And now these three remain - faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Well known words from a very well known chapter in the Bible.
Ponder them for a moment. It is crucial that we never lose faith and hope. There are many circumstances in life that can cause these things to be shaken. I am sure that as you look back over your own life you will find situations, experiences which have caused your faith to waver and your hope in Christ to falter. But for many of us, we have found that time after time there has been that undergirding of the presence of God which has caused us to find that we stand on a solid rock - and we are upheld!
The scripture says - the greatest of these is love. And in this there is the secret. It is not our faith or our hope which is the anchor - it is His love.
I have found this year that Easter and all it means is still very alive in the spiritual atmosphere around us. There are many aspects of Easter which bring God and the Lord Jesus very close to us - and the greatest of these is love. I was speaking to someone a few days ago, someone who is finding life very hard at the moment and was feeling that she wasn’t measuring up to what a Christian should be. As we spoke, I felt the love of God reaching out to her - He is the God of all compassion who knows our frailty and is there to help and strengthen us in our weakness. I don’t know how much our conversation helped her, but it certainly left a profound impact on me. He loves us, Calvary shows the depths of that love, and His love remains and always will remain. I have gone through the rest of this week with a tremendous sense of the constancy of the love of God for my soul - and for every soul. I must hold on to faith and hope, but it is the undergirding of His love that is the secret.
And as we rest in that love, surely our love for Him begins to grow. And that is what brings more strength to our souls than our faith and our hope. Remember that when Peter was restored by the Lord Jesus the question Christ asked him was not about faith or hope. It was:
"Simon, do you love me?" (John 21:17)
His faith had been shaken and so had his hope - but his love was still strong. And in his restoration faith, hope and his own love were strengthened by the love of Christ and he went into a new day.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. (Lamentations 3:22)
Rest in His love as you face a new tomorrow.
"Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am"
John the Baptist said this about Jesus - before Jesus had begun any public ministry.
If you go on to read even the next few chapters in Mark’s gospel you will see how true this was. Jesus began to minister and there was power... there was miracle... people were shaken out of their complacency and lives began to be changed.
Then we come to Easter. We have just finished remembering what Jesus did at Easter. And many of us have been left once again with an awareness of how much greater Jesus is than we are. Not only that, but we realise again and again He is so much greater than we ever realised. Can we endeavour to carry this with us as we go forward? He is great... He is the Son of the Most High God... He has conquered death, hell and the grave... and He is our Lord! Can we get our eyes off ourselves and on to Him and realise this is the One who wants to walk with us and strengthen us through every circumstance?
And there will come another day... when we will go to be with Him or He will return to take all of His church to be with Him. In that day... whether it be soon or far off... surely we do not want to be saying, with regret, He is so much greater than I ever realised? Let’s start to walk with the resurrected, victorious Christ and begin to share in what He has brought to the children of men. We can never know fully all that He has done for us, but we can begin to walk into that light and victory more fully than we have done before.
Let’s move forward and walk on resurrection ground!
Today's Thought for the Week is from Lesley Beath.
‘So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death’. (John 11:53)
At this time of year many Christians will be reading of Christ's final week. Following His journey to Calvary and meditating and thrilling in the great truth of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. By this process we are allowing our faith to rise as well as our love and praise at what Jesus has done. By thinking of it and speaking it afresh we can behold it anew.
This Scripture, however, does not belong in that final week. It occurs after the incident where Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead, told them to loosen the grave clothes and set him free. Many of the witnesses to this event believed. But for the Jewish leaders it signalled the point where they finally moved from the thought of merely arresting Christ to killing Him.
Jesus knew His death was destined. As the Passover lamb He was to be sacrificed at Passover time. He withdrew at this time and remained in secret with His disciples. No time was ever wasted in Christ's life so this is significant. We can try to imagine the disciples’ thoughts. Perhaps they feared the attitude and actions of the Jewish leaders. Perhaps they were concerned about future events. They must have contrasted their positive experience since Jesus had touched their lives with the rising tide of opposition and hostility He now faced. They must have wondered about the miracle of Lazarus and perhaps on Jesus’ words to Martha - ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying’. (John 11:25)
How long was the time He spent withdrawn? Was it weeks or a month or more in secret? We don’t know, we are only told that they spent some time withdrawn and in secret.
