He is the entire structure yet he is made of himself. He is in each one, yet together we are his body. We need many things to perform just one function, but he needs only one thing to perform many functions.

The flow of thoughts carried on. I mentioned that a photograph only shows something from one angle, but the object itself can be seen from many angles. If we only see a 'snapshot' of Jesus there'll be much that remains hidden that we cannot see.

Pondering further on 2 Samuel 23:4 I thought about the sunrise on a cloudless morning. First the stars are overwhelmed and vanish one by one, the dimmest disappear first. Then the shadow of the Earth is carried away like a cover, visibly moved across the dome of the sky. And then the beautiful, pink 'Belt of Venus' appears right around the horizon until finally the sun rises and illuminates everything with the brightness of day.

And this is absolutely what Christ has done. He overwhelms all lesser lights (human wisdom and reason and learning). He is carrying away the darkness of the world like a curtain drawn aside. He is beautiful and causes beauty to be reflected from every direction. And finally he will arise and illuminate everything as his day arrives.

Then Sean read 2 Samuel 24:1-17 and we thought about this difficult passage for a while. Even here David seems to prefigure Christ. He is the shepherd of the people and offers to take their punishment.

And finally, thinking about Jesus again we understood that when he was anointed with fragrant nard (Mark 14:3, John 12:3) it would have dripped off his head and feet and soaked into the earthen floor of the house. The fragrance would have remained for weeks or months as a reminder. People would have thought, 'Ah yes, this is where she anointed him with nard'.

He is at the heart of all we are and do. He is a repeating pattern in our lives. He is the whole structure yet he is also in every part, every living stone. We see him only from one angle, much is hidden. He is like the rising sun, overwhelming other lights, carrying away worldly darkness, bringing great beauty, illuminating everything. He is our Shepherd and has taken our punishment. We still sense his fragrance after 2000 years.

What a Lord!

< 29th October 2011 | Index | 14th November 2011 >

08 October 2011

THOUGHT - Fresh revelation

I've been moving old articles I originally posted elsewhere to 'All about Jesus'. One of these caught my eye recently, and I feel I should republish part of it and comment on it. Would you find a continual flow of fresh revelation useful? Read on.

Woven fabrics on sale
A word from the heart - Back in April 2004 I wrote...
He wants us to know that he's very, very close to us. Rachael shared that his presence is woven into the fabric of our being. 
What a wonderful thought! If he is woven into us like that, then of course we are all woven together into one piece, held together by his strong threads. He holds us all together in love. 
This seems to be related to the idea that we are all parts of one body with the Messiah as the head. But in this new form, the idea seemed fresh and very powerful, we are indeed one.

This was just a simple word from the Father's heart, conveyed by the Holy Spirit into Rachael's heart, and shared openly with everyone present. How all our hearts burned, recognising the deep significance of what he was showing us about our relationship with him!

The presence of the Most High is 'woven into the fabric of our being'. Wow!

Thinking it over - There are several things to be said about revelation of this kind.

  • It comes unexpectedly, even if we are expecting it. In other words we can't plan for this, he will speak to us if and when and how he chooses. But we can make ourselves available in our times together (and in our lives individually too). We can also fill our lives and meetings with so much activity that we are not really available.
  • He will share truth that we could not imagine or see for ourselves or understand by our own efforts. It's revelation, he reveals what was hidden or indistinct. What he provides is fresh and, in every sense of the word 'cool' - it's living water welling up within and providing life.
  • There is a clear sense of 'rightness' about what he reveals. We know in our hearts that it is truth from him. How? I have no idea except to say that the Spirit of Christ who reveals something to one person is the same Spirit of Christ who witnesses to its truth in the hearts of those who are listening. Together we test what is said, and recognise its source.
  • Whatever he says to his children will be based on his love for us. Sometimes it will be encouragement, sometimes it might be chastisement. He may challenge us, provoke us, calm us, pour out peace upon us, call us to action or simply inform us. But whatever he gives us is good - an egg, never a scorpion. (Luke 11:12)

If you want to see how this particular revelation fits with the other things that were shared read the online notes from that evening seven and a half years ago.

Over to you - Do you regularly receive revelation from the Father's heart? Does this flow of blessing arrive when you're alone or during times when you are with others (or both)? What might you do to make more opportunities for this - individually and corporately? What things that you do might make it less likely?

Please leave some comments. I'm interested to know how often and how widely we are receiving directly in this way. Can you share examples of your own experiences of this kind?

07 October 2011

THOUGHT - What next for the body?

The church is the body of Christ here in the world. We are his current physical presence and he is the head. Where are we going next? There are some clues and we should pay attention to them.

A hearing aid
An obedient journey - As an individual follower of Yahshua (Jesus) I am on a path, a journey. Along the way are distractions, obstacles, and choices of direction. As the body, all of us together are also on a journey with distractions, obstacles and choices.

