Infinite love (#2 of 2), with thanks to E.L.

Context: Yesterday, after the briefest of waking-up prayers, I wrote solidly from 6-8.30am. By then I had more or less completed “Golden light”, which later became the day’s blog. It was time to get up, but I decided to take a moment to pray before going downstairs. However, I had barely begun to collect my thoughts when I was hit by a series of revelations.

By the time they came to an end, I was shaken, tearful, joyful, reeling and awed, because I had just been given a glimpse of God’s infinite love and omnipresence. I had made some notes, but have no idea whether I wrote them during, or just after, what happened.

The experience was like watching slow-motion ripples spreading out wider and wider after a single drop of water had fallen into a vast, motionless sea. What I saw is very difficult to express in words, but I will do my best to describe each ripple in turn.

1. All love comes from God
I perceived that whenever I receive love, whether from a person or an animal, that love always comes from God, who lives within the one who is loving me.

2. God is in everything
Next, I grasped that God’s loving presence is in all that exists on earth, including everything made by people, as well as by God.

3. God is in good and bad
Then, I understood that God’s loving presence is not restricted to good people, creatures and things. Rather, divine love is equally present in difficult people, creatures, circumstances and events, including accidents, sickness, suffering, fear, grief and disaster – that is: all life and death.

4. God is in the cosmos
After this, I realised that everything in the cosmos also contains God’s loving presence, including the planets, suns, stars, comets, galaxies and even the dust of space.

Comment
Thus, I learned that divine love is present in everything, here and now, without exception. It has always been so, and always will be so, yet, like Jacob on his journey to Harran, I had not recognised this (see Genesis 28:16-17; NIV). As I write, I’m still shaking my head in wonderment at what I saw, yet there was more to come.

5. God is in all
Following this, I glimpsed that God’s loving presence can also be found in ugliness, destruction, abuse, violence and sin, though this is very hard to put into words. However much human beings damage and despoil the divine image in people, creatures, objects and creation, God’s love is still present in all things. Seeing this helped me to understand a little more about how God is able to bring good out of bad (see Romans 8:28; NLT).

Furthermore, I saw that there are no exceptions to God’s loving omnipresence. This means that there is nothing I can…

See, hear, smell, taste, or touch;
Use, waste, neglect, ignore, break, or discard;
Feel, think, say, or do;
Judge, hate, or destroy,

…that isn’t filled to overflowing with God’s loving presence.

6. Living in heaven
Lastly, I saw that when I consciously and fully recognise God’s constant, loving presence everywhere, and in all things, I live in God, which means living in heaven on earth. Similarly, after death, I will live in God, in heaven. Thus, I perceived that whether I live or die, oneness with God is the same.

Conclusion
God is present
in all people, creatures, things, experiences and events, everywhere and forever, and God is love (1 John 4:16; NIV).

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6; NLT).


References 

There is one Lord …who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).

Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).

Golden light (#1 of 2)

Context: Yesterday I woke early and began to pray, expecting nothing. Then I saw this prayer happening:

1. Golden light!
A splendid sight:
One and all
Are walking tall.

2. God is here:
There’s no more fear,
And no more pain:
Now, Christ will reign.

3. No more jeers,
And no more tears.
No more wars,
For peace outpours

4. In heaven on earth,
And heaven above,
As all confess
That God is love.

God is love (1 John 4:8; NIV).


References 

1. No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory (Isaiah 60:19; NLT).

The city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city (Revelation 21:23-26; NLT).

This, then, is the message we heard from Jesus and declare to you: God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5; TIB). 

From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth (Psalm 50:2; NIV). 

I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high (Leviticus 26:13; NIV). 

2. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17; NIV). 

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15; NLT). 

 Jesus Christ reigns supreme! (Philippians 2:11; TIB). 

3. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:36-8; NIV). 

I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Tabernacle is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The Most High will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, for the old order has fallen. The One who sat on the throne said, “Look! I’m making everything new!” and added, “Write this, for what I am saying is trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:3-5; TIB). 

The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4; NLT).

4. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you (Luke 17:21; NLT). 

Then I saw new heavens and a new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride and groom on their wedding day (Revelation 21:1-2; TIB). 

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow - in heaven and on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11; CSB).

Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV). 

