Just Grace

“But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Reflection:
All my life I have lived in an environment of work and rewards, failure and consequences. A poor self-image did not help, and left me vulnerable to either fearing the worst or willing to believe the tempter’s whispers that I was not good enough. Any success or popularity surprised me and I could imagine that it would not last. Always there was the thought that I had not done enough to earn or retain God’s love. Sin devastated me – not just because of what it was, but because I felt that I might now be cast off by God. Why should He love me, and continue to love me, when I knew how unlovable I was, and how unworthy.

Slowly I began to learn that it was not all about me. It was about God. It was not a question of what I was like but of what God is like. It was not a test to see how much I loved God, but a revelation of how much He loves me. It was not even a matter of how much I achieved for Him, but of what He can achieve for me and through me and around me. That’s the trouble with insecurity and sin, it makes us the centre. The wonder of love is that someone else is the centre.

God’s grace at work – not telling us that sin does not matter; not telling us that our weaknesses are good. Just loving us, accepting the tiny amount of love for Him and faith that we have, and pouring out His smiling, laughing, thrilling, loving and forgiving Grace all the time. And, calling us always forward and closer to Him into the life that is truly Life, the way that is the only Way, the Truth that is beyond all truths.

Hear these words:

  • “I have loved you with an everlasting love”  (Jer 31:3)
  • “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:10)
  • “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39)

Response:
Just trust Him – His love, His sacrifice and His grace. Ask Him to help you. Stop looking at yourself – look at Him instead.

Prayer:

Father, Thank You for a love and grace that is beyond understanding. Please help me to allow You to fill me with Your love and grace and to live in their reality. Amen.

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Read Me

“You show that you are a letter from Christ,
the result of our ministry,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
(2 Corinthians 3:3)

 

Reflection:
 I really miss getting hand-written letters. There was something very personal and warm about them – far more so than with much of today’s instant mail.

 How wonderful it is that God did not send out impersonal tweets, texts or bulk mail when He had something important to say. He spoke directly, He spoke through the prophets and He has spoken most revealingly through His Son. Even Scripture as the divinely inspired written record is filled with carefully chosen words and descriptions – all designed to help reveal to us more of the Lord Jesus and to point us to Him.

He speaks also through us. We become His letters – living messages that can be seen, examined and spoken to. His message is not written on the cold screen of the latest tablet with all of its high definition and artificial colour, but on the living and pulsating hearts of His people. He who said that if we had seen Him we had seen the Father would want to say of us that if people wished to see Him they should look at us! With His light within us we become ‘the light of the world!’ We are called to be living and speaking witnesses of His Way, Truth and Life.

People read us all day and every day. We leave an impression on everyone – like footprints in the sand. We affect them. And a part of the good news is the fact that the message of God’s perfect love and grace is carried within the visibly imperfect envelopes of our lives. If God loves us then He can love anyone.

Response:
Tread with love through the lives of others today.

Prayer:

Lord write Your message on my heart – and may it be the only one that shines out from me. Amen.

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What I am

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”
(Ephesians 2:10)

Reflection:
 I am not what the world has made of me. I am who and what God created me to be, and into which He is leading me and expressing through me.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

However, this newness is not something or someone that God has recently dreamed up. My true identity and nature goes back into the mists before our time began. And God is restoring me into that image which has all the beauty of something new and untarnished – a someone I have never seen or even imagined.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”
(Ephesians 1:4-5)

George Appleton, in his beautiful and deeply insightful prayer, expressed it like this,

“Give me a candle of the Spirit,
O God,
as I go down into the depths of my being.
Show me the hidden things,
the creatures of my dreams,
the storehouse of forgotten memories
and hurts.
Take me down
to the spring of my life,
and tell me my nature and my name.
Give me freedom to grow,
so that I may become that self,
the seed of which  You planted in me at my making.”

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This saved me

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
(1 Corinthians 2:2)

Reflection:
In the early stages of my then new journey with Christ I encountered a very real period of darkness. My beliefs, and even the Scriptures themselves, were attacked by others. They took it upon themselves to show me where both I and the Bible were wrong. I did not know enough to debate with them, even although something within me said that they were incorrect. I felt myself foundering, as if my ship of faith had sunk, and I was drifting alone in a sea of doubt.

It was then that I ‘remembered’ this statement of Paul’s. I can so clearly recall thinking that if it was good enough for Paul then it was good enough for me. This Jesus who had died on the cross for us would not let me drown. The picture that formed in my mind was of these words painted on a red and white life belt – the sort that hung on passenger liners. I mentally hooked my one arm through it, grasped my wrist with the other hand, and determined to hold on to this Scripture until God did something. I allowed myself to float along spiritually – just waiting. I did not think about the issues that had been raised, I just focussed on this one verse, waited and trusted. I kept attending church, and ceased having conversation with the people who sought to torpedo my faith.

Nothing dramatic happened but, as the weeks and months went by, I felt as if in a real way the ‘ocean floor’ was rising to meet me. The water was getting shallower and shallower and, one day, I knew that I had walked out of the sea of doubt. I was safe again on firm ground. The Jesus Christ who was crucified for me had brought me through the darkness, loneliness and confusion, to the simplicity of it all – Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Lord. He was my sure foundation and belief. It was not just knowing about Him, but getting to know Him, that brought light, life and love. He was with me.

I came to realise too that I could look at Scripture in a new way – from His side, instead of from the side of men.

