20.12.11

The Look of Love

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. (Mark 10:21a)

How do you react when you notice a deficiency in a brother or sister in Christ? Anyone can be a critic, and there are plenty around! But that is not the way that Jesus reacted. When the rich young ruler came to him, he saw a man whose life was in the grip of the love of money. Yet his first reaction was one of love. He saw beyond the man's limitations and saw the man himself.

Jesus says elsewhere that if we gave our own lives the same level of scrutiny that we give to others we would have enough "plank-like" work to keep us busy before we considered having a go at anyone else! But even if we reach anywhere near Christ-like perfection, this doesn't give us licence to throw the first stone. Our motivation should always be one of love.

Love doesn't put people down to make itself look bigger or better. Love doesn't try to score points at someone else's expense. Love takes no delight in keeping someone down. Love sees the best; believes the best; wants the best for the one loved. God is love. Jesus is the "Agapeton" - The Beloved or the Agape-one - the perfect expression of God's covenant Agape love.

Next time you see a brother or sister who falls short (locally or in Christ's wider body), don't look with the eyes of a critic. Look with the eyes of Christ. Before you speak make sure you look and love.

13.12.11

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh [continued]

"You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a moulding of gold around it." (Exodus 30:1-3)

The Lord said to Moses, "Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil." (Exodus 30:22-25 ESV)

The Lord said to Moses, "Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you." (Exodus 30:34-36)

In this one chapter of Exodus, chapter 30, where God informs Moses the procedure where the priest may enter into the presence of God himself, we encounter the Magi's gifts again. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. I believe this reveals the most significant and prophetic aspect of these three gifts: They relate to the presence of God himself!

Even in the previous passage relating to Solomon we can see imagery that is rich with symbolism of the presence of God himself. The column of smoke in the wilderness and the golden "seat" transported on two poles. Strong parallels with the presence of God above the ark during the time of the exodus.

Before Jesus came to die, he came to live and fulfil the prophecy of Immanuel - God with us. Jesus was (and is!) the very presence of God in the midst of his people in a way that the ark and the temple could only foreshadow. God himself became flesh and dwelt among us. The Magi's gifts were thus also a fitting prophetic declaration that now one greater than the temple was here!

Frankincense was made into incense used by the high priest when he entered before the presence of God.

Myrrh was made into the holy anointing oil used on God's prophets, priests and kings.

Gold was used to cover everything in the temple that communicated the glorious presence of God himself.

Jesus came as our great high priest to bring us back into the presence of God. He came as the Christ - the anointed one - to live a life full of the power of the Holy Spirit. He came as king and to reveal the glory of God the father.

But there is still one more truth to unlock. For the true message of Christmas is not the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ, but the gift God in Christ gave to the world. The gold, frankincense and myrrh are also prophetic of the gifts that Christ still gives to us.

He has opened up the way for us to come freely into the presence of God. He has poured out the Holy Spirit for us to live in his anointing. He has given us authority to demonstrate the glory of his presence - his here and now kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven. Frankincense, myrrh and gold - given by Christ to all those who have called on his name.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

12.12.11

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

'Tis the time of year when thoughts turn to all things Christmas. Family, turkey dinners, shopping, carols, fir trees, tinsel and of course the tableau of the baby in the manger - the greatest gift ever given - that of God himself who so loved the world that he gave his only son.

We all know the story of the wise men / kings / magi who came from the east to worship the baby king, and of the three gifts they gave. The way the bible records these gifts shows that they were clearly significant.

Conventional wisdom states that the gold was a gift for a king, and the other two fragrant gifts were to prepare him for burial. Perhaps so. He certainly was the king who was born with a mission to die. He came to take upon himself the punishment that we deserved so that all might be forgiven freely by his grace if they accept him as Lord.

But perhaps there is more here to dig out. Even if the death symbolism is correct, I certainly doubt it was what the Magi had in mind. They went to lengths to save him from Herod's machinations. Even his own disciples who had been with him three years struggled to grasp the significance of his death until after the resurrection. As always the best reference to biblical imagery and symbolism is the bible itself. So what does the bible say about gold, frankincense and myrrh? Where else do we find these three together in the scriptures?