It’s not hard for us to feel we too have been withdrawn and held in secret. Away from the crowds, away from fellowship, away from past miracles and experiences. The key thing however is - have we been withdrawn with Jesus? Have we been held in secret with Him? Have we been pondering Jesus’ words? Perhaps like the disciples we have been thinking of what is ahead. For us at this particular Easter it seems as if lock down is coming to an end. Maybe we are full of life or maybe a bit apprehensive of what the future may hold.
Or we may feel we have not been in secret with Christ and allowed fears, or fear of others, or the accusation of the enemy to bring shadow or distance. Like those in the garden we have slept rather than watched. Maybe the coldness of sin has slipped around us. Rather than looking forward to coming out there is a dread caused by the fear of our present condition.
But Jesus steps back in public at exactly the right time. He appeared 6 days before the Passover, back in the home of Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead. His disciples were with him and many came to see Him. Ahead of Christ was the week leading to Easter Sunday. His journey was through the sorrow of Calvary to the Resurrection from the dead in the power of an endless life which would be available for all mankind. Full, rich grace available to all who will come.
If your secret, withdrawn time has been shadowed or fearful there is still tremendous hope. Christ steps back into your life at the exactly the right time. His Resurrection brought life to the disciples despite their ups and downs. Despite their misunderstandings or feelings. Resurrection brought life to the thief on the cross. Resurrection life was even first preached to those who shouted, ‘Crucify Him!’ Christ's Resurrection life is still here for each of us. Cast off the secret place with its shadows or its fears, even its comfortable things. Choose to be one who meditates and thrills today in Jesus. Focus on the Scripture in these coming days and walk with Him from now till Easter Sunday with its resurrection life. Allow the resurrection and new life to bring hope to the days ahead. Let the Scripture fan into flame again your love for Christ. Start even today to see Jesus, to find His precious forgiveness and renewing life afresh.
This week's Thought has been written by David Wilson.
These thoughts were inspired by an article by Matt Redman at this link.
Warning: Theology Ahead
I do not claim in any way to be an expert on the attributes of God, and I thoroughly recommend reading Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy for a much better exposition of these, but reading the article referenced above made me reflect on how we approach God in worship, and how important it is to have a right understanding of God and his attributes as we approach Him.
Tozer lists the Attributes of God as Follows:
The Incomprehensibility of God - Rather than find comfort and joy that we can’t explain God we try to define and limit Him so that we can feel more comfortable. We need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that our human minds will never comprehend God in His entirety.
The Omniscience of God – God knows everything and always has so therefore He has no need to learn. God knows all things, all possibilities, all causes, and all outcomes.
The Omnipotence of God – God has all power. He is self-sufficient and does not need to rest or recharge.
The Omnipresence of God – God is everywhere and because of that He is always near to everything and everyone. “This great central truth gives meaning to all other truths and imparts supreme value to all his [man’s] little life. God is present, near him, next to him, and this God sees him and knows him through and through.”
The Self-Existence of God - God is the only thing that is entirely self-existent. There is no dependency on anything or anyone else in order for God to exist.
The Self-Sufficiency of God - God has no need. If God needed someone or something He would, by definition, be incomplete. This is good for us to hear because many believe that God created people because He needed someone to love.
The Eternity of God – God has no beginning or no end. God is outside of time. He can see every moment at once.
The Infinitude of God – God is entirely limitless.
The Immutability of God – God does not change. He does not have traits, characteristics or qualities that ebb and flow. An attribute of God is something that God is, and is at all times
The Wisdom of God – One aspect of wisdom as the ability to develop plans and to perfectly complete those plans.
The Transcendence of God – The fact that God is exalted so far above any part of His creation.
The Faithfulness of God – God is completely faithful and on that fact our hope relies. If God was not faithful to His promises how could we live in hope and peace?
