Spiritual distancing #1

If there was a single phrase to sum up 2020, it might be: social distancing. Not many of us could claim to have heard of such a thing before the outbreak of COVID-19, but now it’s a phrase forever burned into our memories. 

Social distancing is one thing, but spiritual distancing is quite another. 

In my mind, there are two ways to define spiritual distancing – one we will think about today, and the other tomorrow. 

For today, spiritual distancing is a good thing, and something we do to protect our spirits from contact with unwanted things. With social distancing, we keep a physical distance from others to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With spiritual distancing, we keep our distance from anything that might harm or negatively affect our inner man. 

Don’t be deceived! “Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33 (WEB)


But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness.

1 Timothy 4:7 (WEB)


Also don’t take heed to all words that are spoken, lest you hear your servant curse you;

Ecclesiastes 7:21 (WEB)

Here are just a few verses which warn us to be very careful about what we listen to. 

Washing your hands regularly, keeping at least two metres away from other people, and wearing a face mask may help to keep your body safe, but do you treat your spirit with as much care? 

I have seen many social media posts and blogs suggesting we catch up on our TV streaming, bulk binge-watching episode after episode of one show or another. While I’m not against watching TV, if it is full of violence, sexual content and foul language, it is not going to build you up spiritually. Sadly, TV and movies are largely full of sinfulness and a poor excuse for entertainment. 

Since our movement has been restricted in the UK, I’ve been using social media a lot more. This is largely to stay in touch with people I am not able to see at the moment. The problem with social media is that much of it is downright negative. One person complaining about another, someone moaning about the service they received in a local store struggling to cope under stockpiling pressures, and sometimes just jokes in bad taste. 

There is no such thing as a spiritual face mask, or latex gloves which fend off spiritual germs. There is only one way to protect against such negatives – that is, cut it off. 

If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.[i] 30 If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.[j]

Matthew 5:29-30 (WEB)

Jesus was very clear.  If there is anything in your life causing you to sin, you should get rid of it altogether, even if it costs you a great deal. It is better to go without and not sin. 

Jesus may or not be talking literally here. While I am certain He does not want us harming ourselves, cutting off limbs or plucking out eyes, even that would be better than to end up in eternal punishment. 

Practically, if using your laptop late at night leads you into temptation to look at web sites you should not, then get rid of that machine! If you phone causes you to sin on social media, then throw that thing out. It is better to live without a phone than sin against God. 

It may sound extreme and of course, you may be able to find other ways of limiting your temptation without throwing out the device itself. The point is to do whatever it takes. Don’t play with fire. Don’t get burned by sin. 

What does this look like in your life? To what do you need you ensure you have adequate spiritual distance from? Media, internet, people? Whatever it is, protect yourself! Keep a safe distance! 

We spend a lot of time and effort on our bodies. We clean them, dress them, feed them and exercise them. These are all beneficial things to do. But don’t neglect your spirit. It also needs feeding with the Word of God. It needs exercising by doing good and being kind. If you wade it through the mire of sin, then there’s a chance it could get sick. 

For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come.

1 Timothy 4:8 (WEB)

Paul reminds us, in his letter to Timothy, that although physical exercise is good for this life, spiritual exercise is good for both this life and the next. 

The UK Government is allowing us out for one period of daily exercise. By all means, take advantage of that. But with all this extra time some of us have while in lockdown, why not take two, three or more periods of spiritual exercise as well?

What might spiritual exercise look like? 

You will never have a strong relationship with Jesus unless you spend frequent time in prayer – both speaking and listening. Likewise, you can’t hope to know God and His truth unless you spend a lot of time reading and studying the Bible. 

Meditation is another important discipline. Let me be clear though, I do not mean Buddhist or eastern meditation. Biblical meditation is about using your mind to think and ponder on the Scriptures. Imagine what it would be like to have been there with Christ in the flesh. Don’t empty your mind, like in eastern practices, rather fill your mind with God’s Word. 

Additionally, you must fellowship with other believers. That is difficult, i’ll admit, in our current situation but not impossible. Use the phone, use social media (in a positive way) and use good old fashioned paper and pen! The Apostle Paul wrote letters which have been read for two thousand years! Now, of course, those letters were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but there’s no reason you can’t write an encouraging letter which someone will treasure. 

