Softly, Spoke the River

The Light of Christ


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Grace at Work

“Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise”
(Luke 23:43)

Lent 27

Reflection:                                                                 
What a very strange thing for one dying man to say to another! It was strange enough that the criminal next to Him had asked Jesus to “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Stranger still was the response from a man Himself not far from death! Within a few hours they were both dead – yet Jesus rose from that death in power and glory and suddenly His promise to the dying person next to Him takes on a new significance.

The love and grace of God is revealed in a new and breathtaking way. After a life that appears to have been socially and morally unacceptable a crucified man’s dying acknowledgement of the Lord took him from eternal darkness into eternal life with the Lord who told him, “You will be with Me in paradise.”

No conditions were placed upon him, no formal act of repentance was required, no further discussion or teaching were necessary. A very simple appeal, containing within it an acknowledgement of Jesus, and a faith that was probably not much bigger than a mustard seed, brought about an immediate and heart-warming reply. It brings out so clearly the wonderful truth and simplicity of Jesus great teaching,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” 

(John 3:16)

Most of us do have longer to live than that man. And so we would need to look at the ways in which our lives should respond to the love and grace of God. Yet there is a simple truth that we need to accept. Our righteousness with God – that is being made right with God – depends not on us but on Jesus. This is what the Cross was and is all about. We accept it and then respond.

“Jesus remember me” – “I promise you.” Does it get clearer and simpler than that? As simple as sincerely saying “Jesus, please be my Saviour and my Lord” – and then following Him.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, please help me to always acknowledge You as my Saviour and Lord – and may my life reflect this relationship. Amen.

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Father Forgive You

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,
 for they do not know what they are doing”
(Luke 23:34)

Lent 26

Reflection:
Naked He came into the world and naked He would leave it. But Oh the glory and honour and majesty and grace with which Jesus is clothed.

The world mocked and laughed at Him, scourged and spat upon Him, rejected and crucified Him. Yet His first words, after the brutal nails and tearing pain of the cross, summed up His ministry as it embraced the soldiers, religious leaders and the shouting crowd,

 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

And the tense is such that it indicates that it was an ongoing prayer, uttered aloud in response to all that was happening to Him. Quietly and without fanfare He took into Himself the sins of those around Him and the sins of the whole world – all the sin and sins of those who had been, those who were then, and those who were to come. Reaching down the pathway of the centuries His words, His life, His death and the resurrection to come, embrace you and embrace me and reach lovingly beyond us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” 
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

When we turn and fall into sin – whether once or again and again and again – our sin, by the wonderful grace of God, is already on the cross where it has been fully dealt with by Jesus. We can cringe alone in wretched fear and shame. But, gloriously instead, we are welcome now to approach and kneel before the Father. There, with deeply saddened heart, we are able to confess, ask for and receive His cleansing and liberating forgiveness and strengthening help.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:9)

Such love is beyond our understanding, but not beyond our knowing.

  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16)

Prayer:

Help me Lord God to trust and accept Your love – from which nothing is able to separate me. Amen.

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Secure In God

“In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God'”
(Matthew 27:41-43)

Lent 25

Reflection:
There are times in life when we feel totally cornered, humiliated and rejected. We would like to lash out at others in ways that will defeat and silence them, and show our rightness and worth.

Throughout Jesus ministry it seems that the religious leaders were intent on either proving Him wrong or destroying Him. They refused to see the truth in what He said and did, and hid behind the security of their positions and their interpretation of the law. Jesus had remained silent throughout His trial. Now, at this final moment of ridicule and dismissal – of Him as the Son of God and Saviour of the world – how tempting it must have been to stride from the cross in splendour and majesty and to humiliate them in one glorious display of His Divinity.

“If God wants Him” – how that barb must have hurt, at this moment in time when He was about to cry out in desolation, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And yet, Jesus did none of these things. He trusted and remained true to God and to the mission and ministry that God had given Him. And so His response to them all was the response of a God who loved them even to the end.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
(Luke 23:34)

We all have to learn that however rejected, overlooked, inadequate or hurt we may feel the answer is not to strike back in pain or hurt –  even although we sympathise with the disciples who asked Jesus,

“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
(Luke 9:54)

Our identity and security is in the One God Almighty, the God of power and love, who has called us into relationship with Him and has committed Himself to us throughout eternity. In the fullness of His love the barbed arrows and hurts that come from others take their proper place and do not become overwhelming and destructive of our life and peace. It takes prayer, and the practice of confirming our identity and value in God, holding on to His promises to us and the wonderful gifts of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Out of that security and perspective we can in turn be sad for those who live and act from the perspective of a fallen world. We, however, are the beloved and eternal sons and daughters of the Living God. And so Jesus can say to us,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”
(Luke 6:27-28)

The truth is that God’s love for us is far more powerful and healing than the destructive hurt of the world.

Prayer:

Father, please continue to pour Your love into my heart and help me to live as Your beloved child. Amen.

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Lonely Anguish

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly,
and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”
(Luke 22:44)

Lent 24

Reflection:
Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying about the trial, suffering and death that lay ahead of Him. He had a very real appreciation of what it entailed and He prayed,

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but yours be done.” 
(Luke 22:42)

The thought of this suffering and death was almost overwhelming and it must have taken a supreme act of will, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, to enable Him to go forward. In doing so He fulfilled God’s will and purpose in a manner that glorified God and showed Jesus complete trust in Him. Thank God that He did so!

Down through the ages His disciples have also had to face tremendous trials, and go through terrible suffering, for Him. The anguish involved in facing up to these times would also have been dreadful, and they would have needed help and strength from the Lord. Whilst not every Christian suffers in this way, each one will know what it is to experience fear and the temptation to step aside from some challenge to the Christian faith and lifestyle. Something that we have done, or failed to do, or might be called upon to do, can settle upon us like a nightmare. Very often the sickening thought of what might happen is the worst of the fear. Our imaginations run riot and conjure up all sorts of possibilities and then adds them all together!

