Eternity in the Balance

I listen to a series of podcasts called “Stuff You Should Know.” It is a general knowledge podcast, with each episode selecting a theme and then giving an overview of the subject matter. Episodes can range from astrophysics, to nature, to history and occasionally ventures into religion too. I recently listened to an episode about the subject of “hell.”

In the episode, the hosts talked about the different religious views on the afterlife, with some attention given to the Christian view. While some of their general themes were correct, they did not well describe a true biblical view. For instance, they gave the overview that if you live a good life, then you go to heaven, and if not, then you go to this place called hell. This is a commonly held belief of course, but is in no way biblical. For what is a “good life?” How good is good enough? The Bible shows us that none of us are good enough, and all are destined for hell without the intervention of a Saviour – and that Saviour is Jesus Christ.

The hosts talked about the idea of “eternal punishment,” but suggested that most now felt this was extremely excessive, and that it is way out of proportion to punish someone for all eternity for a few mere sins on earth. Let’s return to this point later on…

They then discussed beliefs which they “preferred,” namely universalism and annihilationism.

I have seen a couple of slightly different definitions of universalism, but the general point is the idea that all people ultimately end up in heaven. This can come about in a number of ways. Either they could go straight to heaven for living a good life, or they could be sent to “hell” or “purgatory” to serve their time. Once they have completed the penalty, they are then promoted into heaven.

To some, this idea also carries the view that all religions lead to God. Perhaps we worship in a variety of ways, but ultimately, we all find our own way to God and so into His loving arms.

Annihilationism on the other hand is the idea that good people go to heaven, and “bad people” do not go to some form of punishment, they simply cease to exist – they are “annihilated” hence the term. This, too, the hosts of the podcast said seems favourable to that of eternal punishment.

A couple of points to note. Firstly, what we “prefer” has no bearing on what is true. I might prefer the sky to be a nice shade of green, but it remains blue. I may prefer to start work at 10am every morning, yet my boss will “prefer” to employ someone else if I do! Just because we prefer to have things another way, does not make them so. Preferring there not to be an eternal consequence of our sin does not mean there is not one. We must face reality.

The second point is this. Universalism and annihilationism are not supported by the Bible. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I did a short series on this parable a while ago, and you can read the first part here – The Rich Man and Lazarus Part 1.

Jesus said:

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 16:22-26 (NIV)

From this, two things are apparent. Firstly, the rich man is awake, aware and conscious in the place of torment (see verse 24). Secondly, we see that there is a chasm, divide or separation between the two places such that no one can travel between the two (see verse 26). Without any other biblical evidence, we see that neither universalism nor annihilationism can be true.

The rich man has no means of traversing between the good and bad places of the dead (whatever name you give them) and this means he cannot and will not end up in heaven. We too see that he is not destroyed, but rather continues to exist in that state of eternal torment.

There is other evidence in the Bible which add to this and Jesus Himself taught many things about life after death, and you cannot bend those teachings to lead to either universalism or annihilationism.

What does this mean then? If these two theories are not true, then we must look again at the frightening reality of eternal punishment. As much as we do not like he idea, we must consider it to be true alongside all else that Jesus taught.

Returning to the point that the hosts of the podcast made, that is, that eternal punishment is grossly out of proportion. How do we defend this point? If they are correct, then God is surely unjust to punish humanity for all eternity for their sins on earth?

I think part of the problem is that we fail to understand sin. We think of sin like we do crimes; there are big crimes and smaller crimes, and therefore bigger and smaller punishments. If we break the speed limit, then we get a fine. If we intentionally murder someone, then we spend a long time in prison or in some places, forfeit our lives.

Sin is not merely a crime against God. There are no big sins and small sins. Sin represents a total break in our relationship with our Holy God. God’s holiness is such that He cannot relate to our sinful selves. Sin puts a chasm between us and God, and it matters not how far we jump across – near or far – we can never reach the other side. The only way to bridge the gap is by having someone act as our substitute. That Someone is Jesus Christ.

Jesus lived the perfect life. He committed no sin, and yet was punished as a sinner. He bore the punishment that each of us deserve, and He bridged the gap between us and God. Only by accepting Him and what He did for us, can we be free of the penalty of sin.