There are many other ways we can exercise our spirits, but I want to close by asking you to exercise the fruit of love. Again, that may be more challenging in our current environment, but by no means impossible. Share God’s love with anyone and everyone you can. They need it right now, and it will do you no end of good either. 

Don’t let this lockdown be an excuse for spiritual laziness! Instead, let it be the exact opposite. 

 


Last week I recorded a short prayer video, which you can find here. I’m planning another one so would gratefully receive any prayer requests you have. Please feel free to comment below or else use the Prayer page to get in touch. Thanks. 

Stones that shout for joy

Today is Palm Sunday, and the day where we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. It is called Palm Sunday because of the crowds who lay palm branches and their own coats on the ground for Jesus to ride on as He entered the city. Think of this as a sort of “red carpet!”

In the village where we live, a usual Palm Sunday would see a group from the church walking from the town hall through to the church – led by a locally sourced donkey! It is quite a sight to be seen, and the children love it.

This year, due to the COVID-19 situation, this won’t be going ahead. Instead, many churches around the country and the world will celebrate online via live streaming. I hope, if nothing else, this reminds us how fortunate we are to be able to meet in person.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is recorded in Luke’s Gospel.

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” say, “The Lord needs it.”’

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’

34 They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’

40 ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’

Luke 19:28-40 (NIVUK)

As mentioned above, our church are not able to meet this Palm Sunday. Our family had agreed to lead the prayers that day, so made a little video instead. My daughters danced in the background, waving homemade palm branches while I talked a little about Jesus’ entry into the city.

I pointed out that if we are ever in danger of missing an important point from the Gospels, then often the Pharisees come to our aid. In the video at least, I’m not sure I fully explained why – so will try to do a better job here!

As Jesus enters the city, the crowds begin to praise Him. They cut branches from the trees and lay out their jackets for Him to ride over. Verse 38 records the words they began to shout: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is a direct quote from Psalm 118.

When the crowds do this, the Pharisees immediately stand to attention and tell Jesus to rebuke His disciples. Why? Because they knew, as well as Jesus did, that Psalm 118 and these words in particular are Messianic. They know that the crowds are acknowledging Jesus as the King who was to come.

The Pharisees do not want anyone to recognise this. They don’t believe it themselves, and essentially consider it blasphemy. They are saying, “Jesus! These people are proclaiming you as the Messiah! Stop them!”

How does Jesus respond? By telling them that if the people refused to cry out, then the very stones themselves would begin to praise.

Palm Sunday is the fulfilment of a very specific prophecy from the Old Testament book of Daniel. In that, the angel Gabriel declares the exact day in which the Messiah would be presented to Jerusalem as King, and that day was this Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city. You can hear more about this in my message – Prophecy and Palm Branches which I will put at the bottom of this post. You can hear more of my talks in the Audio section.

While I was in Jerusalem a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to walk the road that Jesus went down that first Palm Sunday. As we walked, I picked up a small stone from the ground which I have kept as a keepsake. Of course the stone itself was not there the day Jesus was, although that would have been nice, but it is a little reminder to me. If I do not praise God, then maybe that little stone might cry out.

When you are next out, doing your daily exercise, or the next time you take a turn around the garden, why don’t you also pick up a stone. You can put it somewhere that you’ll see it, and every time you do, take a moment to praise and thank God for His Son. Otherwise that stone might shout for joy instead of you!

Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem knowing full well where it would lead. Less than a week later, He would be nailed to a wooden cross and bearing the punishment for us all. That crowd which praised Him on the way in, would soon change their tune and shout “Crucify him!”

Remember why Jesus did it. It was for you and for me. I see Palm Sunday as the peak at the top of a roller-coaster – that moment where all seems to freeze before it races downwards the other side. Jesus is being rightly praised, but would soon plummet into the shame of a sinner’s death – undeserved. He did it for you.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy week.


Palm Branches and Prophecy


 

Time or Effort? (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

It’s not the time you put in, but what you put into the time.

Time and effort are not always correlated. Just because we have spent a lot of time on something, does not mean we have put a lot of effort in. The reverse is also true. A lot of effort does not necessarily mean a lot of time.

