“And Peter”

“I’m going fishing,” Peter announces.

This isn’t some hobbyist speaking. It’s not the “think I’ll go and drop a line in the water” of someone that fishes for pleasure. It’s a step backwards, away from what Christ had called him to. An admission of failure. I’m no longer fit to be His disciple. I denied Him, not once, but three times. Even if He’s alive, He can’t possibly still want me.

Might as well go back to fishing. It’s all I know. It’s been an interesting three years, but it’s over.

“We’ll come with you”, say the others. Whether this is their own throwing-in of the towel, or a reluctance to let Peter go off by himself at a time like this, or a simple unwillingness to entirely forsake the camaraderie of those three years is anybody’s guess, but go they do.

They fish all night, but catch nothing. Three years is a long time, but Peter’s a grown man. He’s spent how many countless hours upon that lake, man and boy, learning his trade from his father before becoming a fisherman in his own right. That sort of ingrained skill doesn’t evaporate overnight, not even in three years.

Maybe God is against him. After all, he did deny His Son. At any rate, not one solitary fish.

At the close of the night, someone shouts from the beach.

“Friends, haven’t you caught anything?”

It might trigger a twinge of memory, but you put it out of your mind. That life is over. At any rate, it’s not an unusual question.

“Throw your nets on the other side of the boat,” the stranger calls, after the disciples’ negative response.

Now this is familiar territory. But there’s only one way to test it: Do what the stranger says.

What have they got to lose?

At once, their nets are bursting. They can’t hold all the fish.

There’s no doubt at all, and Peter knows it. Jesus is deliberately taking Him right back to the beginning, when he was an outcast fisherman, rejected by all the rabbis as unfit to be a disciple. One of the many whom the teachers of the Law of the Lord had put aside.

Now as then, Jesus breaks through all that. Others may find Peter too hardheaded, too impetuous, too indisciplined. Peter himself may find himself unfit. None of it matters. There’s only One opinion that counts, and it’s borne by the One standing on the beach.

Leaving the others behind in the boat, in his own impetuous way Peter plunges into the water as soon as he can stagger to shore.

When the others join them, Jesus has the grill all ready, with enough fish already cooking that the haul is superfluous. Breakfast is served: fresh fish a la Son of Man.

Some way through the breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside. “Do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, I love You,”

“Feed my sheep”.

The question repeats, then repeats again. By the third time, Peter is distinctly uncomfortable.

“Lord, You know all things”. You know how I failed You, how I let You down. You’re proving it right now. But You know that I do love You.

And the threefold declaration comes with a calling, not to be a fisher of men but a shepherd of the flock, and with a promise.

“You know, Peter, that when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you’re old, someone else will dress you, and stretch out your hands, and lead you where you don’t want to go”. Yes, Peter, your death will be like Mine: hands outstretched. And this time, Peter, you won’t fail. You won’t deny Me; you’ll remain faithful, for My Spirit will be in you.

Christ is risen…

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Who God Says He Is (Anniversary post)

Well, today is my first anniversary of having this blog, and it quite caught me by surprise!  In honour of this momentous occasion, I’ve reworked my “Who God Says He Is” miniseries into a single, longer post.  Apart from my introductory post (since reworked into the “Why “The Word Forge”? Page), this was my first post.  Enjoy!


In Exodus 34, God passes before Moses and proclaims His name. This is the first time since the pre-Fallen Adam that a human being has seen God without veil of disguise or vision, which makes it an incredibly significant event. What God says here in connection with this is key to our understanding of His nature and character.

In essence, this is the clearest single statement we have of who God says He is. If we get this wrong, we will have a distorted image of God, which will skew our understanding of the Scriptures, of who we are and of what He has called us to.

Who, then, is our God?

YHWH, YHWH

The eternal Name of God. The Great I AM, as He revealed Himself to Moses. Eternal, without “I Was”, nor yet “I Will Be”. Changeless in His character, the same yesterday, today and forever. Thus faithful and reliable. The same God who created the world good. The same God who went looking for Adam. The same God who saved Noah’s household because of his righteousness. The same God who would not sweep away the righteous with the guilty when destroying Sodom, who promised to spare the city for the sake of as few as ten righteous people.

