Monday, 29 May 2017

And He Upholds The Universe

The reason this "Bible Bit" starts with "and" is not because I was trying to get up to the word count (#flashbacktomydegree...), but because I deliberately wanted to connect these five words, with the previous five... and then with all of the other five word packages.

God has spoken to us by His Son and he upholds the universe.
Christ died for our sins and he upholds the universe.
He himself is our peace and he upholds the universe.
Christ is interceding for us and he upholds the universe.

These five words are a timely reminder: God has power to do what He has promised.

In times where I've felt most battered by life, how I have needed this assurance.

The God who has said that he will be with me, that he has forgiven me, that he has seen my tears, that he is at work in all things for my good- this God, revealed fully in the Son... He upholds the universe.
He who speaks to revive souls, to give wisdom to fools, to give joy to the broken, light to the gloomy, gold to the poor- He is powerful and mighty: He upholds the universe.

I should feel a little incredulous as I ponder these words. This is meant to be mind-blowing. How could the LORD who upholds creation possibly be so gracious as to make promises to me!?

The Biblical writers did not think humanity was at the centre of the universe. They did not take the interaction of the LORD who made the starry host with piddly little humans for granted. They wondered at it! They looked to the heavens and the majesty and glory and splendour and ineffable magnitude of it all and it brought them to their knees in awe and wonder and worship, that this universe upholding Maker had bothered to make himself known, and that when he did it was with tenderness and care.

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers- the moon and the stars which you have set in place- what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:3-4

As I bear the weight of my brokenness and my bruising, as I face trials and tribulations overwhelmed with my own weakness, my own foolish, flailing powerlessness, four of these five words remind me of God's power to help me, for he upholds the universe, and the other word, and,  reminds me of His great, precious, gracious promise to.

How this humbles my heart! Oh the staggering kindness of a God who  a) has spoken to us b) by His Son and who c) upholds the universe. The Almighty LORD who keeps planets in motion, who keeps countless hearts beating, mighty tides turning, mountain ranges from tumbling in to oceans, has spoken to us in His Son.

 He has promised to be our help.  And he upholds the universe. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

I Am Crucified With Christ

"I have been crucified with Christ; I no longer live, but Christ who lives within me. The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 

This week I told my friend I suffer from "perpetual discouragement." I think what I mean by this is that I often feel as though my life is inadequate; I long for significance, for validation, for some kind of evidence that my life has some kind of worth.

I think this is one of the reasons why I loved both the podcast S-TOWN, and the novel it was inspired by: Stoner. Both tell stories of 'the unobserved life.' Both battle with questions about its seemingly unrelenting futility, and both explore the angsty search for meaning in a world that's heavy with sorrow.

But I think my discouragement comes from an awareness that my life 'should' be something better: should be more loving, more generous, more Christ exalting. And it can feel devastating when I realise the extent to which it isn't these things.

One way that "I am crucified with Christ" is a comfort is as a reminder that my sins are forgiven: I am united to Jesus in his death; the death he dies is the death I should die. The cross makes abundantly clear that I am not sufficient, or effective for achieving salvation. My own efforts to justify my existence are just not good enough. But hallelujah, God is merciful- and I am forgiven. The debt for the inadequacies of my life, and the corruption in its abortive attempts to produce goodness has been paid.

But "I am crucified with Christ", and the following verses (and in fact all of Galatians) is more than a beautiful reminder of sins forgiven. It is also a much needed testament to the fact that my identity was tied up with Christ at the most profound moment of the universe: I am crucified with Christ.

The big argument of Paul in Galatians is this: you are justified by faith.

Justified by faith! The gospel in three explosive words. The gospel that goes beyond forgiveness, to crediting us with righteousness, with a record that says: A LIFE WELL LIVED.

Staggeringly, these verses in Galatians show that the death of Jesus goes beyond providing forgiveness, and beyond paying my debt- as glorious as those things are in and of themselves!

The glory of this verse is that Jesus has a) paid the penalty for the inadequacy of my own life AND b) has given me his record, his life, his very self for me. As Paul phrases it elsewhere: he is our righteousness!

This is mind-blowing news to someone used to weighing the significance of my own life and finding it wanting. I might say,

"The life I live, I live constantly striving in the hope that I will achieve something fundamentally worthwhile."
"The life I live, I live in perpetual disappointment."
"The life I live, I live under a weight of fearful condemnation that I will never be enough."
"The life I live, I live in desperate hope that someone will love me and vindicate my worth."
"The life I live, I live examining my character and my record for some shred of evidence that I've done something good and this leads me to live in perpetual disappointment."
"The life I live, I live by disciplined self-reliance because that's all I've got."
"The life I live, I live by banking on my own strength, my own sufficiency, my own righteousness."