Sin deserves eternal punishment for at least two reasons that I can fathom. Firstly, eternal punishment is merely the only other option to being in the presence of God. You are either in and enjoying His presence or you are not; the latter is what we call hell. The second reason for eternal punishment is not the sin itself, for Jesus dealt with all sins, but instead for rejecting Christ and His work. God became a human being, lived perfectly and yet suffered and died as a sinner. For us to refuse to accept that is to – for want of a better way of putting it – to reject the cross. It is to make Christ’s death of no value, or to suggest He died in vain.

Another danger of teachings like universalism is that it makes us complacent. If, ultimately, all go to heaven, then there is little driver for us as Christians to share our faith. Truth be told, if all go to heaven no matter what, then there is little point in us living out our faith in any way at all. We can live however we want to, and it won’t matter, because we’ll all end up in the same place in the end…

The take home message for us is this: there is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid – at all costs. We, as Christians, must never be complacent and must share our faith with as many as we can. There is but one way to heaven, and His Name is Jesus Christ! All must put their faith in Him to get to heaven. We must turn from our sin and turn to Him! There are no shortcuts or alternatives, only Christ!

Our Christian lives must be driven by a sense of urgency. Even if Christ does not return in our lifetimes, we must live like He will. We must live like we only get one chance – because we do! When this life is over, there is no do-over, no reincarnation, no winding back the clock. The time to share our faith is now, and we must pray like life depends on it, because it does!

We do not know what hell is really like. There are glimpses in the Bible, but it is open to some interpretation. Is it actually a place where fire burns, for instance? It could well be, or it could be that such fire is a symbol for judgement. Either way, the Bible makes it very, very clear that hell is no place you want to be. Eternal safety is found only in the Father, and we can only reach Him through His Son Jesus.

If you do not know this Jesus I speak of, then make the effort to find out who He is today. Read the New Testament in the Bible, perhaps starting with the books of Mark or Luke. Find out who Jesus really is, and put your trust in Him. Please do get in touch if you make that choice for Him today, as I would be honoured to pray for you.

If you are a Christian already, and know Jesus, then please let this post spur you on to serve Him with your whole heart. Time is short, and eternity hangs in the balance.

Why water into wine?

It was my pleasure to stand in for our local vicar at short notice this week. In this video, I share a few thoughts about why I think Jesus turned water into wine from John 2.

For some technical reason I do not understand, I was not able to upload the video directly to this post. However include a link below to the video on Facebook. Hope you enjoy!

https://fb.watch/3d1lSFD0DE/

Scroll On By

We have a poodle named Rusty, and he’s my only male company in the house. As you might imagine, poodles require a fair bit of looking after. My wife is part of a social media group, and happened to ask a question about him. Within minutes, we had a few answers, but also all manner of other comments largely irrelevant to the subject at hand. It seems people felt it was an open door to make their opinions known or to criticise things they knew little about.

This is but one example of the worst of social media. I, likewise, am a member of various online groups and am shocked at how frequently people chip in on things and feel they must criticise and point out all manner of negatives.

Lockdown and politics are particularly bad examples of such behaviour. You quote or mention one particular party, and before you know it, you have comments from all sides. Mention your views on COVID restrictions, and you’ll be hit with those who agree and those who do not.

Social conventions have seemingly gone out of the window. If I were sitting in a restaurant, and expressed a view to the person I’m eating with, I do not expect someone from the other side of the restaurant to come over and start telling me why I’m wrong. Now I realise that by posting on social media that I’m not in a private setting, and my views or words are out in the public domain. However, not every post warrants a response.

I once posted a photo of myself on social media – no descriptions and no questions asked. Yet, it still attracted those who would point out where I was going wrong or insist on giving me their thoughts on the photo. It’s one thing to like a photo, and quite another to speak into someone’s life who has not asked for it.

If I post asking for advice or help on a certain matter, then it seems reasonable to give responses and comments. If I am just sharing a photo or news article for example, that does not necessarily equate to you having freedom to say whatever it is you like.

My point here: feel free to scroll on by.

So often I see things on social media that I have an opinion about, but I do not stop and comment on everything where it is not my place to do so. I simply scroll on by! If someone expresses an opinion about something, they are rarely inviting you to try and persuade them to change their minds. Again, you do not have to respond, you can just keep scrolling and move on.

