Knowing Christ

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 The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints c1370-1 attributed to Jacopo di Cione – National Gallery London

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16.17

The Church’s foundation is not only Christ but the knowledge of Christ. The tragedy today is that many of us in the Church lack such foundation. We do not know Him. To us He is a theoretical or doctrinal Christ, not a revealed Christ. But theory will not prevail against hell, which is what Jesus declares his church is to do. Have we perhaps forgotten what we are for? Visiting Western homes I have sometimes seen a beautiful porcelain plate, not to put to use on the table, but wired and hung up to the wall as a treasured ornament. Many, it seems to me, think of the Church like that, as something to be admired for the perfection of its form.  But no, God’s Church is for use, not decoration. An appearance of life may seem to suffice when conditions are favourable, but when the gates of hell come out against us, we know well enough, that what we each need above all is a God-given vision of His son. It is first-hand knowledge that counts in the hour of testing

Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness, September 5th

 

The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints c1370-1 attributed to Jacob di Cione, National Gallery London

Part of the main tier of the high altarpiece of San Pier Maggiore in Florence. The altarpiece was probably designed by Niccolo di Pietro Gerini, a Florentine artist with whom Jacopo di Cione often collaborated.

Jesus as King and Warrior

 

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 Ugolino di Nerio Panel from the Santa Croce Altarpiece c1324-5 National Gallery London

The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.  Revelation 1: 14-16

In the book of Revelation God shows us an aspect of His Son not shown to us in the gospels. In the gospels we see Him as Saviour, in Revelation we see Him as King. The one displays His love, the other His majesty. In the upper room Jesus girds Himself about His waist for service: at Patmos He is discovered girt about the breasts for war.  In the gospels His mild eyes melt Peter; in Revelation they are as a flame of fire. There His voice is gentle, calling His own sheep by name, and gracious words proceed out of His mouth; here His voice is terrible as the sound of many waters, and from His mouth a sharp two-edged sword strikes death to His foes. It is not enough that we know Jesus as Lamb of God and Saviour of the world; we must also know Him as God’s King, God’s Judge. When we see Him as Saviour we exclaim “How lovable!” and lean on his bosom. When we see Him as Monarch we cry “How terrible!” and fall prostrate at His feet.

Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness, June 9th

Jesus pours out His love on us but He also fights our corner.

 

Ugolino di Nerio, Panel from the Santa Croce Altarpiece, c1324-5, National Gallery London

This panel comes from an altarpiece painted for the high altar of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. The altarpiece was dismantled in the 16th century but its original appearance was recorded in an 18th century drawing. Many of the panels are now lost.

Defeat the Demons Within You

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 St Michael triumphs over the devil c 1468, Bartolomé Bermejo National Gallery London

 

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.  Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7: 14-23

Demons come from within. They are our thoughts and emotions – the thoughts and emotions of unclean spirits – and the nearer we get to God the more troubling they become. It is much easier to battle an outside enemy than see the enemy within.

The Desert Fathers, in their solitude, found that they encountered their own thoughts, feelings and emotions and they began to discern the good from the bad; the positive from the negative; those that lead us to God and those that block our path to God. The negative ones they called demons. They discovered that first we have to identify the demon to see what is working against us and they found eight primary demons of which we should be extra aware: gluttony; avarice; sloth; fornication, sadness, pride, anger, vainglory.

So, what is working in our lives to separate us from the presence of God? What is there that is not of the Holy Spirit in my life; that wants my good, my peace, my healing, my love. What is in my life that is hidering the fruit of the Holy Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22

There are motions in our hearts that do not lead us to God. They start with a thought – shall I go to the fridge and open that tub of ice-cream? Shall I surf the internet and see if I can find that picture? Nobody is interested in me, they never phone. She is so stupid, she deserves what she gets. If he does that again I swear I’ll hit him….and so on.

So be aware and capture that negative thought…’we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. 2Corinthinas 10:5

I know that in my case I have a critical spirit. I am an ultra-organised person and it drives me crazy when others are disorganised. I criticize and snipe and that causes discord.  Forgiveness is another difficulty for me – again coming from the same root – expecting too much from others and being disappointed and critical when I don’t get it. These two faults do not come from the Holy Spirit and they hinder His work in my life. They are my principle demons.

So –  first identify the demons that trouble you. Screen your thoughts and discern whether there are spirits within you that are negative, counter productive and blocking the work of the fruit of the spirit. We all have various negative scripts in our head – I’m not good enough; I’m not fit enough; I’m not clever enough; people don’t care about me – and so on. Name these negative thoughts and inspirations and then you have control.

Firstly work at the heart of the matter on the negative thoughts – capture them and reject them as soon as they trouble you. Remember that thoughts can come from without as well as within so do not panic if you find yourself troubled by really awful thoughts. They are an attack to try to stop your progress. Just reject these thoughts remembering that God is your shield. Then you can make a conscious decision to replace them with good and positive thoughts.

