Reflection day 31- Where help is found!
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Travelling can be difficult, not least when you are getting ready to go on holiday. Often it’s done in a rush, with multiple suitcases, detailed itineraries to be prepared, and family members reluctant to co-operate. Also, travelling can be dangerous; whilst we are so often conscious of God’s protection over us, we do hear of such things are car accidents, air crashes and train derailments, and may even have been affected by something of this nature.
But think for a moment what it was like to travel in the ancient world, for example in Israel during Old Testament times. It was difficult and dangerous then, but for different reasons. Walking in the climate of the Middle East exposed you to the possibility of sunstroke; the roads were rutted, unsurfaced, with potholes and extremely stony in places, so there was always the possibility of physical injury such as a twisted ankle, broken leg, or the like. Add to that the very real threat of robbers along the way (remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?), and travelling in those times was not ‘a walk in the park’.
Travel under gruelling and perilous conditions is the backdrop to Psalm 121. This is one of the Psalms of Ascents, written to be sung as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. As they made their way to the city, these pilgrims faced all of the dangers any traveller faced on such a journey. All along the way, though, they encouraged themselves in the keeping power of God by singing ‘My help comes from the LORD’. Each of them knew that they were not alone, that God was watching over them. This was a powerful encouragement to them, and should be to us too. We may not be able to go on too many journeys at the moment, but the sentiments expressed in these 8 verses hold good for us too.
The theme of this Psalm is very much the LORD’s protection of His people – in the King James Version of the Bible the words ‘help’, ‘keep’, and ‘preserve’ are repeated in this Psalm. Look at the verbs used in the modern-day version above, and notice the repeated use of the word ‘watch’. Rejoice in the fact that the God who watches over Israel, His chosen people in Old Testament times, is the same Heavenly Father who watches over you, believer, for all of your life, however long or short it may be. There is never a time when He is not watching over His people; He doesn’t take time off, He isn’t on furlough.
He provides help and comfort to His people; just as shade is welcome to the pilgrim traveller on a scorching hot day, so is His protection to each of His people as they travel through life’s journey. He will give us relief in the most challenging circumstances of life, and for every part of it, day and night.
The LORD watches over His own; we see this repeated because of our human frailty, and our tendency to doubt and unbelief. We need reassurance so often, like little children. We are to remember that nothing that happens to us is outside of His plan; He knows what is best for His children. The final verse of the Psalm speaks of our ‘coming and going’ – all of our life’s activities are under His care.
We are currently experiencing a very different few weeks (or months?), with much less physical travelling for many of us. Yet it has also provided a great number of opportunities to encourage ourselves and others in God’s Word and His creation; instead of rushing around we have time to contemplate the greatness and goodness of God. Let’s savour these moments!
This Psalm should be a great comfort and encouragement to any believer; it would have put a spring in the pilgrim’s step as he or she travelled to Jerusalem. May it encourage us, and lift our hearts in praise to our loving Heavenly Father, as we continue on our earthly pilgrimage, to our heavenly home.
Reflection day 32- Ransomed
‘But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.’ (Psalm 49:15)
These days we think of the payment of a ransom in some kind of hostage situation – a terrorist siege or the kidnapping of a millionaire. In the ancient world though, a slave could be freed from slavery by the payment of a ransom and similarly prisoners of war. The words ‘ransom,’ ‘redeem’ and ‘redemption’ are all related. To be ‘redeemed,’ was to be freed from slavery or captivity by the payment of that ransom price. The whole thing was spoken of as ‘redemption.’
The deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt is the great act of redemption in the Old Testament. Psalm 49, however, is a profound and sober reflection upon the fact that no one can ultimately redeem a person from death.
7 No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
8 the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
9 so that they should live on forever
and not see decay.
The Psalm is addressed to ‘both low and high, rich and poor alike’ (v2). Wealth can give a misplaced security and complacency. There are those ‘who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches’ (v6), but, ‘People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish’ (v12). Whether or not Queen Elizabeth I did say before she died, ‘All my possessions for a moment of time!’ the fact is that wealth cannot indefinitely extend our life. On one level then Psalm 49 is grimly realistic.
But then, perhaps to our surprise, the Psalmist writes in v15, ‘But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.’ The Psalmist is confident that God will provide the ransom to free him from death and bring him into God’s immediate presence.
Whatever other Scriptures Jesus had in mind, he surely had this one, when he said, ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:4). A price had to be paid since death was actually God’s judgement on human rebellion. His death was to be that ransom price.
