Posts tagged ‘love’

February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love Birds

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13)

Have a great day, whoever you are and whoever you spend it with, especially if it just you, alone with God…

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May 27, 2011

Col. Gaddafi comes to Clonakilty…

Clonakilty Street art

Walking down the main street in Clonakilty yesterday evening I was stopped in my tracks by this picture, painted on a board that has been placed over the window of a closed shop.  It intrigues me on a number of levels; firstly, although it is a fairly simple painting / stencil, the person depicted is instantly recognisable as the longtime ruler of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi who has been a thorn in the flesh of the U.S. and U.K. at least since the Lockerbie Bombing of December 1988 and probably for many years before that.  Of course more recently Gaddafi is in the news for the terrible situation in Libyaat the moment, a heartbreaking conflict between those loyal to Gaddafi and those (inspired by the success of their neighbours in Egypt) wanting the end of Gaddafi’s regime and to replace it with a democracy.

Secondly, the name of the artist is interesting; “Zirak” is not a common name in West Cork!  A quick Internet search shows that the name originates from an area overlapping Pakistan and Afghanistan, so perhaps the artist has come from there, or if not then certainly the artist’s ancestors did.  Why did they feel the need to paint this?  Perhaps it is a very graphic (literally) way of expressing their thoughts on what is happening in Libya at the moment – which brings me to the third level of interest, the words:

They still love me … right?

This puts in a nutshell what it is all about.  The conflict in Libya for many people is simply Gaddafi’s ego verses everyone else.  He would of course not be the first leader attempting to cling on to power in the face of overwhelming opposition, but it seems that his desire to be liked, respected, feared and revered has cost many lives, including members of his own family – and ultimately it may very well cost him his life also…

Of course we all want to be loved, but when that desire to be loved mutates into a desire to be adulated, whether the person is a rock star, footballer or political leader or even just somebody like you or me, then that is a recipe for grief.  It all makes me think of Someone who loves us more than we will ever know, understand or fully appreciate:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

If only Gaddafi had been told this news while he was still a young man…

February 20, 2011

The right response to hatred

Light and Dark

Photo: Sunrise on the way to Timoleague, early one Sunday morning.

Sermon for Sunday 20th February.  Text: Matthew 5:38-48

Timoleague, Clonakilty HC, Year A 3rd Sunday Before Lent (Proper 2), 20/2/11.  Matthew 5:38-48

Humility is a difficult thing to grasp.  I had to laugh last week when I saw a politician on television puffing out his chest and saying “I am a humble man”!  Poor chap, I think the irony of boasting about his humility was lost upon him!  But of course politicians are easy targets, what about ourselves, are we in danger of being proud of our humility?  Well if we are then the few verses of our reading from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel will give us a jolt back into reality…

The Lord Jesus starts off by quoting a well-known phrase from the Old Testament law (from Exodus 21:24) and then He expands upon it:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an  eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; (Matthew 5:38, 39)

How do we react when we are wronged?  Think about when you are in the car and somebody pulls out in front of you or cuts you up at a roundabout, or you are trying to turn on to the main road but some eejit is blocking the yellow box junction!  We can get a bit upset – perhaps we even secretly wish that our car was equipped with a mobile rocket-launcher!  When someone does wrong to us we want revenge!

The Old Testament law of ‘an eye for an eye’ was there to make sure that the punishment fitted the crime, so that a sentence was neither too harsh nor too lenient.  What does the Lord want us to do?  Does He want us to demand our rights?  No.  Does He want us to make sure that those who wrong us are punished?  No.  (This is not so much talking about crimes against the state which are punishable under law, it is talking about our relationships and dealings with people).  Do we have a readiness to resentment?  Are we easily offended?  Do we go into a sulk when we don’t get our way?  Are we keen to assert our rights?

The Lord does not want us to be like this, we are not to be a miserable selfish grouch who everybody avoids because they are afraid of upsetting.  As Mahatma Ghandi (who though a Hindu greatly admired Jesus’ teaching) said ‘an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.’  If we want God’s Kingdom to come, if we want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven , then we have to let go of our natural wishes and desires and we have to respond as Jesus did.  If someone slaps us on the cheek, our first thought might be to punch their lights out, but no, we are to not retaliate.  If someone takes from us we are not to resist but offer them more!  If someone compels us to do something to help them we are to go the ‘whole hog’ and help them as fully as we are able to do so.

We are to return good for evil and blessing for cursing.  We are to love not only in word but in deed also.