Self-existent, without “I think, therefore…” The only One who exists simply because He exists, without reference to anything else. He alone is the fount of everything else that exists, because He alone is self-existent and not contingent on other things. He owes His existence to no thing; on the contrary, all things owe their existence to Him.

His self-existence implies All-Power, too. Limitless in His strength, the Creator of all things who was before all things. Not contingent on anything, He alone is the one who is in control. Nothing is beyond His reach, no act beyond His power, no sinner too far gone to save. Not mastered by anything, because He Himself depends on nothing.

The Compassionate and Gracious God

Full of grace and mercy. Giving fallen humans the good things they do not deserve and not giving them the bad things they do deserve.

Grace is, as Yancey says, the last best word. If we haven’t paid on time, sometimes there’s a “grace period” before punishment kicks in. In music, “grace notes” are special extra notes whose absence does not affect the tune but whose presence bring it alive. “Graceful” decribes beauty of motion and form. “Gracious” describes unwarranted kindness. “Gratitude” is the appropriate response when we are given something. We “say grace” before a meal to express thankfulness. Something “gratis” is not to be paid for.

Compassion and mercy are allied; two aspects of the same thing. Compassion has been defined as “seeing someone in need and wanting to help”. Mercy has been defined as not getting what you deserve. Giving someone a second chance. Withholding punishment out of love for the person. Mercy values people. Compassion sees a need – people are sinful and fallen – and wants to help. God has the desire as well as the power to do something about the human fallen condition.

These are, after His name, the first things God says about Himself. Along with His Divine power and eternal nature, this is the root from which it all stems.

He describes Himself as “the gracious and compassionate God” with good reason. The Ba’als and Ammons and Marduks of the ancient world weren’t gracious and compassionate. They were harsh and cruel. They were deities of vicious power, capricious and despotic, divine parodies of the horrific abuses of authority practised by the kings of the earth. Like their followers, they lorded it over their subjects and required grovelling obesiance. They could be bought off, but they never showed compassion, much less grace. Their help was always to be paid for.

How unlike our Lord! The gracious and compassionate God, who desires to help and will not be paid for it, because nothing we can offer Him will cover the cost. Who bears the price Himself, because He wants to.

Slow to anger

Not capricious and mercurial. Not dangerous and to be dreaded and feared, as if He will fly off into a rage over the slightest thing. Slow to get angry. Not quick to bring judgement, because He wants people to turn from their wickedness and gives every possible opportunity for them to do so.

A God who, though the all-powerful I AM, is in control of His temper. Who does not “lose it”. Who is not mastered by His anger or by anything else, but is in control of Himself. A God like this will not immediately whack off toes if they step out of line. It takes effort to bring Him to the point of executing judgement. Slow to anger, not easily provoked, not looking for an excuse to smite.

The gods of the nations were as capricious and easily angered as the elements – a Ba’al or a Chemosh who is slow to anger is a contradiction in terms. Only God can be rightly described as slow to anger, because only God is above the natural world and fully in control of Himself.

Abounding in lovingkindness and faithfulness

Bestowing His favour lavishly, with an ocean-sized bucket rather than a medicine dropper. Not counting how much favour He’s giving you, as if there are invisible limits after which He has to stop giving. “Sorry; you just exceeded the recommended dosage of My favour” are words you will never hear from the Lord. He gives with abundance, because He Himself is without limitation. “His bountiful care what tongue can recite”. We see it in wildflowers scattered on a hillside at the back end of nowhere, beauty mostly unseen by the eyes of man. We see it in the rain, which falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous, and on the sea, which is already full of water. We see it in the sun’s boundless energy and light scattered on the entire surface of the earth and out into space where it serves no purpose at all. Limitless abundance.

And an abundance of what? Of favour. Of lovingkindness. Active tender care. Kindness stemming from love. Limitless goodness. As Rich Mullins put it: “And this Man of no reputation loves us all with relentless affection”.

Affection is a mild word, but we so misuse the word love sometimes that perhaps it’s better to avoid it. Relentless affection, kindness, wanting the best for others, wanting to bless and to do good for.

