Our Example of Suffering

Due to ongoing COVID restrictions in our area, our church is holding a shorter, socially-distanced service in the building, followed by an online service straight afterwards. In the “live” services at the moment, we are working through a series on the “canticles” of the Bible. In case you are not familiar with the term, a canticle is simply a hymn, typically focussed on a specific biblical text.  

It was my privilege to be able to share a few thoughts this morning on the canticle called “The Song of Christ the Servant” based on 1 Peter 2:21-25. Here follows a written version of what I said this morning in church.  

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

22 “He committed no sin, 

    and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

I want to share a few thoughts with you today about the subject of suffering… and believe me, I know it is perhaps not the most exciting of subjects!  

If I asked you whether Christ was your example, I would imagine many of you would say a definite “Yes!” Christians the world over look to follow the example of Jesus and live as He did. Yet, if I asked you to follow Christ’s example in suffering, I would expect there to be at least a little hesitation.  

None of us enjoy suffering, and it is something we try to avoid at great cost. In our canticle today though, we see that Christ suffered for us, and that we ought to follow His example. Does that mean we are to seek out and jump straight into suffering wherever we can? I think not. Rather, I think we need only to live and sooner or later, suffering will find us in one form or another.  

As Christ said: 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. 

John 16:33 (NIV)

As long as we live in this world, we will indeed face troubles and suffering. I am not trying to be negative here, but it is a sad fact of life in this fallen world that trouble will come. Specifically though, for the Christian, we will no doubt suffer for the name of Christ. This is the thrust of Peter’s point here. The world did not and does not recognise Christ, and we, His followers, will always suffer for bearing His Name in this world.  

So, if we must suffer, how are we to act while enduring it? These words from Peter give us some ideas.  

For You 

Christ did indeed suffer, but it was not for Himself, it was for you. When we suffer, we must do so for other people and for our God.  

Whenever we put someone else first, we are making a sacrifice of some kind or another. When we act in a way that prefers others to ourselves, we are denying ourselves for their sake. Perhaps it may only be in some small way, but to put others first, we must put ourselves behind.  

In a greater way, we are to suffer for Christ.  

Peter says, in the preceding verses of 1 Peter 2: 

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 

1 Peter 2:20 (NIV)

There is no credit to us if we suffer because we’ve done wrong. If we break the law of the land, we can hardly claim any hardship for suffering. Yet, if we do what is right before God, and still suffer because and for our faith, then we are commended before the Lord.  

As it says in verse 22, Jesus committed no sin and yet was punished. He did not deserve the suffering He faced, but we, who cannot claim to be without sin, somehow feel we should be exempt from sharing in the sufferings of Christ. For many Christians living in the Western world, we have faced little in the way of persecution in recent times. That tide is turning it seems, and as we choose to live in a godly way, we will indeed face persecution from the world around us.  

So, if we must suffer, let us do so for Him, and for those around us. Let us show by example, that we suffer for the cause of the Gospel and for the benefit of others.  

Do Not Retaliate  

When Jesus was threatened, He did not threaten in return. When Christ was insulted, He did not respond in kind. Rather than using His authority and power to strike down those who abused Him, He chose instead to repay evil with good.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21 (NIV)

This is the example we are to follow when we likewise suffer. We are not to repay evil for evil, but good. When we are threatened or insulted because of our faith, we must not insult or threaten in return.  

That is not to say we should allow ourselves to be abused or mistreated for any reason at all, and where we can, we should flee from those who would harm us.  

Trust in Him Who Judges Justly 

When we suffer at the hands of others, we long for justice. An eye for an eye! We may cry! Yet, if we are following Christ’ example, we cannot retaliate against those who hurt us. Instead of doing so, Jesus trusted Himself to the One who judges justly – that is, God the Father.  

In the midst of deep suffering, it can be difficult to trust in God. We want to understand why we are facing the trouble we are, and we beg for Him to change it. This is not wrong.  

Yet we must learn to place our complete trust in God. When we are wronged, it is not our place to punish others. We cast our care onto the Lord, and we trust that He – the Ultimate Judge – will one day put right every wrong.  

God is indeed Sovereign, meaning He is in total control. That is a difficult doctrine to swallow during times of suffering. Why, we ask, would God allow such things to happen to us? Such answers may come, or they may not, but either way, we must learn that all God does is for His ultimate glory. God’s primary interest is not our comfort, but His glory. So, if we suffer, we do so for His glory, and we are glad to do so.  

Live for Righteousness 

The canticle concludes by pointing out what Christ’s suffering has achieved for us. He bore our sins in His very own body, He took the wounds that we deserve, and by doing so, He made a way for us to die to our sins and live for righteousness. Put simply, He paid the penalty for our sin, and by trusting in His work, we gain righteousness – that is, right standing with God the Father.  

Verse 25 uses the analogy of sheep. We were once lost sheep, wandering around at risk and in danger. But because of what Jesus did for us, we are reunited with our Good Shepherd, and will rest under His protection for all eternity.  

