Facing Reality

They just want to look out of the window and believe that everything is alright with the world

This was how a friend described the attitude of someone who had avoided engaging with a difficult situation. Yet she could easily have been describing me, and I felt selfish and hypocritical.

In our world of many instances of deep injustice and suffering, I can find myself trying hard to ignore reality. I want to live my life as though everything is ok. Perhaps if I protect myself, don’t look too deeply into the things going on around me, and  come up with quick rationalisations for painful situations: “it was a freak accident”, “they brought it on themselves”,” that could never happen to me because of x”. . .then I can feel safe and at peace?

And so I harden my heart, restore my equilibrium and move on . . . for a while.pexels-photo-window

A Problem We Can’t Ignore

But it gets more and more difficult to preserve the illusion that everything is ok! And even if things are going well for me, will I preserve my peace at the expense of helping others? No one is immune to suffering,  and more and more I encounter situations that I don’t have words or wisdom for.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I’m a Christian, and the Bible tells me right from the beginning that everything is not ok! This world is desperately broken and so are we. We are rebels against the God who made us, and our ‘freedom’ from him has cost us dearly. No quick fixes, denials, or sentimental hopes are enough. We need rescue.

So when I refuse to  see the world for what it truly is, I also ignore the reality of the hope and rescue that the gospel provides. It’s not a vague uncertain hope, or wishful thinking. It’s a guarantee, long promised, won in blood and death, and sealed by life and the Spirit!

If I refuse to engage with suffering, I miss out on seeing God’s power at work in the world, and I may be ignoring the command of my Lord to take up my cross and follow him, and to find my life by losing it for his sake. (Matthew 16:24-7)

Courageous Care

Here are some of the biblical passages that are enabling me to boldly engage with compassion:

The whole of Psalm 46 is worth meditating on, it speaks of God, who is the shelter and strength of his people in the midst of suffering: God is our refuge and strength,  an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea . . .The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Lamentations 3 describes what it is like to suffer and even to feel as though you have lost your hope in God, and yet ultimately it speaks of Jesus’ suffering and ends with these powerful words of hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. . . 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 Luke 6:47-8 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.

These are just a few of the rich promises that give us the courage to leave our comfort zones and boldly minister to those who suffer.

 Need of a Heart Transplant

And yet we mustn’t resolve to find more inner strength, or to develop a more charitable disposition. We must ask for the work of God to transform fundamentally self-centred and fearful hearts into those that love Jesus and serve him trustingly – hearts that follow the narrow way of the cross. Then we can throw open our windows with their rose-tinted panes and curtains of self-protection and proclaim hope to those who need it, helping to carry their pain, because Christ bore ours.

We serve in situations of suffering with the certainty that the gospel is our only hope, that it is a sufficient hope, and that the redeeming power of God is at work in this world through us, as we wait for Jesus’ return.

I’ll finish with a quote from John Stott:

“The Son of God did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven. He emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. . .he entered into our pain, our alienation and temptations. . . he bore our sins in his own innocent person. . . “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” John 20:21″

Loving because Christ first loved me

Nim

Loving Kindness

In my previous post I quoted some verses from Ephesians 2. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since, although my thoughts have moved in another direction – God’s word is packed with goodness! And it’s not that I’ve learnt something new, but it has hit me with fresh impact, so here are some thoughts on the kindness of God towards us:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7

These are truly incredible verses!

Paul explains to the Ephesian Christians and to us that 1) our merciful God loves us with a great love. (He loved us even when we were “dead” in our sin)

2) Because of his love he has rescued us from sin and death through Jesus’ sacrifice in our place,

3) We have been raised and seated with Christ in heaven (spiritually for now, but one day physically too!)

4) The reason for this is so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us”

WOW.

It’s easy to miss that last part amidst all the other amazing things that Paul says, but it is an incredible truth.

Most people whether Christians or not, know that Jesus came to die on a cross for sinful people. But how often do we reflect on his motivations and feelings in doing so?

We’re grateful, and amazed at such a painful, generous sacrifice. But perhaps we sometimes think that God’s forgiveness is him hauling us out of trouble because he is merciful and good, but that he views us as trouble makers whom he cares for semi- reluctantly. ‘We’re more trouble than we’re worth, but what’s a loving God to do but keep on loving us?