Wherever I go

Context: After yesterday’s very concentrated writing effort, today I’m posting a much shorter blog I prepared a little while ago. At present, my energy for writing is in very short supply. However, since I started this website in 2013, I have always had some unpublished pieces set aside, ready to use during the periods when I can’t write. Here is one I’m glad to have the opportunity to share with you:

Be sure of this: I am with you always.
(Matthew 28:20; NLT).

Wherever I go, we go there together.
However I feel, we share it, as one.
Whenever I fail, we mourn it together,
For you never leave me,
My Saviour, God’s Son.

Whatever I lose, we face it together.
Wherever I am, you’re close by my side.
Whatever I bear, we bear it together,
For you never leave me,
Good Shepherd, my Guide.

Whatever you ask, we face it together.
Whatever you take, *I give with a smile.
Whenever I fear, I turn to you swiftly,
For you never leave me
Throughout every trial.

*Give whatever he takes, with a big smile.
(Mother Theresa).

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4; NLT).

The devil (with thanks to K.B.)

Introduction

We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).

On Monday morning, a friend asked me how I understand Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which prompted me to re-read Luke’s familiar story:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4:1; NLT). 

During this time, Jesus had to wrestle against the temptations caused by his desperate physical hunger (vv2-4), his desire for earthly power (vv5-8), and his longing to test out his trust in God (vv9-12). 

Discussion

Many people have written extensively about what Jesus experienced in the wilderness, but I would like to focus briefly on the mysterious, alarming figure who tempted him.

An immediate problem is raised by the Greek word “diabolou”, which is often translated as “the devil”. However, this word is actually an adjective, rather than a name or a noun. It means “prone to slander, slanderous, or accusing falsely” (Strong’s Greek). Thus, “the devil” is clearly not a being of any kind. 

I find this interesting and helpful, as I have never seen the “devil” as a being. Rather, I understand the personification of “accusing falsely” as a way of representing Christ’s inner struggles with the temptations to which all human beings are subject. Welling up spontaneously from the unconscious mind, powerful, disturbing desires and impulses can assail us at any time, especially when we are very vulnerable, as was Jesus in the desert. 

Jesus’ understanding of temptation

Jesus came to understand the inner, psychological process of temptation very well, both from personal experience and through observing others. This how he explained it to a crowd one day: 

It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness…

It is interesting to note that there is no suggestion at all here that people are tempted by any kind of external force or being. Rather, Jesus concludes his teaching by stating firmly that:

…All these vile things come from within (Mark 7:20-23; NLT).

Conclusion

As a human being, though also divine, Jesus was subject to temptations, just like us (Hebrews 4:15; NIV), and how strong they must have been during those challenging days alone in the wilderness. He had just experienced one of the high points of his life: hearing God’s approving voice, and receiving the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Then, immediately afterwards, he felt compelled to spend many days alone in the wilderness, facing extreme heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and the constant threat posed by wild animals.

What a strange, challenging experience this must have been, causing him much deep physical and mental suffering, so it’s not surprising that the Gospel-writers’ accounts faithfully reflect the vivid, hallucinatory quality of Jesus’ desert retreat. Perhaps this is what leads so many translators to personify the powerful reality of his inner temptations, by turning them into an external being they called “the devil”. 

Pilgrim prayer

Introduction

Today’s blog is based on one of my favourite and most frequently-used prayers. I came across it many years ago in a book called “Pocket prayers for pilgrims” (Compiled by John Pritchard, Church House Publishing, 2011). For me, its anonymous author summarises the whole spirit of the Gospel in just a few words:

Lord God,
Whoever you bring into our path today,
May we see Christ in them,
And may they see Christ in us,
For your love’s sake.
Amen.

Development

Over the years, I have personalised this prayer and slowly come to understand the force and breadth of its intention more deeply. This, in turn, has strongly influenced the way I try to live each day. I’ll briefly set out what it has taught me.

Changes

A. At an early stage, I changed “our” to “my”, and “we” to “I”, making its message much more directly personal.

B. I have come to understand its challenge as going far beyond how I speak to, and behave towards, those I meet. Now, I see those God “brings into my path” as including:

  • All who are around me wherever I am (e.g. in the street, hospital, public transport, shops etc).
  •  People I hear about online or from others (whether or not I come into contact with them).
  •  Those I read about in the newspaper.
  •  People I see on television.