Christ’s suffering was not pointless, and neither is yours.  

Christ’s suffering was not in vain. His wounds, death and resurrection not only achieved your salvation from your sin, but the pinnacle of all glory unto God.  

If, when we suffer, we do so as Christ did, then we too can bring glory to God. When people around us see how we suffer, when they see that we do not return threats and insults, but instead trust in God’s justice, then they will want to know more about this Christ and what He has done.  

Let your suffering be a banner which draws many to Jesus. Amen!  

Willing to Pray

A while ago, I did a short series of blog posts on the subject of prayer. I’m sure if you search for “pray” or “prayer” in the search box, you’ll come across them. The first in the series was called “What is prayer?” and you can find it here if you’re interested.

In recent days, I have felt something of a burden to pray. Reading that back, I wonder if that’s really a good way to put it. A “burden” sounds like a heavy weight or chore, and it has not felt like that at all. Rather, it is an immense privilege to pray and what I have felt is a stirring of the Holy Spirit to pray more – much more – than I have been.

Truth be told, I’ve started to reflect on my Christian walk of late. On the back of the lockdown in the UK, it has been an extremely busy time in many different respects. Being honest with you, my prayer life has suffered. I run from one thing to the next, seldom stopping to pray over what I’m doing, and essentially crashing at the end of the day without taking time to converse with God about the events of the past 24 hours. Sound familiar at all? I’m sure I’m not alone.

Yet, the book of James tells us that:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16 (NLT)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces tremendous results… wow! Notice it is no throw-away prayer, but an earnest one. Earnest means sincere or serious in effort, it is not some half-hearted attempt. I could not honestly describe my prayers of late as earnest… can you?

Yet we see how powerful prayer can be! Prayers have great power indeed, and not because we’re so wonderful, but because God is. Prayers produce tremendous results!

How quickly I forget the power of prayer. How unconsciously I slip into not praying and not seeing the wonderful results which James speaks of. I am humbled as I write this, and ask our gracious God to forgive me and to remind me each and every day of the power of prayer. How dare we go one solitary hour without petitioning heaven!

King David was a man of prayer:

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 141:1-2 (NIV)

David continually cries out to the Lord, and expects a swift answer. he compares his prayers to that of sweet smelling incense, ever present before God. May my prayers be as sweet before the Lord, and I pray He will indeed come quickly to my aid when I call on Him.

So, I need your help… please do pray for me, of course, I always seek your prayers! But also, please do let me know how I can pray for you. If you send me a request, I will certainly pray for you and it will help me get my mind off of my own business and on to the things of God.

You can contact me via the Contact page, replying to this post or by commenting on any of the social media feeds. I look forward to hearing from you.

Prayer is indeed a powerful thing to do. I have said it before, but prayer must never become a last resort in our lives. In both good and bad times, prayer ought to be our very first step. It is not about getting all that we want from God, but about living life with Him.

I leave with you these words from the Apostle Paul, which I am sure you know well…

Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Words to live by. Amen!

Course in Christian Studies

This week I have started on the Course for Christian Studies. This is a two-year course designed to help Christians understand the Christian faith more deeply and to also act as a gateway into various forms of ministry.

For me, I’ve tried to study the Christian faith myself over the years and so hope these early weeks of the course won’t be too stretching for me! We shall see! Theological training is important, and week one of the course is entitled “You too can be a theologian!” Properly handling the Bible and understanding matters of doctrine is important for all believers.

I have wanted to get involved more and more in the life of my church. My gifts largely centre around teaching, and while I have been very fortunate over the years to be able to teach in a variety of ways, if I want to do more in my church then I do need to obtain more formal training. I understand this, and it is wise that those in positions of authority or teaching are properly equipped.

I have been praying a lot about my own ministry and its future. I am certainly keen to explore more formal ministry further, and completing this course is a great first step. Through it, I hope to learn al ot but to also meet other believers on a similar journey. Also, I hope it will help me to more fully understand God’s will for my life.

As I progress on the course, I will try to write about it from time to time. I won’t give you a blow by blow account, but hope to keep you updated on my progress and the things I am learning.

This first course module is all about Encountering God. Those on the course come from a variety of churches and backgrounds, and so we begin by getting to know one another.

One activity involved noting down words we use for and about God. These included:

  • Lion of Judah (see Revelation 5:5)
  • Lamb of God (see John 1:29)
  • Comforter (see John 14:16 (Amp))
  • Advocate (see John 14:16 (Amp))
  • Judge (see Psalm 75:7)
  • And so many more…

God is everything to us, and so one single name does not fully convey Who He is. The Bible refers to God in a huge variety of ways. Some you will relate to, and some you may find more difficult.

We can no more define God than we can measure the distance between east and west. God is beyond our comprehension, and we are shown various dimensions of His character throughout Scripture. And yet, paradoxically, we can know Him. We can know the unknowable. The Almighty God came down as a Man, a human being just like each of us, and He lived a life like we live.