But Paul's argument in Galatians offers a better way to finish that sentence.

He says, "the life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

The life I live, I live in joyful confidence in Jesus! I live in full assurance that I am loved. I live looking out to Jesus whose perfect record of love, sacrifice, righteousness, life-bringing, meaningful existence is mine (!), because He gave himself for me.

He gave himself, not just for my forgiveness, but for my justification.

Justification! He gave himself to validate my existence! He didn't just pay the debt for my sins, but he crowned me with his righteousness.

And in being crucified with him, I am dead to the law as my means of justification. The law did not work for bringing that, and it still can't. I can no longer look to anywhere other than to Jesus for righteousness.

This is why Paul confronted Peter (the story he tells in Chapter 2): Peter is living like someone who can make his life acceptable to God by fulfilling the law. But Paul opposes Peter to his face.

"Peter!" he cries, "Stop acting as though it makes the slightest bit of difference who you eat with! You were with Christ when he died! You know you had to be 'with' him in his death because your inability to fulfil the law led you there! The law can't make you right with God so stop acting like it can. In the same way that you live, having died, by faith in Jesus who gave you his righteousness that's how ALL are to live. All have fallen short. All are justified freely. As a gift. Come on son! Live in accordance with the truth of this glorious gospel!"

I cannot tell you what a relief this news is to me.

My life is not rendered meaningful in my behaviour, or in who I eat with, or in my reputation, or in my witness, or in my skill, or in the thanks I get, or in validation, or in productivity, or in relationships, or in anything else!

My life is rendered meaningful in Christ, and in God crediting his righteousness to me.

I am crucified with Christ, and Christ lives in me.

The life I live, I live looking away from myself, and looking to Jesus- who LOVED me, and gave himself for both my forgiveness and my justification.

"But now, a righteousness from God has appeared, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last."
Romans 1:17

"To the one who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven..." Romans 4: 5-7 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Now You Have Received Mercy

I recently read an article that I quickly concluded must be the dumbest thing on the internet. On further reflection, I realise there is an inordinate amount of competition for that spot, so perhaps I was a little hasty and hyperbolic. Nonetheless, the article was daft.

It was entitled something along the lines of: "33 KEY SIGNS YOU'RE NOT LIVING THE LIFE YOU DESERVE."

There were several aspects of this article I didn't like. One example was the piece of advice that suggested that if there are people in your life who make you feel selfish and crazy, you must immediately cut them out, because they are more than likely "dragging you down". Cut them out! That'll teach them for accusing you of selfishness!

Anyway, the title of this article is in itself problematic. The presupposition behind much of this advice was that a) the life you deserve is better than the life you are currently living and b) if you don't enjoy the life you currently have, it must be because you deserve better.

The pursuit of "the life you deserve" is presumed within much of our culture to be a good idea, because people, or at least the people writing (and reading) such articles on the internet, assume they are fundamentally good.

But today's five words jar against this philosophy. Especially the last one.

The Bible says something very different from "seek the life you deserve!": it says something uncomfortable, exposing, brutal- but something that is fundamentally better news. Often people perceive Christianity to be exactly that- a tick list of things you need to do in order to get what you deserve out of God. But the Bible doesn't stand for that!

In the gospel, God gives me something that is infinitely better (literally!) than the life I deserve. It doesn't pat my ego, it doesn't give me false hope, and it certainly doesn't hold back.

The gospel starts by saying: those who are self-obsessed, self-serving, self- justifying and self-congratulating have only earned themselves death. Those who are twisted in on themselves, those who have cursing, death-ridden tongues, who have feet prone to the ways of destruction, who have lived without any fear of God have earned death. The gospel says: all have sinned, all have fallen short, all are worthy of death.

I know I'm in that "all." I know my own tongue and feet and heart.

So where is the "good news" promised by the gospel?

Well, the good news says warns me away from the self-righteousness and self-deceit that lies in the path that pursues "the life you deserve"! The life I deserve is a life of half-hearted,selfish, loveless, godless destruction that I have chosen for myself. The life I deserve is not, though I might deceive myself, the life I want! The life I deserve, the gospel says, is death. I am therefore in desperate need of something more robust, something more hopeful, something outside of myself that is far better news than "the life I deserve."


Mercy does not give me what I deserve. That's what mercy is, and that's why it's so beautiful, so precious and so surprising.