But this verse explodes that theory.

the incomparable riches of his grace” 

The Besotted Bridegroom

God’s purpose? Not a grudging one-time rescue, but an enthusiastic resolve and determination to love you and I, and keep on showing his kindness to us for the rest of eternity!! He can’t wait to show us greater depths of his love in Christ Jesus, like a bridegroom who looks past the wedding to a lifetime of finding new ways to love his bride.

This is not a reluctant love, or an abstract, theoretical, ‘textbook’ love. This is real, sacrificial, passionate, unfailingly kind love.

Please don’t misunderstand me, we are not at the centre of the universe as we like to imagine. He is! God is not like us, and first and foremost he glorifies himself. Nevertheless this is a biblical picture of how he feels about us. It is even more wonderful a truth when we consider how ‘other’ God is, how far above us in every way, and how undeserving we are!

Christ's Bride Ephesians 2

The Blushing Bride

The more I consider this, the more I feel like the blushing bride that scripture says I am! (Is 62.5, Rev 19.7) His love for us is so undeserved!

Perhaps I seem ‘spiritual’ writing this blog, but trust me that the depths of my heart show my great need of Jesus Christ every single day. To hear that this good and holy God loves me and wants to show unfailing kindness to me, gives me confidence to draw near to him. How can I help but respond to this kind of undeserved, freely given, frankly declared love?

We are blessed people with an eternally loving God, I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing in his love.

Nim

The Surprising Truth of the Love of God

It’s a startling truth that we are loved by God. It’s a truth that I don’t always believe deeply enough, and even today a friend asked me how I could be so sure.

Christians are used to hearing it and telling it to others: “Jesus loves you” “God is love” “You are precious”. We sing it at church “I’m special because God has loved me” “It can trip off the tongue but if we are not careful it can become a shallow truth to us or a trite saying that doesn’t hold real comfort because we are unsure of its depth. Our non-Christian friends may think it’s just wishful thinking – a comforting thought to help us deal.new-heart

We should be continually surprised, amazed, and convinced by the love of God. If we are not, we have forgotten or we don’t understand. That’s to be expected but we mustn’t be content to stay that way!

I was recently at a conference for church workers, where someone reminded me that God delights in us. I found myself agreeing in my head, but my heart harboured doubts. We don’t always feel like this can be true! We know we wouldn’t love so freely and faithfully if the roles were reversed! We’re such a mess, and we don’t love him as we should, and sometimes life feels bitter.

God is infinitely powerful, Sovereign over all, creator and sustainer, holy, righteous, true, and just. And yet he loves the people whom he has made, deeply and personally! This is not some abstract thing, or even just a feeling. His love is a covenant – a promise and a faithful commitment, unyielding in good or bad times – we catch just a glimpse of this reality in the love and commitment of a faithful marriage.

What will make us truly believe it?

The Bible is full of God’s own words telling us about his love and care of us and our identity as his children. Jesus’ very great sacrifice at the cross is the prime and eternal example of his love, and the reason that sinners like us can feel secure in it:

1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 

Lamentations 3:22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

Romans 8:37-9 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you’re a Christian, God’s love for you is a fact, its part of your identity, and you can’t lose it! If you’re not, God invites you to come to him, accept his love and forgiveness, and be his child.

I think it’s important that we continue to find God’s love for us surprising. If we truly understand its capacity and its cost we should be amazed and joyfully humbled by it, as the words of this hymn writer capture so well:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

It sounds too good to be true, but it is this good, and it is true.

 

Nim

 

Encouraged by The Heart of Christ

At New Word Alive back in April, I was convinced by Mike Reeves glowing recommendation to read “The Heart of Christ”.

It’s a small book written by the 17th century Puritan Pastor Thomas Goodwin…Yes that’s right “Puritan”. But don’t let ideas of solemn men dressed in black put you off! Goodwin’s reason for writing this book was to convince Christians about how Jesus feels towards us. He aimed to show that the gloriously ascended Jesus feels no less love towards sinners on earth now than he did while amongst his disciples, and that the Bible contains many proofs that should encourage and gladden the sin-burdened Christian.

To do this he walks us through the Bible demonstrating through Jesus’ own words, and the teaching of his apostles, how deeply Christ loves us, how readily he welcomes us to himself, and how he longs to return for his bride the church!