It is a mystery that the God of the Heavens has made Himself known to us through His Son. The God so far above us connects with us on our level. He meets us where we are.

Who is He to you? I will be spending some time this week thinking about this question. Have I put Him in a box, and have I limited Him? Do I know Him as I ought to, or do I concentrate on the bits I want to? I rejoice in His salvation, but do I submit to His Lordship? Have I painted a picture of Him in my mind which is not true, and if so, how can I really learn Who He is from the Bible?

The course this week has challenged me to think about this. I do not wish to limit God, nor do I want to know Him only in part. He is Saviour and Friend, but also Lord and Judge.

We can know God through the Bible, but it tqakes effort on our part. We must study the Scriptures and learn about Him. Not just gathering facts about Him, but understanding Who He is through relationship. I may know my wife’s date of birth, hair colour, shoe size or telephone number yet these are just facts about her and tell me little of who she really is. Likewise, I may gather pieces of data about God and still totally miss Who He is.

Only through systematic study of Scripture can we fully know God as He is revealed to us. Let us leave behind any preconceptions or traditions, and see what the Bible really has to say. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help each one of us do that.

I hope this has been of interest, and I’ll post more about the course over the coming weeks and months.

Potatoes, Eggs and Coffee

I recently heard an interesting illustration I thought I would share with you today.

If you take some potatoes and put them in a pan of boiling water, after a short while, they will become soft and you can even crush them. Take that same pan of water, but instead, add eggs. After a time, the eggs, unlike the potatoes, will go hard. Finally, if you added coffee beans instead to that very same pan of boiling water, this time wonderful flavours and aromas of coffee will begin to emerge.

The point – we are react differently to times of trial. In our illustration, the rolling hot water represents a time of testing for us. If we are like the potatoes, we will become softened and ultimately crushed by the trial. If like the eggs, we would become hard and impliable. Or finally, we could be like the coffee, using the trial to produce something new and wonderful.

Which are you?

In the Bible, James says this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy James, come on! Who of us can ever face a time of great difficulty and be joyful in the midst of it? A Christian can, drawing on the strength of God.

No trial is enjoyable, let’s be honest, but we endure it because we know it has a purpose. Here, James points out that our testing and trials produce perseverance. There is a reason for the trials we face, even if we do not see it at the time.

James asks us to be joyful, and not happy. That is an important distinction. Happiness comes from the word “happenstance” meaning circumstances. We are happy when all of our circumstances are how we want them. Joy is not so dependent on such fickle things. Joy is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galations 5:22-23). We have joy not because our present circumstances are good, but because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.

Fruit must be cultivated and developed. I am no gardener, but we do have a small group of fruit trees. I’ve lost several over the years due to not properly taking care of them. The more I care for the tree, the better the fruit I get and the more abundant it is. If you lack joy, is it because you are not taking care of it?

I do not know what trials you face right now, but I do know you have a choice about how you handle them. Don’t let them crush you like the potatoes, nor let them make you hard like the eggs. Use them, don’t waste them! Lean on your Heavenly Father to get through them and be like the coffee, letting those times of difficulty bring out something new in you.

And do let me pray for you. Leave a comment below or on the social media links and I’ll be glad to pray for you and your situation.

Are you a potato, egg or delicious cup of coffee?

Help Me Do This Right

I once heard of a pastor who sadly lost his wife to cancer. In the midst of this tragedy, he knelt down and prayed. “Father God,” he said, “help me do this right.”

What this wise man meant was that he knew the pain of grief might tempt him to act badly at times. His prayer was a request that God would help him be a great witness for Jesus, even in the midst of suffering.

I have thought much about this prayer of late. I recently applied for a new job, and although not facing a tragedy like this pastor, I found myself adopting his prayer. “God, help me do this right. If I get the job, then please help me do it to the best of my ability. If I fail to get it, help me act right even in disappointment.”

Life throws many tests at us. Today, I want to focus on two major ones.

The Test of Failure

How we act when we face times of failure says much about our character. When we do not get what we want, or when disappointment comes knocking, it can be very difficult to act in a godly manner. It can be all the more trying when we set our hearts on something, don’t get it and our friend or enemy gains it instead.

Take my job opportunity example above. Imagine you were applying for your dream job, and yet your colleague, who isn’t all that good in your opinion, gets the job ahead of you. All the hard work you put in, and they step right into it. How hard it is to be civil in such a situation!

When we try, and try hard, and yet fail, it can be devastating. When we feel that way, we may start to feel like the world owes us something and so we take out our anger, disappointment or frustration on those around us. In such times, we can totally ruin our witness for Christ.

Jesus deserved the glory, yet was nailed to a sinner’s cross. He did not call down curses on those who had done it, but rather asked the Father to forgive them.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

None of us will face such a trial, thank God! Yet there is much to learn from our Saviour’s example. Had the story ended at the cross, then many may have called Jesus’ ministry a failure. Not so! In reality, the cross and the empty tomb alike, were the greatest success of eternity!