The writer to the Hebrews says Jesus died so that that ‘by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (2:14&15).
Jesus said to the penitent thief (or more likely revolutionary) on the cross, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:43)
Jesus real, physical, bodily resurrection was the proof the ransom price had been paid and that death had been conquered.
I will not say that Christians in the NT were completely unafraid of dying for this can be a painful and humiliating process and we need grace from God to bear that. Nevertheless, they were not afraid of death and their writings are suffused with hope and joy.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand;
Than to be the king of a vast domain
and be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
this world affords today.’ (Rhea Miller)
Reflection day 33- Touching
This morning I watched our service on YouTube and then was able to join the service of the church at High Wycombe on Zoom while also getting lunch ready. That was really quite convenient.
What do we miss? The musical Pastor at High Wycombe plays the keyboard and sings along to the songs! Why shouldn’t this be ‘the new normal’?
Let me focus on one obvious thing today – touch.
God made us bodily creatures and, short of touch, there are all the subtleties of body language. Jesus ‘looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts’ (Mark 3:5). Jesus ‘looked at him and loved him’ (Mk 10:21). ‘The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter’ (Luke 22:61) It was significant (and surprising, even shocking) that Jesus was willing to drink from the water jar of a Samaritan women (John 4:7) or go into the house of a tax collector (Lk 19:1ff). Sitting, standing, hand gestures, ‘rubbing shoulders’ are all important.
And then there is actual touch. Stephen Williams was listening recently to a doctor speaking about the importance of touch. The tender touch, the doctor explained, triggers all kinds of beneficial chemicals in our bodies. Jesus did not have to use touch to heal anybody (Matthew 8:5ff, Jn 5:46ff) but he routinely did. He took the hand of Simon Peter’s feverish mother-in-law and helped her up. He reached out his hand and touched the unclean leper. He took Jairus’ dead daughter by the hand (a dead body was also ‘unclean’) and said ‘“Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”)’ (Mk 5:41). When some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk he put his fingers in the man’s ears and spat and touched his tongue (Mk 7:33). He touched the eyes of blind men (Mt 20:34 and see also Jn 9:6). Jesus took Peter by the hand when he was sinking (Mt 14:37). He took the little children in his arms and blessed them (Mk 10:16). He washed his disciples’ feet (Jn13).
People wanted to touch him too (Luke 6:19). The woman who was persistently bleeding (and therefore also unclean) touched the edge of his cloak (Lk 8:44). A woman who had led a sinful life but received forgiveness wet his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with perfume (Luke 7:38).
In the parable of the Two Sons the father ran out to meet his repentant son, ‘threw his arms round him and kissed him’ (Lk 15:20). That, remember, is a dramatic picture of God’s love and grace.
Jesus suffered physically, died physically, and his body was taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and laid in a tomb. He rose bodily. The women who first saw him alive again clasped his feet and worshipped him (Mt 14:10). He told his astonished disciples, ‘Touch me and see’ (Luke 24:39). For the record he also ascended physically to heaven and will return physically in the same way. A face and voice on a computer screen will not do.
The same is true in the book of Acts. Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up (3:7) He, after walking and jumping and praising God held on to Peter and John. Ananias placed his hands on Saul/Paul after he was blinded on the Damascus Road (9:9). References could be multiplied. Those commissioned to be deacons or missionaries also had Christian leaders lay hands on them, symbolically conferring authority on them (6:6, 13:3). It was deeply significant both that Peter, a Jew, welcomed the Gentile messengers of Cornelius into his house and then that Peter entered the house of Cornelius himself. We read about Paul and Barnabas ‘gathering the church together’ after they arrived in Antioch to report back on their mission trip (14:27) and again when they returned from a critical meeting in Jerusalem (15:30). Perhaps you could do that by Zoom. But when the Ephesian elders said ‘Goodbye’ to Paul for the last time, ‘They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.’ (20:37) The Christians at Tyre with whom Paul and his friends stayed for seven days, ‘All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray’ (21:5). Paul was encouraged on the final leg of his journey to Rome when the Christians from Rome travelled to meet him and his companions.
Some years before he had told them, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ (Romans 16:16). Peter writing from Rome to Christians in Turkey says, ‘Greet one another with a kiss of love.’ 1 Peter 5:14) 2 & 3 John are both short letters. John explains, ‘I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete’ (2 Jn v12 and similarly 3 Jn v13).