Making the right choices depends on hearing what the Spirit of Christ is telling us, and that demands our willingness to pay attention. In this article I am going to try to share something about paying attention, listening, and the need to hear what the Spirit is telling us. Hearing is critically important. How will you and I obey without hearing?



The breath of the Spirit - As individuals we obtain direction from a variety of sources. Reading the Bible, other good books, prayer, careful thought and planning, and direct leading by the Holy Spirit - all are important. Experience matters too, we can learn from our mistakes and hopefully we continue to grow in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). But the Spirit himself is the real source.

Without him we can engage in all those activities (even the Bible and prayer) and have no insight or benefit whatsoever. With him they all become channels for receiving the truth. The Most High can communicate with us through anything in life. He does it by sending his Spirit to live within us, pouring out the light and life of Jesus. Living water wells up within us and flows out to a needy world. This is, of course, a miracle!

For the body of Christ the process is the same. It's the Spirit of Christ acting in and through the body that brings life and direction. Without the Spirit the body is a dead thing. Read Ezekiel 37:1-14, now read verses 3-10 again remembering that 'breath' and 'spirit' are the same word in Hebrew - 'ruach'. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life in the body of Christ.

Hearing as an individual - There's a useful technique that can help us hear, it's called Virkler. Please remember that it is only a technique; it's not important in and of itself; its has value only as a framework to help us with hearing. Think of Virkler as a spiritual hearing aid.

There are four simple steps
  1. Clear your mind of the day to day stuff that fills it.
  2. Focus on Jesus.
  3. Pay attention to the flow of thoughts in your mind.
  4. Write them down.
For more on Virkler check out the CO2 page, it contains fuller details and some useful links to what others have to say about it.

Hearing as a body - When we meet together we are a local and temporal expression of the body of Christ in a particular place at a particular time. Yahshua said that when two or three meet together he would be there amongst us. Let's take him at his word!

When we meet, the Spirit of Christ is in each one and Jesus himself is among us. That is the key to hearing. Just as Virkler is a useful aid for individual hearing, so a slight modification of it can be a useful aid when we gather together. Try these four steps when you are together (the first three are unchanged).
  1. Clear your mind of the day to day stuff that fills it.
  2. Focus on Jesus.
  3. Pay attention to the flow of thoughts in your mind.
  4. Speak them out.
You may be surprised at the words and images that will be shared, and you may be even more surprised at the end of your time together as you realise that there has been a theme. The individual thoughts as they were shared may have seemed random, but together they will often be much more than the sum of their parts.

Can I encourage you to try this when you meet? What did you learn about the way the Spirit leads? Is it better to listen to one another, to Jesus, or to one another and Jesus? What are the differences between these three choices? How can the church find direction for the future? Please come back and leave some comments here.

24 July 2011

RESPONSE: Norway and Amy Winehouse

Almost a hundred dead in Norway following a bomb and a shooting spree, and a great singer/songwriter dead before the age of thirty. Two tragedies that are not connected - or are they?

The Oslo bombingThere's no direct link of course, yet there is a common element (as we shall see) and the tragic events took place just a day apart.

On 22nd July Anders Behring Breivik set off a huge home made bomb in central Oslo and followed it up with a multiple shooting on the island of Utøya about 20 miles away.

On 23rd July Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home.

Amy WinehouseI feel deep sympathy for the victims of both tragedies, and for their friends and families who will be struggling emotionally and in practical ways to cope with the new reality of life without a loved one. Life with an unfillable hole in it. When my wife died in the mid nineties I was aware of a Judy-shaped hole in my heart and in my life. And I knew that our daughters, our parents, and our friends also carried similar holes within them.

In time (be it short or long) the hole will mend. My prayer for those suffering loss is that as the hole eventually fades it will fill in with many happy memories. These will remain for ever - they do for me.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, explained that faith, hope and love remain. 'But', he wrote, 'the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13:13). In your losses cling to all three, but focus especially on love.

Lack of love (or a perceived lack of love) is always a killer. So is a sense of failure or defeat.

We read that Anders Breivik was a Christian fundamentalist of some kind. But Jesus told his followers to love the Father, to love one another, and to love their enemies. Paul wrote this description of the nature of love...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Whatever Anders Breivik is, he clearly doesn't understand what Christ meant by love. If Jesus' love is in a person's heart, murder and harm are not among the possible outcomes. The immense harm he has done is not compatible with the word 'Christian' in its true sense.

Amy Winehouse, on the other hand, needed to know that she was loved. How can it be that a young star with a brilliant career ahead of her could throw it all away with drink and drugs? She was loved by friends in and out of the music industry and by family members. Many would have done anything to rescue her. But addiction is a trap that is hard to shrug off, even with willing help and support from close family and friends. It takes much more than human help and willpower to break free and build a new sense of worth and value.

We live in a broken and desperate world. It's a world in which anger and fear, hatred and despair, violence and loneliness are always crowding in and wanting to own us. Often they have their way with us as these two tragic events highlight.

The answer is more love, not less hatred; more light, not less darkness; more life, not less death. As with a serious illness, treating the symptoms can never cure the underlying cause.