Shakespeare said, "mercy is mightiest in the mighty." There is therefore the mightiest of hope in the words of Psalm 103: "The LORD does not treat us as our sins deserve." What wonder, that the mightiest might exercise mercy, that he might be so gracious as to not give me what I deserve.

But there should be something in me that is disturbed too. Should God let me off the hook? If he chooses mercy than can he still be just? Surely I want a just God at the centre of the universe, not a God who will overlook unrighteousness?

What my unworthy soul longs for is a God who might be both just, and merciful.

And that's why the cross is such good news, and why it reveals the character of God so beautifully.

The cross bears witness to the fact that the greatness of God's mercy doesn't come instead of justice, but as well as.  God is shown to be just in his judgment of sin, and merciful in his forgiveness of sinners: as God's justice was poured out, so was his mercy. His justice was poured out on Jesus, so that his mercy might be poured out on me. Jesus faced the justice of God, so that I wouldn't have to. In my place, Jesus suffered the life, and death, I deserved.

And now I have received mercy.

In my life, I can get both fearful that the LORD might treat me as I deserve, or bitter because I feel that he has not given me the life I deserve.

But the death of Jesus cuts through both: it brings good news on both counts: the Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve.

Whatever sufferings I may be enduring, I am not enduring them because I deserve to. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. But however I am being treated, the witness of Scripture and the cross is that it is not my being treated as my sins deserve.

I can't dwell in bitterness knowing that God has treated me with mercy instead of judgement, and for the same reason, I can't dwell in fear.

Countless times in my life I have looked to the future filled with dread. But these five words cut through the dread that sees the grimness within and because of it gazes terrified to the future: now you have received mercy. Countless times in my life I have looked at the present filled with bitterness. But these five words cut through the bitterness that believes my pale collection of tainted, reluctant good deeds put God in my debt: now you have received mercy.

As I look to the future, process my past and experience the present, sinful though I may be, there is bright hope ahead, because now, because of Jesus,  I have received mercy.

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head."
William Cowper 

"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life..."
Psalm 23:6

"He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities."
Psalm 103:10 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

He Gives Us More Grace

I say, 

I will give you all my praise.
On Sundays. 

At least, during the singing.
Definitely during the final verse of that absolute belter.
And during the good bits of the sermon. 

I will give you half an hour each morning, 
Apart from on busy weekends, 
Or days when the night before was full (of something that probably wasn't exactly giving you all my praise.) 
On days when I am tired, too: then it might be less.
But I will usually give you that full half hour-

apart from when stress 
and to do lists interrupt. 

I will give you my money 
I will consider it all yours 
until I see something that I 
really (am sure) I need. 

I will give you the last say, 
apart from when I give you no say 

at all. 

I will give you my future. 
For about two minutes. as long as it looks bright.
Then I will grumble about my present and I will give you bitterness.

I will give you doubt, 
and darkness. 
and despair, 
even in the face of remarkable reasons for hope, and gratitude.
I will give you complaints.
And sometimes I won't even give you that.

I will give you love
or at least, 

I will give you excuses for my lack of love. 
I will give you
deceitful motives 
and selfishness 
destructive words 
and hurtful decision making
and self-pity
and despair. 

I will give you countless reasons to condemn me. 

And even when I will give you apologies, 
and everything I can to make up for my cold, hard heart, 
Even when I am handing over my purest sorrows, 
and my most sincere repentance, 
I know-  
I will give you filthy rags." 

Then You, 
looking right at me,in my shame, 
and shortcomings 
and grim and blatant nakedness, 

"I will give you

I will give you a clean slate.
I will give you great and precious promises.
I will give you my Son. 

And I will give you rest.
I will give you a righteousness that is not your own, but mine.
I will give you a new life,
a new heart, 

a new spirit,
a new future.
I will give you a Redeemer,
And I will give you rest. 

I will give you hope, 
and a refuge; 
a strong tower.
I will give you an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
I will give you power enough for perseverance.
And then I will give you a reward for having persevered.

I will give you the right to become my child. 
I will give you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
I will give you everything you need to approach my throne with boldness.
I will give you comfort,
and peace, 

and joy-

and grace, 
and grace, 
and grace.
I will give you Jesus-
And I will give you rest. " 

"Come unto me," he says, and I will give you." You say, "Lord, I cannot give you anything." He does not want anything. Come to Jesus, and he says, "I will give you." Not what you give to God, but what he gives to you, will be your salvation. "I will give you"- that is the gospel in four words. 
C.H. Spurgeon

But He gives us more grace. 
James 4:6
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