Prayer is a classic example of this. Just because you’re putting in long hours of praying, does not mean you have spent any quality time with God. In a similar way, you can have a really good relationship with God but have no need to spend hours and hours and hours of lengthy, set aside prayer time. Although praying little and often is the only surefire way of having a good relationship with God.

We tend to spend our time on the things that we care about. And in that sense, our relationship with God should certainly capture the majority of our time. But it is not about the quantity of time with God, but rather the quality.

If you spend a daily prayer time with Jesus, then that’s great and something every Christian should do. But don’t measure that time by its length, measure it by its quality.

 

Put your time into your relationship with Christ. Remember, it’s not about how much time you spend, but about how much you put into that time. May you be extremely blessed in your time with Jesus today and always.

Are you ready for the bridegroom?

When writing this blog, I sometimes prepare a post in advance and schedule it for release. This is particularly useful on days when I know I am going to be busy and probably won’t get the time to write. Since posting daily over the last couple of weeks, this is increasingly important.

Today was a day when I had a post already written and scheduled, yet as I was praying this morning, I had the sense that I needed to write something different.

The pre-written post will come out another day of course, so won’t go to waste, but I felt especially pressed to share on the parable of the ten virgins today.

Jesus told a story about ten virgins. This sounds a little odd to our ears, but what He was referring to was ten young women who were prepared for marriage. In His day, betrothed women would await the coming of their bridegroom. They would not know when exactly he would come, so they would have to keep watch and be ready.

The parable comes from Matthew’s Gospel, and goes like this:

Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.[a] 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Matthew 25:1-13 (WEB)

Jesus is deliberately contrasting the five wise virgins with the five unwise ones. The five who were wise went out well prepared. They took sufficient oil with them, ready for the potentially long wait. The other five were not well prepared and so came up short. While they were away getting their oil, they missed the coming of the bridegroom and were locked outside.

There is a clear warning for all of us here. We must prepare and be ready for the coming of the Bridegroom. That is, we must be ready for when Jesus returns.

We must not only prepare once, but live prepared. We do not know the day or the hour when He might return, and so we must treat every day like it is the one where we see His coming.

When I look at my life, I sometimes try to imagine Jesus returning. What will HE find me doing when He appears? I hope He finds me being a good witness, living in obedience and I’m not wasting my time on pointless TV or worse sinfulness.

My point is to simply tel you to be ready for His appearing. Make sure you are right with Jesus, and that you have trusted your life to Him. Time is finite for us, and we will all only have so many opportunities to respond to God’s call. It really will be too late one day, so don’t put it off.

I could end the post here, but the parable has more to say than this. What I have said above is not untrue, but let’s look at it again.

All ten virgins were awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Verse one tells us that all ten took up their lamps and went out. The way I describe the warning from the parable above sounds more like a warning to those outside of the church – that is, those who don’t know Jesus. Yet, maybe this parable is meant for the church itself, and not those outside.

The church is described as the “Bride of Christ,” and so this parable is indeed fitting to be applied to it. The virgins, wise or otherwise, all went out to meet their bridegroom. The whole church went out to meet Christ, but some were not ready. This parable may in fact be a warning to those in the church that we should not lapse in our readiness for Christ.

We do not want to be counted among the unwise virgins, locked out of the wedding feast because we were not ready.

Whichever way you apply the parable – to the world or to the church, the message is the same. Be ready for Jesus.

How can you do that today?

You must start and continue to trust in Him. Your good works cannot save you. The only thing that can deal with our sin once and for all is the precious blood of Jesus. He shed that blood on the cross so that you could go free.

If you are part of a church, yet have not made a commitment to Jesus, then you are one of the unwise. Church attendance does not save you, only Jesus does. That is not to say that church is unimportant of course, but it is not enough.

Set aside some time to pray to the Father. Don’t wait until tomorrow; do it today! Talk to God about where you are spiritually. Confess your sins, and ask Him to forgive you. He is so willing to do so! Ask Him to help you prepare for the coming of Christ. Whether it is one hour, one day or one century away, there is no better time than now to be ready.

Good News

And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. 2 That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed.

