Posted in Walk with God

Walking with God 1: Visible/Invisible

Picture by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Video of sermon here (from around 28:23)

Audio of sermon here

One of the most popular shows on BBC2 over the last 20 years is Dragon’s Den. In fact, apparently this year it’s made the leap to BBC1. It has a fairly simple premise. Budding entrepreneurs have 3 minutes to pitch their business idea to a series of high-profile business names – the ‘dragons’ in the show’s title – in the hope that they will be able to secure investment in their project in exchange for a share in their business.

Some of the ideas are ingenious. Others wacky. Some are well thought out, others less so. The saying ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is exceptionally apt in this show. These dragons haven’t become ridiculously rich for nothing. Any weakness in the idea, they’ll spot it. Particularly on the financial side.

But pretty much every pitch will start in much the same way. An individual comes across a particular problem and finds themselves asking ‘if only there was something which solved this?’ Then they come with an idea, before, often at great personal expense, developing the project.

What starts as a thought, an idea, becomes the product that they bring to the den.

But every single one of them starts out as an idea in someone’s mind.

And you know that is true of pretty much anything material we encounter in life. Long before it was made, or became visible, it started out life in someone’s mind. To borrow from the writer to Hebrews, what is seen emerges from the invisible.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to spend some time in the book of Hebrews, and in one chapter in particular. Hebrews 11. The chapter largely comprises a potted history of great characters of faith. Some well known, some less well known, sometimes we might recognise the story the writer is talking about, even without the character being named. Others are completely anonymous.

There are lots of things we don’t know about the book of Hebrews. It is often described as an epistle or letter. But it’s not really set out like one. Some think it was more of a sermon than a letter. Other things we don’t know for sure is who wrote it, when, why, or to whom it was originally addressed.

However what we can pick up from reading it, was that this was a bunch of early followers of Jesus, going through a hard time. The precise nature of the difficulty they faced is not really specified, but it was serious enough that many were starting to question whether following Jesus was worth it. Many were giving up.

The overriding message is a call to them to stick at it, to hold on. They were never promised the journey would be easy, just that it would be worth it.

Hebrews 11 is  a greatly loved chapter in what can sometimes feel a difficult to understand book. But it doesn’t just appear in a vacuum. It links into that idea of ‘stick with it’ not by minimizing the struggle, but by highlighting that what they are facing is not new or even unusual. The life of faith or walking with God has always been like that. They are not the first person to experience this. They are part of a long, continuing story.

During the week I was having a tough day with Siggy. Not because she was doing anything especially bad – she was just being a puppy and she’s not even in the ball park of what some people experience.  But on that particular day she had me tearing my hair out… or she would have done, had I any hair to tear out! You could probably have told this had you seen my internet search history that day.

And I have to confess, I was a long way from the kind of model dog owner I would wish to be. I was feeling quite down on myself. Like I was being a total failure, making a mess of things.

But my quick search showed me that more or less every new dog owner goes through precisely what I was experiencing. That, and an e-mail conversation with a good friend and dog lover telling me that this is perfectly normal and sharing some of her experience, giving me a few pointers, well it was a real help and encouragement.

Well amongst other things, Hebrews 11 plays a similar role for these early followers of Jesus… and for us. The life of faith has its ups and downs. There are times when we might feel down and ready to give up. There might be times when we feel like we’re making a right mess of it. When we feel like we’re the only ones who has ever felt this way. Hebrews 11 is saying I hear you. It’s always been like that. Look at these examples. You are part of a long, winding, continuing story. But they kept going. You can too. God is not finished with us yet.

The examples offered are quite a diverse mix. Certainly there are some you might think really? For example, Samson is in there. Those of you who have been around our church for a few years might remember the series I did on Samson a while ago. Or at least you might remember that there was such a series. But something I said fairly regularly in that series was that in his story there were not a lot of go thou and do likewise moments.

But all these characters have a few things in common. They were flawed people, just as we are. None of them could truly see where the story was going, just as so often we can’t. They lived with a mix of knowing what God had already done, and a longing to see what is to come. And it wasn’t always easy for them, just as it’s not for us. So don’t give up. Hold on.

We’re going to be thinking about some of those characters over the next few weeks and considering what we can learn from their stories. But today we begin with a description of faith.

What is this life of walking with God all about?

What does it look like?

Faith is confidence is what we hope for, and assurance of what we do not see.

In modern conversation faith is often presented as divorced from the evidence. A small child once defined faith as believing things we know aren’t true. It is often contrasted with science, which claims to believe only in that which can be empirically proven. People will often proudly tell me that they are not people of faith. They trust the science.

And you know, for the most part most of us do. We may not especially understand it, but we’ll trust it. When we have a headache, we take painkillers. We’ll board a plane to go on holiday. The vast majority of us have trusted the science over the last couple of years, be it in wearing face masks or taking the Covid vaccine.

People of faith are often caricatured as resisting the evidence. Not always unfairly, if I’m honest. But faith is not just a dogged persistence against all the evidence to the contrary. It’s not a totally irrational decision to step into darkness.

Sure, faith has a strong element of risk and uncertainty. But it’s not just plain stupidity. True faith is a choice. It is chosen and calculated on the basis of what we have discovered by experience.

True faith is fired in the crucible of life with all it’s turmoil and struggles. Show me someone with a strong faith, who’s been round the block a few times, and I will show you someone who has been through some stuff, leaned on God, even if only because they seemed to have no other choice, and seen God bring them through it before.

True faith is not escapism. True faith can honestly look at the circumstances, but also consider what God can do, either cos they’ve seen him do it before in their own life, or they’ve immersed themselves in the stories of those who have gone there before them.

True faith is what stops hope descending into mere optimism.

And true faith is not just mentally assenting to something. It is active. The person who arrives at the Dragon’s Den with an idea is someone who has had faith in it. Whether well-placed or not. They had the idea, they believed in it. Enough to act on it. They had confidence in what they were hoping for and believed in it, even when no-one could see it.

Hebrews says this is what the ancients were commended for. What were they commended for?

It was because they came to understand reality differently to those around them.