If Christ faced such a trial and acted with humility and mercy, then we must also follow His example and act in godliness when we face our own minuscule trials (in comparison).

Draw on Christ’s strength in times of failure. Ask Him to help you act and speak well in the midst of it all.

The Test of Success

The other test I want to mention is the test of success. Like the test of failure, it too offers a great temptation to abandon our humility and godliness. In some ways, the test of success is far harder to pass than the test of failure.

In times of failure and disappointment, we tend to turn to God, knowing that we absolutely need Him. In times of success however, we can start to believe our own hype and foolishly think we succeeded under our own merits or wits. When all is well and times are good, God can be forgotten. One off the major reasons for trials in our lives is to get our attention. Tests make us realise how much we need our Father God!

You have probably heard a number of stories of celebrities or entrepreneurs who started from humble beginnings, but were later inflated with pride and arrogance. Success in this world is often fleeting, and so these people come crashing down.

Few of us reach these dizzy heights of “success” in our everyday lives, yet many of us are blessed with promotions at work, election into church leadership, or taking a key role in the PTA or school governor’s board. Yet success can inflate our ego or puff us up. With success comes responsibility, and often success draws the eyes of others who will certainly notice if you don’t walk the Christian walk.

Be a Good Witness

Success or failure shows off our character. It displays to the world who we really are inside. If we claim to be Christian, then the world will soon point out our tiniest fault.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV)

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Acts 2:32 (NIV)

The prayer, “Help me do this right…” is so simple yet so powerful. I find myself praying it more and more. “Father, help me be the best dad I can be…” “Dear Lord, help me manage my employees well…” “Jesus, as I minister in your Name today, please help me do it right…”

What are you facing today? Do you need to pray this little prayer too? Heavenly Father, whatever we do today, let us do it right! Help us to be a good witness to Your love and faithfulness. When people look upon us, let them see You and what You have done for us. In the mighty Name of Jesus, Amen!

Love or Jealousy (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

If you truly love someone, then it is impossible to be jealous of them

Jealousy is an ugly thing. It is not something we talk much about today, and yet it is a prevalent problem in our society.

To be jealous of someone is to want what they have. Worse, it is to think that they don’t deserve it and that we do. At the heart of jealousy is selfishness. We look on what others have, want it, and our attention is all on ourselves. It may cause us to bitterness, it may cause us to act to undermine the other person, or in extreme cases we may even steal or destroy the very thing we want to prevent them from having it.

None of these are acts of love.

To love someone – to truly love them – is to want the absolute best for them. It has nothing to do with what we do or don’t have, it is just about them having the best. If we love someone and want them to have the very best they can, then it is impossible to be jealous of them. Even if they have the very things we want, that is all overridden by our desire for them to have the very best.

To love is to put them first. It is to put their needs ahead of our own. It is to focus on them and not on ourselves.

The cure for jealousy is love. I put it to you that if you are jealous of someone today, then you perhaps don’t love them truly.

Is there someone you are jealous of right now? What steps can you take to love them better?

Have a great day!

The Rule of Six

Here in the UK, the government have now introduced a new rule known as “The Rule of Six,” which means that outside of work or other specific situations, no more than six individuals should meet together. This is an attempt at preventing further spread of COVID-19 which is on the rise across the country right now.

Some have questioned the new rules, accusing the Government of having no science to back this up. While true, there are no scientific papers to support the idea of six people being anything other than an arbitrary number, it is more a practical decision. Previous rules were somewhat confusing about who could meet and when. The premise of the Rule of Six is to simplify things. Sadly I don’t think it has achieved that.

Our family is a family of six, which means we cannot all meet up with any other person or group. Some point to the absurdity of being able to work with a group of seven people but then not being to go out to lunch with them.

It is all rather easy to criticise the Government in this situation. They cannot get it right for trying. No one wanted a lockdown, and yet they were criticised for not locking down sooner. There is obvious contradiction in their seemingly random approach, encouraging us to eat out one minute and stay home the next. I do want to point out what a difficult job the Government have and it is right that we believers pray for them continually.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my usual approach to blogging. Typically I stick to the Bible and leave politics out. I make no comment here on the new or previous rules, and so turn to the Scripture in our uncertain times.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, a great sense of fear was created around this virus. We have never locked down before, and many – rightly – understood this to mean how serious the situation was. The subsequent consequences to the economy pose an equal or even greater threat, so steps are being made to try to undo the damage. Fear is not so easily dismissed as it is created.

We were not created for fear. In fact, we see that fear was the very first negative experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall of humanity.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realised they were naked. They were just as naked before, but now, for the first time, took their eyes off of God and turned them on themselves. Sin entered the world, and the first emotion they felt was fear. There is no evidence of fear prior to this.