And unlike people, able to see exactly what real good and real blessing look like, because He is not blinded by sin and is limitless in wisdom. Not only does He have the desire to help us in our need for redemption, but more than that, He doesn’t stop there. There is no room in His character for a Redemption that stops with justification. He wants to bless, and to do so abundantly. He wants to go on and sanctify totally, to enable us to walk in His abundant favour, enjoying Him and in close, harmonious fellowship with Him. He wants to do us good, to satisfy our desires with good things. For no particular reason, just because. Not because we earn it or because we deserve it, but because He wants to. It’s who He is.

Maintaining love to thousands

Constant in His favour and love. Not just showing love once, but continuing to love. Reliable in His love, so that His people are not high in His favour one day and cast out the next, based on the unfathomable whims of an inscrutable Deity. When He says He loves you, it is not something that fluctuates with the seasons, nor even with our own righteousness. Firm, trustworthy, a Rock worth building your life on. His love can no more change than He can cease to be the I AM.

Maintaining love, not just to a select few, but to thousands. Multitudes. No-one can say “well, He loves you, but He couldn’t possibly love me”. In most ancient counting systems, thousands were the highest numbers they had. The Greeks and some others had myriads – ten-thousands – but a lot of cultures at this stage stopped with thousands. It’s also about the biggest number the human brain can really grasp effectively. Talking of thousands to whom the Lord continued to show love is using a multiple of the biggest number. It’s as if He’s saying “yes, even you.” No-one is excepted from being loved by the Lord.

Forgiving rebellion, iniquity and sin

Because He is gracious and compassionate, because He is slow to anger, because He abounds with lovingkindness, and because He maintains love to thousands, He is forgiving. Forgiveness streams as naturally from His character as light from the sun.

Rebellion is the sin of willful disobedience. Rooted in pride, it will not humble itself and admit need or ask for help, but in its insanity assumes it knows best. Rebellion mistrusts the goodness of God, wanting instead to do its own thing and be its own arbiter. Contrary and stubborn, it will not yield, will not bow, will not obey, even when doing so is in its own obvious best interest. Perverse, it insists on its own way, will not take counsel, will not accept help, and will not bow the knee to the One who alone is worthy. And because it will not bow to true Authority, it creates false ones. Every tyranny on the planet is ultimately rebellious at heart. It’s no accident that with the sole exception of America, every rebellion or war of independence ever fought has turned almost immediately to despotism. It’s the spirit of rebellion.

Iniquity is impurity. Rejecting the pure and holy and craving the depraved and impure, it’s the dark, self-destroying impulse that wants what it wants, dammit, no matter that it is poison. Expressed in everything from sexual licentiousness and porn to gluttony, selfish ambition and abusive domination, it describes the fallen condition that takes drugs knowing that they will kill, which craves its own ruin and hates that which is pure.

Between them, they pretty much cover the bases of human depravity. But just in case we can come up with a reason why our sin is unforgiveable, He also states that He forgives “sin”, without categorization or modifying adjective.

It’s not because we deserve it. If we deserved to be forgiven we would not need it. He forgives because of who He is. Because if He did not, He would no longer be the gracious and compassionate God. He does it because He Is Who He Is.

Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished

And only after His goodness, grace, mercy and forgiveness have been firmly fixed in our minds does He begin to talk about His justice. He doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished.

Grace and mercy cannot exist without justice. Unjust grace is not grace; cannot be grace. Unjust mercy is equally oxymoronic. Without the context of righteous justice, grace and mercy are random chance, not deliberate goodness.

God does not overlook sin; He deals with it. He doesn’t treat the wound of His people as though it is not serious, papering over our inward depravity with little legalisms and obediences. Evil has consequences, both for those who are sinners and those who are sinned against. God cannot be good and allow us to continue in sin; that’s not forgiveness, it’s being an enabler.

He loves us; He’s gracious and compassionate, slow to get angry and lavish in the desire to bless. And so He must deal with sin. Papering over the cracks isn’t going to cut it. If He doesn’t root out the sin itself, we just go on harming ourselves and others. Grace and compassion for the sinned-against as well as justice compels Him to not overlook sin.

