“No one shall snatch them…”

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“Snatch” is such a visceral word, don’t you think? It speaks of violence and burglary.

And there it is in John 10:  “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. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)

It’s interesting that this passage follows one where Jesus contrasts His own life-giving mission with “The thief [who]comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” 

There’s no doubt who it is who is doing the snatching.

But today let’s focus on the other end of the spectrum – on the secure relationship envisaged by the one who knows he is not about to be snatched.  When we put our trust in Jesus -when we take His hand- we enter into a secure relationship.

The verse always reminds me of standing by a busy road with my two younger boys, taking their hands firmly in mine  (my oldest boy and my daughter were more responsible and compliant, perhaps!). The point was that, come what may, their hands were going to remain in mine. I had firmly decided that nothing or “no one would snatch them out of my hand.”

My will was set on it and my love dictated it. Any alternative was too horrific to contemplate.

And more than this: I had much greater understanding of the risks involved, and much greater strength with which to put my will, my love and wisdom into determined action

Is it any less with Father God? The journey of life is hazardous in the extreme and we very often do not understand the risks involved. Sometimes we blithely go “where angels fear to tread.” We may put ourselves in terrible danger.

Of course, God wants us to grow, and to be responsible, wise and circumspect, but in one important sense we never outgrow our need of Father’s care.

“Where does your security lie? Is God your refuge, your hiding place, your stronghold, your shepherd, your counselor, your friend, your redeemer, your saviour, your guide? If He is, you don’t need to search any further for security.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

But there’s more to say here. As long as a believer is worrying about whether or not they are truly saved, or truly safe, they will never grow up into spiritual maturity. It basically guarantees that a Christian will remain stuck in spiritual infancy. And worse, it paints a picture of God that is not only untrue but also unbiblical. It cheapens the gift of salvation – the gift of grace – and make God look like a finicky human.

But what happens when that sense of assurance blossoms inside you? What happens when you finally grow up and realise that you are safe and loved?

Why, then you are ready for adventures.

You are able to make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future!

The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. A recent writer termed it a call to go “Into the wild.”

“If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.” (Jon Krakauer)

This sense of adventure, springing from an assurance of safety is there too in John 10: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

Do you see it? The word “pasture” is a metaphor for satisfaction. Safety is only in one place -in Jesus Christ. He is the gate. But the gate is hinged, and those who find their security in Him  go in and out! There’s no hiding in corners or skulking in sanctuaries. We go into all the world and every aspect of it. We go with our emotions and intellects, our nerves and guts and passions. We enter like salt cauterising wounds, preserving what otherwise goes rotten; we go like light, exposing dark corners, and illuminating obstacles.

And we are intended to find pasture there, to love and be loved ,to embrace, write poems, play music, paint massive canvases full of vibrant pleasure and dance quadrilles and cook and clean toilet bowls….

And do all this knowing that we are eternally loved, and eternally securein Him.

For none shall snatch you out of HIs hand.

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Wasteland

“Though I walk through the valley…”

It seems to happen to all of us -those low moments of unaccountable gloom. I’m not talking about serious, disabling bouts of bleak blackness where nothing can be done. Just that low spot when you sigh and everything looks sepia.

I just read this verse, and it reminded me how much we need help from the outside at times like that -from each other, and from God: In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling wasteland. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” (Deuteronomy 32:10)

The wasteland!

The word “depression” is a geographical term meaning a low place! My online dictionary adds that it’s “an episode of sadness or apathy.” The verse above  describes it as “barren” or “desert” which means that nothing grows there. Nothing is produced – the territory of sadness is unproductive.

Somebody said, “If you’re walking through the valley of the shadow… – keep going!” Don’t stop or camp. Just because you send out postcards while you’re visiting Sadness, it doesn’t mean you live there.

Again and again, the Bible underlines the possibility of intervention. You are not left to marinade in your own sorrow. It was precisely within that desert place that “He found him… shielded… cared… guarded.”

If you will only call, God will answer.

Psalms 34:17 “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles”

Psalms 40:1-3 “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”

And what should I do myself? There’s a helpful key in the Bible. It’s something I have to set my mind to do to create change. It’s at the level of self-determination. I  have to change my way of thinking so that I don’t get stuck in these low places:

Look at Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

Think about these things!

This is what the Psalm writers do, time and again. They fill their minds with a large sense of who God is and what He does, Here’s some instances:

  • Psalms 3:3 “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
  • Psalms 32:10 “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.”
  • Psalms 37:3-4 “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
  • Psalms 42:11 “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” 

It is vital that we fill our minds with that sense of God. Left to our own devices, we soon falter! “Apart from me,you can do nothing…” (John 15) The truth is that we were not intended to go it alone. We were created for dependence and community, with God and with each other.

