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April 2016

April 5th and 6th 2016: Colossians 1:15-2:15

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

So much of what makes knowing and following Jesus so exhilarating, so crucial, so necessary to human flourishing is encapsulated in the readings which we are looking at here. Continuing on from our jaunt in to Romans a couple of days ago, Paul is at pains to emphasise the sheer majesty and wonder of Jesus, and his total sufficiency. Not just in terms of what he has done, but in who he is. It isn’t just his action that makes him acceptable to God and able to present us holy and blameless to him. It is who he is. Similarly, the work of salvation Jesus has done for us doesn’t just render freedom where captivity once resided, it changes us at the very core of who we are. We are new people. We wear the skins we have always worn, but everything ultimately consequential about us has been made new because of this god-man, this second Adam who has won the victory and brought us to fullness of life. He is only able to do this because the fullness of God dwells in him, or to put it another way, because he is God.

We are full of life because God has made us full of life. Nothing we can do can make us more full of life. We are full as full can be already. Don’t be deceived by claims that you can have more, better, a closer relationship with God through a certain way of living, speaking, singing or anything else. You have fullness, closeness, full intimacy already. Accept no weak substitutions for intimacy with God. Instead, rejoice that you have the freedom that was meant for you. Freedom to know the Lord, to trust him, to give your life to him. That’s all this life is for. Everything else is a pale imitation of life, joy and the hope Jesus died and rose to make real.

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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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March 2016

March 10th 2016: Hebrews 10:19-25

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

One of the primary points of this series of blogs is encapsulated in this passage. As we live the life of faith, as we wonder and question, as we doubt, let’s be people who are provoked to, and provokers of, love and good deeds. Love and good deeds are not the exclusive preserve of those who have a Christian faith, but as Christians, it seems logical that they should be something that flow from us as the joyful obedience of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the value we place on one another and ourselves as we are able to see people from the Spirit’s point of view.

And then, look at verse 25! Even in the days of the preparation of the New Testament, it seems that there were people who had designed that meeting together as Church wasn’t for them, for whatever reason. Some things never change. I’m increasingly convinced of the importance of gathering together as the family of faith, to eat, to worship, to pray, to have fellowship. We can’t be one as Jesus and the Father are one and not be together. People get hurt by Churches (usually people within Churches who take on the visage of representing the whole organisation). Churches are not perfect. They never will be. Recently I watched the film Spotlight. It’s a harrowing portrayal of an institution which failed in every conceivable way. The Church, with a big C, failed. It is no surprise that people want to have nothing to do with a Church that behaves this way, nor with the God that they purport to represent. Spotlight is an extreme example, but many of us have had things happen to us that might well justify us never darkening the doors of a Church again. There are days when the last place I would choose to be is in Church, honestly. While each person’s experience is their own, I do get why Church is a very difficult place for a lot of people to be in.

The closest I’ve come to seeing perfection enacted in a Church is watching people from virtually all walks of life and experiences gathered together around the table at Communion. It’s here that we remember that Jesus has broken every barrier down. Churches will fail. We will find reasons to leave. Sometimes they will be good, entirely understandable. And yet, ‘all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place’, as the song (repetititively) goes. We who are the Church have a huge job to do to make our families welcoming and accessible to all. Particularly so because any barriers that exist now are those which we have erected ourselves. God took them all away. Nothing should stand in the way of people coming together to worship him.

Don’t exclude yourself from one of the most important, and best, elements of being a follower of Jesus. Changing things from the inside is always more satisfying in the end anyway.

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March 2016

March 9th 2016: Hebrews 10:1-18

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more’

Today’s is one of the most amazing passages in the whole of Scripture (in my opinion). Jesus gave a single offering for all sin, which was sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. The law of love wins! All the offering and sacrificing we can do will not ever lead us to freedom, Jesus’s gift to us is the only thing that can do that.

