In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Song of Songs 4.1-5.1 in which we learn that a radically committed relationship of intimacy between a man and a woman can be seen as a subversive, yet freeing, act in our culture, as well as in the ancient culture of the Old Testament. That same radical commitment and intimacy can be experienced in our relationship with God. You can watch the message below, or the entire worship gathering below that.
Month: April 2023
Intimacy: it’s a word we don’t often associate with God.
In fact, many of us would be inclined to think that intimacy should be kept from God…as if it were possible to keep anything from God.
If we take time to consider and admit it, many of our ideas of intimacy are cloaked in Victorian embarrassment. That is, our definition of intimacy is heavily influenced by our culture, and sometimes, our culture is as difficult for us to define as trying to get a fish to describe what it means to be wet. (Plus, fish can’t talk. I know.)
All that to say, we think intimacy isn’t something that belongs in the realm of faith…except it does.
Consider the terms we see used for God in the New Testament. We see God called “Father”, a familial term that connotes a close relationship. Jesus called God Abba, an Aramaic term that translates as “Daddy”. Jesus is referred to as both our Lord and our “brother”. The Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us, is our “comforter”.
Those are terms of intimacy, are they not?
I often tell couples when I conduct their weddings that people should be able to look to their love for each other and see a reflection of God’s love for the world. That’s intimacy.
And God desires it with us.
Intimacy is not just about sex. It is about a deep connection of love and openness and honesty. It is about a heart’s yearning.
How can we be intimate with God?
Start by making him your heart’s desire. My wife tells me that when I’m out and she’s at home, her heart skips a beat when she hears the garage door open. Sometimes I tell her, “That’s because you’re looking for a place to hide your boyfriend,” but I’m kidding, of course. That excitement when I come home is a sign of an intimate relationship.
When you come to worship, whether on your own at home, daily, or with the church, weekly, does your heart skip a beat when you enter the presence of the Lord? That’s intimacy.
When you open your Bible to read God’s Word and hear from him, does your heart skip a beat as you anticipate what the Lord will teach you? That’s intimacy.
Our relationship with God is an intimacy of both head and heart. He desires it with us. Do you desire it with God?
“[Y]ou must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6.5, NLT).
Protected: The life and organization of St. Paul’s
Protected: St. Paul’s mission and theology
Protected: St. Paul’s worship life
Protected: About Jeff
Protected: A thumbnail sketch of St. Paul’s history
God has done!
There are some Christians who have doubts about their salvation.
Even within those traditions (including my own Reformed tradition) that uphold the doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” – the idea that once we make a true profession of faith in Christ, our salvation is sealed for eternity – there are people who go through seasons in which they doubt that they could possibly be saved.
While we journey with people through the valleys of doubt, it’s important to remember that salvation is a gift from God alone that no one can take away. God could, but he has promised us that he will not take it away.
It’s important to remember that, unlike other world religions that involve human action to earn salvation, the Christian faith is not about “we do.”
It’s about “God has done.”
If you and I have sincerely, with a full heart, given ourselves to Jesus as Lord and Saviour – with as much understanding as we had at the time – at that point our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in indelible ink. We can’t undo our salvation.
We may mess up at some point, and mess up badly; but the grace of God that entered our lives to enable us to say ‘yes’ to Jesus does not go away. Our sin cannot undo the work of Jesus on the cross.
Of course, as the apostle Paul points out in Romans 6, we should not willfully engage in sin and thereby take advantage of the grace of God at work in our lives. Not at all! But we should not worry about whether sin or anything else can separate us from God and thereby remove our salvation. When grace is given to us to believe, it cannot be taken from us.
The apostle John reminds us of this when he writes to the early church: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3.1, NLT).
If you have professed faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, you are a child of the Father. You want to talk about identity? That’s your identity: child of God. And if that profession, at whatever point in your life, was real, nothing can snatch that from you.So walk today in assurance that what God has done in bringing you salvation is a gift that will not be taken away!