3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7

The word Gospel simply means “Good News,” and in a world where the news is rarely good at  the moment, I wanted to share some very good news with you.

There was a man named Jesus, and He died.

On the face of it, that may ot seem like very good news at all, and certainly not for Him. But Jesus was no ordinary man.

Let me start at the beginning…

God created the heavens and the Earth, and part of that creation was us – humanity. We did not evolve from some etherial slime, nor did apes one day mutate into human beings. God made us; He fashioned us from the very dust of the ground and breathed spirit into us.

God lived with us, and gave us only one rule to follow. We broke it. That one act of disobedience shattered the world, and this we call “sin.” Sin is doing wrong things of course, but deeper than that, it is a nature we are born with. We sin because we are sinners, not the other way around.

God was just, and knew He had to punish sin. Yet He loved His people and did not want them to perish. So from that very moment humanity fell, He put into action a plan He had in mind from the very beginning.

God took human form. God became flesh. We know that flesh as Jesus Christ.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago. He lived a perfect life, a life where He never disobeyed God and a life untouched by the sinful nature the rest of us has.

According to God’s plan, the “religious people” of the time did not recognise Jesus for who He was, despite hundreds of prophecies which told of His coming. As He was upsetting their religious applecart, they betrayed Him and had Him arrested. He was put through several illegal trials, and despite a total lack of evidence, they convicted Him. Although having done nothing deserving of death, they executed Him on a cross.

Jesus died on that cross, and we know this for sure. He was buried in a tomb where His body lay for three full days. On the third day, when they went to anoint His body, they found the tomb empty and His body gone.

Jesus had defeated death, and come back to life again. I know it sounds far-fetched, but there were many witnesses who saw Him after He had died. Those who saw Him went on to die for their belief, and those few initial follows grew into the global church we know today.

What does this all mean for you, here and now in 2020?

The Bible, which is a recording of God’s teachings to His people, tells us that Jesus’ death was really the death that you and I deserve. He took our place. That sin which taints us all and did not taint Him, meant we could swap places. Jesus took on the death we deserved, and we, by putting our trust in Him, can go free.

Death comes for us all in the end. This current COvid-19 crisis may have made you think about it more than usual. For many of us, particularly the young, we don’t think all that much about it. But death is a certainty, and one we all face sooner or later.

The Bible says that one day we will all stand before God and give an account for our lives. There is essentially just one question for us to answer: “Did we believe and put our trust in Jesus Christ?” That is to say, “Did we accept His sacrifice to pay for our sin and put Him in charge of our lives? ”

If you faced death today, what would your answer be?

There is no better time than now to start a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Tell Him you believe in Him and what He did at the cross. Ask Him to forgive you, and surrender your life into His hands. You will never be truly free until you do.

If you make that commitment to Christ today, then I’d love to hear about it. Please get in touch or comment below. The Christian life is not an easy one, but the eternity will forever make up for any hardships of this earthly life.

Praying for you

“…pray without ceasing,”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) 

I recently posted on my social media feeds asking for any prayer requests you had. At a time like this in the world, I don’t think we can pray too much! Indeed, Paul advises us in the verse above to “pray without ceasing.” 

In this, my first video post, I spend a few minutes praying over the requests that I have received. I hope you enjoy it. Please do pray along with me. 

Andy praying over the request he has received


If you have anything you would like prayer for, please do get in touch. You can use the contact form in the site menu or get in touch via social media. Feel free to leave a comment to this post also with any requests. I’d be glad to make another video and pray for you. 

God bless.

On (Christian) Blogging

This post lands on Tuesday 31st March, and I think is the 15th day in a row where I have posted. That is a pretty good run, and although I did not start this because of COVID-19, I am carrying on because of it. There is so much negative news going around, and I just want to put a bit of positive material out there!

And so encourage one another and help one another, just as you are now doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (Good News Bible)

Blogging is a funny business, and even more so when you are a Christian blogger! As I mentioned above, I’ve been blogging daily for a couple of weeks now. My post last Friday – A Jealous God– has not been read by anyone at all, as far as I know… and yet a day later, Saturday’s post – Lessons from the Supermarket– has been one of the most read posts I’ve ever put out!