So because He is the gracious and compassionate God, He pays the price for us. Not because we deserve it, but because He wants to. Because as well as having the desire to help – compassion – He’s the only one who also has the power. As the old hymn puts it: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heav’n and let us in”. Others might have had the compassion, but God alone was the All-Powerful I AM who could actually do something about the problem.

If we in our fallenness treat “failure to stop and render aid” as a criminal offence, how much less can God stand by while we suffer in our sin, knowing that He alone has the power to help?

visiting the sins of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generation

Even in His preliminary dealing with sin via the first covenant, He sets limits on how far sin can go. Only to the third and fourth generation, not forever. Some people have read this as “punishing the children for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generation”. God denies this specifically in Ezekiel 18, then later Jesus Himself kicks the supports out from under this idea; all those wrong-end-of-stick questions about “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” are decisively set aside by the Lord Jesus as totally wrongheaded. This difficult-to-understand verse, then, must mean something else. But what?

People live in families, and traits are passed down. Sons are like their fathers, and daughters like their mothers. If we’re not very careful to choose different courses, we reproduce in our own lives what was modeled for us by our parents. Therefore, part of the consequence of sin plays out in the lives of our offspring. Not because of some bio-spiritual law of inheritance, but because that’s how families are. If I have the sin of unrighteous anger, and I sow to that in my dealings with my children, I will reap from them unrighteous anger in return. To put it another way, part of the consequence of your sin is that you have to live in a family that does it back to you. This is almost the Divine equivalent of rubbing the dog’s nose in its business when you are training it to use a litter box.

But even in His punishment of sin, our Lord sets limits. He will not visit the sins of the fathers on their children down through all the generations. We are not spiritually fated to reproduce the sins of our unknown 12th-Century ancestors. We are not even spiritually fated to reproduce the sins of our immediate forebears. Sin has consequences, and God is not going to let us get away with it. But there is no fatalism that forces us to follow in the ways of our ancestors. Fatalism is for Muslims. We are followers of Christ.

Notice, too, that this doesn’t appear until way down the list. Normally the things first mentioned in a list are considered the most important; in this case, grace and compassion. This is in accordance with the rest of Scripture: “Mercy triumphs over judgement” and “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Yet there are consequences for sin, and God is not an enabler either. Sin cannot be permitted to endure forever. He will deal with it, because that, too, is who He is.

Faith (Chivalric Virtues series)

This is one of a series of posts on the chivalric virtues.  I am identifying seven chivalric virtues as detailed in this introduction.


I was initially intending to talk about courage as the first virtue in this series. It’s how I numbered them when I was originally coming up with the list. However, I’m feeling particularly uninspired to talk about courage right now, so I’m choosing to focus this time on faith.

There’s some justification for doing so. After I published the introduction and its list of seven chivalric virtues, I realised that if I combined mercy and justice (something that many will probably think is weird, but I have my reasons) and separated Humility and Fealty, then I could indeed tie them to the seven Mediæval planets as an interesting and altogether quite apt secondary symbolic system. Faith would, under this schema, be associated with Luna, which is the first of the Planets in ascending order. It makes a certain amount of sense.  The list of virtues is thus:

  1. Faith (Luna)
  2. Courtesy (Mercury)
  3. Mercy (Venus)
  4. Largesse (Sol)
  5. Courage (Mars)
  6. Fealty (Jupiter)
  7. Humility (Saturn)

Faith in its Mediæval sense is a considerably broader and (I would argue) deeper concept than our modern usage would suggest. In our regular usage, the primary meaning of faith is religious feeling or belief. We talk about our Christian faith, and about other faiths.

Our secondary meaning is closer to the Mediæval sense, but still lacks some of the full meaning of the term. We tell each other to “have faith” in a time of crisis – to keep on believing that God is good and that He will come through for us.

It’s still all about belief, though.

Faith in the Mediæval sense is less about a mere “belief” (like belief in ghosts or ufos) and far more about trust.

The knight Roland‘s chivalric vows included vows “to keep faith” and “always to tell the truth”, which are far more about one’s character than one’s beliefs. Allied far more to the Biblical idea of faithfulness, faith is perhaps best thought of as integrity and its outworking. Keeping our word. Being holy, because of Whose we are. Actively trusting God even in the face of circumstances. This is no mere “belief”. It’s a solid trust that God is who He says He is.

