Category: My Musing


Given Not Taken

A Good Friday like no other – the world fights a pandemic. Here in the UK, as in many nations, we are in ‘lockdown’ – adjusting to social distancing and self-isolation (terms with which we were perhaps unfamiliar just a few weeks ago).

For Christians this has meant, among many other things, the closing down of churches and normal church services, and has presented huge challenges, now being faced with creativity and resourcefulness.

Good Friday stands as one of the great pinnacles of our Christian faith. It marks the point in history when Jesus of Nazareth suffered the ignominious and brutal death by crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers … The details are faithfully recorded by all four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – occupying large sections of their work, and betokening the profound nature of this event.

For none of them did the Crucifixion come as a surprise, nor was it viewed as an accident. Indeed, Jesus alluded to His sufferings on numerous occasions during His ministry – saying, for example, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles (Romans). And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”

I’ve been pondering some words, recorded by John in his account, in which Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:11,17-18

Whatever interpretations and explanations there may be of Jesus’ sufferings and death, this for me, is the ultimate – Jesus life was GIVEN and not TAKEN. Yes, there is the human element of betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and execution – BUT one has the sense that throughout it all JESUS is in total control. Here is someone fulfilling a destiny, and until this point in time He was ‘indestructible’ – indeed several attempts to take His life are mentioned by the gospel writers (Luke tells of an attempt in Nazareth, early in Jesus public ministry, and John relates an occasion when opponents took up stones to stone Him.) The reason they did not succeed, announces John, is because “His hour had not yet come”

When that ‘hour’ did arrive eventually, Jesus unflinchingly set His face to go to Jerusalem, where He knew what ‘fate’ awaited Him. In a remarkably transcendent episode (The Transfiguration) He meets with figures from the past (Moses and Elijah) and discusses His approaching ‘exodus’ which He was to ‘accomplish’ at Jerusalem.

So, Good Friday marks the appointed ‘hour’, quite deliberately coinciding with the Jewish Passover Feast, when Jesus voluntarily lays down His life, as the antitype of the passover Lamb. Knowingly He submits Himself to a ‘baptism’ or immersion in suffering, to drinking the cup offered by His Heavenly Father, and, as Paul later wrote: “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.

The British worship leader/songwriter, Graham Kendrick, so beautifully expresses this self-giving of Jesus in his much-loved song entitled “The Servant King”

Come see His hands and His feet
The scars that speak of sacrifice
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered

Given Not Taken – was the life of Jesus … and NOW, having taken up His life again, in resurrection, He offers that life to all. Perhaps as you read this you may hear His Voice calling to you: “It was for YOU that I was pierced, that I died – in order that you might receive My life – abundant life, eternal life” – yes, it is His gift, offered to you. I pray you will freely take His Gift today.

God bless you, this Eastertide.

 

Several months ago my wife & I handed over our cherished foster child to another carer. He’d lived 12 months with us. An extremely energetic little soldier, he’s battled through seemingly insurmountable difficulties in his short life. Months before coming into our care (August 2018) he was fighting for that life. We feel so privileged to have contributed to his recovery and early development. Writing is something of a catharsis for me and I hope my readers will understand, even forgive, for posting this raw piece on social media. I could designate it: “my bitter sweet symphony”.

DISTRESS – The Bitter

Reading in the Psalms pulled me up sharply days after his departure, accurately describing my feelings (as only Scripture can do, when we discover it reading our hearts) – “I am distraught…” moaned the psalmist, and I responded, “Me, too”. Here’s why:

Yes – distraught that we had to prematurely terminate the placement, and let him go.

Yes – distraught that my wife’s health – an injured hand (that made handling a strong toddler too painful to manage) and experience of severe chest pain – contributed largely to the placement ending

Yes – distraught by a 14 month dither within our legal system – preventing earlier movement towards adoption.

Yes – distraught by the abruptness of it all once we’d reached the decision that we simply couldn’t carry on – a decision I’d assess as among the worst in my life, and which has haunted me since.

Yes – distraught by his absence from our home, whilst seeing/hearing/feeling him all around and remembering many scenarios we’d been through together

Yes – distraught by subsequent reflections – a sense of failure, of abandoning, even betrayal of such a vulnerable child, of letting everyone down – perhaps most of all, of not fulfilling what I believed to be a ‘special’ assignment – and failing to find strength in God to carry on !

