Saturday, 31 October 2015

For Reformation Day...

"Christ takes upon Himself sin, the power which held the world captive under its grasp.
It is not a question of giving His life for specific people but of Christ taking upon Himself all of the evil of the world and defeating the powers which held man captive to sin, the world and the devil"

Jordan Cooper - The Great Divide.

Isn't it great when you can meet someone who really engages you with their passion about something - it can truly be contagious, and may even cause you to start to look at things with fresh eyes.

Around four years ago, I discovered the writings of Robert Farrar Capon (those of who have are probably already salivating!). Whilst he often left me provoked, astonished or troubled by some of what he said, he also continuously left me reveling in the sheer splendor and abundance of the richness of God's grace, because it is indeed the sweet wonder of the Gospel that truly makes us free.

I often find myself come 'back to the table', as it were, to savor those same writings, and I have found myself doing so this past week as a result of some studies into the great truths of justification re-discovered by Martin Luther. Let me unpack a little of this.

In his book, "Between Noon and Three", Robert really spreads out the nature of God's astonishing love to our broken world. Towards the end of the work, he has a chapter on the final judgement, starting with Revelation 6:9 and 10 - the cry of God's people to bring a final blow against evil. After glimpsing at Revelation 20, he then looks at Jesus' words about this in John chapters 5, 8 and 12, noting how the first event here is the raising of all the dead, and how judgement will be determined by the Lamb's book of life.

With this in mind, he returns to Jesus' own clarification of this event in John, that
1. The Father judges no one (John 5:22), because He has passed this to His Son.
2. The Son doesn't judge (12:47), because rejection itself judges us (vs 48).
3. Christ is drawing us to Himself (John 12:31,32), hence His work in us (Colossians 2:13 and 14).
4. This final work of judgement has already begun (John 12:31).

Having gained an overview, we can then focus on the day itself. Notice that all are raised. Why is that? Why would those who are damned not merely be sent straight to condemnation? This is where the issue of Justification is brought before us.

First of all, consider the Apostle Paul's words to Timothy:

"I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men... this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

The desire of God is for all men to share in the redemptive work of His beloved Son, and that being so, Christ gave Himself to ransom them.

Then, consider Paul's words in his letter to the Romans:

"Therefore, just as one man's sin lead to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all". (Romans 5:18).
Did you hear that?

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us all life and health and peace.
The scope, notes Albert Wolters, of God's work of Redemption, is entirely comparable to the scope of the impact of the invasion of sin.

On that final day, what counts is what is written in one particular book, written in accordance to what Jesus, the Lamb,  tells us of this judgement - His Father does not judge, He does not judge, because He came to draw us, desiring all to be redeemed.

On the cross at Calvary, as John himself tells us, Jesus didn't just give Himself for our sins, but the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

That is why all are raised. The work of Jesus Christ justifies (redeems) life, hence all of creation benefits directly from that work, both now, and on that last day.

So why, then, will there be those who spend eternity in a place that wasn't prepared for them?

The answer lies in point 2 above.

Look at the truth on this matter in John chapter 3-
God gave His Son that we might all (the world) live and be saved (Verses 16, 17).
If we trust in God's Son, we are saved, but if we reject Him, we are condemned - why - because  judgement (separation from God) comes upon those who prefer darkness to light - those who love evil rather than the one who is truly love (Verses 18 and 19).
A similar point is made by Paul in Romans 1. God judges men now who reject Him and His work of liberation by giving them over to their own folly (1:24).

The consequences of what God has done for us in His only Son are truly extraordinary.
Through one act of righteousness, there has come about a justification (a total verification) of life to us all.

This is a truly profound thought.

We inhabit a world scarred by sin and stung by death, but the finished work of God in the giving of His Son to this world means these trials are passing, and that our Father wishes us and His works to truly, totally live once again.

The life of God, given to the world in His begotten Son, has certainly made us free (Galatians 5:1). 

Martin Luther, writing in his treatise on freedom, notes that because of Christ, the good gifts of this world are for our benefit, and can be used well and truly enjoyed in everyday life, for such external things do not clothe us with righteousness or freedom, but are ours because of the righteousness in Christ alone. To preach this, he says, is to truly feed the soul and set men free.

Let us share such riches as we enjoy and share the beauty of God's creative work, care for each other, love one another, "speaking" of God's righteousness and love to our needy world.

Happy Reformation Day!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Skate-boarding... In flip-flops.

"There's that word again - heavy. Is there something wrong with the earth's gravity in the future?"  Doc Emmett Brown - Back to the Future.

So there they were, the great company of those - Hebrews and many others - camped at Mount Sinai, watching as the peak became touched with the overshadowing of the presence of God. Assembled before this foreboding sight, Moses goes forward to hear God before them, and returns, telling the people to consecrate themselves, so they to might draw close to the Almighty, as a people called to be His.

And so, the day comes when God descends before them, and they are shaken by the awe of His presence. Fire and smoke, tremors and trumpet blasts, but the people cannot truly draw close - the sight of God would kill them.

