Wednesday, 23 October 2013


THE LOVE OF THE FATHER 'Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God' Let us look at Love and in particular God’s love for us , our love for God and  how we can experience it , how we can lose it, and how we keep it!

But let us pray this prayer of Paul.taken from Ephesians 3 'For this reason we bow before you Father, whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that out of the riches of your glory you may strengthen us with might through your Spirit in our inner person, that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith, and being rooted and grounded in love, we would have power to comprehend with all the saints, the length and the breadth and the depth and the height, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, to be filled with the fullness of God. And onto you who is able to do far more abundantly even more than all we ask or think, glory be to you in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.'

By nature we have no love for God and it is only by the Spirit  we can truly love God, in fact it is in response to his love for us that we love him. As John tells us ‘We Love God because he first loved us’ In the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes these unsurpassed words

'If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The greatest of these is love. Even if we have great faith to remove mountains or have all knowledge or even give our bodies up to be burnt in the flames as a martyr- without love it is nothing.' 'We love God because He first loved us.' But are we fully convinced that God actually loves us? Hopefully through what I share here each of us will become at least a little more convinced, not only in our minds but also in our souls and in our spirits that God really does love us and with that power of love we will want to show it to others.

Let us look at the Old Testament which has a picture of God being like a Father. In the wonderful Psalm 103  David declares:
As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.’
But in the New Testament and with the coming of Jesus we have a fuller revelation of what God is like. Jesus tells us that when we pray we should start by addressing God as ‘Our Father who is in heaven’. And 'when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And it gets better 7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.' “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt 7.8) Luke says how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" which is obviously the greatest of the gifts. Then in Romans Paul writes 'For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.' (Romans 8) The implications of this are amazing: God has made us children of God . The apostle John when he was an old man and writing anywhere between Ad -60-90 in Ephesus got so excited with the theme of being a child of God that he declared 'See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!' So our approach to God the Father should not be one of fear but rather one of love, of a child going to his Father who loves him. Our heavenly Father who showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God is not angry with us as he tells us that he wants to make his home in us. In fact we as little ones, are the apple of his eye and Jesus warned that if anyone should become a stumbling block to any of his little ones it would worse for them than to have a millstone tied round their necks and thrown into the sea! THE LOVE OF THE SON Looking now at the love of God’s Son. Perhaps the greatest theologian of the twentieth century was Karl Barth who wrote 14 massive volumes called Church Dogmatics. He was once asked what was the most important truth he had learnt from the Bible. He replied; 'Jesus loved me this I know for the Bible tells me so'! If the Father loved the world so much that he sent his son to be our saviour. If when we were sinners Christ came to die for us, what does that tell us about the love of Christ towards us and what our response should be to Him. Did he do it unwillingly? Of course not!  Paul in Galatians writes about his union with Christ ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ John Wesley gets emotional when he thinks of the wideness and breadth of the love of Christ to him. He declares'

Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach no tongue declare;
O knit my thankful heart to Thee, And reign with-out a rival there!
Thine wholly, Thine alone, I am;
Be Thou alone my constant flame.

 And Faber the hymn writer writes:' Wherever we turn in the church of God, there is Jesus. He is the beginning, middle and end of everything to us.... There is nothing good, nothing holy, nothing beautiful, nothing joyous which He is not to His servants. No one need be poor, because, if he chooses, he can have Jesus for his own property and possession. No one need be downcast, for Jesus is the joy of heaven, and it is His joy to enter into sorrowful hearts. We can exaggerate about many things; but we can never exaggerate our obligation to Jesus, or the compassionate abundance of the love of Jesus to us. All our lives long we might talk of Jesus, and yet we should never come to an end of the sweet things that might be said of Him. Eternity will not be long enough to learn all He is, or to praise Him for all He has done, but then, that matters not; for we shall be always with Him, and we desire nothing more.”
Like Faber, Paul confessed ‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ


We have looked briefly at the Father’s love towards us and the Son’s love in giving Himself to us, thirdly I would like us to look at the love of God shown in the Holy Spirit. It is in fact the third person of the trinity that makes the love of the Father and Son real to our experience. As in the prayer at the start taken from Ephesians 3 we pray to the Father that out of the riches of his glory he would strengthen us with might through the Spirit in our inner person, that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith, and being rooted and grounded in love, we would have power to comprehend with all the saints, the length and the breadth and the depth and the height, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, to be filled with the fullness of God.