Along with this distress other thoughts surfaced, as if from nowhere – painful recollections of my past failures to see through specific assignments/projects – leaving me utterly broken inside, and mindful of a bitter lament I wrote some years ago:

https://stryka66.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/a-lightweight-laments

So, yes, “I am distraught…” does capture this miserable episode, with tears a-plenty, resonating with yet another Psalm, where the writer emotes: “I have mingled my drink with weeping”. I can only liken this to the grieving process, comparable with numerous bereavements over the years. An emotional roller-coaster of grief, anger, confusion, disappointment, regret, and forlorn hope. Hope that we may get back to ‘yesterday’ – but forlorn, because it’s just not going to happen. A further aggravating factor must be mentioned here: that well-known human propensity for wanting to take control, to be a Mr Fixit, and organize a way out – which, in this case, has only served to feed the grief.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/data/images/width610/shutterstock-296041322-536.jpg

DISCLOSURE- The Sweet

All of this ‘stuff’ occurred around and within me at the same time as reading through the Gospel of John. Working through the last 8-9 chapters, which detail Jesus’ intimate, emotionally-charged last moments with his disciples, it slowly began to dawn on me that, in a small way, my feelings might well mirror in miniscule form what transpired 2000 years ago, as the Father loved and gave the Son, and as the Son gave His life for our sake. Especially, I pondered how the Father had observed at such close quarters:

– As Jesus’ life developed (30 years in almost total obscurity) before blessing him with affirmation (in Whom I am well-pleased) and anointing of the Holy Spirit (without measure) over a relatively short period of public ministry

– As the insults began to fly – “He’s insane…He’s demonized…He’s a trouble-maker…He’s a glutton & wine-bibber…He’s the friend of tax-collectors and sinners…and so on…”

– As the envy, anger, hatred of the religious establishment grew, leading to plots to get rid of him, many of which failed miserably

– As the betrayal by Judas, the arrest in the Garden, the subsequent trials (before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod unfolded

– As the scourging, mockery, abuse of the Roman soldiers kicked in – purple robe, crown of thorns.

– As He’s ultimately condemned to death by crucifixion

How was the Father affected by such treatment of His beloved Son. What was His response to those heart-rending words spoken from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken (abandoned) Me”

What did this do to the loving heart of the Father ?

I recalled a song heard many years ago, and reflected that this was what singer/songwriter, Dallas Holm was attempting to capture when he wrote the following lines way back in the 1970s:

God, it must have broke Your heart to send Your Son away
Knowing all the time the final price He’d have to pay
Left His home in glory and became a common man
And because He did I am what I am

Now I am a man and have a baby of my own
I wonder could I send my baby off and all alone
To help someone, somewhere, somehow to set some captive free
Could I do the same for Him who did the same for me

Yes, how did the Father feel as the Son laid down His life, surrendering His being in those dying words: “Into Your hands I commit my spirit”, as He watches the spear pierce His side and how that mutilated body, marred beyond recognition, is removed from the cross, carefully wrapped in grave cloths, with embalming spices, and laid lifeless in a borrowed, garden tomb for 3 nights in eternity.

Well, we’ll never know or understand fully – BUT as these thoughts poured over my hurting soul, I did fleetingly wonder if what I’ve been experiencing may conceivably have afforded a tiny glimpse into the heart of the suffering Abba (daddy).

https://i2-prod.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/incoming/article16135041.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/0_FRANCE_NotreDame_234342.jpg

(The amazing image of the cross in the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral – 16 Apr 2019)

 

Celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost in all the main traditions of the Christian Church

Two texts:

Matthew 28:18-20

“Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

2 Corinthians 13:14

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Briefly stated:  We believe in ONE God, who reveals Himself, fully and equally, in three PERSONS: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit.

Personally I find this ‘diagram’ helpful:

That said, however, I do not regard Trinity as a matter for cold analysis, or idle speculation – Trinity defies explanation, is an unfathomable Mystery, and yet is an invitation into relationship. In this I find myself in agreement with Eugene Peterson as he writes: “Trinity insists that God is not an idea or a force or a private experience, but personal and known only in personal response and engagement” – (Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places)

Both the liturgy and hymnology of the Church, as developed over the centuries, has provided a vast resource both for private & public devotion. Here’s one verse of a truly magnificent hymn which will be familiar to many:

Holy, holy, holy
Lord, God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee

Holy, holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons blessed Trinity

Not in the same league as the above hymn, here’s a ‘poem’ I wrote in honour of the Trinity:

Perfect Father

Love ineffable

Gracious giver

Genius God

~~~~

Son, beloved

Love’s expression

Broken body

Dying God

~~~~

Spirit,  holy

Love’s proceeding

Gentle dove

Breathing God

~~~~

Three in One

Love enfolding

ALL who come.

Accepting God

When I published this on Ready Writer, I added: “Unashamedly Trinitarian, I am deeply grateful for the remarkable insights contained in William P. Young’s allegorical work: “The Shack” – which is available in both book or DVD format, and which I’m happy to recommend.

A few years ago I also wrote a ditty (song) which again reflects on my very limited understanding of Trinity:

You are my Source

You are my Centre

You are my Home

Where I belong

 

So, may I know You

And may I grow like You

Lord may I make You known

Wherever I go

The Father is Source, the Son is Centre, the Spirit is Home —  and to know Him, to grow like Him and to make him known is my life’s vision and purpose.

So, a concluding Prayer, from Universalis, directed to our God, Who is Three in One and One in Three

God of mercy,

you revealed the great mystery of your Godhead to men

when you sent into the world

the Word who is Truth

and the Spirit who makes us holy.

Help us to believe in you and worship you,

as the true faith teaches:

three Persons, eternal in glory,

one God, infinite in majesty.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

Journey

I’ve been a Christ-follower since my teens, in the mid-1960s, and marvel at the vast range of hymns and spiritual songs out there, pertinent to all kinds of moods and seasons. Just occasionally in recent years I’ve come across a ‘belter’ that I’ve never heard before … this is one such. Its lyrics are special … yes, one of those you wished you’d written yourself !! So it’s with great enthusiasm that I commend Joy Dine’s brilliant hymn to you. In a ‘meter’ which fits with many ‘well-known’ tunes, I find “Ode to Joy” as appropriate as any – do enjoy and let it speak for itself.

(My own photo: a section of Hadrian’s Wall, northern England – June 2012)

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God who sets us on a journey
to discover, dream and grow,
lead us as you led your people
in the desert long ago;
journey inward, journey outward,
stir the spirit, stretch the mind,
love for God and self and neighbour
marks the way that Christ defined.

Exploration brings new insights,
changes, choices we must face;
give us wisdom in deciding,
mindful always of your grace;
should we stumble, lose our bearings,
find it hard to know what’s right,
we regain our true direction
focused on the Jesus light.

End our longing for the old days,
grant the vision that we lack –
once we’ve started on this journey
there can be no turning back;
let us travel light, discarding
excess baggage from our past,
cherish only what’s essential,
choosing treasure that will last.

When we set up camp and settle
to avoid love’s risk and pain,
you disturb complacent comfort,
pull the tent pegs up again;
keep us travelling in the knowledge
you are always at our side;
give us courage for the journey,
Christ our goal and Christ our guide.

 Joy Dine (1937 – 2001)

I read an anonymous article recently and found it really refreshing. It made me reflect once more on the vital issue of personal integrity, and resulted in the following ‘pointers’ – without doubt each is worthy of much fuller treatment and meditation, but I hope you will find inspiration here, and fill in the many gaps:

  1. Valuing other people’s time

People of integrity value their own time and consequently value the time of other people.  If you spend time with them, it is highly likely they will thank you for that as well.

  1. Giving credit where it is due

They do not take credit for things they did not do. They will always credit those who deserve it.

  1. Committing to authenticity and honesty

You won’t catch them in a lie or being fake. They are honest people that feel no need to lie, as it is important for them to get where they need to get in life honestly.

  1. Refusing to take advantage of others

They are not the kind of people who will take advantage of someone else. They love to build people up and help them get where they need to be. Taking too much from someone else will never be an issue with someone who has a lot of integrity.

  1. Shunning arguments over disagreements

They will talk through things in a civil manner, or not talk at all. You cannot and will not force this person into arguing over something completely ridiculous.

  1. Giving other people the benefit of the doubt

They try to look for the good in everyone, which can make them extremely vulnerable

  1. Sensing when something is bothering someone

They have an intuition that lets them know when something is going on. If someone is down in the dumps they will notice. Chances are they will actually do what they can to cheer you up.

  1. Believing in others

They accept your word as truth until it is disproved. That being said, they do not take lying well, and once you lie to them, they will be most hesitant in taking your word again.

  1. Apologizing quickly when at fault

If they have done something wrong they will come to you and apologize. This is just how they are. They own up to their mistakes and try to make things right.

  1. Walking in humility

They do not quite know their own worth. While they are very important and do so much good they don’t quite see it.

11. Doing good when/where they can

They are always helping other people. They love to know that they have improved someone’s life. It gives their lives meaning.

  1. Showing kindness to those who need it

Giving kindness can go a long way. When someone looks like they need a little pick-me-up these people deliver. They can brighten up almost anyone’s day.

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One final thought … if you are a person of integrity, thank you for being who you are, and thank you for all that you do. You really do make a difference in society, so please keep up the good work.