The Bible has much to say about fear – far more than I can ever say in this one short post. Suffice it to say that fear is not what God wants for His people. Fear often stops us obeying the Lord or doing what we know is right. Sometimes we fear other people and so don’t fully serve God, frightened of people’s judgement or criticism.

Many places in the Bible tell us not to fear. It does not necessarily mean do not feel the emotion of fear, but rather, do not allow the fear you feel to stop you doing what you know is right.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

So how do we conquer fear? How do we master it in these fearful times? I could write a whole book on the subject, but hope these few points help.

We must start from the point of understanding that God does not want us to be afraid. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion at times, but we must harness it, not allowing it to drive us but instead God’s Spirit. As you act and speak this week, ask yourself if the words or deeds are driven by fear or the Holy Spirit.

We must pray through fear. Fear is not an easy foe at times, and so we must stand firm in prayer and draw on the strength of God. If you are facing a particularly frightening time, then please do seek God more and more. Often the thing we fear becomes tiny and insignificant as we compare it to the splendour and majesty of our God!

My final suggestion is to think through the consequences or outcomes of what you fear. For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a situation which was quite scary. I knew it was coming and was getting anxious about it. As I thought about it however, I realised if it did not work out as I wanted, there were virtually no consequences. at all. Fear and worry about it was a major waste of energy. We play the “What if?” game which can be mentally draining. Many of the things we fear though have little consequence, and even fewer have eternal ramifications.

The world we live in can be a frightening place at times, but you do not face it alone. Fear can be beaten, and we do so in the strength of our Lord. What do you fear right now? Talk to God about it and fight that fear!

Fear Nothing (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Fear nothing, except God Himself

We are often afraid of many things in life. That fear can prevent us doing what we know is right. Often the fear of other people stops us doing or saying the things that God has prompted us to. Or worse, peer pressure leads us to do things we know are sinful.

The Bible has much to say about fear, and while I do not think the emotion of fear is prohibited in the Scripture, bowing down to it and letting it stop us certainly is.

When this life is over, and we stand before God, all those things we feared will seem rather insignificant. There is nothing to fear, except God Himself.

When we say “fear” these days, we simply mean things that we are scared of. Often people are afraid of spiders, heights or public speaking. This kind of fear is not what we were made for. God does not want His people to be afraid. Evolutionists explain fear as a safety mechanism, and yet we saw no sign of fear in Adam and Eve until after the Fall and sin entered the world.

Our Heavenly Father does not want us to fear Him in the sense of being afraid of Him. Rather, when we speak of fearing God, we mean a reverential fear. This is to highly respect God in His position of Sovereign Lord with the power of eternity in His hands.

Next to God, there is nothing worth fearing. If your fear is stopping you from serving God then cast it out today! Fear nothing, except God Himself!

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 3

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)

This is the third part in a series on the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

There is a great deal to learn from this short account, and so far we have thought about what happens when we die, how we spend our earthly life and a few other points. It is hard to understate the importance of what we have seen here. Eternal judgement is a very serious matter, and this passage suggests a conscious torment – something we should all want to avoid!

Last time, the rich man had asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him to give him a little water for comfort. Abraham explained that the rich man was receiving just reward for his life on earth, and that is simply was not possible for anyone to travel between the two halves of eternity.

We pick up the story in verse 27, and the rich man now begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them about hell. Again, this rich man is ordering Lazarus about. He cannot seem to let go the idea that he is somehow above Lazarus, and that the poorer ought to be serving the richer. One aspect of hell may be that it amplifies our worse characteristics or selfishness. If we choose to reject God and wallow in our sin, then God grants us our wish for all eternity.

Yet, for the first time in this account, the rich man shows some concern for someone other than himself. He fears for his brothers – all five – that they too may end up in the place of torment. He pleads with Abraham that Lazarus would go and warn them to change their ways. In a small way, it reminds me of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The ghost of Marley returns to warn Scrooge of what is to come if he does not change. In reality sadly, no such warnings are given to the rich man’s brothers.

Verse 29 is fascinating to me. Abraham denies the request of the rich man and points to Moses and the Prophets. The still living brothers have the Law to instruct them, and Abraham is clear this is sufficient.

We must never underestimate the power of God’s Word. The Bible is the key witness of truth to the things of God. If we fail to believe what the Bible says, then nothing else will convince us. People argue that if they see this or that miracle, then they will believe. This is rarely so. Only conviction by the Spirit of God and the testimony of the Bible can really convince someone that God is indeed real.

In retort in verse 30, the rich man argues that if someone comes back from the dead, then surely his brothers will believe. But Abraham again denies it, saying that if they refuse to accept the word of Moses and the prophets, then even someone rising from the dead will not convince them.

You cannot read these words without thinking of Christ crucified and His own rising from the dead. There were many witnesses to the Resurrection, and yet many denied or dismissed the claims of the Apostles. The scribes and teachers of the Law knew the Scriptures inside and out, and yet did not believe them nor believe the One about whom the Scriptures were written.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,

John 5:39 (NIV)

The religious leaders studied the Scripture – Moses and the Prophets – and yet totally missed the point. The Scriptures pointed (and still point) to Christ Jesus. Yet, when He came in the flesh, lived and died and rose again, they did not recognise Him.