One area in which Christians are often seen as refusing to accept the evidence is in the area of our origins. I’ve said before all Christians are creationists. And at first you might disagree, because what we tend to hear when we think of creationism is a very particular understanding. However what Christians might mean by that can very immensely. When I say Christianity is a creationist faith, we might hold very divergent views about how we came to be here. I suspect we have a range even within our own congregation. Yet at the heart of our faith is the belief that at the origin of all things is God.

We can use telescopes to cast our eye back to the earliest moments of time and in a sense it looks like everything comes out of nothing. Which is odd because experience tells us nothing tends to come out of nothing. In a way that doesn’t make sense.

But if I can take you back to the Dragons Den, maybe there is an alternative option. Maybe it’s not that we emerged out of nothing, but that the visible emerged from the invisible. That before anything came to be, it existed as an idea in the mind of God.

We are creative beings. Part of what that means is that we materialize the invisible. Look around you. Everything you can see, however simple or complex. It started in someone’s mind.

And that’s what we are asserting when we speak of a creative God.

What were the ancients commended for? They perceived the world differently. They perceived that the universe was formed at God’s command. That what is seen emerged out of the invisible.

But this wasn’t an idea restricted to the first 0.0000001 seconds of time. It had implications for what they believed about their world, their lives and how they approached it. They emerged from a time when the world and life was largely considered to be cyclical. What had happened before would happen again. And again.

I don’t want to touch on this too long, as we’ll come to him in a few weeks, but amongst the most radical thing in the Abraham story is not that a God actually connected with an individual and wanted to relate to them. That was pretty radical enough for the time.

But it was also this sense that tomorrow didn’t have to be like today. It could be different. A different future could be created. Even if we couldn’t see it right now. For the visible emerges from the invisible. That behind the whole story, all they could see, was the invisible God. And he was the one who held and shaped that future. And he could be trusted with it, even when they couldn’t see it.

They saw the world differently because they were not just connected to or limited by the visible, or what they could see, feel, hear, smell or taste. They realized that behind it all, shaping it all was the invisible. It was emerging from the mind of God. So they could go beyond the visible, what they could see and reckon on what God can do.

But it wasn’t based on blind belief. It was faith fired the crucible of experience, carried by a people down through millennia. Who had seen God do it over and over again. They could not see the whole picture, but got enough of a glimpse to keep going, taking that knowledge of what God had done and using it as the basis that what they could see would come to pass. Tomorrow need not just be a repeat of today. Because a new future, one that in time they would see, would become visible, would emerge from the invisible. It was rooted in God.

And that belief can fire faith in us too.

What is that future we long for, but cannot see?

What are those things we’ve struggled with over and over and still they get the better of us?

What is that longing you can visualize, but somehow never materialize?

And it’s possible if we were left entirely to our own devices, it never would be possible.

But we are invited to perceive the world differently. That perhaps that dream, that hope, that longing has been planted in you by the one who has the power to make it possible. The God who can bring that invisible longing to reality. And he is inviting you to take that first step, however tiny it feels, trusting that the next one will follow and the one after that.

We’re asked to, and over the next few weeks we will, consider the stories of so many who have gone before us, who carried the hope down through the years. Almost 2000 years have passed since Hebrews was written, and we’re not limited to those that make the pages of this book. Our history is littered with them. Perhaps in our lives we have encountered them.

Flawed people certainly, but who kept it going, not just because of themselves, but because they placed their hope in the one who didn’t give up on us and leave us to a tomorrow that would be forever like today. But who took action, taking on flesh in Jesus, coming amongst us, entering even the darkest of experiences on the cross, but bringing new life, a new hope, a new future even from that.

Nothing is beyond that God. And nothing can keep him from us. In him we can have more than mere optimism. We are part of a long, continuing story, of those who walked with God and because of Jesus we too can see things differently can have confidence in what we hope for, and assurance of what we still do not yet see.  For our faith and out future is in the one who fashions the visible from the invisible.

Posted in One offs

God’s love for Us and God’s Gifts to Us

Pic by Guido Jansen on Unsplash

This week (Sunday 17 October) we held our Brownies, Guides and Rangers Parade. Dr Lesley Gray came and spoke to us, using her background in biochemistry to talk, very creatively, about God’s love for us and God’s Gift to us. Well worth looking at, especially on video.

Reading: 1 John 3: 1-10

Video of the talk can be found here, beginning around 28:30

Audio of the talk can be found here

Posted in Harvest, Harvest

A Closer Look at God’s World

Pic by Erik Jan Leisink on Unsplash

Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Matthew 6: 25-33

Video of sermon can be found here (from 45:07)

Audio of sermon can be found here.

This morning, as it’s harvest, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the wonderful world God has given us which we call home. I wonder how much you know about planet earth…

QUIZ

1          What is the circumference of the earth at the equator?      

A         20,000km    

B         30,000km    

C         40,000km    

D         50000km

2          What percentage of earth is arable?

A         10      

B         20      

C         30      

D         40

3          How wide in miles is a degree of latitude?

A         29      

B         59      

C         69      

D         89

4          Which of these cities is sinking into the Sea?            

A         Luanda (Angola)   

B         Los Angeles (California)

C         Shanghai (China)

D         Venice (Italy)

5          How long does it take a bottle to bob across the Atlantic Ocean?     

A         1 yr    

B         5yr     

C         10yr  

D         20yr

6          What is the word for land that has fallen down a slope?                       

A         Comet           

B         Avalanche   

C         Landslide     

D         Tsunami

7          Which of the following is not a peninsula?    

A         Korea

B         Japan

C         Sinai  

D         Yucatan

8          What word describes the bend of a river?     

A         Mendicate   

B         Maraud                    

C         Meander      

D         Manger

9          The world’s longest river is?       

A         Nile    

B         Ganges                     

C         Amazon       

D         Mississippi

10      What is the name given to the imaginary line at latitude zero?

A         Tropic of Capricorn

B         Tropic of Cancer

C         Prime Meridian

D         Equator

Answers at end

How did you do?

I’ll be honest, not sure I’d have done that well had I not been the one up here asking the questions…

Ours is a world of amazing diversity, with no end of ways to surprise us. You don’t even really have to go that far to discover amazing beauty. Just a few weeks ago, Jools and I spent a week in the Peak District. Not quite the holiday in Austria we had planned, but a fantastic location nonetheless, with no shortage of moments when I stopped, simply stared in wonder at the beauty of the scenery and thought WOW! I imagine most of us have had moments like that.