And not only that, as the quote at the top of this post says, God promises that he will put sins and lawless deeds out of his mind. He will not remember them. This seems entirely contrary. I keep a record of my own wrongs, even though I shouldn’t. More than this, I am bad at keeping a record of the wrongs of others. Am I loving them? When we find ourselves living in times when injustice is meted out to the poor on an institutional scale and every reading of a news article’s ‘under the line’ comments section indicates a national hardening of heart towards those who are in need, there is a rising within me of a desire for justice (which I think is good) as well as a desire for the restoration for balance (still good, I think) and finally a desire for some kind of redress (this is where it gets bad, I think). We are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. If, at any point I find myself claiming that I am less in need of the grace and mercy of God than those who vote for or implement unjust laws, those whose opinions I disagree with, however strongly, claiming that those things are more sinful and in need of mercy than I am, then I deceive myself.

We live in times when it is all too easy to be fearful. Just look at the political leadership situations in most of the most powerful nations of the world. But God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? We have a God who could remember our sins and lawless deeds, who could count them against us, who could do anything he likes at any moment. He chooses grace and mercy. Let’s do the same today.

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March 2016

March 2nd 2016: Hebrews 6:13-20

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘…a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’.

Time and time again with these pieces, I find myself drawn to the unchangeable truths of the promises of God found in scripture as opposed to the entirely changeable nature of my feelings and emotional responses to them. Again we find ourselves here today. The truth of the good news of Jesus Christ is that his victory enables him to be ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’. If I am find in and with him, I am surely and steadfastly in the place I need to be, and I can live from there. If I do not accept that Jesus is a sure and steadfast anchor, because of things that happen, how I feel about them, mistakes I make, thoughts I have which are more refined and evolved than those expressed in scripture, then I am not stepping beyond God. Instead, I am making my life, and the life of faith, more complicated than it actually is, was meant to be, or ever should be. We all need something, or someone to hold on to. Jesus is that something and that someone. It is simple. It is not complicated. He is sure and steadfast. I have never found anything else that is. And I’ve looked. Hard.

My anchor will hold in the storms of life, because my anchor is not me, it is Jesus. He can be yours too. Just ask him. Do it. Today

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February 2016

February 27th 2016: Hebrews 4:1-13

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

I’ve often wondered about what kind of mood the writer of Hebrews was in when this letter was written. There’s just a sense to it of negativity and worry that I don’t perceive in a lot of the rest of the New Testament. Everything is cautious, tempered, careful. And so I wonder, how does how we are feeling about things change how we talk about God? ‘Salvation’  looks very different when things are going well, I suggest, compared to  what it looks like when everything we are is threatened, even though ‘being saved’ and what that entails actually remains the same. We have an unchanging God, but our perspectives, our language, our experiences, these must change. For them to stay the same is, potentially at least, to deny that the ‘living and active’ element of his word, and his Word, Jesus. We can’t be made new, transformed by each encounter with the Spirit, and yet simultaneously remain the same. This is not feasible. Similarly, it seems to me that one of the main points of a life of faith is to be open to the Spirit’s prodding to the broadening of horizons and thoughts, so that we able to see and acknowledge more of God, his glory, and share it with those around us.

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February 2016

February 24th 2016: Hebrews 2:10-18

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’

This follows what we were talking about yesterday. One of the many glories of Jesus is that he experienced life as we do, as every other human has done. He suffered like we suffer. In the deepest possible sense, he empathises with us as we experience pain, fear, disappointment, anger, loss, grief. In one sense, it would be of very little use to us if, when approaching God in prayer about a particularly painful issue, we had no confidence that he had any idea what that was like. But that is not the case God suffered for us, he suffers with us. He knows what it feels like. He is with us through whatever life throws at us and helps us to persist, to persevere, that we might finally be able to reach the point where we are so content and confident in our lives of faith that the things that used to distract us from walking with Jesus lose their power. Jesus experienced the full weight of everything evil could throw at him. He could, at any point, have decided to step aside from the path that God was asking him to walk down and make life more comfortable or easier for himself, but he did not. He persevered, all the way to the cross and the first glorious Easter Day so that we could have lives of hope, joy and freedom with God. One day, the sufferings of this life will be over. They will. Until then we are not alone, let’s walk this road less travelled together.