Of worms and sinners…and us
On Good Friday, at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we opened worship with the old gospel hymn “At the Cross”, an adaptation of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and did my Saviour bleed”. In it, there is a line that says:
Would he devote that sacred head to such a worm as I?
While Watts will surely have taken his inspiration for that moniker from Psalm 22.6, today, we might wonder whether that’s an appropriate term for a human being.
The Psalmist used the term to denote his feeling of dehumanization from oppression and suffering. That certainly applied to Jesus, and he appropriated the passage for himself more than once, as you’ll see if you read the entire Psalm.
In response, some hymnal editors have rephrased the line to read:
Would he devote that sacred head to sinners such as I?
This also captures the essence of what Watts was trying to express: that is, the tragic irony that the perfect God-Man Jesus gave his life for the decidedly imperfect human race.
Sadly, people today tend to track toward one extreme or the other. That is, people either view themselves as the worst of the worst, hopelessly irredeemable; or they view themselves as ‘darned near perfect’ – not sinners, and definitely not “worms”!
One of the challenges God’s people face in sharing the gospel with others is that many people don’t think they’ve sinned, so they don’t need a Saviour, while others think they are so bad that there is no hope for their redemption.
But we know that in Jesus, neither of those views is true.
Anyone who claims not to be a sinner need only be furnished with the ten commandments to be reminded that she or he has not lived up to God’s perfect standard. And anyone who claims to be irredeemable need only be told of the apostle Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Rome that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5.8, NLT), or his statement to Timothy, his young protégé: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1.15-16, NLT).
On those days when we feel like we’re on top of the world and can’t do anything wrong, Jesus still died for us. And on those days when we feel lower than a snake’s (worm’s?) belly, Jesus still died for us.
We are created in God’s own image, and he proclaimed us, with all creation, to be “very good”. We messed that up in disobedience, but Jesus came to redeem the least and the worst of our disobedience.
Walk with him in confidence today!
Who do you want to meet?
I’m sure, like me, you have a long list of people you want to talk to when you get to heaven. On my list is someone not everybody might put in their Top Ten.
It’s Simon of Cyrene.
In truth, I don’t even know if I will meet him in heaven, because we have no indication from Scripture – though we do from tradition – that he ever professed faith in Jesus. I hope the tradition is right, and he did.
In Roman culture, it was common for one condemned to be crucified to carry the horizontal part of his own cross from the place of the trial to the dump outside the city where crucifixions happened; the long vertical poles would be left there for re-use.
According to the Gospel account in Luke 23.26-27 (with parallels in Matthew and Mark), though, the soldiers who accompanied Jesus to Calvary commandeered Simon of Cyrene to carry this piece for Jesus, whom they deemed was already weak enough from the beating and scourging he had endured that he would not be able to carry it himself.
This is the only canonical (i.e., Scriptural) mention of Simon of Cyrene. All we know about him from the Bible is that he was from Cyrene – a city in north Africa – and that he was appointed (by force, it seems, since he was “seized”) to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus. But that’s all we know.
One assumes Simon was Jewish, because Jews came from all over the world, as they were able, to mark the Passover in Jerusalem. But even that is an assumption. There is a tradition that says that Simon of Cyrene returned to Africa and shared the gospel with the people of Egypt, but there is little to back this up, even if it is true.
But since the Lord is not into wasting words, we are left wondering why Simon of Cyrene even gets mentioned. The Gospel writers simply might have said that a passerby was pressed into service, but the three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all mention him by name.
That’s why I hope to meet him in heaven. The fact that he was mentioned by name piques my curiosity.
I want to know what it was like to carry that crossbeam. I want to know what he thought of the whole situation, how he beheld Jesus in such a weary and beaten state. I want to know if he stayed at Calvary to watch Jesus die, to hear his last words, to see the sky go dark, to hear of the temple curtain torn in two.
Simon is perhaps the most literal illustration of Jesus’ exhortation to his followers: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9.23-24, NLT).
On this Good Friday, be inspired by Simon of Cyrene. Take up your cross – not only today, but every day.