Next, the Lord says:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Of course, nowhere in the Old Testament law does it say to hate enemies, rather the words had been misinterpreted over time.  It’s one thing to turn the other cheek but when the Lord asks us to love our enemies is that not going a bit far?  What is an enemy?  According to my dictionary, an enemy is someone who is opposed to something, and actively tries to damage it. (Collins English Dictionary sixth ed. 2003).  Is Jesus mad?  No, He definitely is not.  Perhaps we forget that once we were His enemy, and did He not treat us with overwhelming love?  We might say ‘I was never God’s enemy’, well before you gave your life to Christ, you were a sinner, what is a sinner, but someone who lives their life apart from God.  There is no sitting on the fence, either we are for God or we are against Him and to be against Him is to be His enemy. Listen to this, from Romans chapter 5:

8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

So in other words, the Lord Jesus wants us to behave towards others as He has behaved towards us, with unconditional love, grace and acceptance.

A professor of New Testament Studies, Gary M. Burge, writes the following true story

A few years ago in Jerusalem’s famed Hadassh Hospital, an Israeli soldier lay dying. He had contracted AIDS as a result of his reckless lifestyle and was now in the last stages of the disease’s terrible course. His father was a famous Jerusalem rabbi, and both he and the rest of his family had disowned him. He was condemned to die in his shame. The nursing staff on his floor knew his story and carefully avoided his room. Everyone was simply waiting for his life to expire.

The soldier happened to be part of a regiment that patrolled the Occupied West Bank, and his unit was known for its ferocity and war-fighting skills. The Palestinians living there hated these troops. They were merciless and could be cruel. Their green berets always gave them away.

One evening the soldier went into cardiac arrest. All the usual alarms went off, but the nursing staff did not respond. Even the doctors looked the other way. Yet on the floor another man was at work—a Palestinian Janitor, a Christian—who knew this soldiers story as well and also knew the meaning of the emergency. The Janitor’s own village had even been attacked by this soldier’s unit. When the Palestinian heard the alarm and witnessed the neglect, his heart was filled with compassion. He dropped his broom, entered the soldier’s room, and attempted to resuscitate the man by giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The scene was remarkable: a poor Palestinian man, a victim of this soldier’s violence, now tried to save his enemy while those who should have been doing this stood on the sidelines. …

When you understand what it means for an enemy to love an enemy—and for the righteous to show neglect—then you will have a picture of the power of God’s grace at work in a person’s heart.

Gary M. Burge, Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Storyteller (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 24-25 (From preachingtoday.com)

It is of course easy for us to love those who love us, but the ability to love those who are actively hostile to us is another thing altogether.  One of the things that makes the Christian and indeed the Church of God different from the world is the ability to love unconditionally.

To live like this might seem like the bar is set just too high, but are we not children of God, and as children of God should we not be like our Heavenly Father?  If we only love those who love us, then where is the evidence of our conversion?  As Bishop J.C. Ryle puts it:

Do we flinch from the test? Do we find it impossible to do good to our enemies?  If that be the case we may be sure we have yet to be converted.  As yet we have not received the “Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. ii. 12.)

(J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospel, Matthew, 1856).

So who are our enemies?  The answer will be different for each of us.  They may be persons we do not even know, but who would wish us ill because of our association with Christ.  Sadly, our enemy may even be a family member or former friend or work colleague.  They  may make no secret in delighting in our failures and resenting our successes.

Here is the challenge:  You can be sure that if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus that you will have the opportunity to minister to those who hate you.  What will we do when that time comes; will we turn away and pretend not to notice, or will we reach out in love?

How happy would the world be if we were all able to live as Jesus taught.  But we are weak and we are proud and so stubborn.  Yet if there is a small spark of hope in us that is able to say “Thy will be done”, we can be assured that the very second we say “yes” to God, He is there and He will help us and He will give us every strength, resource and encouragement in Christ that we need to love, yes to unconditionally love even those who hate us.

Amen.

 

April 7, 2009

The food of love …

The Chocolate Shop, English Market, Cork
Panasonic LX1, f2.8, 1/30 sec, ISO 80, 28mm equivalent

Shakespeare said that “If music be the food of love …”. Of course, I’m sure he’s right, but I would like to also put forward the case for something else … chocolate!

Eat … delicacies that melt in your mouth. Likewise knowledge, and wisdom for your soul— Get that and your future’s secured, your hope is on solid rock.