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5.5

It is the Holy Spirit who witnesses with our own spirits that we are children of God when we cry 'Abba Father', even praying in groans and sighs when we are in such trouble or distress when we don’t know what to pray. The Holy Spirit not only makes God’s love real for us but produces the fruits in our lives of love, joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control and can also be a gift when we can almost supernaturally love our enemies when our natural reaction would be to seek revenge. The question is can we experience this love all the time? I’ll come back to that shortly. Does anyone know who this character is? Well of course it is Linis from Charlie Brown and his friends. He always needs his comfort blanket. Be honest now: did anyone here ever have a comfort blanket when they were a child or know of anyone who had one? They get dirty and can become an embarrassment for the parents. True? I heard of one couple whose child had one and they couldn’t get the child to get rid of it or swap it for a new one. You see, they get attached to their wee blanket. Well, they were heading for a church weekend in Portrush and thought it would be a good time to set the child free from the blanket- that was getting ever grubbier! Can you guess what happened? They headed up to Portrush without the blanket, but the child was having none of it – they screamed the place down and woke everyone up. So daddy had to come back to Belfast to get the blanket.

 But for those who have babies now or hope to have some in the future I ‘m going to tell you a secret of how to free your toddler from his comfort blanket or as my wee lad used to call it his 'blanky' As I’ve already shown, you can not suddenly pull the blanket off the child and hope the child is going to be reasonable about it. No, they will cry the house down. What you do is when they are not looking or sleeping you cut it in half! When they discover it is half the size they will be puzzled for a few moments, but then they still have their blanket and they can still hold it up to their face and stick their thumb in their mouth. Then after a few more days when they are sleeping you cut it in half again and continue the process over a few weeks. Finally the child ends up with a tiny bit of blanket before finally losing it altogether. Then the child wonders what all the fuss was all about in the first place.

 Now I will come back to that story. We were looking at God’s love for us. The question is, can we experience this love all the time? In my own experience after I became a Christian when I was fifteen I didn’t immediately experience any real sense of God’s great love towards me personally until I read the biography of Watchman Nee, the famous Chinese Christian whose example of surrendering his all to God affected me greatly. I remember going to meetings each week and experiencing God’s presence, and when I came home from school each day I would find it easy to talk in a very personal way to my heavenly Father As brother Lawrence would call it I was ‘Practising the presence of God’’ As Eric Clapton sang in his song I could then join in with him ‘ I have finally found a place to live in the presence of the Lord’ , They were beautiful days. There was an intimacy and a joy which surpassed anything this world could offer. At meetings we would maybe sing twelve verses of ‘Soldiers of Christ Arise’ or ‘The God of Abraham praise’ or 'My High Tower' by Paul Gerharte’ and not know whether we were in heaven or earth.

Jumping ahead ten years later I picked up a book I’d read many years before by A.W.Tozer called ‘The pursuit of God’. I started to read the preface and before I’d even finished reading it, it brought back to my memory to when I was in my teens and how I used to seek God’s presence and how God had meant everything to me back then and  how He had been my best friend. I had to put the book down and get on my knees and ask for forgiveness for the fact that I had lost my first love. Now people would have looked at me and perhaps said I was a keen Christian, I had many Christian books, I was involved in evangelism and went to all the meetings, did all the Christian things- but I had lost the most important thing I had lost the intimacy I had at first . Christ was no longer my best friend . Like the Galatians I was going through the motions, doing all the things a Christian does - but I was running on empty and relying on my own strength and will power. The book was a wake up call to get on track. It made me aware of the danger of letting things get in my heart that would take the place of God. I wasn’t like the prodigal son who went into a far off country but like the older brother who stayed . Not that I wouldn’t rejoice at a brother coming back to my family. Of course I would, but I was doing things for the Father without having the intimacy . I didn’t love to hang out and do things with him- enjoy a walk , or a chat or a meal, or look forward each day to spend time with him. I didn’t take the opportunity of taking a fatted calf to party with my friends of rejoicing that I was a child of God . Life was too serious, Christianity was becoming too hard , a drag-the joy and sparkle had gone out of it. It was painful in many ways to have to admit that I had dropped the ball. Like Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees ‘You worship God with your lips but your heart is far from me’ - my heart didn’t match up with my profession. Christ’s rebuke to the church in Revelation was to me 2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out. 4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall! “Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste. It is interesting that this is to the very church that Paul had prayed for in Ephesus, years before . Yet they too had lost their first love. Thankfully in my sorrow – I’d actually gone round many people telling them that I had had realised I’d lost my first love, but graciously as in the story of the prodigal son, God forgave me and restored me to himself. I felt elated and wonderful –like a new born Christian!

