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Friday, July 25, 2008

The Grace

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

We often rattle off this blessing, or a modification of it, at the end of a service, prayer meeting or Bible study. But do we think about what it means or do we simply think of it as a wordy way to say, God bless you? What are we actually saying to one another?

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
"Grace" can seem something of a woolly word, perhaps because we don't have much use for it in modern English. There are a number of popular definitions of the word for example, God's Riches At Christ's Expense. Another contrasts grace with mercy - mercy is when God doesn't give us what we do deserve but grace is when God does give us what we don't deserve. A more theological definition might be, God's unmerited favour.

The Greek word "charis" means "gift" and has the connotation of something which brings joy, so the Christian use of "grace" came to mean any gift from God which brings us joy. Our greatest joy is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses these titles to emphasis all that He is to us. His very name, Jesus, means Saviour; He is our Lord, a word whose value has been diminished with over-use but means He is our Master; and Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed by God to reconcile us to our heavenly Father.

The Love of God
There are no words adequate to tell of the wonder of God's love. I am completely convinced that most Christians have not begun to grasp the enormity of what it means to be loved by God. If they did, they would talk differently they would live differently, they would worship differently. Paul prayed in the Ephesian letter that his readers would "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ & know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God," (Eph 3:18-19).

This is a prayer we should echo with all our hearts. The world is looking for love. Since God is love they are seeking Him though not realising it. We are God's ambassadors in this damaged and hurting world. He wants to lavish His love on them. But who is going to believe that if they look at a Christian and see just another brand of discontent and misery because their life is not full of the experience of being loved by God.

The love of God is not a theological construct, it did not begin and end with Golgotha. It is, as my husband is fond of saying, "not pie in the sky when you die, but steak on the plate while you wait." We are meant to experience the love of God in our daily lives in His tender care of us, the love gifts He sends our way, and our very real fellowship with Him.

The Fellowship Of The Holy Spirit
Another of my husband's clever comments is that fellowship is two or more people in the same boat. One of the wonders of our salvation is that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to live on the inside of us. He is our paraclete, a Greek word that does not have a direct equivalent in English. It has been variously translated as counsellor, comforter and advocate. The Holy Spirit comes to our spirit and enfolds us in a loving embrace more intimate than is explicable. He is the Spirit of our bridegroom Jesus, He is the Spirit of our Abba Father and the fellowship we experience with Him is the most healing experience it is possible to know.

The Trinity
Paul prays in this blessing that we will know the joy, love and fellowship of all three persons of the Godhead. He wants us to experience within our spirit, as well as within our daily life, what it is to be in relationship with God.

Prayer College Assignment
Next time you are asked to say this grace, don't let it just roll from your lips. Think about exactly what it is that you are praying for your brothers and sisters and expect to receive these blessings in answer to their prayer for you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Bride of Christ

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Is 62:5)

Paul tells us in Eph 5:32 that marriage is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His church. Frequently the Old Testament prophets compare God's people with an unfaithful wife, and poor old Hosea is told to marry an adulteress as a demonstration of the prostitution of Israel with other gods.

In The Image
The power of the image of the unfaithful wife has been diminished in our culture. Adultery, divorce and remarriage, uncommitted relationships have become unremarkable because they are so common. The breakdown of marriage is not only desperately sad for the individuals involved, it does damage to our understanding of our relationship with Jesus, the Lover of our souls.

But there is another powerful image which can reveal something more of the relationship between the Lord and His people. It is the image of God in us. When He created humanity He said, "let us make man in our image." Every individual since, though created unique, has been born with the image of God stamped in them like the lettering through a stick of seaside rock. Each one of us has been made to reflect that image in a way no other person can.

Since we are uniquely different and individual in character, personality and spiritual qualities we have a unique place in the Bride of Christ. Without us the Body, of which we are a part, would not be complete. Without us there would be something missing from the beautiful Bride which the Father is preparing for His son. Without us the Bride would not be perfect.

Created to Ravish His Heart
In the Song of Songs the lover says, "you have ravished my heart, my sister my bride." Dare we believe that the Lord says this of His Bride. Of course, because no human love affair can come close to that between Jesus and His people. This is why God was so jealous over Israel's unfaithfulness. Always the heart of God is to woo back His people to Himself. He comes to you personally and lavishes His love on you. Why? Because you were uniquely created to be a part of His Bride and there is a place in His heart that can only ever be touched by you.