C. Even though I don’t know these people, and they don’t know me, I see my task as being to love and pray for them, because Christ is within them all, just as the Bible teaches:

  • Everyone, without exception, reflects God’s divine image (Genesis 1:27; TIB).
  • Everyone is the temple of the living God (Luke 17:21; NKJV).
  • Christ lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).
  • Everyone is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; NLT).

Conclusion 

Using this little prayer daily for many years has brought about profound changes in how I express my faith, especially in terms of how I behave towards others, no matter how I encounter them along my pilgrim way through life.

Saint Luke expresses my approach perfectly when he describes how “Their eyes were opened, and they recognised him” (Luke 24:31; NIV; my emphasis). Thus, my task is to recognise Christ in all, loving and praying for them, and remembering that we are all one (Galatians 3:28; NKJV). In this way, I try to follow Jesus’ teaching: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

May you have a blessed day. I continue to pray for everyone who reads these blogs, those who reject them, those who never read, or say, a prayer, and those who don’t want anything to do with God.


References 

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God (Ephesians 3:19; NLT). 

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him (Colossians 3:10; NLT). 

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24; NLT). 

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT). 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5; NIV).

My dear friends, now we are God’s children, but it has not been revealed what we are to become in the future. We know that when it comes to light we will be like God, for we will see God as God really is (1 John 3:2; TIB).

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).

In darkness

Context: When I woke up yesterday, I said the Lord’s Prayer, closed my eyes again, and continued to pray, using very few words. This went on in darkness for some minutes, until I was suddenly flooded with bright, golden light. Then today’s prayer started to flow. It was a wrench to open my eyes and start writing, but I knew it was essential, for the words would otherwise disappear as quickly as they arrived. 

My expectation is that only when I’m dying will I see this wonderful light and not need to break off to write. From that moment onwards there will be no more need for words: I will simply be absorbed into God’s brilliant, beautiful, infinite light, peace and love.


Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.
(Micah 7:8; NLT).

Yahweh,
When I sit in darkness,
You re-fill me with your light,
And, when I am weak and weary,
You restore me with your might.

Jesus,
When I’m stressed and anxious,
You refresh me with your peace,
And, when I am judged and censured,
Your protection does not cease.

Spirit,
When I’m sad and lonely,
You surround me with your love,
And, when I must leave this world,
You’ll bear my soul to heaven above.

Threefold God,
My source, my goal,
My Father, Mother, kith and kin,
You are here, and live forever –
All around me, and within.

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
(Job 33:4; NLT). 

The dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV). 

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
(1 John 4:16; NIV).

When my mind is closed

They have closed their minds and hardened their hearts
(Ephesians 4:18; NLT).

Yahweh,
When my mind is closed,
Remind me how, when Jesus rose,
He came to Mary, and to those
Who trusted.

Yahweh,
When my heart is hard,
Please show me how my way is barred
By prejudice; your face, marred
By my judgements.

Yahweh,
When I start to preach,
May I remember what you teach:
Love everyone, and help me reach
Your standard.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).


References 

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12; NIV). 

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; NLT).

Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).

Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; NLT).

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26; NIV).

Take life as it comes (for J.C.)

Context: When I woke up today, this prayer was already arriving. I began writing it down immediately, without even a moment to pray. As I have a migraine, which started yesterday, eye ulcers and a corneal abrasion, I was deeply grateful for the way this poem came together over the following hours.

I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42; NLT). 

1. I want to take life as it comes,
To praise, as it unfolds;
Accept your will,
And love you still,
Be faithful, brave and bold.

2. I’d like to take life as it comes,
For you send bad and good;
To hear your voice,
And learn, by choice,
Until I’ve understood.

3. I need to take life as it comes,
For you both wound and heal;
To do my best,
And face each test,
Until you are revealed.

4. I’ll try to take life as it comes,
For you bring good from bad;
To value both,
Delight in growth,
And let my heart be glad.

5. I choose to take life as it comes,
Right here; right now; today;
Face everything
With you, my King:
My life, my truth, my way.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:6; NLT).