For the most part, social media is a really toxic place. Even if you carefully manage your connections, you still encounter all manner of views and opinions which, I’m sorry to say, are often more negative than positive. We must guard our hearts and minds, and if a brief look through your feeds brings you down then I have to ask if it’s really worth it?

I know this is something of a departure from my usual Bible focus, but I thought it important to say. To be honest, there are a number of Bible verses which could apply here.

To make it your ambition and definitely endeavour to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you,

1 Thessalonians 4:11 (Amp)

Note here that Paul encourages us to mind our own affairs. In modern vernacular, we might say “mind your own business!” The truth is that often there is little need for us to have an opinion on the posts we see on Facebook, Twitter, Insta or anywhere. If it does not directly affect us, then why waste mental energy on it? If someone’s making a political point, you can work to promote your own views through proper channels, not bring down their views with negative social posts.

So if you spend time on social media feeds today, really consider what you post and what your reply to. Is it a health and constructive debate? If so, then feel free to join in. If not, or if it’s not your place to speak, then just scroll by and seek something more positive.

Social media is incredibly addictive, and it can be extremely difficult to separate ourselves from it. If you need to lock that phone away or delete your accounts, then do so. Take such actions to guard yourself against such negative influences.

I am not against social media at all, and in fact it can and has done many positive things. Social media has allowed many families and churches stay in touch during lockdown restrictions, and it is a powerful tool for sharing the Gospel.

The danger is that too many of us, myself included, offer up our opinions and communicate in a way that we never would in a face to face situation. Worse are those who would seek out place to spout their opposing views for no other reason than to sow discord. For instance, I saw a post from a Christian TV streaming service. Underneath were a few comments from those disputing the existence of God and making fun of those who would believe. Presumably they have had to seek out such posts for the simple reason of being mean. I may not agree with other religious beliefs, but I do not seek out their groups and post mocking or derisive comments. That’s not ok!

I had not intended this to come across as a rant, and so apologies if it has. I have seen so many examples of this kind of thing now and I wanted to flag it today. You have the right to disagree and to think whatever you wish, as do I, but let us not feel obligated to share all such views whenever and wherever we like. Scroll past if you do not agree, and take Paul’s advice to “mind you own business!”

Gospel Seeds

A few days ago, I read a really thought-provoking post from a fellow blogger which I include below. I love the imagery depicted here, and wanted to share it with you.

I hope you enjoy! Do check out other posts from Devotional Treasures.

Loch Rusky near Callander, Trossachs National Park, Scotland.      https://www.facebook.com/SpectacularScotland Yet you do not know what your life …

Gospel Seeds

Love Discipline

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

    but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1 (ESV)

One of the things I love about Solomon’s proverbs is the fact he doesn’t mince his words! There’s a place for diplomacy and sensitivity, but sometimes there’s a need for stark warning.

Loves Discipline

The other day, my three year old threw a toy across the room. When I told her not to, she got rather cross and took a swing at me with all her might. I took it on the chin (not literally) but sent her to the “naughty spot” in our house. It is fair to say she did not “love” discipline in that moment!

How many of us can truly say that we do love discipline? When my boss calls me in to their office (virtual or otherwise) to point out something I need to change, I hardly relish the experience! Yet, as I’ve gotten to know my boss over the years, I know that they have my best interests at heart and anything they correct me on is for my benefit. By “loving” the discipline, I’m growing and improving.

Discipline is tough in the moment, and far too few of us later reflect on that correction and realise its value. Church discipline, for instance, often leads to people walking out of the church, not gratitude to the pastor or minister for loving them enough to say something.

We cannot hope to grow as Christians without the love of discipline. I learn from others who teach me, and from those who love me enough to say something when I go wrong. If no one ever pointed it out, I might never come to the realisation on my own.

Discipline works best when it comes from a safe and loving relationship. My wife can point out my faults to me in a way a total stranger never could. I trust her judgement and know she wants what’s best for me. The same can’t be said for a person I do not know well.

God knows us best, and we must trust in His deep, unending love for us. When He disciplines us, it’s because He loves us and does not want us to stay stuck in a place of error.