In the Bible, faith and faithfulness are often the same word. If you have faith, in this sense, you will be faithful. Integrity stems from trust in God and produces trustworthiness. The inside matches the outside, and both match Reality.

But why tie this to the Moon?

In Mediæval thought, the Moon was on the boundary, both subject to change (like the human realm) and constant (like the heavens). Above the Moon, one was in the heavenly places, where God’s will is done perfectly as we are told to pray it will be here on earth. Below the Moon, there is doubt and uncertainty, things are not what they seem and God’s good laws can have disastrous effects on our fallen natures. Above the Moon, there is certainty and full knowledge, even as we are fully known. The Moon, in Mediæval cosmology, was the boundary.

Thus, Luna embodies the idea of faith. Here below the Moon, we may not know, we cannot tell. All we can do is trust. Here below the Moon, there is uncertainty and things are not as they appear, but as citizens of a heavenly Kingdom it behooves us to live with the integrity of the upper realm.

The Moon was said to produce wanderings, not only physical travel but in the wits. The word is “lunacy” for a reason: it was thought to be the result of Lunar influence. Spiritually, this reminds us that we live beneath the Moon as “aliens and strangers in the world”, and that faith can sometimes look like madness. This world is not our permanent home. We’re on a journey, wandering beneath the moon, though as Tolkien reminded us, “not all those who wander are lost”.

Here below, faith looks like lunacy. Not only trust in God but trustworthiness and integrity are sometimes considered ridiculous. (Can you be a successful salesperson or politician and tell the truth at all times? If not, why not?) Faith (not only trust in God but also integrity) requires us to live as citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom.  If the outside lived in this world matches the inside transformed into the image of God, then certainly we are going to look strange. We cannot but help look like lunatics if we are going to be true to ourselves as a new creation in Christ.

An episode in CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair brings out what I mean. The two children, the newly-rescued Prince Rilian plus the gloomy but fundamentally honest Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum have been captured by an evil witch in Underland who is trying to lay them under an enchantment. Her siren-song causes them to forget their quest, forget Narnia, forget even Aslan Himself. But all of a sudden Puddleglum speaks up:

“You may be right. Your world may be the only world there is. But it’s a pretty poor world. WE may be just four babies playing a game, but four babies can create a play-world that licks the real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to live as much like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.”

He has kept faith. He’s true to the real Narnia even in the face of his own doubts of its existence. He speaks and acts with integrity and truth.

This is what faith is. Not “believing something you know isn’t true”. Not some mystical energy that causes God to do what we want, but being true to what is Really Real.

Just to Forgive

I have my wife to thank for the inspiration for this post, as it was basically her insight.


In the course of our church’s monthly Communion service, our pastor likes to quote from I John.

There’s lots of good stuff in I John, but one of the things he quoted yesterday was from chapter 1 verse 9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

Note the language used here. Not “He is faithful and merciful to forgive”, but “He is faithful and just”.

This verse ties God’s forgiveness, not to His mercy and grace, but to His justice.

I’ve said before that justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin, so this probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. However, I can be slow on the uptake sometimes, and perhaps I hadn’t traced out the implications of that as far as I had thought.

What makes this interesting, of course, is that we so often want to set justice and mercy in opposition to one another. Either you get justice or you get mercy, and we’d much rather get mercy.

Here, however, God’s justice is on display in His forgiveness of sins. Why should this be, and how?

Partly, this is a reflection of Hebrew thought. As I understand it, in Hebrew, the words for justice and righteousness are the same word. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but certainly there seems a lot of overlap, with some of our English translations going one way and others the other in translating the same Hebrew word (see, for example, “the righteous/just shall live by faith” Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17).

