Grace and Truth

…all the words of this life…


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The Call

“And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes I said to you in your blood ‘Live!’” Ezekiel 16:6

At my pondering this verse a few years ago, I had something of a vision. Whether it was a vision in the true sense of the word I do not know, but it was very real. Clearly I saw a long, dusty road that stretched out as far as I could see. All along the road there were bodies strewn. They looked barely alive and were half-formed, almost foetus-like. Each form was covered in blood and dirty with dust and grime. If any had clothes, they were torn rags. Along the road Jesus walked. He came and picked me up, for I found that I myself was one of those bloodied and misshapen forms. He took me to His Father’s house where it was light and colourful. There He washed me, dressed my wounds, gave me new clothes to wear and fed me milk. I grew and He held my hands as I learned to walk. Then when I was grown, when I was strong and able to stand, I saw Him standing at the open door of the Father’s house. He looked back at me and said “Come. It is time. Go back to the road. I will lead you there. There are many others who are abandoned and fatherless. They are bleeding and hurt and helpless. Bring them to my Father’s house. As I have loved you, so love them.”

And oh how He loves us. “This is how God demonstrates His love to us: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So much so that He left the presence of His Father to come to a world all dusty and darkened by sin. He laid down His own life to seek us out in our helplessness. He picked us up from the dusty road of life, up out of the harsh exposure to the elements and adopted us into the family of God. “To all who believed in his name He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) His nail-pierced hands gently ministered to our needs; they cleansed us from the dirt and dust which we had accumulated along the road; they poured oil and wine into the wounds which had been inflicted on us and they clothed us in new garments – a robe of righteousness in place of the filthy rags of our own. He nurtured and fed us with the pure milk of the Word to bring us to maturity.

With that vision God had put a call on my life and a fire in my heart. I saw that the story of the Good Samaritan is actually the story of Jesus. While others may pass us by in our need, He never will. While others may find stopping for us too difficult, too inconvenient or too much effort, He stops at nothing to save us, even to the shedding of His own blood. And I saw that He calls us to join Him in this mission. He calls us to do to others as we would have them do for us. The religious leaders who tentatively passed by the robbed and wounded man left on the road could easily be us. For once He has brought us back to the Fathers house, it’s possible to remain there cosy and comfortable forever. We could keep enjoying our salvation and feasting at the banqueting table, becoming fuller and fuller. But for what purpose? I saw that if I allowed myself to remain feasting and comfortable rather than following Him back to the road, eventually I would grow sluggish and fall asleep. I saw that Jesus’ purpose for cleansing me, healing me and clothing me was not merely for my own benefit, but so that ultimately I could join Him in His work.

I believe this is the same call He puts on all of His children’s lives and the same flame that He wants to ignite in all of us.

There is a season in our spiritual infancy when we are tenderly nurtured, fed and protected. Just as at Shabbat, when the father of the house pours wine into the chalice, our Father pours the life of the Son into us, the newly cleansed vessel. The more we allow this vessel to be emptied of the self-life, the more He is able to fill us with Himself. God’s desire is that we should not remain perpetual babes but, like any healthy infant, grow and mature over time. And so the Father, eternally giving, keeps pouring into us. The Shabbat chalice is a picture of what He would do for us if we would let Him. On Shabbat the father of the house does not stop when the chalice is full of wine, he deliberately keeps pouring until the cup overflows. The liquid flows out from the vessel, for in fact, it was never intended to be contained and kept by this vessel – it was always meant to flow out, like rivers of living water. God patiently ministers to us until the time we reach maturity, and then He calls us into His mission of mercy.

And so Jesus bids us “come”, to join Him in His relentless pursuit of the lost. But the Good Shepherd will never force us. He will never cross over into our freewill. He says “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24). He simply calls to us and waits for us to weigh up the cost.

Undoubtedly taking up our cross and following Jesus back to the road, is not the easy option. It means the denying of ourselves, the leaving behind of some comfort and convenience. It means going out into the elements again – being burned by harsh heat, soaked in heavy rains or battered in driving wind. It means being confronted with the reality of human existence – the hurt and pain, the blood and dirt. It means getting our hands dirty and our feet calloused. It may mean that we are abused and rejected or even that the chalice of our lives is poured out on that dusty road. There is a real cost and it is worth our prayerful consideration. Yet Jesus, knowing the individual cost to each of us, still beckons us to “Come.”

Anything that is precious is costly, though, and along with this high cost comes an abundant joy when we are one with Him in His work. When the life of the Holy Spirit can truly flow from the Head into the Body, united as they are in will and in purpose, then the result is the absolute reality of His abiding presence with us. Jesus said:
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

You may still be on the road, wounded and abandoned. If that is the case, you can rest assured that there is a Saviour who knows and who is seeking you. Even at this moment He is reaching out His hand to pick you up, if you will let Him.

You may yet be an infant in Christ, newly adopted into His family. If so, I encourage you to keep feeding on the pure milk of the Word and to be continuously filled with His life, through the Holy Spirit, until you reach the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Or you may be already in the Father’s “house”, having been picked up by those nail-pierced hands from the road. If you’ve found the comfort, love and security in becoming a child of God, will you now go on to share this love and comfort with others? Will you heed His call?