Many say that they would believe in God if they only saw evidence first hand. What more could God have done? He gave us the Bible, detailed and perfect, telling us the things to come and foretelling the coming of the Messiah. He came as predicted, lived as He promised and then was killed – and on the third day He rose again to new life, exactly as the Scriptures said He would.

Yet the religious of the day did not believe. Many living today do not believe. This rich man would have been well aware of the Scriptures and knew both Moses and the Prophets’ teaching, yet he refused to practice them. The Law which foretold of Christ also instructed the people to take care of orphans, widows and the poor, and it is clear that this man did not.

Unlike the rich man, you and I do not have to follow the Old Testament Law in the same way. We can believe the Bible and put our trust in Jesus for our salvation. Once we have that, we should live and act as the Law teaches. We do not follow the instructions of God to become saved, we are saved and in response we live the way God wants us to live.

Do not study the Bible, refusing to believe it or never putting any of it into practice. Give Jesus His proper place in Lordship over your life and willing obey all that He asks of you.

You can avoid the place of torment by trusting Christ and what He did at the cross. As the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in you, you can live to please God in and through Christ.

I leave you with this in closing. The rich man could not warn his family of the dangers of hell once he was there, because it was too late. Only the living can spread the Gospel of Christ and share the good news. It is our responsibility and privilege to tell others about Jesus. It is the best news they will ever receive! Whether they accept or not is not down to you, but your job is to share Jesus as best you can. This is done by both words and actions.

Spend some time this week thinking about this passage. I am sure there is much more to learn than I have pointed out here. May it spur you on to make a decision for Christ, or to keep sharing the Good News with others.

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 2

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

Luke 16:19-26 (NIV)

Last time, we began thinking about this interesting and chilling passage from Luke’s Gospel. You can read part one here.

We briefly considered the stark difference between the life of the rich man and that of Lazarus, whether this was a real life account or just a parable, and also a little about heaven and hell and Hades. Today we continue thinking about the story.

Abraham’s Response

We left off last time with the request of the rich man asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water to soothe him in the agony of fire. I commented that it was a rather odd request. Why not ask for freedom? Why not mercy? Instead, he asks for Lazarus to help him. Given that Lazarus lay at his gate for his entire life, and this rich man apparently did nothing to help, it is rather ironic to seek his service now.

How does Abraham respond? Verse 25 tells us:

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony

Luke 16:25 (NIV)

Abraham begins his reply with the word “Son.” This is not a term of rejection or dismissal, but a recognition that this (now poor) rich man, was indeed part of Abraham’s family in the nation of Israel. There is no scorn in Abraham’s words, nor joy at just punishment, rather I wonder if I hear a note of sadness?

Abraham tells the rich man that while he enjoyed luxury during his lifetime, Lazarus had nothing. Now, in the afterlife, Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is punished. This comes down to a matter of justice.

Justice is a key theme in the Bible. You can be certain that our God will put all things right in the end. Even if you suffer at the hands of many injustices in this life, like Lazarus did, you will be comforted in the next if you have your sins paid for by Christ’s work at the cross.

The rich man could have helped Lazarus at any time during his life. Day after day, this rich man would have passed this poor beggar as he came and went. Often, I wonder, would he have complained about the unwashed man dirtying up his nice and tidy property. It seemingly never occurred to him to offer Lazarus a roof over his head or food to eat. Lazarus longed to nibble the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table, and yet went hungry.

The issue is not “having wealth” per se, as I wager most people reading this are fairly wealthy compared to the average across the world. I am humbled by this, knowing full well that although I don’t consider myself to be “rich,” I have a roof, clothing, food, car, phone and many “luxuries”. I do not have a “Lazarus” sleeping at my gate, but I would not have to travel far to find one. If I refuse to share my relative riches with the poor, then I am no better than this rich man.

It should spur me and you, dear reader, to some form of action. There are no shortage of those in need in our world, and this passage and others should convict us to bless those less fortunate.

I say again that I do not think this parable is teaching us to have nothing at all. It must be recognised though that having too much or too little can be a temptation. We Christians should be led by the Spirit of God, giving where He prompts us and trusting Him for our needs.

A Great Chasm

Abraham has pointed out that the rich man is reaping the reward for his actions on earth, but even so, there is a great chasm between the places where Lazarus and the rich man find themselves.

I am intrigued by verse 26 which states that no one can travel from one side to the other. I certainly understand the desire of the rich man to travel to where Abraham is, but why would anyone want to make the reverse journey?

No great insight from me here, except the idea that perhaps those in heaven long for their loved ones lost in hell. Heaven, I imagine, offers total satisfaction and so it is hard to imagine any reason why someone would wish to leave. The chasm which blocks the way prevents any such journey, and the lesson for us is simply that we only get one chance to make the right decision.