Why? Not a clue! Was it because Friday’s post was terrible and Saturday’s was amazing? I suspect not. It is just one of those things.

When I hit the publish button, I generally have no idea what kind of reception a post might get. Comments are a little few and far between, but that’s ok. I try to trust God to put out the right words at the right time, and let Him do the rest.

One reason Saturday’s post was more successful than others was because someone shared it on their social media feed. It is surprising how effective that can be at geting the word out. I know there are algorithms managing social media in the background, and just because I post it does not mean you get to see it, but occasionally it all comes together.

If you enjoy a particular post or the whole blog in general, please do share it. The sharing buttons are right at the bottom, so it’s easy to do.

Likewise, literally LIKE-wise, please do hit the “like” button if you enjoy what you read. It keeps me, and any writer, encouraged. If we see responses to what we are putting out, then it gives us that little push we need to keep on going.

In a similar way, follow the blogs or channels that you like. Subscribing is not like a marriage; it’s not a big commitment!

I know that at times my posts are a little hit and miss. I might go weeks without posting, and then suddenly I’ll release posts daily for a long period. Life just happens on this side of the keyboard, and as much as I’d like to commit to posting every day without fail, I do just that – fail – at times.

I am not the most accomplished writer in the world, nor am I the perfect theologian. I write about Jesus and the Bible because they are important. In fact, there’s nothing more important.

I keep going because of verses like the one above. In that verse, Paul tells us to encourage one another. That’s what I hope to achieve with this blog. I make no money from it, and it is unlikely fame will follow either (not that I want that!). I do it because of every single reader. If even just one person reads a post and is inspired to build up their relationship with God, then it is worth it.

What can you do to encourage someone today? If you live somewhere where you are forced to be at home at the moment because of COVID, then you might need to be a little more creative. Thank God for the telephone!

My wife is rather good at encouraging people. Just this morning she left a note of encouragement and a chocolate bar out for the postman. As a key worker, he is not isolated at home but out and about, making deliveries and in some ways actually risking himself to ensure we keep getting letters and parcels. Just a little note may give him that boost during this tough time.

So what can you do?

Phone or text every person in your contact list. Send a PM to all of your Facebook friends – individually. Write a letter, the old fashioned way. Send someone a Bible verse and pray for them.

If you are stuck for ideas, then pray about it. The Holy Spirit is excellent at coming up with new ways of doing things. He can certainly point you in the right direction!

Failing all else, click the like button below… that will really encourage me!

Thanks and God bless

How can I #pray for you?

For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the Good News of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers,

Romans 1:9 (WEB)


Now I beg you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,

Romans 15:30 (WEB)

Prayer should be as essential to a Christian as breathing. Yet, it is often only in difficult times – such as the one we are all facing right now – that we truly turn our hearts to God in prayer.

The Bible encourages us to pray in very many places, and I share a couple of verses above from Paul’s letter we know as Romans.

In the first verse, quoted from the very first chapter, Paul tells his readers how fervently he is praying for them. He says both “unceasingly” and “always” in the same sentence, showing us that this is not some passing, throw away prayer, but a constant remembering of them.

I want to follow Paul’s lead and pray for you in like manner. I will record a video message praying for all the readers, family and friends, and really want to encourage you to send me your prayer requests. If no one responds, that’s not an issue as I have many people I know need prayer at the moment. However it would be great to be able to receive requests from you and pray with you.

You can send your prayer requests to me by commenting on this post, commenting on my social media posts or by using the contact form on the web site. Please confirm that you are happy for me to mention the request on a video, but I’ll always only ever use first names to keep things private.

I have no idea what response I will get. But know that I will pray over every request I receive (unless I get millions of course, and then I might need your help!) and please watch this space for the videos to appear.

Please also share this post with anyone who you think might need prayer at the moment, and encourage them to send any requests they have.

God is faithful, and He is listening. Even though things may seem bad at the moment, please don’t ever doubt God’s love for you and the fact that He is in total control. We who trust in Him have no need to be afraid. Not because bad times won’t come, but rather because He will carry us through them.

Our second verse today sees Paul asking his readers to pray for him also. He has told them how committed he is to praying for them, and asks for that same commitment in return.

