Archive for January, 2016

Of Apple Trees

Discovered these 2 poems, and think they’re worth sharing … they may well be based on words from an obscure Book in the Old Testament: The Song of Solomon – a verse of which reads:

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men.

I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.





The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.




SOME folk as can afford, 
So I’ve heard say, 
Set up a sort of cross 
Right in the garden way 
To mind ‘em of the Lord.         
But I, when I do see 
This apple tree 
An’ stoopin’ limb 
All spread wi’ moss, 
I think of Him      
And how He talks wi’ me. 
I think of God 
And how He trod 
That garden long ago; 
He walked, I reckon, to and fro    
And then sat down 
Upon the groun’ 
Or some low limb 
What suited Him 
Such as you see       
On many a tree, 
And on this very one 
Where I at set o’ sun 
Do sit and talk wi’ He. 
And, mornings too, I rise and come       
An’ sit down where the branch be low; 
A bird do sing, a bee do hum, 
The flowers in the border blow, 
And all my heart’s so glad and clear 
As pools when mists do disappear:       
As pools a-laughing in the light 
When mornin’ air is swep’ an’ bright, 
As pools what got all Heaven in sight 
So’s my heart’s cheer 
When He be near.        

 He never pushed the garden door, 
He left no footmark on the floor; 
I never heard ‘Un stir nor tread 
And yet His Hand do bless my head, 
And when ’tis time for work to start       
I takes Him with me in my heart. 
And when I die, pray God I see 
At very last this apple tree 
An’ stoopin’ limb, 
And think of Him
And all He been to me.

By Anna Bunston (Mrs. De Bary)


Pure …

Early in January I asked several Christian leaders: “The pure in heart” – how does this ‘look’ ?” – and waited eagerly for their response. Here are some replies, with stand-out phrases, which I’ve emboldened:

“Alexander Ryrie speaks (in The Desert Fathers) of the monks’ desire for hearts undivided … singularly devoted to God, hearts guarded against demons (real, but also our inner besetting sins) and being fully open to God. When our hearts are pure, free from worldly distracts, we are able to be with God in this life as we hope to be in the next. It’s that yearning for God alone.” – Owain Mitchell (Brigg)

“Immediately reminded of J. Keble’s hymn, ‘Blest are the pure in heart’ which suggests that the mark of the pure in heart is those whose lives are filled with Jesus.” – Bob Duerden (Sleaford)

Interestingly, two respondees mentioned that Keble hymn, so here are a couple of stanzas:

“Bless’d are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God,
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ’s abode.

Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself impart,
And for His cradle and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.”

“The basic meaning of the word ‘katheros’ is ‘unmixed, free from stain’. It is used to describe metal that is free from alloy, cattle free from defect, undiluted wine or milk, water free from pollution. This is the most exacting of the Beatitudes. The work of the cross must penetrate deeper than the mere external things of our lives.” – Alan Hoare (Lincoln)

“This has to be a faith exercise, because it’s only by His grace that we can experience this! It’s a tough question but in my opinion can only be accomplished through faith in the redeeming grace of Christ.” – Brian Andrews (South Africa)

The simple beauty of grains held within their husks … all the externals will dissolve away to leave the grain ready to spring again – life and death are the transforming agents of grace, that love may be ever more deeply rooted within our being.” – Mike Burson-Thomas (Waddingham)

“Perhaps a word that sums up the essence of these words of Jesus would be integrity, where the inner life matches what people see externally. It means inner moral purity as opposed to what is externally seen. I think it also refers to single mindedness where the focus of a person’s life is clear and free from hidden agendas.” – Stuart Bell (Lincoln)

“My immediate thoughts on this vital subject concerns not just the emotional, heart-warming denial of self and love for God, but, to me, it also involves the whole of life (heart). In other words, a pure heart is a realistic one that includes all the concerns, worries and pressures of life. ” – Michael Bentley (Bracknell)

“The thought comes to me that ‘the heart’ refers to the centre of our being, our core person, our thinking, our spontaneous response. To me this means that I can be pure in heart, even if at times I respond or behave in a way that is not pure. Pure meaning unsullied, untouched by external things that surround us. I suggest this is a person whose basic make-up, whose basic being is centred on God himself, even though at times he may stray.” – Dave Playle (Stalybridge)

“As I understand it, Jesus’s word ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ forms part of a set of promises about the Kingdom of God. It gets to the essence of the ‘good news’… as a kind of ‘trailer’ for what the Kingdom brings, especially to those most in need of God’s love. I go along with William Barclay’s comment that Mt. 5, 8 is about singleness of purpose and unmixed motives. We only see what we are capable of seeing. It is all about having the capacity to receive and perceive God’s love.” – David Tustin (Wrawby)

I am deeply grateful for these contributions, which have richly added to my understanding of this crucial truth.

We may or may not find ourselves in agreement with those comments – but one thing cannot be denied: there is an interesting and diverse understanding of those weighty words of Jesus taken from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) – also a growing conviction prompts many of us to give attention to this matter as a pre-requisite for ‘seeing’ the invisible God in our personal worlds.