The cure for a broken world is Jesus. Not a Jesus preached in church on a Sunday morning but a Jesus living in the lives of his people, making a difference in the world by pouring out abundant love, light and life.

Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life' (John 14:6). The Father 'is love' (1 John 4:8).

If you are a follower of Jesus, let his light shine! Let his love and light and life pour out from your heart daily and extravagantly. Let his love pour out on good and bad alike, just as the Father does. And remember, where your ability to love falls short, his goes right on. If Jesus is living in your heart he will fill any gap caused by your own limits. Trust him!

17 March 2011

THOUGHT - David's slingstone

David is so often a picture of Christ. He is a good shepherd, looking after his Father's sheep. He was anointed and is a mighty King. He also faced and defeated a strong and powerful giant.

Rounded pebbles suitable for a slingI was half awake one morning, and was brought out of that dreamy state with a sudden understanding that Jesus fired off his slingstone at Calvary and it is still on its unerring flight towards the giant's forehead. There must have been a period of perhaps a second or two between David letting loose the stone and the blow that downed Goliath. During that moment he had no idea that he was about to die. If he thought about it at all, he assumed the little pebble would miss, or if it struck him it would bounce harmlessly off his helmet or breastplate. For a short time he had no idea what was coming.

Like the giant, the evil one knows that something has been done against him but doesn't yet see the full implication. For a millenium or two he has been acting as if he thinks he can escape, but the cause of his final demise is on its way and will assuredly arrive.

A good illustration of this kind of behaviour is Colonal Gaddafi. In fact, we all do it. We carry on as if we will live for ever, forgetting that we might die at any moment. Muammar Gaddafi might die today or tomorrow from a heart attack or a stroke, a traffic accident or an assassin's bullet, a slip on the stairs, a falling tree or just plain old age. Yet he continues to act as if he might rule Libya for ever, despite the certainty that we must all die.

That is the same behaviour we see from the evil one, carrying on as if he may still win. Perhaps, like Goliath, he doesn't fully understand what Jesus, this little 'David', has done; the full implication of the cross. I am sure some things are hidden from him.

But it doesn't really matter whether he thinks he can win or not. What is important is that we know he has lost! We know that if we resist him he will run away. We know that prayer is powerful. We know that the enemy will try to distract us, confuse us, and misinform us. He will try to put doubt in our minds and despair in our hearts. But we also know that the Messiah has won the victory once and for ever. We know that we have a share in that victory. We know that it's a victory over death, but also over the enemy. Even captivity has been taken captive!

HalleluYah!

Rejoice, for Jesus IS Lord and King.

05 March 2011

THOUGHT - Through love or by effort?

Some writers and commentators tell us that we can do nothing unless we know Christ's love for us and rest in that love. Others tell us that we must make an effort and try harder to think and act in accordance with Biblical teaching.

Bread like a stoneHow are we to square this circle? Who is right?

I want to suggest there's a false dichotomy here. Rather than a choice between alternatives we are seeing two sides of the same coin. The debate is much like those about faith versus works or grace versus law. We are invited to take sides, we are encouraged to come down on the side of faith or of works.

But of course if we have faith it will result in works because works are the evidence of an underlying faith. Faith without works is impossible, works without faith are futile. Works springing from faith are like loaves of good, wholesome, energy-giving bread. Works alone are like stones in the desert, deceivingly loaf-like but devoid of life.

It's true that 'we love because Christ first loved us' (John 4:19).

Yet Paul urges the Ephesians to 'live a life worthy of [their] calling' (Ephesians 4:1). And in verse two he explains what this means - humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love. In verse three he tells them 'to make every effort'. Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is a real bond there (the automatic part) but some level of effort is required from us. Read the entire chapter with this in mind.

How many of us live like this? It's important to make the attempt even if we seem to fail. If we truly know Christ and are really aware of his love for us we will automatically do the right things. But our conscious mind is required as well, an effort of will and purpose.

Christ descended and therefore grappled with temptation just as we do. We can see how the love of the Father constantly guided and motivated him - 'I do only what I see the Father do' (John 5:16-30). But we also see how he was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) and how he wrestled in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). He moved in his Father's constant love and approval, but he also had to make an effort of will. Because he is both 'up there' and 'down here', he has grappled with life just the same as we do, yet he is also able to reach us with heavenly truth and love. He is in both places and therefore we can triumph in him in both places - now and eternally, in the world and in the Kingdom of heaven.

And out of his ascended bounty, in order to enable his church to function in a fallen world, he is able to give us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. The very purpose of this is that we will all reach unity in the faith. All - not just a few, not just the majority - all!

Notice too that we are all to reach unity in two realms - the realm of faith (believing and doing) - and the realm of knowing Christ (trusting and resting). Effort and knowing his love. Our part and his part. Victory needs both!

And see the results! We will be fully mature, not tossed on the waves and blown by the wind but speaking the truth and growing into the Head. We grow from him, built in love, each of us working.

Built in love and doing our work - both!

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