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God loved us first

Mother goose watches over her gosling on Weobley Marsh common.     Image credit: Ian Greig 03412

This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:10 (NIV)

Why should God love me?

“If you really knew me… knew what was in my life behind the front that I put up … If you really knew me (I suppose God knows me like that) you wouldn’t expect God to love me.”

It’s not a real quote but I have heard a version of that comment many times as a pastor.

The way we see ourselves and the way God sees us, are not the same. The way we value ourselves and the way God values us are not the same.

We work on the premise that our relationship with God works like the way we get to know anyone else. God has to get to know us, and hopefully He will see some things He likes and over time, become warm to us.

Wrong. God loved and accepted us first.

He may not love and accept all our attitudes or behaviour… but He created us and sent His Son Jesus to be the “atoning sacrifice”, to pay the high price to make things right for us.

Is this automatic? The fact of God’s love for us is not a maybe — that’s established. What is not automatic is our love for God, and our acceptance of Jesus for who He is. That requires us to make a choice!

We agree with Jesus about who He is and what He has done in our behalf. What He did was costly. Our decision also has a cost to it – the cost of our independence, of giving someone else a higher place in our lives. But now we realise the extent of God’s love for us that was there all along. We just had to make our move, to receive it.

As the Passion Translation puts it:

This is love: He loved us long before we loved Him. It was His love, not ours. He proved it by sending His Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins.” 1 John‬ ‭4:10‬ ‭TPT‬‬

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Prayer for today and tomorrow

Ceredigion coast. Image credit: Ian Greig 01311

A Celtic blessing

God’s own presence with you stay,
Jesus to shield you in the fray,
Spirit to protect you from all ill,
Trinity there guiding you still.

On sea or land, in ebb or flow,
God be with you wherever you go.
In flow or ebb, on land or sea,
God great might your protecting be.

From Ray Simpson, Celtic Blessings

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God’s blessing on Weobley and neighbouring villages

Blessing Weobley schools.    Image credit: Ian Greig 03332

“This is how… say…”

Numbers 6:22-27 NIV
The LORD said to Moses:“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:”The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” ‘
“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

PRAYER

Lord God, to know You is to know Your Your goodness and generosity to us – Your desire to bless. And so in humility we call down Your blessing on our community.

We pray Your blessing on our village,
its shops and businesses,
homes and gardens,
farms, crops and livestock,
workshops, suppliers and factory.
Bless them and prosper them together.

We remember before You hairdressers, dentists, doctors,
carers and all whose calling involves close contact with others.
Bless them and prosper them together.

We bring before you our returning schools and teachers,
children and parents,
Bless them and prosper them together.

We raise to You both those working to create a safe school experience,
and those who need a return to the discipline and work of learning.
Bless them and prosper them together.

We submit to You the spiritual lives and spiritual awareness of our wide and diverse community.
We ask for and participate in Your blessing on each one,
young and old, professing faith and not,
in the working in hearts of Your Holy Spirit.

May we all become more aware of Your love,
Your purpose – and Your Son.
May we as a community find ourselves turning to You
and coming to know You –
discovering the greatest blessing.
Amen

03332

How real insight comes

Image credit: Ian Greig 03314

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7 NIV

Question and answer

Q. Should  we fear Someone who is love, and who is committed to be merciful in His dealings with us?

A. There is the ‘stab of fear’, like when the tiger in the zoo fastens its eyes on you; and there is the slower apprehension of being momentarily speechless in the presence of greatness, like meeting the Queen.
One stirs you to ‘fight or flight’; the other moves you positively, to deep respect and deference – and a willingness to listen.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord, we worship You.

We bow down before Your majestic presence,
yet You would have us address You as ‘Father’.

We put aside our imagined  knowledge and experience,
and seek Your instruction.

We bring our situation of difficulty which has baffled the  leading minds,
knowing You have wisdom and insight far above our own,
and the grace to impart it to those who listen.

Lead us in Your  way, Lord,
and share with us a glimpse from Your  perspective –
raising our faith to pray in agreement with You,
for Your will to be done.
Amen.


A thought about this verse – possibly controversial, but topical

Real insight page (www.believethegoodnews.com)

God is good

Stourhead       Image credit: Ian Greig 02596

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV

PRAYER

Whatever I am feeling, Lord, I look to You and see that You are good.

Whatever I have experienced from others, Lord — I look to You and see that You are good.

Whatever the news brings, or the interviewers twist, or the headline spins: Lord, I look to You and see that You are true and You are good.

Whenever negativity creeps into my thoughts, Lord, I look to You and see that You are good.