Doesn’t that sound like a great read?!

Now it’s taken me a few months to get round to reading it – in fact it took me getting ill with the flu to make a concerted effort to begin, as I knew the dated language might be a challenge, but I’m so glad I started! In fact, I’ve gotten used to the language, and it has been helpfully edited with notes here and there to explain old-fashioned terms. (I’m sure my vocabulary is benefitting too!)

Here is a taster for you of some of its delights:

A Sure Servant

In Part 1 Goodwin takes us through John 13, showing us that as Jesus washes the disciples feet he demonstrates not only their need, and his gift on the cross, but also that despite his great power, and anticipation of his quickly approaching glory, he loves them and serves them absolutely.

Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist.

He points out that John tells us Christ “loved them to the end” and that it is his knowledge of his approaching death, resurrection, and ascension that prompts him in this act of love that will stay in the minds of his disciples forever. One of Goodwin’s reasons for highlighting this is to assure us that Jesus still loves us although he has returned to his throne, his attitude has not changed, and his love has not cooled.

(Forgive my clumsy summary – he writes on this fully and carefully!)

A Loving Bridegroom

Goodwin also demonstrates how Jesus Christ will one day again serve his people – at his own wedding feast! (Luke 12:36)

And in Ephesians 5 he shows us how Christ is the one to wash his church and make her beautiful, presenting her as his radiant wife. He gave himself up for her, and he will not abandon her, or wait for her to purify herself, but beautify her!

Another key passage that Goodwin uses to encourage is John 17, using it to explain Christ’s heart towards believers as he prays to his Father for them.

I was also really moved by his reminder that Christ returns himself for his bride, he doesn’t send a servant as he might, reigning in his glorious perfection, but longs to return for his people! (See John 14)

These are just a few of the comforting truths that Goodwin expounds from scripture, and I’m only half way through the book!

It’s easy not to notice our hearts growing cold, and the doubts creeping in as we wrestle with sin and suffering. Does Jesus really love me? He feels so distant. How can he forgive me when I’ve done X, Y or Z?

The Heart of Christ is a worthwhile read, especially if like me you are new to Puritan literature! It has filled me with a new gratitude to Christ, and a greater joy and assurance of his love, straight out of the pages of the Bible!

Praise God for sending Christ Jesus – the servant king, the rescuer, the bridegroom.

Why Gratitude Isn’t Enough

We had a wonderful Good Friday service this morning at Cambray Baptist Church.

As we sang of the pain and suffering of the cross, and our gratitude to Jesus for His sacrifice, I silently thanked Him and let the words of the hymns warm my heart, melting away the complacency and familiarity that had built up.

As I prayed I thought about what a right emotional response should be to the cross.

Mine was overwhelmingly one of gratitude, but my response of love lagged behind. Yet gratitude for the cross is not enough! You are grateful to a traffic warden if they let you off a parking fine, but you would never say that you love them. (Thanks to Mike Reeves for this example that sticks in my mind!)

The gift of our rescue at the cross demands more than gratitude because it brings the restoration of a relationship, not just the fulfilment of a legal transaction. And it’s the most important and fulfilling relationship in the universe! We are reconciled to God and this demands our love.

But I feel so worthless as I look at my sinfulness! I easily recall the thousands of time per week when I put my own desires above God’s, continuing to expose my heart’s rebellion with my lack of worship and obedience. I feel like a fraud at the foot of the cross!

I am truly grateful for the rescue that was won for me that cruel day at Golgotha. But I feel unworthy to come to him with such a tiny pathetic offering of love in response. It seems like such an insult!

I feel like I can’t look Jesus in the eye, at least until I’ve got my act together, and am more truly loving toward him! (Do you see Satan’s persuasive whisper here as I deny the gospel of grace?!)

With all this whirling through my mind, thank God that we sang this hymn this morning, touching on this very thing, and speaking of the response that I must remember. Here are some verses from “O Teach Me What It Meaneth”:

O teach me what it meaneth,
Thy love beyond compare,
The love that reacheth deeper
Than depths of self-despair!

Yea, teach me, till there gloweth
In this cold heart of mine
Some feeble, pale reflection
Of that pure love of Thine.