Hates Reproof

The Proverbs often mirror themselves. So, if you are wise to do one thing, then you are stupid to do the reverse. We see this here. If it is wise to love discipline, then it is stupid to hate correction.

To hate discipline is really to hate ourselves. It suggests that we have a level of pride where we think we couldn’t possibly be wrong.

Often when correction comes, we react badly to it. We point to the one disciplining us, and say “What about when you…?” Discipline does indeed hurt at times, but it is a pain which leads to something better. I once heard someone say that you can go through the pain of change, or go through the pain of staying just as you are.

Do not hate discipline, nor the one who brings it to you. While you may feel too excited about it, take the time to thank the person and bring it before God. If, for instance, that person does not really have good intentions, then you can lay that before Jesus and let the Spirit lead you.

Discipline in general, but church discipline in particular, does seem to be becoming more and more rare these days. I wonder why this is? There is truth to it that many church members are easily offended, and would storm out if a church leader even dared breath a word of correction near them. This, of course, does put church leaders off of doing it.

Also though, I wonder if all of us have somehow lost a level of holiness in our own eyes. As I consider this, I realise that bringing discipline makes me take long look at myself, and highlights the areas where I fall short. If I make so many mistakes, then how dare I tell others what they should and should not do?

Iron sharpens iron though, and only by living and worshipping together can we ever hope to support each other. I need you to tell me when I am going wrong, and likewise you need me to do the same for you. Let us love each other enough, and be brave enough, to help one another grow.

Is God bringing discipline into your life right now? Is He using a friend or family member to do it? Is He prompting you to speak a word into someone else’s life? Do so with humility, and love them as best you can.

Stir One Another Up

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Hebrews 10:24 (ESVUK)

During this protracted time of lockdown and COVID restrictions, it can be hard to stay motivated. Last week, for instance, I had a lot on my mind and found most things something of a drag. We do need to overpower such feelings at times, and do what we need to, but they can also be a signal of the need to rest or reflect.

Here in the UK, we have at least six weeks of “stay home!” to look forward to. It can feel constrictive and limiting, but let us not forget to be grateful we have a home to be locked down into.

When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, we have to choose whether to dig ourselves in further, or to stir ourselves up and out of that position. Our verse for today from Hebrews encourages us to do the latter.

Consider

The first thing we are told to do is to “consider.” To consider means to think carefully about something, particularly in regards to making some kind of decision. Like so many things in life, very few things occur by accident. We must be intentional about how we live our lives, and not just go with the flow.

Here, we are instructed to consider – to consider how to stir one another up. This requires effort on our part. It requires us to engage the brain, and to focus not on our own needs (or our own “rut”) but to pay deliberate attention to others. Use your mental energy not to grumble about how tough the lockdown is, but on ways you can support and encourage others.

COVID restrictions do limit what we can do – that’s the point of them! But it does not mean we can do nothing. Even if we are completely out of ideas, God is not, and we can seek Him and His guidance to know what we can do – in our situation – to stir one another up.

Love and Good Works

Stir one another up? To do what? The author of Hebrews is pretty clear here. We stir one another up to love and good works.

When I first began to write this post, I separated these out as two sections; one for Love and one for Good Works. But as I come to write it now, I realise that you cannot separate the two. As James points out in his letter, how can one demonstrate their faith without good deeds? Likewise, how do we demonstrate our love for one another? By performing good works towards each other.

So how do we stir one another up in this way?

In some ways, this blog sets out to try to do that. I am hoping that you are encouraged by what you read here, and it will indeed stir you up to love and good works. If that’s true for you, why not share it with someone else who might enjoy it?

If you don’t have a blog or similar platform, then there’s a good chance you have a social media account of one form or another. Whatever flavour you have; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. how can you use it to be a force for love in the world? How can you encourage your Christian brothers and sisters through it?

I have said it before, likely more than once, but even if you can do nothing else, you can certainly pray. There is no one who does not need a healthy dose of prayer coverage right now, and you can be the one to have the immense privilege of kneeling before God and bringing their needs to Him. Pray through your church directory, phone book or for every person who sent you a Christmas card last year.

In our home, we have a set of lolly sticks with our friends, family and church family written on it. We select a stick at random and pray for whoever we draw. We trust God that whoever we pick out is in need of prayer that day.