As the Righteous One, God alone is truly entitled to do something about sins. It is, after all, His Law that has been transgressed. Sins have an effect on us and on other people, but they are first and foremost against God, and as grievous as their effects on human beings may be, they pale beside their affront to the One who is Righteous. The Pharisees’ question of “who can forgive sins but God alone?” wasn’t so far afield; it’s just that they didn’t like the implications of Jesus claiming that prerogative. You don’t get to decide that this or that harmful act had negligible effects on me and can be forgiven by an outside third party, nor do I get that privilege for you. It’s the one sinned against that has the right to forgive. God is the One whose righteous law has been transgressed; God is the One to whom we owe the debt of sin. He is the One with the right to forgive. Similarly, we don’t get to hold other people accountable for their sins against God or against others when He has forgiven them. (This may be part of why showing forgiveness to others is a necessary part of being forgiven; I’ll have to think on that some more).

God is righteous to forgive.

But the idea of righteousness includes the idea of justice as we understand it. The legal acquittal of the innocent and punishment of the guilty. Punishment being neither too unreasonably harsh nor too unrighteously lax. Getting what you deserve. How is that on display in the forgiveness of sins? How can God be just to forgive?

Sin is often described in the Bible as a debt. Indeed, the church we go to even uses the language of debt in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

It’s a useful metaphor, but like all metaphors, it has its limits.

It can be easy to slip into a legalistic mindset, in which it’s all a numbers game. How can I pay off my debt to God? What righteous act can I do to balance the scales?

In this mindset, the fact that Jesus paid our debt of sin just means that now we owe God for that. If we fail to measure up to God’s exacting standards, He’s standing by with a hammer, just waiting to bring it down on us.

This is not God the Just. Real justice isn’t a numbers game. It’s not a balancing act of righteous deeds and unrighteous ones. Justice is an outworking of compassion as surely as mercy; shorn of this, it becomes the automatic, fatalistic idea of Karma.

It’s not just to forgive a debt and continue to hold it against someone. It’s not just to place a burden of repayment on someone that they can never repay. We call that “debt slavery” and it’s a great evil. Let us not in our thinking attribute this travesty to God.

God is just in forgiveness. When He forgives, He forgives. The fact that Jesus paid the price does not mean that we owe God for doing so. Jesus gave His life to show God and His Law as righteous, not to create a debt for us before God.

What does the Lord require from us for forgiveness? Repentance and faith.

These are two aspects of the same thing: metanoia, changing your mind and direction to agree and align with God, agreeing with both His jugdement that you have missed the mark and broken His law, and with His remedy, the atonement provided by Jesus. You can’t repent without exercising faith, because when you repent you change your mind to say that God is right and you aren’t, and you change your direction from going your own way to going God’s. This is faith: trusting God rather than your own understanding. Nor can you exercise faith without repentance, because when you trust in God you must agree that He knows better than you. Trusting necessarily involves turning away from your own understanding.

This is important stuff, because we can even make repentance into a sort of work we do in order to get forgiven, but the main point here is that this is not something beyond us. His grace is sufficient for the most hardened and self-willed anti-God sinner to exercise faith and repentance. And it’s not just for the hardened anti-God sinner, either. Or rather, that state describes each one of us, sooner or later. We’ve all decided we know better than God, decided that what He really wants is this or that righteous act, this or that quantity of faith (like faith is something we can measure and compare).

It’s simple, and just. Not a burden beyond the strength of any to carry; not an unreasonable requirement. Confess and be forgiven. Turn from your own way and align yourself with your Creator. You don’t have to continue in your self-centred, self-pleasing way any more.

He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Not only that, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In repentance and faith we align ourselves with God. We become motivated and directed by His Spirit. This necessarily includes the probability, as John goes on to say in chapter 2 verse 1 a few verses later, that we will not commit sins any more. How can we continue in sin, now that we are aligned with a righteous God?

We aren’t always that perfectly aligned, nor do we always stay that perfectly aligned. But if we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father. Getting back in line is as simple as confessing and being forgiven, because He is faithful and just. He forgives. It’s part of His justice.

Mother’s Day, 2014

Since it’s Mother’s Day here in America (Britain’s was earlier in the year.  It has a different origin and is tied to the date of Easter, so it moves around and I miss it), I thought I’d try to write something appropriate.

Trying to encapsulate my relationship with my mother in words is not nearly as easy as part of me thinks it ought to be, though.