In conclusion this is another reason why virtual church cannot be the new normal. And sometime later this year I look forward to shaking your hand again.
Reflection day 34- ‘And surely I am with you always…’
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
Matthew 28:20 – ‘And surely I am with you always…’
I was talking to someone in my village last week while out on my daily exercise. They admitted that they liked the social distancing measures because they are by nature an introvert. He liked the empty roads, customers not hassling him, and less people on his dog walk. He said he was quite happy at this time. On the other hand, for some of us who are reading this our greatest fear is being alone. This is a sad reality for you in these distressing times. God has created us to be relational beings and we are missing the companionship of our families, church family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Being on your own over the past month has been hard for you. All of us never want to be forgotten about. Jesus brings us comfort with His words in Matthew – ‘And surely I am with you always…’
Fear of being alone takes many forms and is not limited to later in life. It can start much earlier. Will I find anyone to sit with in the school dining room? Will I have anyone to talk to at the wedding reception? Will I ever find someone to marry? Who will I call upon in an emergency? When will they stop giving me the silent treatment in the office? Will anyone ever visit me if I end up in a care home?
‘And surely I am with you always…’ are the words from our precious Saviour. This promise by Jesus is something that can bring you comfort at this time. A promise that will never be broken. Jesus is saying to you today in a real personal way – ‘And surely I am with you always…’
I have never had an imaginary friend and my boys, to the best of my knowledge, don’t either. But some children make up imaginary friends to talk to, but we have a real friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). And He isn’t just anyone. He is the mighty “I AM” who chose Moses to be the leader to set free His people and who died in our place to save us from our sin. If you are feeling scared or overwhelmed today or in the future, Jesus is with you and will help you during this time of isolation – ‘And surely I am with you always…’
Psalm 139 is also an amazing comfort in this regard, vs 7-10:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
This psalm makes it clear that God is always with you.
Do you struggle with the word “always” Jesus used in Matthew 28:20? One reason why people may struggle with this is because nothing seems permanent in this world and sometimes, we don’t feel that He’s with us. But that doesn’t change the reality that He is.
Jesus is with us through His Spirit today. But we are lonely. We are afraid in our loneliness especially at this time. You are not alone when you feel this way. Jesus is with you and in you. When you feel vulnerable and alone, you are not truly alone. Jesus is with you who knows all about your feelings and cares for you and will help you today and in the future precious loved ones. Rest and rely upon this promise today – ‘And surely I am with you always…’
Reflection day 35- All together now
‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2vs46-47)
Concerns about the development of a privatised and distorted version of New Testament Christianity are nothing new, even if they have been heightened by advances in communication technologies. I remember, many years ago, a couple visiting the church for a short-time. Sadly, they always struggled to find a church they were satisfied with and so contented themselves with reading the works of the Puritans at home. Before YouTube there were DVDs, CDs, tapes and printed sermons. I have benefited enormously from these but they are no substitute for real church life.
Another defective form of NT Christianity recognises the need to meet with others but only those like us whom we feel comfortable mixing with. Thus there were not only separate sections of church buildings but sometimes separate services for aristocrats and their servants in the great stately homes. Race has also been an issue. In the past, and still today, people of different races or nationalities can meet separately from their fellow Christians even when they live in the same area and speak the same language fluently. Churches can subtly form along class lines. And, of course, then we have ‘the youth service’ or perhaps ‘the family service’ and the traditional service for the old fogies.
All this is a far cry from the churches the apostles, directed – and sometimes pushed and shoved – by the Lord Jesus, worked to establish. Jesus sought to bring different people to God and together and that meant such practical things as opening up your home to others and eating and drinking with them. To many who observed that, the gospel was highly attractive.
Even before lockdown were you interacting with other Christians as you should have been? We have different personalities: does the solitude, quietness and privacy of lockdown represent a temptation to you? Resolve that whenever lockdown is lifted you will play a full part in the body, that is the church headed up by Christ.
And in the meantime use Zoom, FaceTime, the telephone, WhatsApp, and even the old fashioned pen and paper as much as possible to keep in touch with your brothers and sisters. Help them and be helped.
For further reflection read Ephesians 2:11-22
Reflection day 36- A word of encouragement!
‘‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ (Hebrews 12:5-7,11, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12)
Do you long to be holy, loving and Christlike? Take heart then if you are finding life hard at the moment.