While I cannot demand anything anywhere near the same degree as Paul could, I do also ask for your prayers. I need God’s help, mercy and grace as much as anyone and so, even in small ways, please strive together with me in prayer.

Prayer has tremendous power, not because of us, but because of who we pray to. Praise be to the god and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hears and responds to our prayers both day and night! Amen

Mercy or Faith? (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Don’t mistake Gods mercy as a response to your faith

Have you ever had a situation where someone said “God will protect me,” even while walking into a potentially dangerous situation? 

With the ongoing situation with COVID-19, you might have even heard this recently. “I’m carrying on as normal because God will protect me from harm.” They claim that this is faith, but also walks dangerous close to “testing God”. 

The thing is, if the Christian who says such a thing does indeed stay safe, then they feel somehow justified and “proved right.” We must never mistake God’s mercy for a response to our faith. Such a Christian may have been protected by God’s mercy rather than any act of faith on their own part. 

I am not against faith of course, and absolutely you should do what you believe God wants you to. Faith should not replace common sense however. God may sometimes call us into dangerous places, but for most of us, we just need to live wisely. 

Follow Government advice and stay home during the COVID crisis. Don’t test the Lord by putting yourself in harms way. This is ultimately being selfish and not thinking about how your choices may affect others. 

Thank God for His mercy!

Lessons from the supermarket

It has been a while since I was last in a supermarket, I’ll admit… my wonderful wife does nearly all of the shopping for the family and so has had to face the hoards of stockpiling assassins for a couple of weeks now. A fabulous job she has done!

I am no stranger to the supermarket however, and was reflecting on a few things we could all learn from our experiences there. 

Lesson #1 – Put your trolley back when you’re finished

In my student days, our university campus was close to a large supermarket. The staff were all too aware of the havoc unruly students could cause with their shopping carts. Often they would be seen trying to take them back to their student digs, or even using them as a primitive form of transport. 

I remember once being approached by a member of staff, reminding us that we could not take the trolley off of the premises. I was a little indignant, as I had not planned on stealing the precious cart. I recall we took it to the very limits of the property before said member of staff came trotting after us to ensure we went no further. 

Put your trolley back when you’ve finished with it. Once you’ve unloaded it into your car, think of someone else and take it back where it belongs. Don’t just dump it wherever suits you, and definitely do not prop it up against someone else’s vehicle. That’s not ok. 

Believe it or not, it really isn’t the supermarket’s job to go around collecting up trolleys that have been left all over the place. Take a moment to realise that at the moment in particular, they have bigger things going on. 

Lesson #2 – Put any unwanted items back where they belong

Not dissimilar to lesson one, if you pick something up that you later decide you do not want, please put it back where it belongs. 

We’ve all seen it, if not done it, where we pick up an item and then three aisles later realise we no longer need it. Rather than go back and replace it,, we just put it on the most convenient shelf. That’s how you end up with cauliflowers mixed in with detergent. This, also, is not ok. 

Think of the person who has to sort that out later. Supermarket staff have a job to do, and chasing after you to put back things in their proper place is not generally covered. It’s rather lazy and selfish to just leave things lying around for someone else to pick up. 

Lesson #3 – Don’t take more than you need

In the UK, we are extremely fortunate to have so much choice and abundance in our supermarkets. On a “normal day” we can pop in to even small supermarkets and get everything we need, and usually have a choice of items. We don’t know how fortunate we are! 

In recent days, we’ve seen so many people stocking up in case of shortages. Toilet rolls have been a particular prized item, and we all saw pictures on the news of people loading up shopping carts full of hundreds of rolls! 

How many toilet rolls do you need exactly?

In times of isolation, it is perfectly reasonable to pick up a few extra items to ensure you don’t have to shop more often than required. But when you take so much all in one go, it usually means someone else will miss out. And there is a possibility that that person needs it far more than you do. 

If everyone just took what they needed, and no more, then there would be plenty for everyone.

Lesson #4 – Be kind

Be kind. Just be kind. 

I saw a story on the news this week about a member of staff manning a checkout. A customer wanted several of the same item, but the member of staff told they there was a policy of only three items per person. There was an exchange, and in the end the customer spat at the member of staff. I need not say how utterly disgraceful such behaviour is. 