Putting words to my relationship with my Dad is easier.  For a long time we had a difficult relationship, so I’ve spent a lot more mental energy analysing that one, at least partially in self-defence.  Make sense of it or die.

Mum, though, I always had a good relationship with.  There’s been far less reason to analyse.  But here goes…

We have, of necessity, a long-distance relationship, separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean and a severe dislike of the telephone on my part.  I’ve never been good at putting things into words verbally, and I’m even less good at remembering to actually do things like use the phone, or Skype, or get cards posted in a timely manner.  I get so focussed-in on what I’m doing right now that the rest of the world might not exist.  Mum will remember how I used to be with my Lego, or reading a book.  I haven’t changed that much, Mum.

I get my artistic side from her, particularly my love of bright colours and sense of what goes well together.  Mum has a really good eye for colour, even if she does tend to call blue green and green blue in the turquoise part of the spectrum.  Her ability to pick out matching or complementary colours is superb.

I almost certainly get my laid-back, easy-going nature from her.  I wasn’t a rebellious teenager, mostly (from my perspective) because it wasn’t worth it.  The rules were sensible and good: flexible and negotiable when you needed them to be, but at the same time I could never get away with very much.  She knew, either through some kind of maternal ESP or because I had the hiding instincts of your average three-year-old (“Where’s Johnny?”  <giggle giggle> “under the bed, mummy”).  She could always tell.

Mum’s artistic sensibilities came to flower in keeping the house looking nice.  I know I drove her to distraction with the ever-present second carpet of Lego in my room; she can feel avenged by the fact that my own kids now drive me around the bend by the carpet of paper bits and general stuff in their room.  You were right, Mum; it’s terribly tiring and depressing to walk into a room and not be able to see the floor.

Compared to the harsh dragon-women some of my schoolfriends had to deal with as mothers, I had it good, and I was wise enough to recognise it, even if not verbal enough to express my appreciation.  Mum was and is a good woman, faithful in some pretty hard circumstances through her life.

That faithfulness shows a quiet inner strength that you probably wouldn’t tumble to immediately.  To have lived through some of what she’s lived through and still come out the other side as intact in her basic personhood and personality as she is – basically upbeat and cheerful, insightful and sensible, able to give and receive love.  Amazing.

It was also my mother who led me to the Lord as a young child.  I can’t even remember how old I was, but I remember sitting on the orange bedspread (this was the ’70s) with her and asking Jesus into my heart.

Happy (American) Mother’s Day, Mum.

Who God Says He Is, part 3

Continuing in our examination of who God says He is when He passes before Moses declaring His name:…

Maintaining love to thousands

Constant in His favour and love. Not just showing love once, but continuing to love. Reliable in His love, so that His people are not high in His favour one day and cast out the next, based on the unfathomable whims of an inscrutable Deity. When He says He loves you, it is not something that fluctuates with the seasons, nor even with our own righteousness. Firm, trustworthy, a Rock worth building your life on. His love can no more change than He can cease to be the I AM.

Maintaining love, not just to a select few, but to thousands. Multitudes. No-one can say “well, He loves you, but He couldn’t possibly love me“. In most ancient counting systems, thousands were the highest numbers they had. The Greeks and some others had myriads – ten-thousands – but a lot of cultures at this stage stopped with thousands. It’s also about the biggest number the human brain can really grasp effectively. Talking of thousands to whom the Lord continued to show love is using a multiple of the biggest number. It’s as if He’s saying “yes, even you.” No-one is excepted from being loved by the Lord.

Forgiving rebellion, iniquity and sin

Because He is gracious and compassionate, because He is slow to anger, because He abounds with lovingkindness, and because He maintains love to thousands, He is forgiving. Forgiveness streams as naturally from His character as light from the sun.

Rebellion is the sin of willful disobedience. Rooted in pride, it will not humble itself and admit need or ask for help, but in its insanity assumes it knows best. Rebellion mistrusts the goodness of God, wanting instead to do its own thing and be its own arbiter. Contrary and stubborn, it will not yield, will not bow, will not obey, even when doing so is in its own obvious best interest. Perverse, it insists on its own way, will not take counsel, will not accept help, and will not bow the knee to the One who alone is worthy. And because it will not bow to true Authority, it creates false ones. Every tyranny on the planet is ultimately rebellious at heart. It’s no accident that with the sole exception of America, every rebellion or war of independence ever fought has turned almost immediately to despotism. It’s the spirit of rebellion.