You will have heard me and others compare God to a master craftsman, in particular a sculptor, who, through the blows of hammer and chisel, chips the stone away until he has before him the beautiful figure that he alone could see in the marble block. We are indeed God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). ‘O what I owe to the file, hammer, and furnace!’ wrote the Scottish Christian Samuel Rutherford in the same vein.
But the writer to the Hebrews uses a far more moving picture – in fact this is not a picture at all: he says, quite simply, God is treating you as sons, as his own dearly loved children. The writer quotes from Proverbs 3 which originally seems to have represented the king’s counsel for his son and heir. Loving and wise parents know when their children need play and relaxation and when, on the other hand, they require discipline. It’s important to realise that discipline is not necessarily a form of punishment. When you teach your child to tie up their own shoelaces, tell them to do their homework or empty the bins or perhaps to join you on a walk, it is not punishment but a means of helping them grow into mature adults. It is the loveless, careless parent (or step-parent) who neglects or indulges their children. The loving parent trains and disciplines their children.
Many people are finding life hard at the moment but God would use this, dearly loved child of God, to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews introduced the quotation from Proverbs as ‘this word of encouragement’. Maybe you feel worried, frightened, lonely or quite simply bored. A few members of the congregation are working especially hard at this time. Whatever, through your present hardships, God can increase your faith, patience, thoughtfulness and thankfulness. He can teach you more about prayer and the value and pleasure of communion with God. He is cultivating holiness, righteousness and peace in you. He is making you like Jesus. And even the sinless Jesus matured as a man by enduring hardship and suffering (5:8-9). In the same wise way God disciplined his beloved Son he disciplines the dearly loved children he redeemed and adopted into his family. So then, do not lose heart!
Reflection day 37- More than conquerors
In Romans 8:31-39 Paul emphasises through a string of rhetorical questions the absolute security a Christian enjoys, even if in the midst of severe hardships and persecution. The last two verses read:
‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.’
I have mentioned many times in church the testimony of a Dutch Christian called Corrie ten Boom. As a young woman she was imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp along with her sister Betsie for sheltering Jews in their family home. The Jews they hid all escaped but Betsie died in the camp.
The title of Corrie’s most famous book, ‘The Hiding Place,’ has a couple of meanings: first, the Jews the family sheltered were hidden in a room in their home accessed by a small concealed entrance. That was their hiding place, so well-hidden that the Nazis could not find them when they thoroughly searched the building. But, secondly, God was the sisters’ hiding place (Psalm 32:7) in all the horrors of war and imprisonment. Corrie wrote of life in Ravensbruck:
‘It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. “Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?”’
‘But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”’
‘I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors…. It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute—poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not “we shall be.” We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.’
‘Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry.’
Reflection day 38- ‘Standing firm’
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
Please read Daniel chapter 3
If you were to pick up a heap of magazines or newspapers or go online a few weeks ago, ahead of the coronavirus crisis, what would you be left thinking that our society worships – fame, fortune, food, celebrity, power, possessions? We seem to need to know what everybody else is doing or thinking, in order to do the same and make our lives fulfilled.
Priorities have changed in recent weeks, with health issues coming to the fore, and the celebrity culture seems to have been somewhat side-lined by the praise, rightly given, to the emergency services and other essential workers. Once the pandemic is ‘under control’, or over, the idols within our society will doubtless become evident once more.
How should Christians react to this? The well-known incident recounted in Daniel 3 will help us; the three young men (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) are good examples as to how to live and to take a stand in a society that had no time for God.
They were put in a dilemma through the megalomania of an autocratic king, Nebuchadnezzar – either they bowed down to a gigantic golden idol, or they would suffer the extreme consequences. This was a very real test of their faith, in that the God of Israel, whom they trusted, had clearly commanded ‘No bowing down to idols’ in the Second Commandment. These three men had significant roles in the king’s service; to go against his edict would be seen as an act of treason.
If you stand up for God, and are a true disciple of His, your faith will be challenged, just as theirs was. It’s difficult to live a consistent Christian life in a society that barely acknowledges our Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ, our great Master, told His disciples to ‘count the cost’, and to ‘take up their cross and follow me’. Long before this event, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had decided that they would honour God in all situations. It’s true for us too – if we haven’t determined ahead of time that we will stand up for our God and Saviour no matter what, then we probably won’t have the strength and wisdom to deal with challenges and temptations that will come our way.