So the Bible instructs us how to think – how to think about God and how to think about ourselves. As we learn these things, and think on them, it shifts the focus of our thinking into a healthier place.

  • 1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.”
  • Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 
  • John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
  • Romans 8:38-39:”For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

 

There’s a lovely passage in T.H.White’s classic, The Once and Future King. It seems extremely relevant these days, but the truth is that truth is always relevant!

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

So we learn. We learn God. Not for the sake of knowledge – no, we’re not learning about God. We filling our minds with the character and  purpose and intentionality and wonder and fragrant loveliness of Jesus.

Look what a lot of things there are to learn!

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Hiding your Face

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Our society tends to regard as a sickness any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system and this is plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system. Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is seen as a cure for a sickness and therefore as good.

But Jesus was different.

And so, on its good days, is the human family that He created, that calls itself by His name. Galatians 3:28 is the mainspring of how the church family operates: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

There are no racial differences. All forms of  nationalism and patriotism are a wee bit ridiculous. Childish, even.

There are no class barriers. In the early church, the slave was invited to sit next to his owner on equal terms. Imagine that!

There are no gender differences. Male and female are of equal value. It cannot be any other way in Christ. Paygrades and job descriptions undergo a new validation process.

No pecking orders. No cliques.No insiders and outsiders. No denominations. No status list or order of merit.

You are simply brothers and sisters under one Father. Get used to it.

And for this sacred principle of human inclusion, Jesus suffered, and died a horrific death.

“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. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3-4)

I’m so used to looking at this verse to think about Jesus that I all but missed it. And yet, once you see it, it’s everything… it’s almost the whole point of the Cross of Christ.

It is standing with those that have no standing. Standing with the outsiders who have not been included.

Jesus was despised just “like one from whom people hide their faces.” It’s an astonishing line that is somewhat blunted by our familiarity. We routinely hide our faces from anything that threatens to unsettle us or embarrass us out of our complacency.

So who are they? Who are the people from whom people hide their faces?  Think of those who have no standing in your community.

  • It could be the homeless, of course.
  • It could be those in the grip of some addiction, be it drugs or alcohol.
  • It could be those who have some sort of disability or mental condition. Anybody who prompts the thought “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Anybody towards whom you are tempted to feel a little superior.

Of course, it could be those of another race, or another class, or another religion…

How easy it is to turn one’s face from difficult and embarrassing associations. How easy to award them second place in your church functions (or even ask them to leave).

James goes into considerable practical detail: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” 

The second chapter continues in this vein. How difficult to fully take your stand with those who have no standing. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside ourself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here.

See whose face it wears.

Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

And this is the very beating heart of the Gospel of Christ. This is the lesson of the cross which we are bound to learn and to enact in our livesand within our communities. We cannot hide our faces any longer.

Corrie Ten Boom’s father was a well-respected businessman who not only refused to accept the anti-Jewish legislation of the occupying Nazi regime, but voluntarily wore the Jewish yellow star, and eventually, suffered and died with them.

Lord, you took your stand with those who had no standing. Teach me what that means where I live.

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“Putting up with Each Other…”

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The idea of “Putting up with each other” doesn’t sound very holy or nice. Surely we shouldn’t even admit that we need to?

But there it is, in the first paragraph of Ephesians 4. First the plea to live “worthily” and then the explanation of what that entails. It means putting up with each other.

I can see you don’t quite believe me, so here’s the context. Read it slowly:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Are you living “worthy of your calling”? That means worthy of your high position! A bent policeman or a corrupt politician –by contrast- is unworthy of his position.

This doesn’t mean that we should try to deserve our place in God’s favour. It means that we should recognize how much our place in God’s favour deserves from us. The focus is not on our worth but on the worth of our calling.

God chose us for himself (1:4) and predestined us to be his children—and heirs! (1:5). He sent Christ to atone for our sin (1:7) and sealed us with his Holy Spirit. (1:13). We are “destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.”  That’s our calling, and it’s a lot to live up to!

And the way to do it, according to 4:3, is to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” How? “With all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love.”

There it is! God give us the grace to put up with each other.

So the emphasis here is not on doctrinal unity –that’s taken for granted. We’re all on the same page if Jesus is Lord. He gives a short hand sketch: “One faith, one Lord, one baptism…”

No: the emphasis is not on what we believe but on HOW we believe. There are a few, a very few primary points. He lists them here. These are the non-negotiables. But then, after that, think everything through, decide what you think is right and go for it, and don’t pester other people to follow yoou down the same track.

And don’t clutter up your preaching time with non-essentials.

So HOW do we believe? We believe lovingly, consideratelyand corporately.

