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A Family of God

I was going to write something on Paul's teaching in Galatians on what it means to be "crucified with Christ". This morning, I'm meditating on the four passages where he uses the word "crucified". Of course, without using the word in other places, he still expounds the meaning of the Lord's death in the life of believers. This is what the letter to the Galatians is about, the gospel. I was going to write on these things. And I will, but not just now.

As I was thinking about being crucified "with Christ", thoughts of my family came to me. Perhaps the meditation on Christ's love in giving himself for me has awakened the much-needed spirit of gratitude I have for the love I've been given. Love like my family's comes from their own experience with the cross of Christ, a cross I've brought into their lives as they have had to bear with my sin over many years. Despite the wretched example I've been as a father, the depressed and self-centred husband to three wives, the neglectful son of my parents, the disrespectful sibling of my brother and sisters, along with my drug addictions and poverty, they have shown me love, patience, tenderness, forgiveness and a forgetfulness of my selfishness that I've never deserved and can never repay. This is evidence to me of what God does through our Lord in re-creating his image "in the flesh" of those crucified with him. (Thank you for that thought, William). The new life of the Spirit has borne fruit in their lives, making them his nurturing, healing agents of the Spirit in the world. How fortunate I am!

My good fortune is also a two-edged sword, "piercing asunder" soul and spirit, as their love for me awakens a greater need of faithfulness in loving them and others. The  "love of Christ compels" me to rest on the cross with him, letting the Spirit slay the flesh, with its proud, self-defined works. Their love strengthens me with a deeper spiritual conviction of God's presence in the world, seeing his power "perfected in weakness". I'm encouraged to see the dead in sin raised to new life, those crippled with lust given fresh legs, and our blind eyes opened to the light. We still "groan" with the rest of creation for the full redemption of our bodies, when "the mortal will put on immortality", when we will be "changed in a moment, in the twinkling of the eye"; "We shall be like for we shall see him as he is". But until then we are more than satisfied by his presence in our hearts through the indwelling of his Spirit. We are "children of promise", awaiting the family inheritance of all who have been crucified with Christ and risen again.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  ~Ephesians 3.20-21




Do you love me?

I would invite you to make a little experiment in your life. Looking back over the last month -you can go back further if you like-  see if you can remember  the conversations you have had about  Jesus.  I don't mean  conversations about  church per se, but  about  who  Jesus is and what  Jesus  has done. 

I understand, from reading the book of Acts, that such conversation was the warp and woof of Christian cloth; Christians got their name from their preoccupation with Christ. All that these early believers said or did was in reference to the One they believed was the Son of God, who had died for their sins, had rose again the third day, and was in heaven mediating the grace of God to them as their High Priest. This was fundamental to their faith and everyday experience. We can imagine how night after night, day after day they longed to hear the apostles tell of what it was like to talk and walk with the Son of God who had forever taken human flesh.

What else could compare for Peter, James, John, and the other apostles? Would they really have been interested in the latest scores at the arena, the political schemes of the local tax collector, the new actor in town, or the fresh gossip of the market stalls? There is precious little evidence of any such things in their writings. (And their culture had as much of that as ours). One theme consumed time and attention, Jesus Christ, the Son of God risen from the dead. Come on now, what else would really matter to a disciple of Christ who had seen the things they had, heard the words of Jesus, and lived in his presence for over three years? How could the old life of fishing compare with this? Everything had changed! Jesus, in his very being, had redefined their whole existence. He had opened up the gates of eternity, destroying the threat of death that hung over their heads. They had seen him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, restore the lepers face, and raise the dead. More than this, they had seen him tortured, crucified, and then rise on the third day, spending forty glorious days in his company, until one afternoon they watched him ascend to heaven in a cloud of angels! Isn't this enough for more than a life time of conversation. I suggest it's implications will carry us through eternity.

This all raises the question: what matters to me? I certainly don't know him as well as they did, but he did promise I could. He said he would give the gift of his Holy Spirit and reveal himself to me if I put my faith in him. All that was theirs with him could also be mine. Is this my hope and longing each day, to be with Jesus, to know his will, serve his need, worship him as my Lord, and share the news about him with others? What do I live for as a Christian? Is it Christ or is he a means to an end, a way to structure my life with a few moral codes that make me fit in with those I long to praise me? Is he just a way to feel safe and as long as I have that, then he can do as he pleases?

At the end of the gospel of John Jesus asked Peter the simplest of questions before he commissioned him as a shepherd of God's flock, a question that goes to the core of all human longing and divine purpose: Do you love me Peter? What a simple question! Do you love me?  


Speechless Prayer

We often make the mistake of thinking more about how hard it is for us to speak to God, rather than how hard it is for him to speak to us. Should we look at things this way we may listen more, concentrating on hearing what he has to say. I've often been surprised by the voice of Christ when I stopped talking long enough to notice.