Now, although orthodox theology teaches that God is here, there and everywhere (omni-present is the technical word) so far as I’m concerned at any rate, He remains hidden from sight. It can often seem a bit like looking through a dirty window. In fact, I find much sympathy for that old sage, Job, as he complains: “Behold, He goes by me, and I see Him not; He passes on also, but I perceive Him not”. Or as Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrases it: “Somehow, though he moves right in front of me, I don’t see him; quietly but surely he’s active, and I miss it.” On this point John Gill, commentator, observes: “… He is continually working all around us … supporting us in being … supplying us with what we want … and so is near us … and yet we see him not.”

Yet Jesus indicates that the pure in heart will in fact ‘see’ God – as Alan E Hoare further argues: “The man that Jesus is talking about … will ‘perceive’ the Lord everywhere … in creation, in circumstances and in the church.” With this Simon Tugwell agrees, writing provocatively in his book: ‘Reflections on the Beatitudes’, “To have a pure heart means that everywhere you look, whatever you are looking at, you see God. God revealing Himself in myriad ways, but always God … It means that you are going to look at a man on a cross and know that you are looking at God. To be pure in heart is to be capable of that.”

Such singularity of heart & mind is ardently advocated and earnestly expressed by Psalmists when exclaiming: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD …” Again: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

Clearly they longed for a revelation of God’s being, and considered it worthwhile to take time over and pay the price for. So did the American missionary, David Brainerd (18th century) who wrote in his diary: “Of late God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually, so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain … I feel my desire of Him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable.”

May we take up these further challenging words from our Hebrew hymn-book, personalizing them, and praying: “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your Name”. Then, perhaps, it may be ‘gifted’ to us to experience and say, along with the long-suffering Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

In closing, reflect on verses from a classic hymn:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.


Be Blessed

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I’m part of an on-line community where people share information about their beliefs, behaviours and brand preferences. Members are allocated points for expressing opinions through surveys and research projects. I’ve participated in this community for several years, and have enjoyed several pay-outs. Recently I again reached the necessary number of points to claim a most welcome reward of £50. Having requested my reward I received a confirmatory e-mail entitled: “Your redemption is being processed“. Now this made me smile, broadly, since ‘redemption’ is one of my favourite words, and it got me thinking and writing!

Adding to my thoughts, I received a newsletter from a pastor/friend in Lincolnshire. Speaking of the Fall of Adam & Eve he wrote: “Our relationship-loving God immediately set about dealing with this problem (of severed relationship). He wanted friendship back, without compromising His justice.” – sound, orthodox teaching, I thought … but his next sentence jumped off the page into my heart, as he continued: “The process is called redemption and it centred around the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ…” – WOW, I thought – thank you, Lord, for a confirming word !

Of course, you will recognise ‘redemption’ as a major church word … with its variants scattered throughout our English Bible – both old & new testament. I’ve come across at least 166 references in the English Standard Version (other translations use alternative English words, expressing exactly the same idea, for example: deliverance or salvation). I heartily recommend a careful study, especially of the NT references, making use of a good concordance.

Now the history of mankind is, I believe, God’s story of redemption, which I propose to display through a series of questions/answers:
• What is happening in the Garden of Eden as God promises that the Seed of the woman will bruise the snake’s head – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening as the errant couple are clothed in animal skins (implying the death of an innocent victim) – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when Israelites paint their door-posts and lintels with lamb’s blood, freshly spilled, so escaping certain death – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when psalmists & prophets foretell of God’s suffering Messiah – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when the Eternal Christ becomes flesh, and is born of the virgin, Mary – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when Jesus of Nazareth is cruelly executed on a Roman cross – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when God raises Him from the dead on the third day – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening as the Holy Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, giving birth to the Church of Christ – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening when that same Spirit touches our hearts with new life – our redemption is being processed
• What is happening through the roller-coaster of life as ‘all things work together’ conforming us to the image of God – our redemption is being processed
• What will happen at the glorious Second Advent of Jesus Christ – our redemption will be complete

There is ample biblical backing for all these statements, and I want to highlight just two brief passages, making it crystal clear that our God is the God who redeems, that Christ’s over-riding purpose was to redeem mankind, and that the Holy Spirit operates to make redemption effective in the here and now, culminating in a ‘day’ when believers will experience the redemption of their bodies (our resurrection is the ultimate ‘step’ in the process, leading to a shared eternity with our Great Redeemer …)

1. Galatians 4:4-7 – Paul writes: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir, through God.

Whatever the future holds for you either as individuals or as church – do ensure you are holding fast to this truth – WE have been redeemed, WE NOW belong to God as His children – which leads to the second passage:

2. 1 John 3:1,2 – The beloved apostle John wrote: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” – this is utterly mind-blowing to consider, and let’s consider frequently, drawing strength and encouragement from the truth.

But let’s also heed John’s next words, in verse 3: “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure.” Linking directly with words of our Master in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God“. May we all consider deeply in practical terms, what being ‘pure in heart’ looks like.

I conclude here by drawing attention to that classic song written by Melody Green, and first recorded by her husband, Keith, a matter of weeks before his death in a plane crash:

There is a redeemer,
Jesus, God’s own Son,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Holy One.

Jesus my redeemer,
Name above all names,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Oh, for sinners slain.

Thank you, Oh my Father,
For giving us Your Son,
And leaving Your Spirit,
‘Til the work on Earth is done.

When I stand in Glory,
I will see His face,
And there I’ll serve my King forever,
In that Holy Place.

Keith Green on YouTube