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February 2016

February 19th 2016: Galatians 5:16-26

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’

I’ve known for a long time what the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is, as contained in today’s passage. It’s another of those elements of Scripture that gets drummed in to you as you grow up in Church and are encouraged towards maturity in faith. It can be used as a measure of ‘how you’re doing’,or something used to hold you accountable. These can be great, loving, generous, kind and so on, or can be used as instruments of judgement, either by others against us, or for us against ourselves. If we’re not showing enough patience, kindness, gentleness and so on, we can make ourselves think that we don’t have enough of the Spirit, that God is disappointed with us, or even that the Spirit has given up on us and left. We can be convinced that this is entirely justified. It is highly possible to enter in to a cycle of transactional faith and failure where we welocme God in to our lives, then fail and fall, let him down, lose him and then the whole thing starts again. Some of our pastoral care structures can actually exacerbate this. I’m convinced that, actually, some of us prefer this highly emotive way of doing faith. It gives us something to focus on (our failings) and makes it more about us than it is about God.

But, the fruit of the Spirit is the Spirit’s fruit. It is the Spirit’s to give, to nurture and to see to fruition. We live in partnership with God because he invites us in to that place, but the Spirit can give its fruit to whosoever it wishes, at whatever time it wishes. All of us, if we’re honest and self-aware, should have no trouble coming up with reasons why God should not bless us, but that’s the point of the gospel. According to our standards, no-one should be loved by God, but by his, everyone is. So don’t let the disappointments of life distract you. God is continuing to plan seeds in your life that will grow in to full bloom.

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February 2016

January 17th 2016: Galatians 4:21-5:1

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

I’m not very good at memorizing passages or phrases from Scripture. I don’t know why. It’s just never worked for me. One of the few I have managed to commit to memory though is contained in today’s reading. The trouble is, it’s all very well saying to myself over and over again ‘it’s for freedom that Christ has set us/me free’, but if I’m actually not willing or able to accept that freedom, then I am the one who loses out. So, here it is, I’m not a slave to sin anymore. Jesus took the consequences of sin on himself. They are not mine to carry any longer.

I’m someone who cares a lot about justice, about doing the right thing, about having the right thing done to me. I very often don’t manage to hit the mark. This causes me a lot of problems. I worry endlessly about problems I have caused for others too. Often I worry about permutations of problems that may well not even exist. I don’t think I should be allowed to live in freedom, at the same time as I spend a large amount of life trying to convince myself and others that this is exactly what I have, because of Jesus, not because of me. It is exhausting.

There are a great many days, a very great many, when I feel far from free. I’d almost rather I be enslaved, this seems fair to me (I mean this in a spiritual sense). I know this is wrong and contra to the life and teachings of Jesus, but there we are. The gospel is such foolishness, even to me, someone who is being ‘saved’. It is unfair. It is so much more than any of us deserve, but there’s the ever-present worry of becoming complacent or too comfortable with the whole deal that we don’t acknowledge the sheer wonder, grace and abundant generosity of it all. I am not better. I am not superior. I am freed, by Jesus, to be a voice, and an activisit, in freeing others by pointing them to him and extending his invitation to life and love.

What do you think?

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February 2016

February 16th 2016: Galatians 4:8-20

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

There’s a beauty in today’s reading in the passion Paul expresses. How could people who have come to realise that they are known by God decide to turn back and live another way? He seems to feel the sadness and disappointment of the discovery that this has happened truly deeply. His admonishments could seem strident, even arrogant (a concern I often have with Paul’s letters), but then I realise, yet again, that Paul is a follower of Jesus who is working out what it means to give his life for that cause. Like many of us, he thinks he knows the best way to follow Jesus and his way. Paul has the added sense of authority and responsibility which comes from claiming apostleship (through his conversion). I sometimes wonder if, somewhere buried within all his rhetoric is the worry that he isn’t actually sure how all this will turn out.

And then, just when I’ve reached the height of arrogance, I remember myself. I’m constantly perplexed at myself, at why I say that I love and follow Jesus and then do anything except those things. I very often wish those who I lead in Church would listen to me and my wisdom. If they did that they’d be fine. I know they would. It might turn out that way sometimes, but if it did it would be because God was using me to support, challenge and encourage, not because I was any more or less special than anyone else. Is that how Paul felt as he travelled and ministered? I wonder.