Perhaps I expect him to shout me down, but usually it is the "still small voice" and not the "whirlwind" that carries the power of God to my soul. This is why suffering is such a good preparation for the proud heart. It shuts our mouth long enough to pray. Romans 3.19-20.


What if I have no faith?

If we have no faith  there is only one thing to do: get faith. How? By going to the cross, looking into the face of Christ and saying, "I have no faith". In that moment we will find faith, if in fact we were honest when we confessed our lack of it. God cannot fill the full, but it's the empty, the poor in spirit, those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" that he floods with the Water of Life. So many find nothing because they think they already have enough. They admit it isn't much, but they reason that God, in his great love for them, will accept what little they have. After all, they have come so far and worked so hard to find him. But it is this very reasonable request that fails to find the ear of God. He only hears what the silent tongue says, not the one that boast of its own achievement, however small the disguise, however humble the package.

When Christ hears the lisping tongue, the stammering heart, the heart that cannot speak for groaning, then the Spirit intercedes as the divine translator of human dumbness. Our need is not for human rhetoric, but for the Spiritual eloquence that comes when we are struck dumb by the sight of One wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. When we can no longer speak of the cross for the constricting tears that choke our throat, then we have said all that God ever desired to hear.

 But why, why is it so painful? Doesn't God love us? Oh, yes. So much so he gave his Son to die for our sins. And that is why it hurts, why it must hurt, because the love of God in his self-sacrifice exposes the hidden hatred we have denied for so long. It shows what true love does and reveals how far short we have come of his Benchmark for humanity. The cross hurts because it says it like it is, the truth about God and the truth about us. Had we no sin, no hatred of God, no envy of his power, no lust for his glory, no shame in his presence, then none of this would be necessary. Yet He has taken all this on himself and those who see they are he ones who put it one him will fall silent at the sight. They begin to pray outside themselves rather than from within themselves. Such empty hearts God can then fill with his Spirit of eternal sacrifice.

Faith is the gift of God for those with empty hands; we reach to take it and cannot help notice it's stained with blood. 


On Prayer

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10.19-26
Paul tells us of a "new and living way" for having access to God; it is "by the blood of Jesus", "through his flesh"; it is for those who "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."What hinders a sense of God's presence in prayer is the opposite of the things provided by him. When we come, wavering in the wind of doubt, trying to find some merit or technique that would help us see, hear, or know God, we have failed to lay hold on the simplest of words. We "draw near" through something done outside of us, something that does not bring God down to us, but raises our spirit to him through the mediation of one who has linked our hearts to God in his own.
There is no prayer without he mediation of Christ; God can only be seen and heard "through his flesh". The work of prayer is being dead to self in Christ. And self will not nor cannot crucify itself; one hand is always free to do its own work. We must be "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2.20). He does what it is impossible for us to do for ourselves; his work must become ours by faith. Our struggle in prayer is not to live before God, but to die in his presence as the sinners we are. The good news is that this death, for the believer in Christ, is in fact the door of new life. (Romans 6).
This is no different a theology than what John taught in his gospel. It is those who believe in Jesus that "see" and "hear" the kingdom of God that comes "from above". "Except you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you" (John 6.53). Faith does not look at itself; the only object for faith is Christ. Therefore, the prayer of faith brings us into "the holy places" when we give up on those pride-filled works and look only for Christ crucified.
Prayer fails to apprehend God because it seeks his glory outside the suffering of Christ on the cross, what Paul calls here "the new and living way". "He opened" this way for us and by his Spirit it remains open to only one thing, the prayer of faith. That is, the prayer that looks outside of itself to Christ. It is not the length of time, thought you may enjoy hours, it not the exact phrases, though you may be rich with eloquence. God says very clearly to whom he will look: "But this is the one to whom I will look:he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66.2b). Humility, by definition, is not preoccupied with itself. The one who trembles in the presence of "the Word made flesh" is the one God "looks" at, that is, it is this soul to whom he extends the sceptre of grace from the throne of grace.
We are not blessed merely because God loves us, as precious a thought as that is, but because his love made a way for us through "the valley of the shadow of death" though the fleshy veil that hides his face. The flesh that couched the living Word was ripped away in Pilate's judgement hall, exposing God for all who would believe. Christ did not die to keep us from dying, but to enable us to die in him and those who die will live again. As he ask Martha at the tomb of her brother, "Believest thou this"? (KJV). For those who die in Christ live forever more in him, if they abide in faith. When the death of Christ becomes our death to self in prayer we will see, that "glorious things of thee are spoken" in the holy places, "where Christ sits at the right hand of God".