I am certain there are a thousand other ideas you can come up with. This is where the “consider” part of the verse comes in. Set aside a short time and grab a notebook, mind map as many ideas as you can to reach out and encourage someone today. Even if you are not in a position to fulfil the idea yourself, post it online and see if someone else can run with your idea.

The best gift you can give someone today is Jesus Christ. Point them to Him in some way. Whether in or out of the church family, we can all bring someone one step closer to Christ with our love and good works.

I would love to hear some of your ideas today, so please do comment below or on any of the social media feeds. Imagine if everyone in the church came up with five ideas and shared them, and if we all did our bit, how much good could we do in the name of Jesus this week alone?

Meditate on this verse today, and let it stir you up this week

Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?

As part of my Course in Christian Studies, I have completed an assignment about why I think the Old Testament is relevant to 21st Century readers. I thought I would share it with you today.

Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?

CCS Assignment 1

  1. Imagine you have a Christian friend who cannot see the point of reading the Old Testament in the twenty-first century. Using what you’ve learned from this unit, write them a letter explaining some of the ways in which you’ve discovered that the Old Testament can speak to Christians today. The letter should be about 1500 words and should include both your own experiences, and descriptions of some Biblical passages.

Dear friend,

I hope that this finds you well, and thank you very much for your letter I received several days ago. It is always thought provoking to discuss the Bible with you, and your most recent correspondence gave me pause. In it, you stated that you felt there was little point in us reading the Old Testament nowadays. While I understand your sentiment, I cannot agree. If I may, I’ll set out my reasons below and look forward to receiving your response.

The Old Testament may seem more difficult to handle than the New, but it is certainly worth the effort! Before I start with delving into it, let me begin by pointing you to what the New Testament has to say about it.

Firstly, the Apostle Paul says this:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Please notice here that Paul uses the word “all”. All Scripture, including that of the Old Testament is useful for us as Christians in the modern age. Let us not forget either that there was no New Testament when Paul wrote these words, and so the only Scriptures he could be referring to were those of the Old Testament.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul sets out a number of lessons from Israel’s history. In verse 11, he says this:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NIV)

So, we see that these lessons recorded from Israel’s history are recorded for us. We take great risk in dismissing such lessons as out-of-date or irrelevant.

In addition to Paul, a cursory read of the Gospel of Matthew will show you how critical the Old Testament is to understand the life and work of Christ. Time after time, Matthew points out how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scripture. Were you to remove all traces of the Old Testament from Matthew’s Gospel, you would have very little remaining.

Like you, I once favoured the New Testament, finding the Old too cumbersome and seemingly distant from my everyday life. Yet, as I studied the New more and more, I found that I could not fully appreciate it without a firm grasp of the Old Testament. For instance, how could I ever fully understand how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law, without first understanding the Law’s place and role in the Bible?

I hope to demonstrate the relevance of the Old Testament to you by taking a short review of the major sections. There is too much to cover in one short letter, but I hope what I say encourages you to want to learn more.

The Bible, as we have it, opens with the account of Creation and pre-history. I cannot overstate the importance of having a strong foundation in these opening words of the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Before we accept anything else the Bible says, we must first accept this. Humanity was not some cosmic accident, nor a product of random chance, but a deliberate creation of our God. Until I accepted this truth, the rest of biblical doctrine remained somehow out of focus.

We also learn of the origin of sin. Genesis 3 records how the first people – Adam and Eve – disobeyed God, bringing sin and its consequences into the world. The sinfulness of humanity would taint every generation that followed, yet God already had a plan to rescue us from this plight.

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15 (NIV)

In some translations, the word “offspring” here is rendered “seed.” This is unusual because how can a woman have “seed”? This is a nod to God’s plan of redemption, and perhaps a reference to a Virgin who would give birth to a Son?

Genesis moves on to teach us about the man named Abraham. He, the forefather of the Jewish people, shows us what it means to have covenant with God and to one who lives by faith. God shows Himself faithful in His promises to Abraham, such as the Covenant recorded in Genesis 12.

“I will make you into a great nation,

    and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

    and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

    and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)

We see here that God’s promise to Abraham is not solely for Abraham’s benefit, but that this promise would reach out and bless all peoples of the world. Through Abraham, we understand righteousness by faith, and not by works (as Abraham preceded the Law of Moses).