The key word here is “together.” We believe together,  in lowliness and meekness , in patience and forbearance. “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” ― Gwendolyn Brooks

We endure one another! Imagine that. Now perfect people don’t need to be endured or forgiven. But we do, often. Paul is not naïve. He knows that there are a few of us who are grumpy or critical or unreliable or finicky, so his counsel here is not how perfect people can live together in unity, but how real, imperfect people can maintain the unity of the Spirit, namely, by enduring each other in love.

There’s a wonderful passage on this in A.W.Tozer’s The pursuit of God:

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” 

But how can you keep on caring about a person who doesn’t like you? Or a person who opposes you and wants to frustrate your dreams? How do you maintain the unity of the Spirit with them instead of becoming hostile and cold?

Paul’s answer: be lowly in spirit so that you can patiently endure their differences and their sins. A person of lowliness is keenly aware of the size of his debt toward God and how he has dishonoured God through unbelief and disobedience. He is also keenly aware of God’s amazing grace that saved a wretch like him.

When do you write someone off?

  • When they are doctrinally inaccurate (in your opinion)?
  • When they are behaviourally challenging?
  • When they are hateful?

Never. You can never write anybody off.

Because God doesn’t.

(And He never writes you off either).

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A Safe Place to Stand

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There’s a Maya Angelou line that always resonates with me: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” 

The idea of “home” is not a place so much as an irrevocable condition, you know. It’s an ache for certainty and acceptance that once satisfied cannot be ungiven. Like a gift.

Those are the terms in which Paul laid down the concept of salvation – the essential story of God’s response to that primal ache.

“Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story.” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4 )

Let me remind you” – It’s as if a father is sitting down with his son and saying, “Now I want to go over your responsibilities around the house one more time…”

Remember the main thing: “the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on.

That last verb means “stand.” Paul calls the Corinthians to “stand” on the gospel. It indicates – and I quote- “present stability on the basis of past action.” Archimedes, the famous Greek mathematician said, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world!” The gospel gives us a place to stand.

Jesus Christ is our stability and security. He’s the only safe place to stand.

You received it. You believed it and took it to heart. Now stand on it. Base your life on it. It’s the main thing.

Because it will change everything.

Paul affirms that the Corinthians are “saved” by the gospel he preached. To be “saved” means “to be delivered or rescued.” The words “are saved” should be translated “are being saved” to reflect the present tense verb. There are three phases to salvation: past, present, and future. Having received the gospel at a point in the past, God begins to work on us so that we become more like Him. Until, logically, we are one with Him.

Paul has absolute confidence in this gospel message because Christ’s death and resurrection is prophetically and historically verifiable.

First, the facts…

He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures….”

This gospel was “of first importance” and foundational to everything else in the Christian life.   We can discuss and debate non-essential issues, but the gospel is “of first importance.” It is a non-negotiable. The reason for this is the gospel did not originate from Paul or any other man; rather it was received from God and then delivered to people. It is God’s gospel, not ours.

As for the other stuff, the secondary material, decide for yourself. Make sure that you think it all through, that you don’t bully other people with your discoveries and decisions, and that you always put love first.

But the main thing is that the main thing stays the main thing.  And that is that Salvation is by grace. It’s a free gift -a costly gift-  from the Liberating King, who died to make it available

No one would have ever devised a plan of salvation like this one, for we humans invaribly try to obtain salvation the old-fashioned way—“to earn it.” But the good news of the Christian gospel is that salvation is a free gift—costly to Christ but free to us.

And this is news, good news. It is the most radical of discoveries. Listen to the wise and loving words of Brennan Manning, as you go into your day:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”
― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

 

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The Ordinariness of Love

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“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

There’s a moment in “My Fair Lady” when the heroine -exploding in frustration at her young admirer’s empty ardor- sings: “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! …  Don’t talk of stars burning above; If you’re in love, Show me!”  That is to say: What is the evidence of your stated condition? Show me!

James (2:14-17) was quite clear: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” The evidence of [internal] faith is [external] deeds. Are you living out what you believe? He’s explicit: Clothe the homeless, feed the hungry.

Ordinary kindness.

John takes it further. At the cross, Jesus exemplified love forever. “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” And so, “This is how we know what love is.” Jesus gave it shape and substance. This is what love looks like:it looks like total committment to others, to the point of death.

And even this cannot be allowed to become a memory to be theologised and theorised over. It needs must -Lord help us! -be re-enacted daily. “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

What does that mean for us? The principle is obvious: if the evidence of faith is works, the evidence of love is sacrifice.

 If we live out of what we believe, then the question is how far will our love take us? Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to.

The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.

There’s a brilliant passage in Charles Bukowski’s book, Factotum, which explains what that love-sacrifice looks like:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

This mustn’t confused with the Grand Gesture, the empty heroics of an ego drama, played to the gallery for public applause.