O teach me what it meaneth,
For I am full of sin;
And grace alone can reach me,
And love alone can win.
O teach me, for I need Thee,
I have no hope beside,
The chief of all the sinners
For whom the Saviour died.

O infinite Redeemer,
I bring no other plea;
Because Thou dost invite me
I cast myself on Thee.
Because Thou dost accept me
I love and I adore;

Because Thy love constraineth,
I’ll praise Thee evermore.


It is because of my sin, my terrible lovelessness, that Christ did die! His love is greater than my sinful failure to love! His grace is sufficient, He is the one who teaches me to love him in return!

It is because of this love, “Because thou dost accept me” that I grow to love and adore him in return.

Hallelujah! No wonder we call it “Good Friday”!

Who Loves Most?

This week me and my Ladies are studying Luke 7:36-50, here’s a flavour for you.

Imagine the scene:

A dinner party with Jesus as a guest, religious leaders and Pharisees recline around the table, making polite conversation and trying to figure out why this teacher from Nazareth is causing such a stir.

Suddenly the atmosphere changes, a woman has entered the room, she kneels at Jesus feet weeping, wiping her tears from his feet with her hair, and pouring oil on them. The quiet chatter around the table becomes angry murmuring, as the woman is recognised.

She’s a prostitute, a sinner, what is she doing among them? She has no right to be in good society!

She kisses Jesus’ feet again and again, seemingly oblivious to their stares and censure.

A woman crying, social conventions crumbling. Perhaps this scene makes you want to stay away from the drama, we’re British after all! How will Jesus salvage his reputation?

But why is she weeping at Jesus’ feet in the first place, and why as the story progresses, does Jesus respond so warmly to this embarrassing demonstration?

In fact it almost seems like Jesus changes the subject before it can be broached. But Luke tells us that Jesus is responding to the inner thoughts of Simon his host – “What is Jesus thinking, letting this woman near him?!”

He tells Simon a story:

 41 Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

    42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

    43 Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled. You have judged correctly, Jesus said.

Jesus is the money lender who cancels the debt of sin that we owe. The debt that results in God’s wrath and righteous judgement. It’s a debt we could never hope to repay!

He continues:

    44 Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

    45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.

    46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

    47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven— for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

    48 Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven.

We can respond in two ways:

Like Simon – He does not think that he owes God anything, or if he does, then he’s doing pretty well at paying the debt by his own means. He is not grateful for forgiveness and he does not love Jesus (perhaps he thinks that he’s doing Jesus a favour by inviting him round for a meal!)

OR

Like the woman – She knows that her sins before God are huge, creating a debt she can never pay. Imagine the despair she must feel, unable to enter God’s presence or make things right. She knows that she needs Jesus’ forgiveness. Perhaps she has heard of Jesus’ words (a few chapters earlier in Luke 5:32) “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And maybe she is one of the many who have come in faith for the forgiveness of this man who speaks with God’s authority.

She is full of joy and can’t stop weeping with gratitude! She knows she hasn’t earned it, it’s a gift, but she responds to it with love.

Simon is just as spiritually bankrupt as the woman, only he does not realize it.

Time to look in the mirror!

How do we relate to Jesus? As equals? A wise teacher? A friend to ask the occasional bit of advice from?

Maybe we feel a bit distant, and unable to relate to the display of emotion from this nameless woman?

“He who has been forgiven little loves little.”

If you’ve never been heartbroken over your sin – however you express it personally, shouldn’t you be? I think there should be times when it hits us afresh – how filthy our rags are, how pure and perfect Jesus grace for sinners. It should break down our casual attitude towards Christ.

But hear me carefully, because this is not another thing to add to your spiritual to do list, or an item to write on the list of ways you’ve failed Christ today! (Number 201: Failed to respond adequately to God’s forgiveness)

For this woman what makes her weep is not so much her failure, but her gratitude. She is overcome with joy at Jesus’ offer of forgiveness in the face of her flagrant and obvious sin. That is why she doesn’t care that she looks a mess, or that she is surrounded by scornful VIP’s, or that she will be the talk of the town for her behaviour.

As Christians we remind ourselves not just that our debt has been cancelled, but that Christ our generous Lord has credited his own righteousness to our account!

It should feel too good to be true!

Join me in praying that God’s spirit would be at work to make us people who love much, because we have been forgiven much.

Nim