As I’ve said a couple of times this morning, the idea of celebrating Harvest can feel quite distant for us in more urban settings. We’re quite disconnected from the food on our tables. We don’t always make the link between the lamb in the fields and the shank on our plate. How many of us really plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground?

Yet in other ways we are becoming more and more aware of our relationship to this planet we call home. In particular how precarious that relationship is. We rely on our planet for food, water, shelter, and so many other resources.

But our world is also reliant on us to nurture it, care for it. If all of earth’s history so far were to be represented by a 24hr clock, it’s reckoned that it would be around 77 seconds to midnight that humans appear on the scene.

Yet in that very short time our impact has been massive.

It is a good thing to take time to consider and reflect on the world around us. Jesus himself told us to do so. In the passage we shared together this morning Jesus tells us to open out eyes and look around us. He tells us to look at the birds of the air, watch the flowers of the field. And he’s not just telling us to have a quick glance.

The word look at the birds is ἐμβλέψατε (emblespsate).

The word for looking at the flowers is καταμάθετε (katamathete).

Those are both strong words.

They suggest focussing. Really looking carefully and intently. Observe. It’s about looking at them with a view to thinking, what can I learn from that?

We can look at the world, be moved with awe and wonder and inspired to praise. We can be stopped in our tracks and think WOW! But Jesus doesn’t just want us to stop there. He calls us to look beyond what had been created and look to the creator.

What can we learn about God from what he has made?

God’s care for his creation

Jesus says if we look closely at the world we will see how God is constantly providing and caring for it. He provides for the birds of the air. He clothes the flowers of the field.

We live in a world where it seems so much is so perfectly designed for life to develop, grow, flourish and develop. I’ll offer you just one example. 1/3 of our food is dependent on one insect – the bee. We rely on them for pollination.

Of course, as we come to understand more and more about our world, we understand more of the science behind the processes in our world. But as Christians we believe that ultimately God is behind all the complexity of his creation, providing for and sustaining our planet, galaxy and universe. God knows all the fine detail.

Elsewhere Jesus speaks of God’s care for his creatures. He talks about sparrows as literally two-a-penny. Yet he says, not one of them falls to the ground without our Heavenly Father knowing.

But Jesus doesn’t tell us these things because he wants us to be impressed by God’s computer-like knowledge of his world. Nor do be reminded of our smallness. It’s to remind us that if God cares for them, he can also look after us. Comparing us to the birds and the flowers Jesus adds ‘are you not much more valuable than they are? If that is how God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is cooking fuel, will he not much more care for you.’

I’m reminded of an old poem Overheard in an Orchard by Elizabeth Cheney…

Said the Robin to the Sparrow

“I should really like to know,

Why these anxious human beings

Rush around and worry so?”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin,

“Friend I think that it must be

That they have no Heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.”

Humans do have a special place in God’s heart. Of all creation, we are the ones who carry God’s image, who are uniquely created for relationship with God. We can sometimes separate out the spiritual side of life from the rest, but God is actually interested in all of life. He cares about all aspects of our lives.

When Jesus tells us to look at the birds and the flowers, he’s not just asking us to admire their beauty, but to allow them to speak to us about his care and provision for all he has made, but also to remember that that includes us! We can get anxious and think that God has forgotten about us, that we’re on our own, that we have no-one looking out for us. In those moments, Jesus urges us to stop, look around. Not just glance. But really look. Watch. Observe. Learn from the world around us. The same God who cares for them, cares for us.

But there is another dimension to this. Because sometimes we’re very much aware of our place in the world and act like it is all just there for us to use as we please. When we over-emphasis the uniqueness of humans before God, we might even start to mistreat the world in ways which totally dishonour God.

I mean if I gave you a gift and you just didn’t care about it, it really wouldn’t say much about what you thought of me. So it is with God. God loves his world. It’s there in the most famous verse in the Bible… For God so loved the world!

Creation Groans

But when we really look at the world, when we really watch and observe, we don’t just see that God cares for the world, but also we see that the creation is groaning.

On a number of occasions over the years I have shown you this drawing. It shows the network of relationships we are created to live in… With God, with other people, with ourselves, and with the created world; how they are all broken and how Jesus came to repair and restore all these relationships. Perhaps that last one, the created world is the one we can be guilty of focussing less on in church.

But they are all part of the Bible story.

Paul, an early follower of Jesus talked about creating groaning in frustration, waiting in eager longing for sons of God to be revealed. It’s like the creation knows someone ought to be caring for the world as God’s image bearers, caring for it as God would. And creation waits with eager longing for a people to come and do just that.

We don’t have to look too hard to find evidence of frustration and groaning in our world.

8m pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans daily.

88% of the seas surface is polluted by plastic waste.

99% of the earth’s population breathes air which contains higher levels of pollutants than the World Heath Organisation would deem safe.

7m die each year from air pollution.

The rate of deforestation in our world is 36 football fields every single minute.

The list goes on and on…

And all of this is driven by our constant desire for more and more, at less and less cost. It is driven by the very anxiety that Jesus warned about. That somehow what we have is never enough.

God knows what we need. He cares for us and promises to provide. At Harvest we are reminded that God has done this for us. But also to remember our place in the world – yes, to rule creation – but to do in the way that God would rule it, caring for the world, nurturing the world, sustaining and developing it, not just using for our own ends without regard for the cost to the planet.

As Christians, we should be at the forefront of caring for creation, for we see it as a good gift, given to us by a loving God. But perhaps we have lost sight of that.

This week it was announced that William Shatner, best known as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, was actually going into space at the age of 90. He wouldn’t be boldly going where no-one has been before, although he would be the oldest man to travel into space. It would be a 10 minute voyage to the edge of space. We live in a world where a handful of billionaires are locked in a race to get us to other planets. If only those resources were being put to sorting out the problems down here.

But you know, before we get to finger-pointy, maybe we need to recognise that perhaps one of the reasons we as Christians haven’t always been at the forefront of creation care is that we too have often had our sights set on another destination. We see our destiny in a heaven. When God’s plan for us is much more earthy in a renewed earth.