The Goodness of God – God is good, and He is the source of all good things in our lives. It is easy to sometimes forget His goodness, especially when we’re experiencing negative emotions. By directing our attention and focus on His goodness, our attitude and energy will shift.
The Justice of God – Tozer briefly explains how God can be just yet let some sinners free of direct penalty. He talks about the fact that the penalty for our sin was poured out on Jesus on the cross. He was our voluntary substitute.
The Mercy of God – “If we could remember that the divine mercy is not a temporary mood but an attribute of God’s eternal being, we would no longer fear that it will someday cease to be. Mercy never began to be, but from eternity was, so it will never cease to be. It will never be more since it is in itself infinite; and it will never be less because the infinite cannot suffer diminution”
The Grace of God – God’s grace is God declaring our debt erased. Men have always been saved by God’s grace not man’s merit.
The Love of God – God is the genesis—beginning—of love; He is it’s source; and it is by Him that we experience love, and that love is infinite and boundless.
The Holiness of God – God's holiness is not an aspect of who He is or what He does; no, God's holiness is the essence of who He is. If you were to ask, "How is the holiness of God revealed?" the only right answer would be, "In everything He does." Everything God thinks, desires, speaks and does is utterly holy in every way.
The Sovereignty of God – God is and must be completely sovereign. Nothing can stop or hinder Him. He has all power and all knowledge.
Because our minds cannot comprehend God, we can fall victim to some misconceptions of the nature of God. Some believe that the God of the Old Testament is mean and vindictive, and that Jesus came to reveal a different face of God, but this view is incorrect, as we know from His attributes that He is unchangeable.
Another incorrect view that some people hold is that these attributes are held in some kind of tension, but again based on the attributes of God, we know that they are all perfect and therefore must be perfectly in balance, and not pulling against each other.
Some like to think of God as some kind of Buddy or Big Brother who comes whenever we need help, but that is an unbalanced view and does not bring God’s holiness into the picture. The same God who poured out Judgement and wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah is the God who calls us to receive His mercy and grace at the Cross.
We tend to think of Holiness as being synonymous with purity, but in fact it is much broader than that. In its root meaning, to be holy means to be set apart.
God is holy (Set apart from all others) in every attribute and every action: He is holy in justice. He is holy in love. He is holy in mercy. He is holy in power. He is holy in sovereignty. He is holy in wisdom. He is holy in patience. He is holy in anger. He is holy in grace. He is holy in faithfulness. He is holy in compassion. He is even holy in his holiness!
God’s holiness is at the heart of all His attributes. As Reman says in his article “the New York-based pastor Jon Tyson reminds us, in his insight into the worship responses of the angels in heaven: “The angels have been locked in a room with God for thousands of years and they still haven’t gotten past the word holy.”
In conclusion, I recommend meditating on God’s holiness and other attributes and coming before Him with a right idea of who He is as that will help us approach in true worship for who He is.
He restores my soul... You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. (Psalm 23)
Psalm 23 is perhaps the best known and the best loved psalm in the Bible. It is only 6 verses long - yet whole books have been written on the truths contained in these short verses. In the times in which we are living, many of us have found this psalm speaking to us again and again, bringing peace, comfort and reassurance.
I want to highlight just one or two points from the verses quoted above.
He restores my soul
How often has He done that for you over these past days? Days of anxiety, or perhaps simply days of weariness and emptiness..... but when we turn our eyes to the Shepherd there comes comfort and peace as we drink in the quiet strength that comes from Him and find that we live again. Take time to be with Him, to draw from Him what you need .... and you will have strength for the next stage of your journey.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies
I love the way this psalm moves from speaking ABOUT the Shepherd to speaking TO the Shepherd. As soon as David speaks about God He is not only thinking about Him but he is drawing near to Him and very quickly begins to speak directly to Him. Surely this is the intimacy that God wants to draw all of us into. David has stopped thinking about his weariness and about his enemies and his focus is now on the feast that God has provided! What a difference it makes when we don’t just tell God about our troubles and our needs but we let Him feed our souls. The enemies may not disappear but we have the strength we need to face them.