May God bless you mightily on this Resurrection Sunday.

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Passover

This year I have been surprised by the strong sense of anticipation I have felt as Passover has drawn near.

While I have been aware for a long time of the eternal truths that shine forth through the feast of Passover, this time it is different. Recently I have come to see that the story of Passover in a striking way reflects my own story. The external truth of the Passover, to me, has become an inward reality.

My Passover story began about six and a half years ago. I had been a church-going Christian all of my life. I loved God and knew He loved me and had guided me throughout my whole life. I lived my life the best that I could and everything had turned out pretty well. I had married a wonderful man, had a lovely baby girl and was really quite happy with my life and with myself. I had no need for anything more and I certainly was not looking to change myself or my life in any way.

Then one day someone gave me a tape-sermon from a fiery old preacher-man and everything changed.

Mainly I listened to the sermon out of curiosity, with absolutely no clue as to the ramifications it would have on my life forever. By the time that sermon was over I was on my knees on the floor. I was in the presence of God and I was borne down under Holy Ghost conviction. What happened that night changed me forever. I saw myself clearly for the first time in my life. For me, a young woman, satisfied with things as they were currently in my life – to be absolutely confronted with the state of my own heart was devastating. My sins were right in front of my face – the things I had done and shouldn’t have done and the things I should have done and didn’t. Not only that, but I also saw that I had inherited a sin-nature from Adam and that there was nothing that I could do about it.

The only way to explain what I experienced (and words cannot do justice) was a death. I was crushed under the weight of my sin. I wept and wept. I was in mourning. An hour before that my life was good and fine, no major issues, all smooth sailing, and now everything was different, I was different. This was not something that could be dismissed or forgotten. I was utterly undone. For the person I was before this to continue to exist was no longer a possibility. In the light of truth there was no option for me but to repent of my sins and cry out to God for His grace and mercy.

And God came to me in mercy. I knew that Jesus had taken the penalty for my sins upon Himself at the cross. That He had already paid for them there and that I was forgiven. I arose from the floor a changed woman. Out of the ashes of that mourning and death God had raised up something different, something beautiful. It was Life in place of death.

From that moment I was different. In all honesty prior to my meeting God face-to-face, I had been rather hard and cold-hearted, although I didn’t see myself that way at the time. I used to say that “I love animals but hate people”. I saw what people did to each other and I hated them for it. (I didn’t really include myself in that category though, I was pretty ok.) I was capable of feeling compassion towards suffering and needy people of course, but to be actually inconvenienced by going out of my way in order to help them, was an irritation to which I would not, nor could not, subject myself. To actually lay down my life for others was a concept so foreign to me that it simply would never have entered my mind. (My husband can attest to the hardness of heart that used to be mine, to my shame).

But now, because I had been “born-again” I was a new creation. I was now a child of God and was full of Him. I became tender-hearted, as He is. I began to reach out to others, as He does. Although I am obviously not perfect, I can honestly say that the total and complete change in the state of my own heart is the biggest proof to me that there is a God, and that He is in the business of changing hearts. I know what I was before, and I know the difference to what I am now. Of course until God exposed the truth of my heart to me I had no idea.

Going back a little at this point, although I was convicted, forgiven and changed that night, I actually continued to struggle under the weight of my now-revealed sin for quite a few months. Whilst I knew that Christ had died for my sin and that God had forgiven me, I still experienced a heavy weight of guilt and I couldn’t seem to be able to walk in the forgiveness for which I knew Christ had died. Whenever I messed up that just added more weight to the guilt. I even came to think that perhaps I was meant to remain in this state. However, once again, God met me in His mercy. He simply revealed to me one night that my sins past, present and future are “under the blood”. He showed me that no amount of fussing or of feeling guilty changes the fact that I am covered by the blood of the Lamb. He actually showed me that guilt was a waste of time and energy because the blood of a righteous Redeemer is what God sees when He looks at me.

In that moment of time, all the burden of my guilt vanished. Now I knew experientially that I was forgiven, I knew that I was free from guilt! A load lifted from me, never to be experienced again. I now walk in the “glorious liberty by which Christ has made (me) free.” And all because of the blood. I could now truly say, as the old hymn:

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved”

God said to the Israelites at the very first Passover:

“Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you…” Exodus 12:13

Just as God’s judgment “passed over” the Israelites because they were covered by the blood of the Passover lamb, I too have been covered by the blood of the Lamb, so that I have escaped God’s judgment for sin. The Bible says:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal Life”

About 1300 years after the first Passover lamb was sacrificed in order to redeem Israel from slavery in Eqypt, another Lamb was sacrificed in order to redeem humankind from the bondage of sin. This Lamb was slain on Passover too, crucified on the cross. John the Baptist said of Him: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He was blemish-less, unleavened by sin and He tasted of the “bitter herbs” of suffering. Jesus, the Son of God, chose to come to earth to be the sacrifice for our sins, in order to redeem us. He was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” and all because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

May God bless you with His grace this Passover season!