He had rebuked the people when He said,

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  (John 5:39-40)

It was not their study that was wrong. It was that they had stopped short by focussing only on the words, and not on the God who gave the words. And they missed out on Him who was now come as the Living Word. This is always the first, and most important, step – to come into a relationship with the Living Christ. The vital Scriptures, which point to Him, then become alive in a new and vibrant way, as the Emmaus disciples found.

“For I resolved to know nothing …. except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

Response:
Wherever you are in life, look to Jesus and ask Him to help you to draw closer to Him.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  (James 4:8)

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, in the darkness of this world, which so affects me, please shine Your light, life and love into me, so that I may know You, love You and follow You more nearly. Amen.

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Thought Catching

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”
( 2 Corinthians 10:5)

Reflection:
It struck me early this morning that there are ‘obviously’ two aspects to this word.

The first is that all my thoughts should be held before the Lord to be tested for their truth and whether or not they honour Him. Given that my mind is full of thoughts, worries and responses to feelings and emotions this may seem like an impossible task. And yet as we walk with the Lord much of it happens fairly quickly if we are open to it and to Him. The challenge then becomes one of responding to His correction.

The second is that this must as obviously apply in our Christian community and group situations – as well as, for us, in our work and ministry. The group’s opinion of what is true, relevant and of the Lord should also be tested before Him. Very often we have found that where there is one dissenting voice in a situation the process needs to be slowed down, re-examined and sometimes re-worked until all can say ‘that’s good.’ After all we are called into Christ’s ministry and not He into ours!

As we look at ‘perfecting holiness out of reverence for God’ this all becomes far more important. It is where the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit is so important and such a blessing.

Response:
Be aware of your thoughts – look at some of them with the Lord – persevere

Prayer:

Lord God, I offer my mind and thoughts to You – help me that I too may be transformed by the renewing of my mind, so that its thought may honour and bless You. Amen.

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Cleanse me

“Since we have these promises, dear friends,
let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit,
perfecting holiness out of reverence for God”

( 2 Corinthians 7:1)

Reflection:
Being a Christian is not merely a matter of staying as we were but with a new cloak covering us. It is about a new life that starts within us and develops and influences everything that we are, and think, and say and do. This new life will become apparent to others as well as to us.

As we recognise our new identities as the daughters and sons of God we are called to live out these identities and live up to them. Therefore just as Jesus cleansed the Temple of everything that degraded and shamed it as the Temple of the Living God, so we are to be involved in the same cleansing of our own temples of the Holy Spirit – ourselves. When God calls us to be holy He means also that we become a place suitable for Him to live in.

This cleansing begins as we recognise that the Spirit is within us. As we do so He will begin to draw our attention to the things in our lives that do not honour God. This is not a once off ‘spring cleaning’ but an ongoing process. Some things will be dealt with quickly whilst others may take longer and have deeper roots. As this goes on we will probably also discover attitudes, habits and desires of which we were unaware. This is the Spirit working more deeply and extensively within us. His purpose is not to shame or depress us but to free us from the things that prevent us from more fully entering into this new life that God has for us. He also wishes to take us deeper and deeper into the reality of our new relationship with the Father and with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This is not a strange new process that God has initiated. He has built the understanding into our lives. For those who are focussed on and committed to a particular goal are generally the ones who will show the most progress. However the good news is that where in our secular lives we may have been unable to find and apply the focus, self-control and energy, we now have in our lives the Holy Spirit of God who is giving us the focus, developing our understanding, and empowering us to press forward, press on and to persevere.

Our reason is not so that we may gain the salvation of God but that we may honour Him in the salvation and new identity that He has given us in His great love. We are in fact seeking to live up to and live out the image of Himself that He has imparted to us.

Response:
I can live more and more as a son/daughter of the Lord God Almighty.

Prayer:

Holy Spirit I want to be more like the Lord Jesus, please help me.  My desire is to have the Father rejoice in my honouring Him. Amen.

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Forgiven

“But you were washed, you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and by the Spirit of our God”
(1 Corinthians 6:11)

Reflection:
Paul had just stated that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. He then listed examples of the things that he classified as wicked and sinful – the type of behaviour that had characterised some of them when they lived outside of the kingdom of God. Then came his great acclamation that ‘this is what some of you were.’ In other words they used to be like this but a radical transformation had taken place in their lives – “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”

In some ways this almost seems to be the answer to the great prayer of David when he was convicted by God of his sin with Bathsheba and for arranging for her husband to be killed.

  • ‘Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.’
  • ‘Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.’
  • ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’

Nothing is worse than the awareness that sin has fastened its claws into us in such a way that we cannot get rid of it, we cannot re-write the past and we are forever stained, contaminated and guilty in the most terrible way. And yet here Paul is crying out for us to be aware of the great redemption open to us through the love and grace of God. For each and every one of us – no matter what we have done or failed to do – may be washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit of God.

It is God Himself setting us free from the spiritual consequences of our past, washing us clean from every stain and setting us on our feet again to live a new and different kind of life with Him. We are called to face in a new direction – focussed on the Lord and not on ourselves. We are urged to flee from all sin and to live lives dedicated to the Lord. We are encouraged – if and when we fall – to ask God for forgiveness and help and to get back on our feet for another go at this new life with Him.

Hold on to the unimaginable truth and wonder of what God has achieved for you and which He seeks to make ever more real in your own life – what Barclay calls ‘this radiant power of Christianity which is triumphantly able to  make all things new’ –

“you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”

Response:
Reflect on these great truths, asking the Holy Spirit to make them live within you

Prayer:

Holy Spirit, please help me to receive Your great truths, make them live within me in such a way that new light shines into my darkness and sets me free to walk in the light, the life and the love of God. Amen.

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