God is renewing his world

That’s the third thing we need to remember as we look at God’s world. It’s not only a world God loves, and a world which groans. It’s a world which God plans to redeem.

God is renewing his creation.

Jesus calls us to seek God’s Kingdom, his rule and his reign. All too often we have thought of that in terms if churchy, spiritual things. But when the Bible speaks of God’s rule, it’s not just over our hearts and lives, important though that is. It includes every aspect of God’s creation.

That can be seen in the passage in Joel which looks forward to God putting right all that is wrong in his world. That ‘putting right’ isn’t just about humans, still less disembodied spirits floating up to clouds with harps.

It includes the land and all that’s in it. Joel speaks to the animals, the trees, the plants, the soil even…

Don’t be afraid, you wild animals

For the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green

The trees are bearing their fruit

The fig tree and the vine yield their riches.

It’s a picture of God’s vision for our world, flourishing, fulfilling its potential, every aspect restored and cared for.

It’s a vision echoed towards the end of the New Testament

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

These are the pictures Jesus has in mind when he calls us to look at God’s world and seek his Kingdom. God’s priorities are for his whole world, the world he loves, the world which groans, to be a world restored, for the effects of our destructive choices to be removed, and for every part to be valued and cared for.

And Harvest is an ideal time to reflect on that. As we remember how we rely on the earth to provide for us, so we remember that we are called to bear God’s image, by caring for his world as he would want it cared for. To love it as he loves it, to groan with it, as it awaits it’s restoration and play our part in seeking its flourishing, preparing to share with creation in God’s destiny.

1C; 2B; 3C; 4D; 5A; 6C; 7B; 8C; 9A; 10D

Source: https://www.britannica.com/quiz/planet-earth-quiz

Posted in A More Christlike God

(What Good’s a) More Christlike God? Embracing the Inexplicable

Reading: John 9: 1-7

Video of the sermon here (from around 50:30)

Audio of the sermon here

At the time it was the worst commercial airline crash in history.

On 15 February 1947, flight C-114, an internal Colombian flight from Baranquilla in the North East of the country, to the capital, Bogota, crashed into a cloud-covered Mount El Tablazo at 10,500 feet, instantly killing all 53 people on board.

Amongst the fatalities were some Colombian professional footballers.  But also on board was a young man from New York called Glenn Chambers. He was on his way to Quito in Ecuador to begin work at Voice of the Andes, the first Christian Missionary radio station in the world.

Earlier in his journey Chambers passed through Miami airport and, whilst there, he had decided to drop his mother a note. But he didn’t have any paper to hand, so he picked up a piece he found on the airport floor, which had a single word advertisement. Around that word he hastily scribbled his message, and popped into a post box before boarding his plane. It arrived with his mother after news of the crash. She opened the envelope, unfolded the paper and there that one word stared her in the face. A question she had been asking herself since she heard the news.

WHY?

At one level, it was totally explicable. The pilots had diverted from their recommended flight path and were flying too low, towards a mountain hidden by cloud. But that’s not really what we’re thinking about with the why questions, is it?

No, a young guy, devoting his life to God, snuffed out before he’s even got started.

What can possibly be the purpose in that?

Over the summer we have been looking at a particular question with you. I’ve been asking what is God like. I’ve been saying that God’s primary revelation of himself was in sending Jesus into the world. Different parts of our New Testament speak of Jesus as the exact representation of God’s being, or the visible image of the invisible God. Staggering statements to describe an individual who had been around during the lifetime of those writing such words or initially reading them. I’ve been saying to you if you want to know what God is like, we need to look at Jesus.

  • God is like Jesus
  • God has always been like Jesus
  • God always will be like Jesus.

And I’ve argued that the primary impulse behind everything God does is love. God reaches out to us in love, but doesn’t force himself on us.

But in the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about a slightly different question… what good is that kind of God? Awful stuff happens all over the world, every single day. We might think we could do with God being in a little more coercive, forcing his will on creation. We might think it’d solve a lot of problems. From the big, international scale, down to our personal struggles we can face all sorts of sorrow and it quite simply doesn’t seem to make any sense. The one word in the advert around which Glenn Chambers wrote his note can scream at us.

WHY?

Oh yes, there are those who will have their reasons. At an individual level I have encountered people going through some serious struggles only to have someone telling them they must have stepped out of God’s will, or they need more faith, or something equally unhelpful, harmful even.

Yesterday it was 20 years since I sat in a pub called The Bristol Pear in Selly Oak, Birmingham, watching the events at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Back then there were some who claimed God had removed his protection from America because they were becoming increasingly immoral. A few years back a UKIP politician claimed that severe flooding in parts of the country was God’s punishment for the government legalizing same-sex marriage. Natural disaster strikes, causing mass destruction and there will always be someone ready to ascribe it to some sinners they’ve deemed worthy of divine punishment.

Worse, so often there is something quite triumphalist about the way this judgment is pronounced – finally God is doing something!!

Some seem to have this image of a God who, to borrow an idea from Bradley Jersak, is like a cosmic regulator, signing off permission for some events and withholding permission for others according to some great master plan.

You know, there might be something about us that can find comfort in finding meaning or reason. Certainly from the safety of it happening to someone else. We are reason-seeking beings. And that quest is as old as us. One of the earliest parts of our Bible is the book of Job which deals with the question of why bad stuff happens to a good person.

That questioning was present in the passage we shared together this morning. Jesus is walking through Jerusalem with his disciples when they encounter a man who has been born blind.

How do they know he was born blind? We don’t know. We’re not told. They just did.

And the disciples ask Jesus what might seem a strange question: Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

One thing that is strange about the question is how someone who was born blind yet have done something which would have caused it. This isn’t karma coming back to bite him. Ideas about previous lives have never played a part in either Jewish or Christian thought. However there was a school of thought within Judaism that suggested a child could sin in the womb.

But it was the standard assumption that if something went wrong, there must be a reason. There had to be a WHY?

But Jesus refutes that kind of reasoning. It was neither him nor his parents. In many ways Jesus answer is ‘it just is.’ Life is lumpy and messy and however much we want it to, it doesn’t offer straightforward answers.