Bring Your goodness out of me today, that I might be someone’s else good experience.

Amen

Authenticity

Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
Image credit: Robert Collins, Unsplash

Romans 14:17-18

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

PRAYER

Lord, we pray the kingdom of God over [name it] our village and area, a blessing of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

May we see a move of Your Holy Spirit that moves hearts to turn from independence and self-centredness, to Jesus and invite Him in.

May we experience the peace and joy that only He can give us, by softening our hearts.

May others see the difference and be attracted to seek Christ for themselves. Amen.

THOUGHT BEHIND THE PRAYER

Paul was addressing Christians in Rome who made a play of keeping special days and observing fasts and dietary rules — all of which was part of the way of life…

continued
…in a city with as many temples to various deities as our cities have church buildings representing different traditions.

Romans liked to know the rules and found security in following them, and in many ways this has been passed down to us. We like to bring relational faith — difficult to quantify, difficult to define — down to a system of belief.

In other words, we like to make a religion out of it.

Gaining and maintaining a relationship with God is, in the first place, costly. Nobody finds sacrificing their independence an easy write-off. And keeping up that relationship needs ongoing investment! A routine that involves certain prescribed actions — and where we can judge how well we and others are ticking the boxes — is much easier. All we need is genuine faith in Jesus — giving Him our trust. Humanly, faith in Jesus alone does not seem enough. We feel the need to add our own effort.

But Paul discounts attainments ‘earned’ through lifestyle and points to the evidence of new life that comes through character and joy.

It’s not anything we do that produced that. It’s what we allow the Holy Spirit to do. Our efforts are like us denying that the grace of God can only be received and never earned. The whole point of God’s grace is that there is nothing good we can do which counts.

When God’s Spirit is free to do His work in us — the work He can do and which we cannot do — the joy and peace we have will be evident to all. And depending on our lifestyle before, our being right with God may strike others as a remarkable change!


Reaching higher rather than reacting from within

Bristol: Edward Colston statue being toppled by protestors.
Image credit: The Times

“Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

PRAYER

LORD God, at this time of tension and demonstration, we pray that we might all renounce racial inequality and injustice. May we learn from our history as it stands. Forgive us our historic sins.

We pray for growing awareness of who Jesus is and what He has done that we could never earn. May faith in Him rise.

May the hope of having confidence in Your rule and reign be our motivation. We call down Your blessing of love and forbearance and unity.

Lord, hear our prayer and heal our land. Amen.

A THOUGHT BEHIND THE PRAYER

TIMES of great pressure bring out the best and the worst in us…

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Rioting, racism and toppling statues are embarrassing examples of the worst. But the present pandemic has also caused people to reach beyond themselves to find the real strength that sustains and endures.

Pau wrote these words in the context of a growing city church that had become rather over-engaged with spiritual gifts. These were spiritual qualities of the kind that can be demonstrated. Prophetic words of knowledge or the wisdom for acting on them, the gift of special faith, an unlearned inspired prayer language — these are all God-given and evident, highly useful and valuable at a specific time. But they are situational and for the moment, rather than the “will last forever” quality he flags up.

A record of attitudes we have learned to reform

At times of pressure we can respond within ourselves, in an emotionally driven way. The anger over police brutality is real enough and any Christian would have deep misgivings about the source of Edward Colston’s philanthropy. His statue is part of Bristol’s history, and records his using wealth for the benefit of the city of Bristol. It also stands as a record of attitudes we have learned to reform and reasons we now deplore the practices of Colston’s time..

The angry actions of crowds against this and other statues, like the Baden-Powell statue in Bournemouth looking out to Brownsea Island where the Scout movement started, looks not so much like a demonstration against racism as a desire to remove history — rather than learn from it. That looks less like protest, and more like people finding an avenue for taking out their frustrations.

Look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love

Paul says, look to the eternal strengths of faith, hope and love. Far from being abstract, each of these describes an indispensable aspect of our relationship with God.

Faith believes who God is, almighty and majestic — and the epitome of goodness. So to lament, and even protest about, injustice makes little sense without a perspective of what God’s kingdom order looks like, which will be based on how He is Himself. And then the effective protest might be to God in His goodness, recognising that He is the One who sees and acts, although we need to be willing to be directed as part of the answer to the prayer, e.g. through reforming politics.

Hope is close to trust in the relationship because it is the sense of a confident expectation based on God’s nature, how He has acted in the past and what He has said for all time. This may also focus into a ‘now’ word as He speaks to us today. Hope is more than an aspiration, it is a sense of assurance that God, who we know, will come through in the right way and the best timing.