References

2. I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Isaiah 45:7; NLT).

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

3. I am the one who wounds and heals (Deuteronomy 32:39; NLT).

4. In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).

5. Choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19; NLT).

Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34; NLT). 

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT). 

You light a lamp for me. The LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall (Psalm 18:28-9; NLT).

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God (Psalm 84:3; NLT). 

Enlightenment

Context: Today has been a very medical day, with help from my doctor and from the anti-coagulation clinic, then organising two week’s worth of medication. In the afternoon I had to  make an urgent visit to my ophthalmologist, who diagnosed ulcers and an abrasion in my right eye. This was followed by a dash to the pharmacy for steroids and antibiotics. I’ve also got a migraine, which helps to explain how I came to post this blog accidentally, before it was finished. Once I discovered my error, I put it right, but email followers received the first version, for which I apologise. Tomorrow is another day…

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12; NLT). 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 15:6; NLT).

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the way
I want to take.
He teaches me the path
Through life to heaven,
And helps me change and grow
For his name’s sake.

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the truth
That sets me free.
He opens every door
That blocks my progress,
Then leads me through,
For he has ransomed me.

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the life
I want to lead.
He walks beside me,
Loving, kind, unfailing:
My strength, my fire, my peace –
My living creed.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
and believe in your heart that God raised him
from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 19:9; NIV).


References 

This was the true light that enlightens every person by his coming into the world (John 1:9; ISV). 

Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9; NIV). 

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12; NLT). 

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT). 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18; NIV). 

Equality

Introduction 

Some Christians believe that women are, and should be, subordinate to men, and that wives should submit to their husbands. Having researched and reflected on this issue for many years, I want to examine it in some detail, beginning with a question:

Did Jesus ever teach, state, claim, suggest, imply, or show by his behaviour that he considered women to be subordinate to men?

Jesus’ attitude to women 

The Gospels illustrate how Jesus went out of his way to include and relate to women in ways which were revolutionary for a man in a highly patriarchal society. He talked with them, listened to them, taught them, touched them, healed them and ate with them. He had close women friends and cared about women’s spiritual development. He depended on his female followers’ financial backing, and received their emotional support to the very end of his life, when all his male disciples except John had fled. Women were also the first witnesses of his resurrection. 

Jesus’ male disciples were sometimes shocked  by how closely and equally he related to women, as seen when they found him talking to the woman at the well (John 4:26; NLT).

Perhaps most significantly of all, there is no suggestion in the Gospels that Jesus excluded women from becoming his disciples:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34; NLT). 

Saint Paul’s attitude to women 

So, given Jesus’ egalitarian example, where did the belief that Christian women should be subservient to men originate? Here I turn to the letters of Saint Paul. A tough, educated and opinionated man, Paul did not question the culture of his day with regard to the sexes:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord (Colossians 3:18; NLT).

Going even further, he instructed churches to silence women members, regardless of their spiritual gifts:

Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings (1 Colossians 14:34-5; NLT). 

In saying this, Paul presumably felt he was adhering to the Gospel, even though Jesus said nothing of the kind. 

It’s interesting to note that in his letter to the Galatians, Paul once stated the exact opposite of what he wrote to the Colossians. Experiencing a moment of sublime insight into the essential equality and oneness not just of the sexes, but of all people, he was able to write:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NKJV). 

Historical context

I don’t know how Paul managed to square his contradictory views on women, but I take care to bear in mind how strongly his writing was influenced by his historical context. Although he was an extraordinary, sometimes inspired, speaker and writer, he was also a fallible man of his times, whose views were shaped by widely-held beliefs and prejudices, some of which unfortunately crept into his letters.

Unfortunately, these non-Gospel aspects of his teaching have continued to influence others ever since. Thus, when powerful men spent years arguing about which books should be included in the Biblical Canon, most of those by, for, and about women were ruthlessly excluded. The selections they made still influence Christian belief and practice over 2,000 years later.

Conclusion

It’s hard to understand why Paul’s conventionally patriarchal attitude to women came to be so thoroughly embraced throughout history, whilst Jesus’ consistently loving, egalitarian approach has been largely ignored. Even as I write, I’m shaking my head in disbelief that Paul’s first-century beliefs about the roles and status of women and men continue to influence so many individuals, families, congregations and denominations right up to the present day.