All sorts of attempts have been made to try to bridge the gap between our understandings of God as good and loving, and the nature of the world as we experience it. They all fall short. There is no point in denial or blame games.

Yet from the Christian perspective there are two things we hold to be true…

1          Evil exists. And it can defy and sense or purpose

2          BUT God is good. We cannot think our way to that, or prove it. It is a faith statement.

Reason alone will never adequately bridge that gap. We need God to give us a revelation that can encompass both his goodness and the reality of affliction.

That’s where the Christlike God comes into the picture. And in particular that is where a crucified saviour comes into the picture. The cross is where the evil of the world and goodness of God meet.

But the cross isn’t a way of explaining anything. That would only get us so far. What the Christlike God does is overcome it.

That Friday in Jerusalem, sometime around AD30, Jesus entered into the lowest depths of human experience. It is true that throughout his life Jesus had faced all sorts of struggles. Emptying himself of all the trappings of Goddiness, he didn’t enter life from the position of the privileged. He was part of a people all too often on the wrong end of history. They certainly were when he stepped into their story. In his life he knew poverty, he was a child refugee, his family were viewed with suspicion, he was misunderstood, mocked, disparaged. Before the resurrection, not even his own brothers believed in him. At one stage they tried to stage an intervention, cos they thought he was out of his mind.

Events reached their climax over that Thursday and Friday around Passover, around AD30. Even those closest to him deserted him. One betrayed him, one denied even knowing him, the rest ran away within hours of having declared their allegiance to him. He was falsely accused, beaten, mocked, abused, tortured, humiliated, ultimately murdered…

But above all there was one thing that he had not experienced until that moment.

That sense that God had forgotten him and abandoned him.

Until that moment.

That presence which had sustained him all those years, in the wilderness, in those key moments when that voice had said you’re my son, I love you…

But in that moment the lights went out. God seemed to be nowhere to be found. The words left such an impression on those who heard it that they kept them in the original Aramaic, rather than translating them into Greek… Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani. My God, My God, why have your forsaken me.

That sense of being utterly alone in the universe… he’d never experienced that… until that moment.

In the 4th Century AD there was a theologian and Bishop called Gregory of Nazianzus who said this… What is not assumed, is not redeemed. It was a way of saying that if Jesus were to save us he had to become totally human and experience all that it means to be human.

If Jesus did not have that experience of feeling utterly alone, of feeling that God had totally forgotten him, he would fall short of what we needed. But at the cross, Jesus experienced the lowest point of the human condition. And still gave himself, trusting in that God he could not see.

From womb to the tomb, from the cradle to the grave, in Jesus, the Word became flesh and endured the depths of the human condition. But it reaches its climax at the cross as the life of the Saviour is given, and through his torn flesh, that life gushes into the world.

At the cross we see that God is neither the triumphant intervener, nor the passive non-mover. The cross challenges what it means for us to think of God as all powerful.

Yes, God has established limits of the universe, but within that, natural laws and human free will were allowed to operate.

But at the cross we see we are not abandoned to them. There is that third force at work in the world… grace.

God’s care from the world comes not by forcing his will on the world but through unrelenting love and boundless grace. It’s not magical, but poured into the world by human partners who pray for and seek God’s rule on earth as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus God has entered into all that it means to be human, not just at the cross but especially at the cross. At the cross he reaches the lowest point as he killed. He endures all that the world has to throw at him, but it does not get to speak the final word. God has that last word and that word is resurrection.

The cross doesn’t solve the problem of evil and suffering by explaining it. Instead God embraces the inexplicable and overcomes it in resurrection.

We don’t have to live in denial about the world as it is, or even seek to explain it. Life is messy and all too often it defies explanation. We feel we’re at the mercy of natural laws and human sinfulness. We can feel God has forsaken and forgotten us. But by coming amongst us in Jesus, through the incarnation and the cross, we can know that Jesus sees and cares about all we face. He understands us because he himself has experienced it, and by sending his Spirit to live in you, he experiences all we experience with us.

In Christ God has even experienced that sense of being alone in the universe, of feeling forsaken even God, before us and for us.

But it does not get to speak the last word.

The world can do its worst, but because of Jesus affliction is a defeated foe. Through love he has achieved far more than force ever could. Jesus doesn’t explain the chasm between a good god and a cruel world. He spans it. He confronts it, he enters it, he overcomes it.

Through Jesus broken body, his grace, love and mercy flow to the whole world. We’re not asked to explain it, we’re asked to meet him at the cross, see him take on all the pain and suffering of the world, see him enter the depths of human experience, and trust him that because he has been there before us, he will be there in our darkest moments, even when we can’t experience him and he will bring us through.

Posted in A More Christlike God

(What’s Good’s A) More Christlike God?: The Hourglass and the Human Factor

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Video of the sermon here (from 28:36)

Audio of the sermon here

This morning I have with me an hourglass. Jools and I bought this a long time ago, I think in the Old Mill in the Slaughters in the Cotswolds.

I imagine pretty much everyone here knows what an hourglass is. It’s an early type of device for measuring time. There are two pear-shaped bulbs of glass, joined by a tiny passage between them. As you can see here, one section is filled with sand. But if I turn this over, gravity causes the sand to fall into what is now the bottom section of the hourglass.

But it won’t happen all at once. Only so much sand can pass through that tiny passage at a time. How long it takes will depend on the amount of sand in here, and how wide the passage is. I have some here which are used to measure shorter amounts of time. A few minutes.

This one, as the name suggests should last an hour. I brought it along to see if I could reach the end of the sermon before the sand runs out!!

Actually I brought it along as I want to use it as a way in to what I want to share this morning. Over the summer we’ve been thinking about this idea of a More Christlike God. We’ve been asking one very basic question – what is God like?

I’ve been suggesting to you that from a Christian perspective we have a relational God, who wants to be known and who been seeking to reveal himself down through the ages. In Hebrews we read that God has been reaching out to us in different ways. But from a Christian perspective God’s decisive revelation is in the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ. Different parts of our Bibles express in ways like Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being, or Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. These are quite poetic ways of saying if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. I’ve summarised this with a mantra, which, if you’ve been following the series, you could probably recite by heart…

God is like Jesus

God has always been like Jesus

God always will be like Jesus

I’ve argued that the driving force behind all that God does is love. God operates through love, rather than coercion. God doesn’t force his will upon us.