The way to do this is to ‘talk back’ to the negative spirit by using scripture passages that personally inspire you and touch your heart. They can be used as a weapon and protection. Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and it conquers bad spirits. Demons tell falsehoods and try to lead us astray but the Holy Spirit puts everything back in order and heals us.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. Psalm 28: 7

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 21:1

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 32:6

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 8:39

Finally, find good rituals and routines that keep you close to God – prayer, reading scripture, eucharist and fellowship. Remember that the Holy Spirit is stronger and more powerful than any negative spirit and all things are possible with God.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

 St Michael triumphs over the devil c 1468, Bartolomé Bermejo, National Gallery London The Archanger Michael is shown defeating the devil, a monstrous creature, part reptile, part bat. The kneeling donor is Antonio Juan, Lord of Tous. His prayerbook is open at two penitential psalms (51 and 130). This is the centrepanel of an altarpiece formerly in the parish church of Tous, near Valencia, Spain. One of the leading Spanish painters of the 15th century, Bermejo was active in Valencia and Barcelona. His mastery of the Netherlandish technique of oil painting suggests that he may have trained in the Netherlands.

Prayer From the Heart

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The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

Recently I heard a priest talking about a list of prayer requests that he keeps in his missal. He is often asked to pray for people and situations so he adds the requests to the list, prays them from time to time – the list is too long to pray them all every day – and every so often he reviews the list. I thought about this and there was something that didn’t seem right.

My experience is that God hears and answers prayers if they come directly from our heart, out of need, or compassion, inspiration or real necessity. Prayer isn’t about numbers – the more people praying the better – it is about clean, disinterested motives and fervour. Those are the prayers that go straight to Him and you only need one ordinary person who really cares about something to make a difference.

No matter how holy the person is who is praying, if he is praying from a list about people and situations he does not personally know, how are those prayers going to be anything other than lukewarm in reality?

A friend once told me an amazing story. She was a young nurse with two small children. One day she was on duty at the local hospital and she was giving a bed bath to a young mother who was in hospital with advanced breast cancer. As my friend was washing this woman she was suddenly overcome with compassion and sadness. She identified so strongly with her and her heart was sorrowful for the husband who was about to be widowed and the motherless children. It occurred to her that as she was washing the woman she was sort of laying her hands on her so, as she washed and touched her, she sent a little heartfelt prayer asking if it was possible that the woman could get better. She finished the bath and carried on with her tasks.

When she was next on shift she heard that the doctors had been mystified by a certain event. Apparently the latest tests on the woman with breast cancer had shown that the cancer had gone – completely – it just wasn’t there. The doctors were scratching their heads but put it down to one of those unexplained recoveries that sometimes happen.

But this is the amazing thing – my friend told me that she had been so happy to hear the news about the woman but that it was only several days later that she even remembered her prayer!

Her motives had been pure, heartfelt and disinteresed. She hadn’t needed a group of holy people praying from a list. All she needed was, at that moment, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God had wanted to heal that woman but needed the right person in the right place at the right time.

We have to be that right person in the right place at the right time – whenever or wherever we are.

Then we become the prayer.

 

The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

The Christ child holds a rosary. The open prayer book is inscribed with verses in Latin from the psalms. The Virgin’s halo is inscribed with the prayer ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord (is with thee)’. In the background, Carthusian monks oversee the construction of the Charterhouse at Pavia

Spirit Speaks to Spirit

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Probably by Lorenzo Monaco c1387-8 National Gallery London

 

 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16

For those of us born of the Holy Spirit there is not I – there is only WE. Those who are carrying the Holy Spirit within them are in communion with all others who are also carrying the Holy Spirit – all baptised believers.

Spirit communes with Spirit – for there is only one Spirit. We are even more than brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whether or not you realise it or feel it, the Holy Spirit within you is constantly reaching out to others and your mere presence can be a magnificent blessing without any effort on your part.

The spirit within you is a light to the world and you are the lamp that contains it and carries it with you. Your only responsibility is to nurture the Holy Spirit within you and, by doing so, grow in holiness and that means resembling Christ more and more each day.

 

 

Jesus is the Way

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Giovanni Battista Cima Da Conegliano c1510 National Gallery London

 

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’

 Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’

The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them. Exodus 19: 20 -25

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.  So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

‘“Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honoured.”’

Aaron remained silent.  Leviticus 10: 1-3

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The Trinity with Christ Crucified c1410 National Gallery London

Those who say they know God or have God are kidding themselves. God is so holy, so ‘other’ that we could not stand in His presence and survive. Our sin would destroy us. That is why Jesus came – to take our sin on himself so that we can stand in the presence of God and live.  Jesus explains this himself.   ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

When Jesus takes our sin onto himself it is so that we can approach our Holy Father and so that He can commune with us. God loves us but He also feels the burden and responsibility of our estrangement. Pure love in the form of Jesus was his answer – and what an answer!

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might:
thy justice, like mountains high soaring above,
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Help My Unbelief

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Noli me tangere – Master of the Lehman Crucifixion c1370-5 National Gallery London

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands towards your Most Holy Place.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you –
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore.

Mark 9:24 – Psalm5:2 – Psalm 18:6 – Psalm 28:2 – Psalm 72:12 – Isaiah 58: 9a – Psalm 121

Mary Magdalene first mistook the risen Christ for a gardener shown here holding a hoe. Mary kneels before him but he forbids her to touch him: ‘Noli me tangere’. This is an upper panel from an altarpiece by a Florentine master. Another pinnacle from the same work is in the Lehman Collection (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) hence the name given to the artist.