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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Grace Upon Grace - A Story Of Repentance

The silent night with thoughts that tempt
Draws me towards my failing sin.
Yet I, for endless anguished days,
Resist the cries from deep within
To fall.

Determination weakens now.
My strength is gone, my spirit fails.
With every beat of pounding heart
I hammer in those dreadful nails

In desolate grief beside the tomb
I rend my broken, aching soul,
In desperation crying out
For One alone can make me whole,

And then the radiance of His gaze,
Which turns to flesh the hardest stones,
Touches me with exquisite love.
At last I hear His tender tones:

Prostrate I fall to worship Him,
Forgetting all my tortured fears.
I wash those precious bloodstained feet
With reverent penitential tears.
“Grace upon grace –
My Lord!”

Lynda Scotson

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

snow carI don't recall ever before being confined to the house by snow on Palm Sunday.

Our own church service was cancelled because of the dangerous conditions on roads around the school where we meet.

It opened up to me the rare opportunity of going to another local church and being able to engage in worship without the usual responsibilities.

Normally I'm the one sitting at the computer and amplifier making sure there are music and words for people to sing. When I'm not doing that it is usually because I am preaching.

So I was looking forward to being able to concentrate on nothing but the Lord for a change. However, the car was not co-operating. The brakes were frozen and it wasn't going anywhere. It was too late to walk.

Suddenly I found myself in tears. I hadn't realised how desperate I was to engage in corporate worship.

Rejoice Greatly!
Palm SundayIt was very different for the crowds on that first Palm Sunday.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Matt 21:8-9

In those days if someone started a religious chant everyone joined in. It would have been considered impious not to.

So everyone was having a great time shouting the praises of Jesus whom they believed was coming into Jerusalem to set the nation free from their subservience to Rome.

The prophet Zechariah had declared,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! 
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! 
See, your king comes to you, 
righteous and victorious, 
lowly and riding on a donkey, 
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zech 9:9

The symbolism of what Jesus was doing was unmistakable and the people were making such a furore the authorities were extremely upset.

But Jesus did nothing to disabuse the people of their notion that He was the Messiah. He simply accepted the attribution along with their praise.

This occasion is one of those instances that disprove the idea of some that Jesus was simply a good moral teacher.

Jesus caused controversy wherever He went. People loved Him or hated Him and those who loved Him ended up worshiping Him.

Rejoice Always!
asian house churchIt is the same today. I was prevented from going to worship this morning by the snow.

But many of our brothers and sisters live in circumstances where they put themselves in danger of persecution, imprisonment or even death by meeting together for worship.

Yet they continue to get together in secret locations to whisper their praises to the Lord.

So why should a few inches of snow prevent any of us going to church?    

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Living With Scandal

skeleton in cupboard Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” Jn 8:19

“Who are you?” they asked. Jn 8:25

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. Jn 8:41

The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Jn 8:48

Skeletons in the Cupboard 
We all have things in our past, or maybe in the present, which we would rather keep hidden from others.

As society's moral values have changed many things which used to be regarded as scandalous are now seen as normal.

But there are still things we would rather people did not know about us.

Jesus' Great Scandal 
Since attitudes about children born outside marriage have changed it's hard for us to appreciate the great scandal which Jesus had to live with and so we miss much of the drama of John chapter 8.

In first century Israel it was virtually unheard of for a child to be conceived outside of marriage because it was regarded as such a great sin. If there were two witnesses to the event, the child was declared a mamzer (bastard) and could not attend the temple or marry anyone but another mamzer.

Jesus wasn't officially a mamzer as the only witnesses to His conception were Mary and the Holy Spirit.

However, everyone knew, not only that Jesus was conceived outside of marriage, but also that Joseph wasn't His natural father.

The skeleton was well and truly out of the proverbial closet.

Jesus had to live with this fact every day of His life, knowing that not only was His reputation being impuned but that of His mother too.

A Personal Attack
So when Jesus tried to teach the Jews that He was the light of the world they decided they would make a personal attack on Him in an attempt to divert Him from the subject.

They were progressively insulting beginning with, "Where is your father?" and culminating with calling Him a Samaritan (that was in the order of calling a mixed race person a half-breed today).