The Hole
There is, they say, a God-shaped hole in each of us that can only be filled with Jesus. I believe the uniqueness of every individual, whom God has created in His image, means that there is a you-shaped hole in the heart of God. When you give Him your heart, when you live your life for Him that hole is filled and He rejoices over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Prayer College Assignment
In John 14 we see Jesus first promising to prepare a place for His disciples and to come back for them, then telling them He and the Father will come and make their home with them. That sounds to me like a passionate desire in the Lord's heart to be in our company. Take some time to meditate on the fact that your uniqueness delights God's heart. Realise that your personal relationship with Him does not have to conform to anybody's norms. All He wants is for you to be yourself with Him and to allow Him to conform you to His perfect image.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cast Your Cares

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5:7)

Often it's the little words which hide the greatest meaning. In this verse it's the word, "all." Paul makes a similar statement when he says, "do not be anxious about anything," (Phil 4:6).

Anxiety
I do not know a single person who has not experienced anxiety at some time. Even my 10 year old son recently showed symptoms of anxiety when he was faced with a science test at school. But a close friend of mine, who's family situation has given her more reason than most to be experiencing anxiety and stress at the moment, has been telling me how the experience has changed the way she prays.

While I, with a bit more emotional distance, can pray about the details of the situation, she is so closely involved that it is hard for her to know how or what to pray. It is when we reach this point that casting all our anxieties on the Lord Jesus becomes the only way in which we can pray.

Casting It All On Him
My friend has found that simply offering the situation to God and trusting Him with her family has brought her a great peace that she did not have whilst struggling to pray considered prayers. It doesn't matter that she hasn't known what else to pray, the Lord has taken control of the circumstances and has moved to bring about change and positive outcomes.

All and Nothing
We will all reach that point at some time when we know there is no alternative but to cast our cares on the Lord Jesus. When I recently underwent surgery there was nothing I could do to influence the outcome. All I could do, as I succumbed to the general anaesthetic, was pray, "Lord Jesus, I trust You."

But we shouldn't wait until we find ourselves in extremis before taking on board this concept of casting our cares on Jesus. Peter says, "cast ALL your anxiety on him." Paul says, "do not be anxious about ANYTHING." We should be practising this with every little concern we have so that when the really big test comes we have learned how to trust Jesus completely in the trial.

That's not to say we should neglect praying where we are able, or acting where we have responsibility. But we have to learn that ultimately everything is in the Lord's hands and that trusting Him rather than being confidently self-reliant should be our goal.

Prayer College Assignment
Jesus Himself said, "do not worry," (Matt 6:26). I am by nature a worrier. My husband has joked that I would worry if I found I had nothing to worry about. I have decided to give up my addiction to worry. It is a decision any Christian can make because we have a place to take our worries where we can leave them in trustworthy hands. We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves but to the lost around us, to accept the peace that Jesus offers. People are only going to be interested in Jesus if they see He makes a difference. Determine today that you are going to show the world that Jesus can bring peace where there is fear and anxiety.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Look Who's Talking

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Cor 3:1-3)

When Paul wrote these words he was addressing people who were proud of their spiritual status. After all, didn't they have prophets among them, weren't they active in the use of spiritual gifts, wasn't the Holy Spirit working powerfully among them?

Mere Infants
But Paul points the finger at their spiritual character rather than their spiritual gifts and says, "you just don't get it, you're nothing more than babies and that's the way I have to treat you. You need to grow up before I can begin to teach you anything meaningful."

He describes them as worldly, literally "fleshly." Whereas they should be seeing the world from the spiritual dimension, informed by the voice of the Holy Spirit within them, they see only the evidence of their eyes. They have not grasped the difference between fact and truth.

Facts and Truth
The fact was that Lazarus was dead and rotting in the grave with no hope of another day of life. The truth was that it was always the intention of the Lord Jesus to raise him from the dead and to bring glory to God through the miracle (Jn 11-12).

Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). Facts bind us, the truth liberates us. Innumerable times during His earthly ministry the Lord said, "I tell you the truth." He is the only reliable source of truth. If we are to know the truth we need to be completely steeped in His word, in Scripture. This will enable us to recognise the difference between the promptings of the spirit and our own response to the world around us.

Look Who's Talking
Back in our original passage Paul uses a word to describe the Corinthians which is most illuminating in its original Greek form. That word "infants" literally means "non-speakers," in other words those who haven't learned how to talk yet. This was how Paul knew they were immature spiritually - by the way they talked. Their words came from thoughts dictated to by the world, by what they experienced through their flesh. They talked about facts as though facts were the only reality, consequently there was jealousy and quarrelling. Their spirit, on the other hand, was so undeveloped that it had no voice. It was not informing their thinking or their actions.

Prayer College
We all have a need for our spirits to grow. We all should be striving for spiritual maturity. The way to do this is to actively cultivate our spiritual lives and not just wait for God to bring about our growth. Bible reading, fellowship with more mature believers and spending time in the presence of the Lord Jesus in prayer and worship are key to this process. When we see our lives from a spiritual dimension we will be more able to cooperate with the Lord in His work to make us His bride. Make a fresh commitment today to do your part in the growing up process.