What decision have you made? Where do you want to spend eternity? The choice is yours.

I have more to say, and there are verses beyond that which I’ve included above which we will cover next time.

For now though, let’s reflect on the fact that this account highlights justice. It was unjust for the rich man to wallow in luxury while a poor, sickly beggar lay at his doorstep. This was put right in the end.

For us, justice means paying the penalty of sin. We do that ourselves as the rich man did, or we look to Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. I strongly urge you to choose the latter!

If I take you out to dinner, paying for whatever you want, and at the end of the meal you insist of paying the bill again, then I will be more than a little offended. How much more so will God be indignant towards those who, through their sin, forced Christ to the cross, and yet insist on paying the penalty themselves for all eternity?

Jesus suffered and died so that you don’t have to. All you need do is put your faith in Him, asking for forgiveness, and living your life under His authority. Due to His death and resurrection, you can go free, washed clean of all of your sin and live now to please God.

Please choose Christ today! It is not just a life or death matter, but one where all eternity hangs in the balance!

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 1

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

Luke 16:19-26 (NIV)

I have been thinking about this account recently, and am struck by how much it has for us to learn. I suspect my thoughts on this will stretch to more than one post, but we shall see how we get on!

A Parable?

This account occurs during Luke 16, where Jesus is teaching the people through parables and other means. The first thing we need to ask ourselves is – is this a parable or a true account?

This passage clearly has many similarities to some of Jesus’ other parables, and yet has a few differences which may suggest it is a real account of what happened to some real people.

We have a named person – Lazarus. Few, if any, of Jesus’ parables contained the names of actual people in them. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Coin or Sheep, or the Parables of the Vineyard or Sower. None of them had named individuals and spoke only of people in general terms. Here we have a beggar who we are told is named Lazarus, and it is interesting to me that the rich man is not named…

Whether a parable or not, this account has some important, and let’s be honest – terrifying – lessons for us all to take heed of.

A Stark Contrast

Verses 19-21 set the scene for us, and paint a very stark contrast between two men. One is extremely wealthy, living in luxury and having all that he ever wanted. The other had nothing, living in extreme poverty at the rich man’s gate. The latter clearly had health issues with troubling sores all over him and perhaps even lacked the strength to chase away the dogs which licked at him.

The point of this story is not to condemn the rich. The rich man is not bad because he is wealthy, but we will see later that having such riches is a clear danger. It is not the wealth which is the problem, but what this man does with it – or in fact, what he does not do with it.

There is not even the merest hint that this rich man used one penny of his wealth to help Lazarus. Instead, he lived in luxury while Lazarus laid at his gate. Could he have done something to help? I think the point of this story is that he could and should have.

A Time and a Place

Verse 22 tells us that “The time came…” for Lazarus to die, and likewise, the rich man also faced death. We learn that they did not end up in the same place however. Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s side and the rich man to Hades. Hades should not be confused with “hell” which is distinctly different. Hades or Sheol were the same place and can be described as the abode of the dead. The abode had two compartments, one for the good known as “Abraham’s Bosom,” and one for the bad. Hell is a different Greek word altogether, and is described in Revelation as the Lake of Fire. Revelation tells us that Death and Hades will be swallowed up, and ultimately cast into the fiery lake.

So, Lazarus ends up with Abraham and the rich man in Hades in torment. The torment is not simply the fire he is burning in, but also the fact that he is conscious. “He looked up…” and he could see Abraham and Lazarus far away. Imagine being trapped in eternity, not just in agony, but able to see those not suffering. What a truly terrible thing!

The Rich Man’s Request

I want to focus on the rich man’s request for a moment, asked in verse 24.

So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

Luke 16:24 (NIV)

The rich man, having seen Abraham and Lazarus far off, calls out to them. Have pity on me, he cries! Certainly, there will be many (if not all) crying for pity and mercy should they find themselves in such a place.

Then, the rich man makes a request. Before considering it, let me ask you – what would be your request if you were in such a situation?

He does not ask for release from the torment. He does not ask forgiveness. Rather, he asks for Lazarus to serve him. Don’t miss this point. Whatever hell or Hades is in reality, it will somehow emphasise our self-centredness. Even now in death, imprisoned in torment, this rich man still believes that he is better than Lazarus and that the poor beggar ought to serve him.

We will study Abraham’s answer next time, but before I close, I really want to emphasise the importance of this account. Jesus taught a great deal about the afterlife and was extremely clear that this life is not all there is. There is an eternity beyond the grave, and only two destinations. Although Jesus is speaking to first century Jews here, there is much we must learn from it. Abraham’s answer will tell us why the rich man ended up where he did.

For you and I though, we read this passage in light of the cross of Christ. Our eternal destination is not determined in the same way as the men described here. Instead, our eternity is determined by our response to Jesus Christ crucified. If we put our faith and trust in Him, then we can be assured of a place in heaven, and hell holds no fear for us. For those who do not know Christ and His sacrifice, this passage should certainly move you into finding out more about what Jesus did for you.