You honour me by anointing my head with oil
Oil speaks of the Holy Spirit. He is the Comforter and the One who takes of the things that belong to Christ and reveals them to us. As we let Him draw near, He takes us to Jesus and we find the truth that is the first verse of this psalm.
The Lord is my Shepherd... I have all that I need
May we all find, increasingly, that place of rest, restoration and hope for the future that is there when we have been with Jesus.
This Thought for the Day is from Mary Bell.
Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. (Philippians 4:8)
We have a lot of time to think in lockdown!
I was out walking on my own and was thinking of a past circumstance and it was the unhappy and wrong things in that situation that filled my mind, so it made me feel really sad. Then it occurred to me that good things had also come out of that same situation and I began to feel happier. Our world is made up of our thoughts.
Choose to dwell on the lovely thoughts, the good thoughts - not the negative ones. Sometimes our spirits don’t immediately rise as we turn from sad thoughts to happy ones, but they can rise as we continually turn away from negative thoughts.
Joseph had a lot of cruel things that happened to him but he could say:
God turned into good what you meant for evil. (Genesis 50:20)
He was able to dwell not on the wrong things done to him but on the good things God was able to bring out of them.
Today’s thought is from Vivien Goodbrand.
But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me
I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)
As a young Christian, cut off from fellowship, I was fed spiritually by the writings of people like Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor and ECW Bolton, lent to me by Mary Black, my ‘mother in Christ’. The Bolton book ‘Jewels of the King ‘ (now I believe out of print) stands out in my memory. It described the process by which precious gems are created under the immense pressure of the deep earth, how they are mined and then cut, honed and polished until they become the beautiful items we know and love.
The picture drawn in that book contains a wonderful and glorious truth, that suffering is ordained by God. It is at the heart of the gospel – Christ is our suffering Saviour. In the pain and distress of pressures which can be crushing, and blows which follow one after the other - and even in the little frustrations and abrasions of life - God is, and God is in control.
This last strange year has been a time of opportunity but also a time of challenge, and in many and various ways. As some will know, in November I was in a car accident with my father who suffered serious injuries. God intervened and continues to intervene in amazing ways and His speaking, time and again, has underlined the truth contained in Job 23 - God knows the way we take. He is the One whose strength and purpose covers and underpins what at a human level is often a physically and emotionally draining journey. He lights the way and His light shines brighter in darkness.
We all know that being a Christian does not bring with it the promise of an easy life on earth. But it does bring the promise of a rich, full and blessed life when we simply look up to Christ and trust Him no matter what. The goodness of God to His children knows no bounds; He loves us ‘beyond thought or telling’, He calls us the ‘apple of His eye’ and ‘precious in His sight’ . He wants only good for us *. So ought we not to trust Him even when, as the hymn says, ‘we cannot see’?
The morning my father died, only days after coming home from hospital with the hope of recovery before him, and before I knew what had happened, I read ‘Streams in the Desert’. The verse was:
This thing is from me. (1 Kings 12:24)
And through the text God whispered the message to me, that He ‘would gild with glory any storm clouds that would arise and smooth the rough places’ I was to tread. And, as Amy Carmichael wrote, God always keeps His promises. He is the Heavenly Father and He knows and feels our sorrow or pain and gives a place of peace and rest. And more, He gives us songs in the night and joy in place of sorrow.**
Suffering is hard, but it is also how God changes us into His likeness and fits us for service with Him. It is necessary for the child of God and is for a purpose, that we might ‘come forth as gold’.
To return to the allegory in the book ‘Jewels of the King’. The ground holds many different types of precious gems, created in a multitude of different ways, brought from the ground by different means and cut, polished and set in the way which suits that particular gem and shows it to best effect. Some become jewels fit for the crown of a King, others may adorn a working hand or become a useful tool; all are things of beauty and wonder. To God every one of us is precious beyond our understanding. We are all different in character and attitude, and the road God lays out for each of us is different, with experiences and trials designed to meet our specific need, and with the purpose of making us into all He knows we can be, and wants us to be. But - we choose if we wish to follow that road or not. If we do, He will ‘bring us forth as gold’.