Last week we turned to a slightly different question. What good is a more Christlike God? In a world, marked by so much affliction, we might want a God who forced his will on the world and got things sorted. How can we think of God as sovereign, active, interested, involved and loving in his world, yet not controlling nor coercive?

Last week I spoke a little of, in creation, God stepping out of the way, allowing the world some freedom to grow and develop. I spoke of 3 forces at work in the world:

Natural Laws: We live in a fairly predictable world, governed by laws of science and nature. We rely on that for life to be in any way liveable.  For example you wouldn’t be able to develop a vaccine with any degree of reliability if you couldn’t be sure fairly sure if, over time, it would impact the vast majority of people in much the same way. Imagine I was holding a needle up here and offering a brand new Covid vaccine and you, quite reasonably, asked will it stop me catching Covid, or at the very least stop me getting too ill if I were to catch it? If I respond ah, who knows? Sure it’s all just so random I doubt you’d be too keen to accept it, even if most of you weren’t double-jabbed already. We conduct huge trials so that we can find out how different vaccines are likely to affect us, because we can be pretty sure that what happens in the trials is pretty indicative of what would happen if we rolled it out more widely. Without natural laws we wouldn’t have a vaccine program.

But another force allowed to be at work in the world is human freedom. Just because we know the right thing to do, doesn’t mean we will do it. God created us to live, grow, thrive in particular ways. But we are free to reject that. Our story is one of how all too often we do just that. Experience tells us that right across our world, every day, people exercise that freedom in ways which do immense harm to themselves, to others, to the created order. You only have to flick through a newspaper or website, or watch a bulletin on TV and you will see that at work in our world.

And if those two forces, natural law and human freedom, were the only forces at work in the world, we could be in a pretty bad way. We would be at the mercy of all that life has to throw at us.

But there is a third force at work in the world. Grace. God doesn’t just abandon us, but participates in the world through willing partners who then mediate his love out to the world.

And it is here my hour glass comes into the picture. Because this is a picture of how God does it. In the last few weeks I’ve introduced you to a particular Greek word Kenosis. It means emptied out. We thought of a very early Christian hymn, found in Philippians 2, which speaks of Jesus setting aside all the trappings of divinity, emptying himself, taking on vulnerable human flesh and being obedient to God, all the way to death on a cross.

But last week I argued this isn’t just something Jesus does for 33 years before going back to being more obviously Goddy. No, this is what God is like. This is how God works in the world. This is how Grace interacts with a world afflicted by the negative effects of natural law and human freedom.

But the hour glass shape is important. Because that narrow pinch point through which the sand falls, that’s the human factor. God is emptying himself, seeking to pour his love, grace and mercy out on all creation, but he doesn’t just dump it on the world. He does it through people and communities, through willing partners who share that love, grace and mercy to others. He does it first and foremost through Jesus. But the work continues through us, by the same Spirit that was in Jesus at work in us.

Bishop Desmond Tutu puts it like this: For whatever reason, since humankind showed up on the scene, God does nothing without a human partner.

It is there in both the primal creation narratives at the very beginning of our Bibles. In Genesis 1:26 God says Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

Then having created them, in verse 28 God addresses them directly Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

In the second narrative, in Genesis 2, God takes the man and puts him in the garden to till it and keep it. The Church Good News Bibles put it as cultivate and guard it.

The two narratives are different in so many ways, but one thing they do agree on is the place of humanity in the picture. God wants his world to flourish and thrive, but seeks human partners to enable that. God has placed great trust and responsibility on humanity’s shoulders, and takes that seriously, perhaps more than we’d like God to.

Oh, we know the next part of the story. We exercise human freedom by choosing to go our own way. And that’s not just a story about something that happened a long time ago, in a

garden far, far away. It’s a story which is played out in our lives, in the choices we make, when we exercise human freedom in ways which are disobedient and destructive. We all stand in need of grace and forgiveness. We need God to step into the story for us.

But even when God does so, he comes to us as a human. In Jesus the divine and the human come together. But even here God doesn’t break the choice or habit to work through a human partner. Even in saving us, God does so through a human partner. It’s in human flesh God enters the picture, overcomes temptation, forgives sins, and conquers death by passing through it for us. God takes on human flesh and, in Jesus, becomes what Adam failed to be. Jesus becomes the channel through which God’s love, mercy and grace and emptied out and through whom it flows to the whole earth. God partners with us in and through Jesus, so that he can heal us and save us.

But Christ doesn’t take up his cross and die so that we don’t need to. Quite the contrary. Jesus said if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He empowers us to take up our cross and follow him. That’s why I’ve got the little sand timers up here. Through Jesus God’s love, grace and mercy flow to the whole world, but God continues to love the world and pour his love, grace and mercy in smaller ways through each of us.

That’s why I shared the passage from John of the Feeding of the 5000 (we get there eventually). For our contributions can seem so meagre. At times we can feel like we’re standing in a large, hungry crowd with a few loaves and a couple of fish. But God can take what we offer and uses it by grace to do far more than we can imagine.

God won’t force us to follow. Our response must be freely offered. But it’s a response we offer in response to God’s invitation. We’re invited to join God in plans he has been orchestrating for the good of the world.

God pours himself out on us, so that we might be filled. But he fills us by His Spirit, not for its own sake, but so that we can empty out that love to others.

Of course there is a limit to the hour glass analogy. Eventually the sand will run out. It’s a finite resource. It’s usefulness as a timer depends on that. We only know that 3, 4, 5 minutes, an hour even, has elapsed because all the sand has flowed through the channel from one section to another.

Not so with God. His love is limitless. It simply keeps flowing through willing partner, after willing partner. His Holy Spirit is at work in us, so that is not us expressing God’s love to the world, but God expressing his love through us. Through us God’s love takes on flesh and moves into our neighbourhoods. That’s how God works in the world. It’s how God has always worked in the world.

Be it through Moses, a stuttering shepherd who led a nation out of slavery.