Be kind to your fellow shoppers. Don’t push them around or cut in front of them. Be kind to members of staff who really are working hard to ensure everyone can get what they need. 

Is this biblical?

“This is all very well, Andy,” you might be thinking. “But what does this have to do with the Bible?” 

Actually, I think it has a great deal to do with the Bible. 

The Bible is not a book to be studied academically. It isn’t just interesting. It is a guide for how God wants us to live (among other things). We must turn the Bible’s teaching into practical action. 

You could sum up the above lessons into: 1) Don’t Be Selfish and 2) Be Kind to People. there is clear Scripture to support these two points. 

Turn my heart toward your statutes, not toward selfish gain.

Psalm 119:36 (WEB)

And also:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,[a] 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (WEB)

To name but a few. 

The point is, how we live and act in the world is a witness for Jesus. It can be a good witness, or it can be a poor one. 

Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, let’s do our best to represent God well in the world. We are His ambassadors. 

We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (WEB)

Let’s act like God is watching, because He is. Let’s act as though the world is also watching, because they are too. 

A Jealous God

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 4:24 (ESV) 

God is a consuming fire; a jealous God. What does this mean? 

A consuming fire is a fire which devours everything in its path. It is not contained nor containable. You may have seen the recent bush fires in Australia appearing the news. These fires were unimaginable. Huge swaths of land were utterly devastated by fires which raced unceasingly across the continent. No human endeavour could stop them. The effects of these fires may be felt for years to come. This is a picture of a “consuming fire.” 

While God is of course not like this, bringing devastation in His path, the bush fires were all-consuming for those involved. We cannot have a little bit of God in our lives. It is like saying I am a little bit on fire. 

Likewise, God is a jealous God. 

Jealousy in a human being is an ugly thing, but not in God. We become envious when we feel threatened, inadequate or coveting what we cannot have. God never feels such things. God can legitimately be jealous because absolutely nothing compares to Him.

God is not satisfied being second or third in our lives. Nothing should shift God out of His proper place in our lives. 

In his book “Not a Fan,” Kyle Idleman says that God is not even happy being the first of many, but rather should be the One and Only. 

God should not be one of many competing priorities in our lives. He should not be fighting for out time or attention against anything else; even family, work, hobbies or even church ministry. God absolutely should be our everything, and nothing else should compare. 

Jesus said:

“If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (WEB)

This is a tough verse! 

Jesus is not saying, I believe, that we should hate our family. Rather, He is saying that our love for Him should be so far above any other concern, that all other comparisons look like hate. 

God is a jealous God, and our love for Him should be paramount. 

What does this mean for us? 

Ask yourself how serious you are about your relationship with God. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about my own relationship with Jesus, and how it needs much more of my time and attention. 

If God really is “God,” then how can anything else in life be anywhere near as important? 

I was once told that we can assess how important anything is to us by looking at our diaries and our chequebooks. What was meant was that how we spend our time and our money tells us a great deal about our priorities. 

If I spend all of my spare time watching TV, and spending my money on my hobbies then I cannot really claim that God holds His rightful place in my life. Instead, if my time is spent with Jesus, and my money spent on furthering that relationship or building His Kingdom, then clearly I am putting Him first. 

I know it is a challenge, and none of us will get it perfectly right all of the time. In recent days, many of us have been “blessed” with a lot of spare time as our plans have been cancelled due to the C-19 virus. What are you going to do with that extra time? 

God is jealous of you and your time. His fire should “consume” our lives fully. Is that true for you? If not, what can you do about it?

Promises, promises (Psalm 91 part 2)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
and ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes,
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made Yahweh your refuge,
and the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he will put his angels in charge of you,
to guard you in all your ways.
12 They will bear you up in their hands,
so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.
14 “Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him.
I will set him on high, because he has known my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble.
I will deliver him, and honor him.
16 I will satisfy him with long life,
and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (WEB)

This is a second post on Psalm 91, and you can read the first part here – Read the Bible… literally?

Last time, we started to think about whether the Bible should be read literally or not. And the answer was “It depends…”

Some passages are clearly poetic or allegorical and should not be taken literally. Likewise, other passages of Scripture are definite instructions that should be followed as such.