I do not know what life is throwing your way as you read this reflection. Whatever you face, look up to Christ and know that nothing can touch you, the ‘apple of His eye’, except it go through Christ, who knows the way you take and wants only good for you.
‘This is from me’ the Saviour said
As bending low He kissed my brow,
‘For one who loves you thus has led.
Just rest in Me, be patient now,
Your Father knows you have need of this,
Tho, why perchance you cannot see –
Grieve not for things you’ve seemed to miss.
The thing I send is best for thee’.
Then, looking through my tears, I plead,
‘Dear Lord, forgive, I did not know,
‘Twill not be hard since Thou dost tread,
Each path before me here below.
And for my good this thing must be,
His grace sufficient for each test,
So still I sing, ‘Whatever be
God’s way for me is always best’
* Ephesians 3:9; Zechariah 2:8; Isaiah 43:4; Psalm 23
** Job 35:10; Jeremiah 31:13
I will praise the Lord at all times, I will constantly speak his praises,
I will boast only in the Lord, let all who are helpless take heart.
Come let us tell of the Lord’s greatness, let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:1-3)
We all know that there are times - many times - when it is easy to praise the Lord. When life is full of blessing, when everything is going the way we want it to go, when He feels very near to us... then it is easy to praise!
But this psalm speaks of praising Him at all times. It is a psalm of David, and David had his share of turmoil and trouble throughout life. But he learned something of this secret - he was not a ‘fair weather’ follower of God. He declares that he will praise him at all times.
There are lessons to be learned in this. Have you ever felt that as you turned to seek God you have been aware of how crushed and troubled you feel, but you decided that you would still come into His presence with thanksgiving? And you begin to give thanks ... without ‘feeling’ a great deal ..... but you focus on every good thing that God has done for you and in you. And then the change begins to happen....... and you are not only speaking words of praise, but you are feeling that praise bubble up within you. It reminds me of a chorus:
Praise is the power of heaven
Praise is the power of heaven
Praise is the power that opens the door
To the King, to the King of kings.
Praise can lift you out of your troubled feelings and into His presence. The psalm says ‘let all who are helpless take heart’. It’s when we look away from ourselves and look at Him - His goodness, His greatness and His unfailing love - then our helpless spirits begin to soar into His presence and are made whole again. What a faithful God we have - turn your eyes to Him!
Take now... thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest... and offer him. (Genesis 22:2)
On my calendar on Sunday there were some thoughts on the subject of joy and one of the verses in the heading was the one I have quoted above. The name Isaac means laughter - and Abraham’s son was given that name because he brought unexpected laughter... and joy.... to an old man and woman who never expected they would have a son.
But the story of Abraham and Isaac is a picture, we know, of God the Father and God the Son. And the writer was pointing out that the coming of Christ brought joy and laughter to the heart of God the Father and, yes, to God the Son.
...who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross...
There is joy in the Godhead because the way has been opened for man to return into the presence of God. There is joy over every sinner who finds that way.
Surely, in you and me, there should be a joy that rises in our spirits again and again as we think of the fact that we have been redeemed. It is a joy that can and should thrill us time after time in spite of some of the hardships and difficulties that can cross our paths. There is a road that opens at Calvary and it is flooded with light and life for us because there Christ broke the power of darkness and death. Walk on that road... and let the light and life that is there surge through your soul.
The joy of the Lord is my strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
Why not try, this week, to live in that joy. Don’t let any circumstance rob you of it..... and if we do that we will find strength for whatever faces us.
Today’s thought is from Mary Bell.
Give all your cares and worries to God for He cares about you.
(1 Peter 5:7)
I was pleasantly surprised recently. A worry had come into my mind and I found that I was able to give it to God quite quickly, instead of worrying about it for most of the night. But I have been practising for a long time... and it has paid off! Some of us are born worriers, we see all the negative possibilities that could happen and it takes time for us to learn to give our troubling thoughts to God and leave them with Him.
Keep practising... and you will learn how to be able to lay the worry at His feet and walk away carefree. You will get better at it!
Bear not a single care thyself
One is too much for thee;
The work is Mine and Mine alone;
Thy work - to rest in Me.
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