Be it through David, a shepherd boy, the runt of the litter, whose own father forgot him, becoming king.

Be it through a little boy offering his packed lunch in the face of a large crowd.

Be it through Mary, a virgin teen, who offers the hospitality of her womb. Through Mary, God quite literally enters our world through a human partner. She carried God’s son, but he inherits her genes, she contributes 100% of his human DNA.

Christ is the sole mediator before God the Father, but Christ invites willing partners to be the channel through which his grace, love and mercy flows to the world.

So what might you have to offer? You might have been challenged by the ducks this morning. What gifts and talents has God given you for a reason? What concerns or passions has God laid in your heart? Where are you feeling helpless, where you feel if I got involved here, what can I do? It’s about as much as few loaves and fish in front of a great crowd?

It might feel like a pointless exercise. And God won’t force you to participate in his plans and purposes by being a channel of his grace and love. Our Christlike God doesn’t work by coercion. But that sense of not being enough, it’s pretty much par for the course. That’s how God feeds the world, clothes the naked and heals the sick. Through individuals and communities, people like you and me, us working together, allowing ourselves to be opened as channels through which God can work. Through willing partners, who offer what they have, even when it feels like what they have to offer is as little as a few loaves and fish in the face of huge need. When we offer ourselves to God, he fills us with his grace, mercy and love, so that we can become channels through which, in a world afflicted by natural laws and abuses of human freedom, grace is allowed to operate and flow out to the world.

Posted in A More Christlike God

(What Good’s a) More Christlike God: Three Forces

Reading: Romans 8: 31-39

Video of the sermon here (from 36:37)

Audio of the sermon here

During the week I sent out a whatsapp to our church group, in which I went all Pentecostal and asked Can I get an amen?  It was this quote from Max Lucado…

Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.

This just resonated with me, because I’ve got to admit, I’ve wrestled with prayer in the last few weeks.  There have been a few occasions when I’ve had really positive answers to prayer, sometimes almost instantly, on things which, in the grand scheme of things, were very minor. There is no way I could prove my prayers made any difference, but I’ve believed enough to draw some encouragement from it.

But then there is the big stuff. Stuff on the news. The effects of climate change. The devastation caused by an earthquake in Haiti. An unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. And all that against the backdrop of a global pandemic. 

And there, I’ve really struggled with prayer. My prayers are awkward and feeble. I am not even really sure what or how to pray. Lord, have mercy sometimes is as much as I can manage.

It is one of the most basic theological questions, which as Christians we have to face. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, how can the world be as it is?

And it’s only really a problem if you believe in a particular type of God.

If you’re an atheist, yes, it is sad, you may be motivated to do something about it, but why questions are less of a problem.  The world is as it is. It doesn’t need explanation.

Or in some faiths, with many gods, who themselves are a mix of good and evil, so why should the world be any different?

But if you cast your mind back a few weeks, you might remember I have spent a few weeks talking about a particular type of God. I’ve been asking that very basic question what is God like?

From the Christian perspective I’ve said we believe in a God who created us for relationship. We believe our God wants to be known. And we believe our God has decisively revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Different parts of our Bibles speak of Jesus as the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, the visible image of the invisible God. I’ve been arguing that if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. God is Christlike. I’ve summed it up in a mantra…

God is like Jesus.

God has always been like Jesus.

God always will be like Jesus.

I’ve argued that the driving force or impulse behind all that God does is love. God operates through love, not coercion. He seeks to draw us to himself, rather than forcing his will upon us.

If you believe in that kind of God, those why questions are more of a challenge.

Surely if God was all-powerful he could put a stop to it?

And if he was all-loving he would want to?

But he doesn’t.

Is it that he is not able?

Or does he just not care?

Up until now, I’ve said that the what is God like type questions are important because they shape the kind of people we become. If you have a vindictive, easily angered, judgemental God, it is easy to justify those traits in ourselves. But if you truly believe in a loving, gracious, Heavenly Father type God, that should lead you to want to be a very different type of person.

Over the next couple of weeks I want to look at a slightly different question. What Good is this Christlike God?

Cos there are times a God who draws us with love, rather than imposes us will upon us, might seem less attractive. We might want him to just get on and do something.

This morning I’m going to be talking about a God who operates by consent, a God who gives away or lays aside power and we may be tempted to say what good is that? Such a God might take us back to some of the false images of God I spoke about a few weeks back. The doting grandparent or the absent parent.

When I use words like consent, it’s like God just allows everything to happen, like one of those parents who is saying oh stop that to their child, yet you know, they know and the child knows their words have no authority or impact.

What’s the point in a God like that?

What’s the point in praying to a God like that?

If such a God is for us, the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question who can be against us takes on a very different tone. How can such a God make us more than conquerors through trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword let alone death, life, angels, demons,present, future,  any powers, height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation?

How can we think of God as active and sovereign in his world, yet not controlling or coercive, yet still loving, interested, involved.

So at the outset I want to highlight that I’m not talking about consent in the sense of just allowing things to go unchecked. When we talk about a Christlike God, we’re not thinking of a God who is uninvolved and distant, but one who acts decisively, yet in love.

Last time out I introduced you to an important Greek word.

Kenosis.

It means emptied out. We thought about an early Christian hymn which spoke of Jesus setting side all the trappings of divinity, emptying himself, taking the form of a servant, taking on vulnerable flesh and being obedient to God, all the way to death on a cross.

Thing is, quite often when I hear people speak or read what they have written about that passage, it’s like something Jesus did briefly, for a span of 33 years, after which he bent back to being more typically Goddy.  

I want to argue it is much more central to who God is and how God works in the world. It is one of the ways in which God has always been like Jesus and always will be like Jesus.

Let me offer you an example as a way into this. A confession. I’m not very good at delegation. Oh, there are some things I am quite happy to delegate. For example, many aspects of DIY. I know it’s likely to end in disaster and/or injury, not to mention a hefty bill, so I happily give that away. Jools might, quite fairly, add that I am happy to delegate the hoovering, but that’s another story.

But overall I’m not great at delegating. And you don’t have to know me that well to know that. Watch a few of our livestreams, with me trying to operate several pieces of technology all at once, sometimes more effectively than others. A lovely lady who knows me from way back dropped me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago asking could I not get someone else to do some of that stuff.