Jesus managed to stay on topic and took the opportunity to declare, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

No Jew could fail to recognise that this was Jesus declaring Himself to be Yahweh. So they picked up stones to carry out the death penalty for blasphemy.

A Comfort For Us 
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised,
and we held him in low esteem.
Is 53:3

What Jesus went through means that He knows exactly what it feels like to be human and despised.

We can take our skeletons and public humiliations to Him for His tender touch and compassion.

Is there something you feel too ashamed about to admit to Him? Don't hide it from Him. Instead open you heart to Him for there is no-one who understands like Jesus.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

So You Think You're God's Gift

Boxes_in_sheep_Gift_WrapWell, you are.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Jn 10:27-29

We often think about Jesus being God's gift to us, especially at Christmas. Or we talk about giving ourselves to God, giving our hearts or our worship to Him.

Given To Jesus 
But when did you last hear a preacher say that God has given you to Jesus as a gift? I almost feel that I don't want to do any more than ask you to reflect on the fact that you are God's gift to Jesus.

But it is perhaps worthwhile thinking a little about gifts.

The purpose of a gift is to show love or appreciation so we usually offer the best gift we can give. Christina Rossetti expressed this idea in her poem In The Bleak Mid Winter which we often sing as a carol

What can I give Him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

It should not really surprise us then that the Father would choose to give His Son the best, the pinnacle of His creation - mankind.

Precious In God's Sight 
Perhaps this doesn't sit comfortably with people used to thinking of themselves as sinners saved by grace.

But God has always seen us as the best of His creation. His observation at the end of the sixth day was no longer that what He has made was "good" but that it was "very good" (Gen 1:31).

Even after the Fall mankind remained the apple of God's eye.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Rom 8:19-21

diamondWe are special, the most valuable thing the Father could gift to His Son - more precious than gold or diamonds. If we could only comprehend the depths of that truth it would transform our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Without losing our recognition of ourselves as sinful people before a holy God we must accept the value He places on each of us.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Bride From The Side

married coupleSo the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Gen 2:21-24

Somebody once said,

Woman was taken out of man; not out of his head to lord it over him him, nor out of his feet to be trampled on by him; but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.

Well, it's a nice sentiment and has a poetic ring to it. But it does raise the question about exactly what was in God's mind when He decided to use this particular part of Adam's anatomy as the starting point for Eve

 I am becoming more and more convinced that Jesus meant it when He said,

These are the very Scriptures that testify about me Jn 5:39

Luke tells us that on the road to Emmaus,

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Lk 24:27

So, how could the opening up of Adam's side and the creation of another being be illustrative of Jesus?

crucifiedThe Side
The answer to the first part of that question is found in John's account of the crucifixion.

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. Jn 19:33-35

Both water and blood are part of Hebrew worship and both reference cleansing. Blood cleanses from sin and is the heart of the Temple sacrificial system. But ceremonial washing with water was also important, signifying physical cleansing of the body.

As blood and water flowed from the side of Jesus, so His sacrifice brings both forgiveness and cleansing to us.

And so we come to the second part of our question - the significance of another being created from the pierced side.

bride of christThe Bride 
Our salvation was won for us by Jesus on the cross.

There are many metaphors used in Scripture to describe the relationship between the saved sinner and Jesus. For example we are referred to as sheep, a building, a body. But the one most relevant in this context is that of a bride.

Throughout the Old Testament prophetic literature we see God referring to His people as an adulterous wife or bride.

The image is taken over into the New Testament. In John 3:29 Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom and several times in Revelation the bride and bridegroom imagery is used. Paul uses a similar concept in Ephesians 5:21-33 where he talks about the relationship between husband and wife and the says,

This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. Eph 5:32

The Profound Mystery 
Adam's wife Eve was taken from his side (the word rib can just as well be translated side) and we are the Bride of the Christ who's side was pierced with a spear.

Not only that. Just as Eve was of the same flesh as Adam, so too will we have a spiritual body like that of our bridegroom. Paul makes this clear on his chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. And John says,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 Jn 3:2

Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Rev 22:20