Filled with fear, they keep their distance, and call for Moses to go into the thick darkness that has shrouded the mountain and speak to God alone (Exodus chapter 19).

God amongst us. 

What it must have been like on that day, or the day when Ezekiel (Ezekiel chapter 1)  sees God's throne, or Daniel (Daniel 7) sees the Ancient of Days.

Seeing the radiance, majesty and splendor of the Lord by peaking into heaven.

Except, of course, that all these moments happen on earth.

The response of the Children of Israel at Sinai - to keep God at arms length, if not further - is telling. By the time that Ezekiel sees the Lord, the nation is under judgement (2 Kings 17:7-23 gives a good summation as to why), and when we get to Daniel, God is speaking through pagan Kings and using foreign lands. The severance, seen so clearly in the forming of the golden calf, seems complete, but Israel had to learn that their Lord was not just another 'god' to be plicated from afar by oblations and offerings. The 'throne' He holds, above the ark of the law and between the cherubim (surrounded by the reminders of Eden) is a mercy seat, where the blood of one far better than any levitical sacrifice, has covered the sins of many (Hebrews 10). The heart of the true temple (in Eden and in the New Earth) is the very presence of Him who descends to be among us.

This isn't, of course, just an 'old covenant' problem.
It's easy for us to 'draw close with our lips' (our external activity), whilst being far away in our hearts, and so often, we can devise formulas which seek to impose rather than bridge the distance. Like skate-boarding in flip-flops, it won't get us very far.

God seeks to draw closer than we often wish through His spoken word, and the broken bread and poured wine of the sacraments. He comes to our hearts, in the glorious splendor of His grace in the justifying work of His Son, to reside there, and to be truly present amongst us, and so we behold His glory, full of grace and truth. Do we embrace the life which flows here from the living one on the throne, or do we respond by seeking to 'qualify' what can and cannot be permitted? The Lord, our redeemer and life (Song of Songs 2:4, Hosea 2:14-20) is here amongst us (Matthew 18:20), and it is sweet indeed (Luke 24:30-32).

The call for us is to intimacy (1 John 1:7) - a profound union which stems from a genuine handling of the word of life (verses 1-4). If we are to truly grow together in Him, this must indeed be the longing and the joy of our fellowship.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10).

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Passionate Faith

I just want to know you better, know you better, know you better now...

All I know is we said hello
So dust off your highest hopes
All I know is pouring rain
And everything has changed
All I know is a new found grace
All my days, I'll know your face
All I know since yesterday is everything has changed

Everything has changed - Taylor Swift.

Ever think about what motivates you to do the things you do.
Sometimes it's necessity, sometimes obligation, sometimes, perhaps, a sense of doing what's right (doing our 'good deed for the day'), but life would be pretty drab if all our actions merely sprang from a field so one dimensional.

I've been thinking a fair bit of late about worship (talked about in my 18th July post). When reading up on this again, I came across a definition of Christian Worship which defined it - on our part - as "Extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One",  which left me somewhat deflated. How do I, with all my weaknesses and failings, really give such total love and devotion to someone?

The thread which ties the connection to both these issues (motivation and devotion) together came up a couple of times this month for me - both at work and whilst creating photographically. On a recent shoot, I had the opportunity to provide the means for someone else to spend a day trying new ideas and creating images without being too limited by the constraints they were expecting (time, facilities, etc). It was truly wonderful to see them totally engaged with the opportunity, providing a rich period of creative work that they clearly enjoyed. Then, at work this last week, my manager was informing me how she'd been able to really give confidence to a work colleague, and I knew exactly what she meant, as I'd been able to do exactly the same for the same person on another matter (photography - surprise, surprise).

One of the most fulfilling things we can do in life is facilitate moments when we allow another to truly either gain or express the confidence to step out and achieve something meaningful and worthwhile - what a change that brings. They become more, because something deep within them has been allowed to flourish, and the result is marvelous to behold.

We can often treat the Christian life purely as duty - a series of things we must do, so we're 'not like other men', but that's very different to a life which ignites in us a deep longing, an over-riding passion, to be in our Father's courts, reveling in His being amongst us in His Son, knowing that all our deepest springs of joy and delight our only found in His fathomless love towards us, which makes us free to live and once more delight in all His goodness. That manner of passion readily brings a deep giving of one to another, because it derives from a true understanding of the one loved, who has given Himself totally to us and for us.

Scripture tells us we have such a one who knows our weaknesses, and that we can draw close, with total confidence, to Him, always finding aid and mercy in our times of great need (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

Being devoted or worshipful becomes hard work when we spend our time looking towards the mess that we usually are, rather than to the one who has truly made us His own (and, consequently, blessed us with all spiritual blessings found in Him). The joy is that He's not standing there, distant and aloof, but closer than a brother, calling us, encouraging us to leave our frail ego's and come, without anything but His grace, made ours especially at the Cross, to be loved and to share that love.

The results of our truly knowing this, and living within that embrace, are all that counts.