One description I believe is highly significant is that of Solomon, the Son of David, riding out of the wilderness in his kingly glory:

What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Songs 3:6-7a,9-10 ESV)

This would certainly fit with the messianic expectation surrounding God's promised king. He would be the son of David, like Solomon, smelling of myrrh and frankincense and seated on gold. This was how many people received Jesus, especially those who were looking for deliverance: "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" or those who were looking for a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

Jesus may have been born in a manger, but the Magi recognised that this was God's chosen king. The promised son of David come to bring deliverance and restoration whose kingdom rule would never end.

But this is not the only place these three are found together. There is I believe an even more significant occurrence in the temple of God itself...

[Continued here]

20.6.11

What must I do?

"What must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30b

It's great to be involved with the "Who is Jesus?" course at City Church Coventry. It's wonderful to get an open invitation to share your faith with those who want to listen. It has made me think back to time when as an eleven-year-old boy at a Scripture Union camp in Scotland, I asked the question of my tent-leader, "What do you have to do to be saved?"

Over the past few days I've tried to think again about how I would answer that question myself. In the simplest way possible. Using the fewest Bible verses.

What I came up with was R.B.S. Not the bank! But Repent. Believe. Speak.

Acts 3:19 (NIV) Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Romans 10:9 (NIV) If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

To get healed by a doctor you first have to acknowledge the fact that you are sick and you have to want to get better. In the same way to be saved you have to be in a position where you acknowledge that your life as it is has not and cannot please God and that only Jesus has the answer. This is repentance.

Belief is the other side of the coin to repentance, for it is not just a turning away from sin, but a turning to God. We take "self" out of the pilot seat and hand it over to Jesus. It is the cry of "You have control." This kind of belief is more than mental assent; we are trusting God with our life.

Belief that says internalised is not enough. Something concrete and permanent happens when we give a thought a vocal expression. Telling someone that we have become a Christian is not an optional extra but an integral part of the process.

If you have never taken this step and are ready to do so, you can pray the following prayer. Then let someone know!

Jesus I'm sorry for the things I've done wrong.
I know that I cannot live my life without you.
Thank you that you died on the cross for me
and that you rose again and now live forever.
Please forgive me for all the past.
I surrender my life to you as Lord, from this day, for all my days.
Please come into my life and lead me.
Amen.

16.6.11

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

2Samuel 19:16-40

I have been reading and meditating on the return of David to his kingdom in 2 Samuel. As well as an actual historic account it is a time period rich with prophetic significance. The king returns to unite and restore the kingdom, but at the price of the death of his own son; lifted up on a tree and pierced. David's reaction at this time is one of the few precious insights we have in the scriptures into the Father's heart as he expressed the amazing depths of his love for the world when he sent Jesus his son to die (Abraham and Jephthah are two others).

I was struck by the account just before he crossed back over the Jordan, and the three characters that came to meet him there: Barzillai the companion, Shimei the curser, and Mephibosheth the cripple. The good, the bad and the ugly. One had stayed loyal and faithful to David even in his darkest hour, one had displayed outright rebellion against him, and one despite his best intentions had felt that he had failed and let him down: The friend, the foe and the "failure".

All three present themselves to the king at his return.

Although these three characters are separate individuals in this account, I see them also as representatives of aspects of our own lives. The good, the bad and the ugly that lies within each of us. We often like to pretend that we are all "Barzillai". That's the side we like to project to the world around. We like people to see what we get right. The times when we are strong in the Lord. The exploits of faith. We are not so quick to acknowledge the times when the unruled flesh rises up in selfish rebellion to the the rule of God, or the times when despite our best efforts we fell flat on our face!

But God doesn't want us to put on a fa├žade when we come before him. He is not fooled by our "best face". He knows us warts and all. He want us to submit all to him. The great grace of our kingly Father is revealed in this account. He does not just reward the good... he forgives the bad, and restores the ugly. No sin is too bad, no failure too shameful. The king extends his grace to all who come to him and desires to bring his rule, order and peace once again.

Jesus take me as I am,
I can come no other way,
Take me deeper into you,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed.
Love of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to you.
~ Dave Bryant, 1978 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music