Love transforms… into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God

Love is what defines the essential character of the relationship. Love is what transforms a sense of solemn religious obedience and obligation to God — the poverty, chastity and obedience of medieval Christianity – into a joyful response to the immense and unconditional love of God. This comes through a heart change, not intellectual understanding, and it happens when we exercise faith to believe who Jesus is and what He has done for us, with hope’s confident expectation that He will count us in His gift of salvation. This invites the Holy Spirit to change our heart and rekindle it, repairing the connection with God’s care and love we call fellowship that Adam carelessly broke right at the beginning times1.

Responding to frustration by reaching higher, into God’s goodness, is responding to Him as He has created us to do, rather than the response of how we have become, selfish and independent – and angry. A noisy protest and token damage changes nothing, and highlights history rather than changing it.

Reaching into God is finding the power that brings real change, both for us and for our broken world.

  1. Genesis 3 []

We invite You

Image credit: Ian Greig

Celtic Prayer

As You are with us in Spirit, we invite You to join us in all we think and do;

As Your presence is healing, peace and joy, we move over and make room for You;

As You created time and gave time and have time to converse with us, we make time for You.

Bless us, and ours, and all our relationships today to experience Your presence.

Amen.

Getting ourselves right with God

Image credit: Ian Greig

“But if we freely admit our sins when His light uncovers them, He will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and He will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭The Passion Translation

PRAYER

Lord God, You are light, truth — and also love.
Your holy standards are heaven-high,
but I am so grateful that the relationship I have with you through Jesus
is one of love and mercy.

And I get things wrong —
but thank You, Lord, for your light showing my failures,
and Your mercy that understands them.

I admit freely that I have let You down….

(LET THE HOLY SPIRIT LEAD YOU IN WHAT TO SAY HERE)

but You are disposed to forgive because of Christ
and I receive Your forgiveness now.

As I reflect on the Cross,
Jesus’ blood shed for me and its cleansing —
I humbly ask You to continue working in my life
and helping me to stay right with You.

And enabling me to give You glory. Amen


For a reflection exploring what this verse means see here

There’s a big helping of good news in this verse, and also a couple of obstacles.

The good news is plainly stated: “He will…forgive”, “every time”, and then “He will continue”. All this is accessible to us “because of Christ”.

I remember having a discussion with a local authority planning department and the language they used struck me at the time. It was about a plan to rebuild a rather dilapidated hall on the side of a church in a conservation area. The conservation constraints amounted to a general presumption not to grant permission. However, there would be a presumption to approve the architect’s use of style and materials that blended in with the local vernacular. A proposed improvement to a building in poor repair, to make it more usable, would also merit a presumption to grant permission.

Our relationship with God, through our believing and receiving Jesus, means there is a presumption to grant forgiveness: “God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ.”

And the phrase “If we freely admit our sins…” offers another presumption that we will be forgiven.

But there are a couple of obstacles. The first one is being aware of what in our life and attitudes is most offensive to God. Our ideas about sin are often slanted towards things we consider culturally ‘sinful’ – eating too much chocolate and having too much fun. For some, historically, it would have been drinking alcohol. Not long ago, an unmarried mother would have been judged like this.

The Bible teaching in the epistles has a much more relational emphasis. It highlights attitudes like disunity, self-importance, and angry or malicious treatment of others. Paul, as well as Jesus, stressed the hidden sin of unforgiveness. Most of the letters mention what proceeds from unforgiveness, which is the human tendency to resort to hurtful gossip. These are the real offences! Offences against any of those created in God’s image are offences against the creator.

The second obstacle is in the words “if we freely admit”. The self-centred, ego driven part of us doesn’t freely admit to any failing! We can find plenty of excuses before we feel the need to say, “I got that wrong…”.

But back to the good news. What God has already done for us in Jesus tips the balance every time. He is waiting for us to agree with Him, about what needs putting into better order with Him. Then He can do what He is already disposed to do: give us His release of forgiveness.

He answered

Image credit: Ian Greig (02652)

I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4 NIV

PRAYER

I seek You today, Lord.
I come to You just as I am.
I don’t have anything to bring — only myself.

And I do have fears — the dangers of this illness, particularly for older people and those who already have health issues.
The economic difficulty — the ones who have lost their jobs. The businesses which are struggling. The shops that are closing. Children and teachers going back to school and uncertainty.
And if I am honest, I have some fears for myself.

So I seek You again today — and rejoice that You are not distant or hidden. As I think about Jesus and what He did for me, I draw near to You and You draw near to me.

As I look to You, may I see love in Your face and know that I am secure.
That You have this — and You have me.
Because of Jesus. Amen.