So how can we lose this love? Thinking of the verse in John’s letter ' If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him'. 1 John 2. 15. And then thinking of how we can free a child from its dependence on the blanket we can see how Satan can draw us from our first love and our dependence on God. When Satan comes to a new Christian he sometimes goes in with all guns blazing and tries to scare them or sometimes tries to lure them away with a big temptation that the world can offer. More often than not the new Christian will say ‘no way’,  Get behind me Satan. I have decided to follow Jesus I’m no turning back’ , Because their heart is full of love for God and they’re not easily going to give it up for anything in the world. So the devil retreats for a while. He doesn’t come in with ‘all guns blazing’ again,  rather he decides to become more subtle. Remember the verse 'If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him'. He will, rather than give them a lot of the world at one time –he’ll do it in small doses , every month a wee bit more, then another bit ,then another bit, then another bit. And like the child who would refuse to give up the blanket at one fell swoop. By stealth, by piecemeal the love of the Father is replaced over time, with love for the world. And the saddest thing is that the believer does not even realise it is happening . No wonder Jesus says to the Church at Ephesus- 'see the height from which you have fallen- turn back recover your dear early love'-your first love. Thank God it is only our love that can wax cold. And like the Father in the story of the prodigal son  He is first of all a waiting Father,waiting for us to return home, then a running Father who runs to meet his son returning, then a giving Father saying to his servants ‘‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

 So how do we prevent losing our first love. We must first be aware of Satan’s strategies and realise that he is out to bring us down Jesus warns us that he is out ‘to steal, kill and destroy’ . We must also keep short accounts with God and abide in his love, practise his presence and enjoy spending time with him, read and meditate on his word and his love towards us and also cultivate fellowship with the Father ,Son and Holy Spirit who love us.
 Let me finish with a passage from Romans 8 again showing his love even in the most deperate situations we can find ourselves in. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. God's Everlasting Love 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, 14 October 2013

''I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."—Philippians 3:8. C.H.Spurgeon

SPIRITUAL knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person's acquaintance with Him. No, I must know Him myself; I must know Him on my own account. It will be an intelligent knowledge—I must know Him, not as the visionary dreams of Him, but as the Word reveals Him. I must know His natures, divine and human. I must know His offices—His attributes—His works—His shame—His glory. I must meditate upon Him until I "comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." It will be an affectionate knowledge of Him; indeed, if I know Him at all, I must love Him. An ounce of heart knowledge is worth a ton of head learning. Our knowledge of Him will be a satisfying knowledge. When I know my Saviour, my mind will be full to the brim—I shall feel that I have that which my spirit panted after. "This is that bread where if a man eat he shall never hunger." At the same time it will be an exciting knowledge; the more I know of my Beloved, the more I shall want to know. The higher I climb the loftier will be the summits which invite my eager footsteps. I shall want the more as I get the more. Like the miser's treasure, my gold will make me covet more. To conclude; this knowledge of Christ Jesus will be a most happy one; in fact, so elevating, that sometimes it will completely bear me up above all trials, and doubts, and sorrows; and it will, while I enjoy it, make me something more than "Man that is born of woman, who is of few days, and full of trouble"; for it will fling about me the immortality of the everliving Saviour, and gird me with the golden girdle of His eternal joy. Come, my soul, sit at Jesus's feet and learn of Him all this day.