In my defence it’s largely been me not knowing how this stuff works and trying to work out enough that I can teach someone else and pass it on. I’ve been grateful for Leanne’s help in the last couple of weeks.

But it involves me relinquishing control. I have to allow her to get on with it.

There is something of that when God creates the world. Yes, we are utterly dependent on God for our existence, but God is not micromanaging every detail.

God runs the world by stepping out of the way and allowing the world to grow, to develop. God is the ultimate source of all that is, but he allows what we might call secondary causes to have their way in the world.

I want to briefly suggest to you there are three forces at work in our world. Two of them will be fairly obvious when I explain them. The third less so. But it’s that third one that’s absolutely vital.

The first are natural laws. For example, gravity. What goes up must come down. We live in a world which is, by and large predictable. We derive meaning and understanding from spotting patterns and given them some sense of meaning and being able to predict what’ll happen based on those patterns.

We rely on this in all sorts of ways. We put a certain type of fuel in our cars and they go. I press the accelerator and the car speeds up, I press the brake and it slows down. We go to the doctor, describe a number of symptoms and the doctor, who is trained to spot the patterns, suggests how we might get relief from those symptoms and get well again. If our world wasn’t to a certain extent predictable, life would be unliveable.

Gravity is necessary for our survival, but if you step off the roof off a tall building there will be inevitable consequences. Tectonic plates shift, weather patterns come and go. God’s not interfering with each and every one.

But that’s not the only force at work in the world. There’s also human freedom. We can know the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean we’ll actually do it. But we can (and all too often do) choose to go our own way. God created us to live and thrive in a particular way. But if we reject it, we can bring pain upon ourselves, others, and our world.

Both of those elements are there in that opening Genesis narrative of creation. God commands the earth to produce all kinds of plants and animals. He gives the fish, birds and animals the charge to fill the whole earth. The world is described as good, not perfect. It is not complete. It’s growing, developing, evolving.

Then into that mix God places people. They are charged with more than procreation. They are to care for and subdue the earth.

There are natural processes at work in the world, but they need to be managed. Just as my garden, left to itself will grow wild, so creation, left it to itself would become unmanageable. Part of God placing his image in us, is God handing over the nurture and management of the world to us.

But there is also human freedom. we can choose to do that as God intended or not. God does not coerce us.

In the very act of creation, God is handing over control.

Natural laws and human freedom are allowed to operate. Because God is not in the business of coercive control.

And so someone chooses to drive a car, really fast, whilst drunk, on an icy night and this can have disastrous consequences. Natural laws, such as how our bodies react to alcohol and ice being slippy, and human choice, to drink too much then to drive and drive without proper care, can lead to tragedy.

But there is more going on. It’s not just a case of my actions affect me. No-one is an island. The world is way more mysterious than we realise. 

We see both of these come together in a specific incident in the life of Jesus. In Luke 13 some people came to Jesus and told him about some Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pilate whilst offering sacrifices. Jesus says do you think that happened to them because they were somehow bad? No, of course not.

Then he adds, what about those people in Siloam who were killed when a tower fell on them? Do you think that’s cos they were worse than anyone else? No, of course not.

People have tried to identify specific incidents that Jesus is talking about, but the truth is here we see some fall victim to natural forces, others to human evil.

And if those were the only two forces at work, we would be hopeless. We would be at their mercy trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword or indeed pretty much all of creation.

But they are not the only forces at work. There’s a third force in the world: Grace.

Natural laws and human freedom have their place in the world, but God does not abandon us to them. God does not remain distant, uninvolved, and passive. God acts decisively in love. We’re not simply abandoned to our fate.

In Jesus, God enters our world and participates in the human condition. He enters our affliction. God heard our groans and came down to suffer and die with us, to overcome affliction and defeat death.

God in love, places himself into the hands of a hostile world and hateful men. He bears the fill weight of natural laws and human freedom. He allows them to take Jesus to the cross and the grave.

But Jesus is not just a mere victim. He says it himself. No-one takes his life from him. He lays it down. He shows his Father’s love, through his own self-giving love.

On the cross Jesus gathers up and suffers every disaster and sin. He takes is all into his body and enters the suffering, experiences the anguish and lives the sorrow for all, with all, for all time. In Grace God doesn’t abandon us in our rejection. Instead God co-opts our rejection of him, places himself in our hands, and by offering himself for our sakes, by allowing those forces to play out, he wins our salvation.

It’s no wonder Paul tells the Corinthians that it seems like weakness and foolishness, cos it does. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said A king who dies on a cross must be the king of a very strange Kingdom.

There’s a story in three of our Gospels in which Jesus takes three disciples up a mountain where he is transfigured before them. It’s like they get a glimpse for the briefest of moments about who Jesus is. But then he tells them not to say anything until he has risen from the dead.

Why do you think that is?

There are probably lots of reasons. But here is one important one. Transfiguration was something any old atheist could understand. It wouldn’t challenge any suppositions about what divinity or the supernatural is supposed to look like.

What we really need faith to see is this: That the dead Jesus, forgotten and abandoned, naked and hanging on a cross is truly the love of God incarnate. In the wounding of his fragile being, we see the fulness of the divine glory. Wo do our worst and God is not ashamed to be our God.

There is more to this and we’ll pick it up again next week. But it is this that gives us hope, in a world which seems wildly out of control. Yes we live in a world of natural laws and human freedom. With both can come great blessing, but also great sorrow. And if they were the only forces at play in the world we’d be truly at their mercy.

But God has not abandoned us to them. We’re not left alone. There is another force in the world. The grace of a God who has gone there before us and overcome for us.

With this God for us, nothing can be against us.  For he’s already overcome it all.

God becomes the world’s true King, not through force, but in Jesus laying aside the power, yielding to his Father’s will, placing himself in God’s hands, and mediating God’s redeeming love for the world.

He faces down the worst that this world can throw at him and rises triumphant over it, because God’s love held him and brought him through. And he went there before us, to prepare the way so that when we face the worst in life, he can bring us through.

Nothing was able to separate him or us from the love of God. He loves us with a love that even outlasts and overcomes death.