I gave my testimony many years ago to a gathering of business men and women and, rather hesitantly, mentioned that I lived with quite a bit of fear in my job situation with its pressures and responsibilities. I was totally amazed afterwards at how many people came up and shared their every day workplace fears with me. I had thought that I was the only one to be like that!

Fear and its effects are real. Instead of hiding them from ourselves and from God it is far better to take them to Him, acknowledge them, and then ask for His strength, faith and help in carrying us through the situation. Ask Him for, or find, a Scripture to hold on to. Remind yourself very often that He is with you, and keep praying for His strength and help. Pray also for the situation and for everyone else involved. Soak it in prayer. 

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble”

(Psalm 46:1)

It is particularly important that we recognise and face up to any fears relating to our Christian calling, way of life and the ‘good works’ that God has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We should not be allowing such fears to stand in our way.

Prayer:

Father, please help me to bring my fears to You, and to be aware that others will also have their own fears. Amen.

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Well Done You

 

“Everyone is looking for you!”
(Mark 1:37)

Lent 23

Reflection:
What it is to be popular! – and to have ‘everyone’ wanting to be with you. Another temptation!

Jesus had been very active in His healing ministry. He had cast out an evil spirit and then in the evening had continued to heal and drive out demons. Early the next morning He had gone off to a solitary place to pray and it was there that His disciples found Him and said, ‘Everyone is looking for You!” How easy it would have been for Jesus to return to Capernaum and to continue with this ministry, seeking to build upon the popularity that He now had. How easy we find it to measure things by numbers, even in the church.

We tend to envy people who are popular and who attract others to them. Pastors can be envious of others with more public ministries and of those with large congregations. And yet, not everyone has the same gifts or the same ministry. Each Christian does, though, have a specific calling from God, and has been blessed with specific gifts and a specific ministry. Success is measured by our faithfulness to God and to what He wants of us.

In this case Jesus did not return to the crowds looking for Him but responded instead,

“Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)

Jesus knew His calling and ministry and, after spending time in prayer, knew what God wanted Him to do. He was not to return to the crowds but to go somewhere else and start again. In fact, in His three short years of ministry, He was always on the move and never put roots down in any one place. Even when many of His followers left Him He did not change His message or His focus but carried resolutely on in obedience to God in whom He trusted. In the end He died naked and almost alone on a criminal’s cross – but was able to cry out in victory, “It is finished!” He had done what God wanted Him to do and that was all that mattered.

It is never about crowds or popularity but always about God – His love, His will and His approval. The numbers or passing popularity of the world do not define us – only our relationship with the Father. To become truly ‘me’ is to be more of the child of God that He has called me to be. Only there is my true satisfaction and peace.

Prayer:

Father, help me to know Your will and to seek only Your approval, in Jesus name. Amen.

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Trust don’t Test

“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “`He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It says: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
(Luke 4:9-12)

Lent 22

Reflection:
Nowhere in Scripture does God tell us that we can be either careless or seek to be sensational. To assume that, no matter what we do or how we do it, God will see that we come to no harm, or make everything work out, is to treat Him as some sort of a genie. To try and do flamboyant things in His name in order to attract attention is to make ourselves the primary focus. To seek to demonstrate our faith, and prove our relationship with Him, by getting God to put on a show is to abuse Him.

Jesus was quite clear in His teaching that He acted and spoke in response to God’s guidance and not His own wishes. He served God and did not try and get God to act as He, Jesus, wished. How very clearly this is brought out in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus submitted Himself to the will and purpose of His Father.

If this is how Jesus, the perfect Man, acted then we as His younger brothers and sisters need to take a leaf from His book. We have the promises of God, as well as the guiding, gifting and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit within us. He is not there to do what we want but to help us to do what God wishes. One of His primary purposes is to take the expressed will of God and to see that it happens. He will do that in and through us as well.

God does not invite us to come up with a purpose for Him, instead He has a purpose for us. This is something for which He has prepared us, gifted us and will empower us. Following His will is a part of our finding and becoming our true selves. We trust Him to make us who we were always intended to be.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Prayer:

Father, You could not do more than You have done to show Your love for me. Please help me to accept it, believe it, trust it and respond to it. Amen.

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Choose Life

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: `Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”
(Luke 4:5-8)

Lent 21

Reflection:
It seems as if the devil was offering Jesus the very things that He had come to recover as part of His kingdom – but without the hardship and effort involved in the way of the Cross. Here was a short cut that made it easy. 

The problem of course was that all this was not the devil’s to give. In addition the cost involved was to turn from God and worship Satan. It would be easy to try and say that the end justifies the means, but the truth is that you cannot have a good result if the process is flawed. And you cannot honour God by dishonouring Him!

We live in a world which appears to offer us everything we want on the easiest of terms. Too often people have found that in accepting that offer they have lost something which is very precious – their integrity and self-esteem. And through putting their own desires first, and listening to the seductive promises of the world, they have missed out on who they could have been as a son or daughter of God.

Jesus knew that the only way to choose was the one that placed God first. We cannot truly worship God with our lips if our lives tell a different story. In our pursuit of happiness, wealth and significance it is easy to try and cut corners, looking for the quick and easy options. However, personal integrity and the honouring of God our Father are not things that we can buy or lightly lay claim to. Integrity and reputation are easily lost and are sometimes never regained.

Yesterday can never be re-written, it must be lived properly today.

Prayer:

Father, please help me to discern the lies of the world and to live to Your honour and glory each and every day. Amen.

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