Psalm 91 has some amazing promises, and at this time in the world, there are many Christians quoting these promises of protection against the Corona virus. Is that appropriate however?

Can we interpret these verses as meaning God will protect us from harm, violence, pestilence and the like? Or is there more going on here?

We really want to be able to believe these promises and interpret them literally. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have total protection against these things at all times? But us wanting it to be true is not the same as it being true.

I recently heard someone preaching on these verses and essentially saying that if you have sufficient faith, then you can accept these verses at face value and it only fails to work for those who fail to trust God sufficiently.

That’s the risk. We read these verses and if they seem untrue in our lives, then we conclude we don’t have enough faith. When we water down God’s Word to the point where we say, “If we do this, then that will happen…” We make the Bible a scientific formula in a way it was never intended to be. 

Look at the evidence of your life. If you are reading this, then chances are you are probably a believing Christian. Can you say you are without trouble, violence or illness at all times? If not, then is that because you have failed to trust God? Again, I doubt it.

When Jesus was being tempted by the devil, the enemy quoted these exact verses to the Lord.

Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and,
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you don’t dash your foot against a stone.’”Psalm 91:11-12

7 Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.’”Deuteronomy 6:16

Matthew 4:5-7 (WEB)

It seems to me that the devil was trying to tempt Jesus into believing that these verses were literally true. He was enticing Him to test God by forcing Him to uphold the promise. If Jesus leapt from the roof, then angels would have to be issued to stop Him dashing His foot or on a stone.

Jesus responds perfectly and says you should not put God to the test.

If the devil is trying to get Jesus to test this promise, and He refuses, why do we think we can get away with it?

Similarly, if it was a matter of how much we trust God, then Jesus has us beaten. None of us can claim to trust the Father to the same degree that Jesus did. Jesus trusted His Father perfectly. If that’s the case, and if these promises are literal, then Jesus should have been able to draw upon them.

The psalm itself gives us a hint that there is more to these words than just their face value. Verse 15 says, “He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” Be with us “in trouble”? But don’t the earlier promises suggest we won’t have any trouble?

So, where does this leave us? 

We must understand this passage in the light of other passages. Indeed, all Scripture must be understood in its proper place among the context of the Bible. 

Take Job. He lost everything; his health, his wealth and his family. As he sat down with his three friends, they essentially told him that all this happened because he did not trust in God. That is exactly what we are tempted to think when trouble comes to us. Yet, at the end, God appeared and pronounced that the friends had not represented Him well at all. 

Likewise, Jesus Himself said:

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (WEB)

Jesus says it plainly. While we live in this world, we will have trouble. He was neither ignorant of Psalm 91 nor contradictory of it. 

It is my belief therefore that this Psalm is about God’s faithfulness to His people. He does offer protection, refuge and defence, but often in the midst of the trouble befalling us. Our faith is not a weapon allowing us to remove every difficult and unpleasant thing in our path. Rather it connects us to the One who has overcome all of that, and walks through the trouble with us. 

I wish I could promise you that the Corona virus, or indeed any illness, will never affect you. Some teach that. Healing is very real, and I’ve have both heard and seen amazing miracles banishing sickness from someone. I do not believe God wants us to be sick, but neither do I think God’s primary concern is our comfort. 

God is more concerned about our eternal destiny, than our present and temporary trials. 

In our limited human minds, it is very difficult to try to grasp God’s wider purposes, especially when it comes to times of trouble. That’s where the trust comes in. God doesn’t reward our trust by removing all problems. Our trust in Him reminds us that He is in control, even when things go wrong. 

God is our refuge. He is most certainly our fortress. Life may get difficult, and it may even come to an end. God takes the long view however. This life is not all that there is, and eternity is a very long time in comparison. 

let this psalm inspire you. Let these wonderful words bring you into a place of praise and trust of our Heavenly Father. Ask Him to protect you from harm of course, but trust him if it does not happen as you had hoped. Don’t test God by putting yourself in harm’s way and demanding God rescue you. Instead, use your God-given brain and the leading of the Holy Spirit to avoid trouble where possible. If it comes, continue to rejoice in Him and your witness will speak volumes to a frightened world.