Such difficulties and trials will come, you can be sure of that. The three friends do not comply with the king’s command, and others, keen to see them fall, report this to the king. Nebuchadnezzar, although furious with rage, gives them an ultimatum – ‘either you do as I say, or you will be thrown into the fiery furnace’. Despite this very real threat – of death itself, in a horrific way – they stand firm, such is their trust in God. Note how they make their stand before the greatest potentate in the world at that time (verses 16-18). They are not afraid of man, not afraid of death, they know that their Heavenly Father cares for them and will see them through, whatever may become of them.
What faith! What confidence! Their level of conviction was amazing and inspiring. This should a real challenge to us today. Are we standing firm on the Rock, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of all that’s going on around us? He is with us – just as the three young men found that He was with them in the furnace. He will never leave you nor forsake you – what a promise that is. More on this in next Friday’s Reflection…)
Don’t place undue emphasis on the things of the world – worship only Him!
Reflection day 39- the rainbow
Genesis 9 – 12 And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.’
Drawings of rainbows are posted on many windows at the moment as expressions of thanks for the risk-taking of workers in the NHS. Steven Green aptly spoke to us from Genesis 9 about the rainbow last Sunday evening. He spoke of it as a symbol of God’s glory (in its radiance and beauty, see Ezekiel 1:28), God’s judgment (for it recalls the flood), and God’s mercy (for it is a sign marking God’s promise never to flood the world again). On a very wet holiday in Cornwall in February earlier this year one of the highlights for us (on one of the better days when we had sunshine and showers) was a bright rainbow that appeared as we were out walking along the cliff tops, arching down into the sea.
In a beautiful old hymn we occasionally sing, George Matheson also recalls God’s rainbow. I’ll leave you with two verses but there is an interesting story to the writing of the hymn. Matheson was born in Glasgow in 1842 and excelled as a student. He graduated with first class honours from the city’s university when he was only 19 years old but a deep tragedy was being worked out in his life even as he completed his studies – he was rapidly going blind. It is thought this was the cause of an even greater heartache. A girl he had fallen in love with – they were planning to marry – broke off the relationship when the seriousness of his condition became evident.
These, and other painful experiences, probably led him to write his famous hymn, ‘O love that wilt not let me go,’ over twenty years later on the evening after his sister’s wedding. Unlike other ‘manufactured’ poems he wrote, he explained that he wrote this one, at a time of ‘severe mental suffering,’ in about five minutes under what we would surely call inspiration. These are the last two verses then:
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
By the way, in John’s vision of God in heaven, ‘A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.’ (Rev 4:3) ‘It is important from the beginning,’ says one distinguished commentator on Revelation, ‘that God bear witness that, even as judge, he will be gracious to his true people.’
Reflection day 40- Love: the most excellent way
Although often read at weddings, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 must have come as a sharp rebuke to the church at Corinth. Many of the Christians boasted of their spiritual gifts. Those who were skilled public speakers were highly esteemed generally in the city of Corinth and this thinking had carried over into the church. Some members of the church probably even claimed to speak ecstatically in the language of angels! Yet, at the same time they lacked basic Christian graces. There was quarrelling and division in the church, lawsuits between believers, sexual immorality and complacency about the dangers of frequenting pagan temples.
Paul’s words must have stung and even today they are profoundly searching:
‘And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
While we can substitute the name of Jesus for the word ‘love’, (‘Jesus is patient’ etc.), it’s impossible to substitute our own name comfortably, (‘Mark is patient’ etc.). Yet this is what God wants us to be.
Love is greater than faith and hope because the world to come will be full of love, even when faith has given way to sight and hope to reality. And of course, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).
Amy Carmichael (Reflection Day 29) wrote a searching little book, called ‘If’, that was inspired by 1 Corinthians 13. Here are some brief excerpts. She wrote in the language of the King James Version commonly used by Christians of her time – but you can get the drift:
‘If I belittle those whom I am called to serve
talk of their weak points
in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points;
if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “who made thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou hast not received?”
then I know nothing of Calvary love.’
‘If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another;
if I can in any way slight another in conversation,
or even in thought,
then I know nothing of Calvary love.’
‘If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection,
or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,”
or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness;
if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good,
then I know nothing of Calvary love.’
So it goes on, page after page, perhaps just one reflection on a page, ‘If… then I know nothing of Calvary love.’
She was criticised for putting things rather severely but surely she was right about this: it is through truly appreciating the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ at Calvary that we will learn to act with sincere, genuine love towards others.