Sometimes we forget just how squalid and apparently meaningless the execution of Jesus was. It was a hole-in-the-corner lynch mob in the tatty end of the Empire. No one knew. No one cared. It was routine brutality played out under the scorching sun of a desert province. It was extraordinarily ordinary.

And maybe that point too was part of the purposed intentionality of God, that nothing is ever meaningless, that the act of love is always meaningful. It requires no Disney soundtrack or happy ending. It is perfect in itself. A cup of cold water “in my name,” the washing of dirty feet before an evening meal – love authenticates itself despite any contrary circumstances.

Love requires courage. And there are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

It’s the very opposite of the Ego-drama that demands attention. It re-orients one’s personal worldview around others and away from the self. As  Martin Luther King put it: “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

So “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

We glimpse the depth of the gift and the gravity of the demand. Christ gives unconditional love for us, even to the point of death. And he demands our unconditional love for each other, even to the point of death.

But we need to see what love to the point of death might mean, not just at the extreme moments of sacrifice, but in the daily give and take of the loving life.

It means kindness.How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17).

It means living out what we say. The truisms abide because there is truth in them. “Practice what you preach.” “Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.” “Sermons in shoes.” “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).

It means love in the ordinary places of life. Picasso captured the unrelenting hardness of a peasant woman, clutching her two small children, and demanded that we recognise the love that held them in place.

And Jesus said: “Go thou and do likewise.”

 

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The Truth about Ourselves

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“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. … It is the Lord who judges me. … He will bring to light what is hidden … At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:2-5)

There are always some who are seem very hard on themselves. They are convinced that they are not clever enough or not good enough. In general, they live on a knife-edge of shame, secretly harbouring the conviction that they will only make it to heaven by some kind of clerical oversight.

Again, there are others who are so full of themselves that they are simply unbearable to be around.

By contrast, Paul’s dismissal of our ability to accurately judge ourselves is rather refreshing! 

He insists we simply lack the lense to really see who we are. You see, the truth about ourselves only emerges from our relationship with God. We cannot get an accurate picture on our own because we tend to over or under-estimate. It is the Lord who judges us (1 Cor 4:4).

However, Paul does not seem to share the feelings of dread and despair that accompany many Christian reflections on the second coming of Christ. It is true, as it says in our text, that God “will bring to light things now hidden” (1 Cor 4:5). That might be a cause for fear and trembling, but it is noteworthy that Paul does not regard the last day with trepidation.

Rather, there is a buoyant confidence that God will strengthen his people, so that they will be totally fine: “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So what is the truth about ourselves? How does the Bible spell it out? How can I change the pattern of my own negative self-thought and learn to see things God’s way?

First, my value stems from my origin. 

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

The Bible is quick to state that the “image of God” is not gender-specific. It means character and inner-self. It means that I am parented by God at the deepest level of who I am.

For there’s much more to parenting than procreation! God not only initiated the process but He continually monitors it. Which parent wouldn’t?

It points to the second indicator of our self-worth: that we are “kept by the power of God.” (1 Peter 1:5) My value is indicated by the precision of his ongoing care:

“You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:1-6)

And in those last two lines, we see something of Paul’s point: we simply cannot comprehend such depth of insight, and therefore we cannot judge ourselves properly.

But we know God, and  “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6).

God has this in hand. It’ll be alright.

Like all human beings, my own father was far from perfect, and even as a child, I was well aware of that; but I grew up with the confident assurance that he would sort things out, that he would do what he said he would do. I didn’t worry or cajole and pester. Dad would see it through.

Jesus picked up on this. After teaching a prayer which focused on God’s qualities as a father, He said this:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Do you see the point? Even imperfect fathers know how to look after their children. How much more will God give you His best?

And that’s the third indicator of my value: it is tied not to my performance but to my parentage. Dad will see it through. He loves me because I am His and He wants the best for me. He has big dreams for me.” I know the plans I have for you.” (Jer 29) He charts a path and see it through “until the day of Christ Jesus.

And this is the last great truth about me and you: my value is indicated by my destination. It’s that point of completion, of joyous finality. Jude concludes his short letter with these triumphant words:

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…” (Jude 1:24)

He is able to keep us from stumbling! He is willing to present us before the throne of God! And He intends to do so with children who are sorted (“without fault“) and happy (“great joy“)!

That was the confident faith in the future that Paul expressed. It is the Lord who judges me. … He will bring to light what is hidden … At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

Paul expected “praise from God”! Can you imagine that?

Maybe it’s time we did. Seriously. A final word on that point from Steve Brown’s amazing little book, A Scandalous Freedom :

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance…and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.”

As we spell out the truth about ourselves, we discover the limitless freedom of being loved.

And that changes everything.

 

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