Iniquity is impurity. Rejecting the pure and holy and craving the depraved and impure, it’s the dark, self-destroying impulse that wants what it wants, dammit, no matter that it is poison. Expressed in everything from sexual licentiousness and porn to gluttony, selfish ambition and abusive domination, it describes the fallen condition that takes drugs knowing that they will kill, which craves its own ruin and hates that which is pure.

Between them, they pretty much cover the bases of human depravity. But just in case we can come up with a reason why our sin is unforgiveable, He also states that He forgives “sin”, without categorization or modifying adjective.

It’s not because we deserve it. If we deserved to be forgiven we would not need it. He forgives because of who He is. Because if He did not, He would no longer be the gracious and compassionate God. He does it because He Is Who He Is.

Who God Says He Is, part 2

Continuing from my last post on this subject, this is part two of a series looking at God’s proclamation of His Name before Moses.
In ancient Hebrew thought, of course, one’s name signified one’s character. Thus, Jacob (“supplanter” or “deceptive”) becomes Israel (“prince of God”), and Abram (“exalted father”) becomes “father of a multitude”). So in declaring His Name before Moses, God is making a statement of what He is like. This is probably the clearest verbal statement we have in the Bible of who God says He is, of what He is like.
The clearest statement of what this looks like in practice was made some 1400-odd years later in the One whose very title is “Word of God”.

But let us continue in our examination of who God says He is:

Slow to anger
Not capricious and mercurial. Not dangerous and to be dreaded and feared, as if He will fly off into a rage over the slightest thing. Slow to get angry. Not quick to bring judgement, because He wants people to turn from their wickedness and gives every possible opportunity for them to do so.
A God who, though the all-powerful I AM, is in control of His temper. Who does not “lose it”. Who is not mastered by His anger or by anything else, but is in control of Himself. A God like this will not immediately whack off toes if they step out of line. It takes effort to bring Him to the point of executing judgement. Slow to anger, not easily provoked, not looking for an excuse to smite.
The gods of the nations were as capricious and easily angered as the elements – a Ba’al or a Chemosh who is slow to anger is a contradiction in terms. Only God can be rightly described as slow to anger, because only God is above the natural world and fully in control of Himself.

Abounding in lovingkindness and faithfulness
Bestowing His favour lavishly, with an ocean-sized bucket rather than a medicine dropper. Not counting how much favour He’s giving you, as if there are invisible limits after which He has to stop giving. “Sorry; you just exceeded the recommended dosage of My favour” are words you will never hear from the Lord. He gives with abundance, because He Himself is without limitation. “His bountiful care what tongue can recite”. We see it in wildflowers scattered on a hillside at the back end of nowhere, beauty mostly unseen by the eyes of man. We see it in the rain, which falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous, and on the sea, which is already full of water. We see it in the sun’s boundless energy and light scattered on the entire surface of the earth and out into space where it serves no purpose at all. Limitless abundance.
And an abundance of what? Of favour. Of lovingkindness. Active tender care. Kindness stemming from love. Limitless goodness. As Rich Mullins put it: “And this Man of no reputation loves us all with relentless affection”.
Affection is a mild word, but we so misuse the word love sometimes that perhaps it’s better to avoid it. Relentless affection, kindness, wanting the best for others, wanting to bless and to do good for.
And unlike people, able to see exactly what real good and real blessing look like, because He is not blinded by sin and is limitless in wisdom. Not only does He have the desire to help us in our need for redemption, but more than that, He doesn’t stop there. There is no room in His character for a Redemption that stops with justification. He wants to bless, and to do so abundantly. He wants to go on and sanctify totally, to enable us to walk in His abundant favour, enjoying Him and in close, harmonious fellowship with Him. He wants to do us good, to satisfy our desires with good things. For no particular reason, just because. Not because we earn it or because we deserve it, but because He wants to. It’s who He is.