Proverbs 26:13,14 (Abbreviated from The Message)

February 1, 2009

But deliver us from evil

Sunrise in Glounthaune, Co Cork, October 2007
Nikon D70s, 1/100 sec, f5, ISO 200, 105mm equivalent (click to enlarge)

Mark 1:21-28

So our Gospel reading picks up from last week. You may remember that Jesus had been walking by the Sea of Galilee and he had called four fishermen to be amongst His followers: Simon, Andrew, James and John. Our reading for today carries on with the five of them making their way around the lake to Capernaum, where Jesus had recently moved to from Nazareth, about 20 miles to the south (Matthew 4:12,13). When Saturday, the Sabbath day arrives, Jesus (and presumably the small group of his disciples) attends the Synagogue. Because the temple in Jerusalem was too far for many of the Jewish people to travel to regularly for worship, many towns had Synagogues to serve as both places of worship and as schools. Each Sabbath day the Jewish men would gather to listen to a Rabbi teach from the Scriptures. Because there was no permanent Rabbi or teacher, it was customary for the Synagogue leader to ask visiting teachers to speak. So on this particular Saturday Jesus indicates His desire to speak and gets permission to do so.

Once Jesus begins teaching, the people are amazed – you can imagine their jaws dropping open as this carpenter from Nazareth teaches from the Scriptures so clearly and with so much power and authority. They were used to dusty, dry and boring sermons, they had never heard anything like this before.

Satan clearly is not pleased. A man enters the Synagogue, who is possessed by an evil spirit. He cries out:

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are – you are God’s holy messenger!” (v.24)

Perhaps it all too easy with our 21st Century way of looking at things to dismiss this as a bit of primitive superstition – that demon possession is what the writers of the New Testament understood was happening whereas it was in fact some kind of physical or mental illness that was being manifest. But if you actually read the New Testament, you will see that the writers are quite clearly able to distinguish between someone who is demon possessed and someone who had a physical or mental illness. Even later on in this chapter in Mark we read:

Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons…(v.34)

I’m sure you remember that the Lord Jesus had already defeated Satan in the wilderness, but now it seems that the devil is trying a different tactic, he sends out his servants, the demons to take control of unwitting hearts.(1)

This horrible creature, this demon that has taken over a man’s heart knows that it has met its match in the Lord Jesus. The Lord is its Master, he knows that his time is up, he recognises the Holiness and Deity of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus’ complete authority is emphasised in what happens next, He issues a short, firm command:

“Be quiet and get out of him” (v.25)

The demon obeys at once, for it is all he could do, albeit unwillingly. He shakes the poor victim violently and with a shriek comes out of him.

Clearly, the people were dumbfounded, amazed and in awe of what they had just witnessed. Here is Someone who not only spoke with such great authority but who acted with great authority too, a rare combination indeed.

I think that the very clear message from our gospel reading is the fact that Jesus is very much in charge and that He has complete authority over evil, in its many guises. But there’s that nagging question knocking away at the back of our minds, the question that takes many forms and the question that longs for a satisfactory answer: Why then is there so much evil and suffering in this world, if Jesus has complete authority over it? Why do children die? Why is justice not forthcoming for innocent victims? Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does the Devil seem to be on the rampage causing seemingly limitless destruction and pain?

Of course with just a couple of hundred words and a few minutes of time it is not possible to give a full answer to this most pertinent of questions. Some time ago I visited a person in hospital who was in a lot of pain. Although they could talk and even walk around, it was not possible for them to describe or articulate the level of suffering they were going through except perhaps in the lines of pain that were deeply etched in their face. I struggled with what words to say and conversation was difficult. The person then looked up to high on the wall opposite their bed and we both looked and stared for some time at this object. It was of course a crucifix. The pain of Christ suffering on the cross somehow seemed to mirror that of the person I was with and there was for an unspoken moment a sense of peace and release. Like a bit of light shining from the end of a very long dark and difficult tunnel came the realisation that everything here is only for a time. The pain people feel now is only for a time. The suffering and misery of so many is only for a time and there is the fact that God is not remote aloof and aloft from our suffering, He is right there in the very midst of that suffering and has indeed gone through the grave and gate of death Himself. Why? To make all things new. To make us new:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

For that is the One Thing above all that conquers evil – Love and the love of God in Christ is greater than anything that can come against us…

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

All our questions about God and suffering should, in fact be filtered through what we know about Jesus. Dorothy Sayers wrote:

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.(2)

We want Jesus to banish evil now, we want an end to suffering today, but in so doing we are wanting an end to this world in all its fallenness and brokenness. We know that this world will end. We know that the Lord will return and that all things will be made new and I suppose it is a measure of comfort for us to remember that suffering, evil, death, pain and the whole repertoire of misery that are the Satan’s calling cards, will like him be destroyed and put firmly into past, into the history of a world and a people that went very wrong and yet were utterly rescued and saved by the God whose love and whose power was more than a match for that which would come against it.

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(1) William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark, Banner of Truth 1999 p.62
(2) Philip Yancey, “Where is God when it hurts?” Zondervan 1977, p.225