Please do not wait. If you are unsure of your place in heaven, do not delay! Place your trust in Jesus right now, turn away from your sin and ask His forgiveness. None of us know when our time is up, and tomorrow may be too late!

If you want to put your faith in Jesus and don’t know what to do, or if you have determined to trust Christ but now find yourself unsure of the next steps, please do get in touch or comment below. I would be glad to support you in your new found faith in Jesus Christ.

How Long?

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13 (NIV)

How long, Lord! David cries out in the opening words of this psalm. How many of you have ever felt like that? I know that I have. We face trouble or trial, and we cry out to the Lord wondering where He is or what we’ve done wrong.

David’s words are challenging. He pulls no punches when he speaks with His God. Few of us might dare to speak to God with such fervour. He borders on irreverence it seems, demanding an answer from the God who has seemingly let him down.

In the press we read of celebrities who mock our Lord. Stephen Fry is a well known example of this; only a wicked or evil God could allow such hatred and suffering in the world, he says. He boldly claims that he will demand answers from God when he stands before Him, if He even exists… Yet the sheer hubris of this is galling. To even imagine that we could stand before the Creator of all things and “demand answers” would be amusing if not so sad. We will demand nothing from God when we stand before Him. We will bow the knee, willingly or not, before the One who shaped the universe with His very words.

David asks God why He is hiding from him. He asks the Lord how long He will allow his enemies to triumph. In verse 3, David even insists the Lord answer him. IS David another Stephen Fry – certainly not!

Intimacy

So how can the psalmist speak to God with such words? Firstly, he speaks from a position of intimacy. David is not complaining about God to another person, rather is engaging directly with the God he knows and loves.

David can be so bold and so honest because he has relationship with God. This is not some foreign or unknown god, but the One who sticks closer than a brother (see Proverbs 18:24). Such words are not permitted between strangers. Imagine if I walked up to someone on the street I did not know, and informed them that I did not like their outfit. How do you think they would react? Not well! Yet, if I had a close friend, I might be in a position to offer advice or opinion (appropriately of course) without causing offence.

We, too, can be honest with our Lord. We can tell Him how we feel, and part of being in close relationship with Him is all about sharing ourselves with Him.

Security

Intimacy is not the only prerequisite for David being able to speak to God in this way. The other is security. David knows that God is not easily offended, nor is He likely to react badly to his uncovered feelings. The psalmist is secure in His relationship with God. He knows that God knows precisely what is happening, and won’t reject David for his cries of anguish.

David’s security came from his intimacy with God. Only one who knew God so well could be so vulnerable before Him. Similarly, we have that same security, and if anything, ours is even more secure. We have security in Christ. Unlike David, we know that God came down as a Man and bled and died for each of us. A God who would do that for us, Who has experienced the same pains that we face, will not turn His back on us or reject us.

Turnaround

Verse 5 of this little psalm sees a sudden turn around. David, having poured out his heart before God, suddenly shifts gears. The psalm turns on a single word – “But…” All of what David has said in verses 1-4 remain true, “but” David knows other truths as well.

Despite his circumstances, and despite his obvious pain, David places his trust in God’s unfailing love. This is no whimsical love that comes and goes with the wind, this is a love that never changes or shifts. David draws on that love to enjoy that security we discussed a moment ago. Despite the circumstances he faces, David knows that God’s love conquers all.

When we face such trouble and pain, we may well ask “Does God not love me anymore?” The answer to this question is that He absolutely does love us! He proved that love at the cross of Calvary. The trouble is indeed real, as is the pain, and yet God’s love is far more so. David can survive this trial by placing his trust in the unchanging love of God.

Alongside God’s love, David rejoices in the salvation of the Lord. David knows that he will indeed see God’s salvation; salvation from his enemies, from his sorrowful thoughts and from all the other things he mentions in the opening verses. Perhaps David had in mind an earthly salvation, that is that he believed God would save him from his enemies and worldly problems.

For us, we too can trust in God’s saving work. Because of what Christ did at the cross, we know that no matter the troubles of this life, all will be restored in the next. That is not to say our life here must be terrible and we’ll enjoy the wonders of heaven, but even if this life is indeed truly awful, we know that heaven is ample compensation.

David, having focused on the unfailing love of God and His salvation, responds by singing praises to God. We may not be able to sing in our church right now (due to COVID) but we can sing in our hearts and in our homes. If we turn our focus off of our problems and on to the Lord, then we can lift our voices in true joy and thanksgiving.

David does not minimise or dismiss his troubles, and lays them out before God. He does not stop there though, and having done it, turns to the goodness of God. We can do the same. By all means, be honest with God and share your feelings with Him. Once you have done so though, remember His love, salvation and goodness, and use it as a vehicle to shape your praise.

Thank God for being good to us all!