Abraham’s descendants did indeed become a great nation, and this same nation was rescued by the hand of God from the slavery of Egypt. Moses, as recorded in the book of Exodus, leads the people out of captivity and although ultimately to the Promised Land, spend forty years wandering as a result of their sin.

In Exodus 19, the Israelites claim that they can fulfil all of God’s requirements (see verse 8). So the Law was given to them; not simply the Ten Commandments, but all the Law of Moses. It soon becomes clear that it was not so easy to fulfil everything that God asked of them, and time and time again they fall short. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites capture the Promised Land, and yet in Judges we see not a faithful people following the Laws of God, but instead:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 (NIV)

Even as we read the books of Samuel and Kings, we see how the Golden Age of Israel (under King David and Solomon) slowly fell apart as even these mostly faithful leaders succumb to the power of sin. The Law, which they had promised to keep, highlighted their sinfulness, and failure after failure should have taught them that they needed a better way.

So, the Prophets come, warning the people over and over of what would happen if they do not turn back to God. As well as warnings for their own time, these prophets spoke of future things and a solution to the problem of sin. The prophets spoke of a Messiah to come – One who would be their ultimate Sacrifice for sin.

In my personal experience, what convinces me of biblical truth more than anything else, is the fact that we can see Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Scripture. Jesus met every aspect of the Law; He was our Passover Lamb, He was born in Bethlehem (as was predicted), He was crucified as described in Psalm 22 and after three days was raised to new life. I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul, who says:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)

According to which Scriptures? Those found in the Old Testament of course!

There is a great deal more I could say about the above undoubtedly, but must add a few thoughts about the relevance of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. Proverbs is packed full of practical advice we would do well to follow today. The Psalms teach us to pray our emotions and come honestly before our God. The book of Job discusses suffering and comfort, and Ecclesiastes gives us a key lesson to learn:

 Now all has been heard;

    here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

    for this is the duty of all mankind.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

While I have only scratched the surface here, I do hope this has piqued your interest and challenged your views on the Old Testament. We cannot hope to have full understanding of the Gospel without it.

I look forward to your response!

Warm regards,

Andy

Even the Demons Believe

Do you believe in God?

It’s a straightforward question I suppose, but often with a complex answer. Some might respond with:

  • Which God do you mean?
  • I believe in a Higher Power, if that counts?
  • There must be something, right?

How might you reply to the same question? If you are reading this blog, then the chances are you do believe in God or are at least curious enough to find out more.

I suppose the challenge I want to raise today is this – does your belief in God make a difference in your life? Do you “believe” in God, and yet live your life as though you do not?

James puts it like this in his letter.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder

James 2:19 (NIV)

James’ point in context is this, and excuse my liberal translation here: You believe in God? Good for you! So does the devil!

His point is that believing in God is all well and good, but what have you done about it? The devil believes in God too, yet I do not think we want to be like him at all!

So, is believing enough? Clearly not, if we believe like the devil does. What, then, can we make of Jesus’ words in the following passage?

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

John 6:25-29 (NIV)

Are James and Jesus here in opposition? On the one hand, it seems that James is saying believing is not enough, and yet Jesus suggests that believing is the work of God. Who is right?

In short, they both are and there is no contradiction here.

Believing is indeed a matter of the heart. It is in many ways a choice we make. We weigh up the evidence and ultimately choose to accept that there is a God or there isn’t. This is not, in my view, the kind of belief that Jesus was talking about.

Jesus, like James, does not want mere lip service. He is not talking about a belief which results in no change at all. For this is no kind of belief. The kind of belief that Jesus is after – the work of God – is to believe in Him, and for that belief to lead us to change the way we live accordingly.

I believe in exercise. I have a strong desire to be healthy. I carry a gym membership card, and pay a monthly subscription. But if I never go, and constantly eat junk food, then my “belief” in being healthy is worthless. For my belief to be of any benefit, I must act on it.

Paul talks much about faith in his letters. Some therefore conclude that Paul and James are in somewhat of a conflict. This is not true, and rather they are complementary. Paul focuses on faith, and James on acting out that faith. Doing good won’t earn you any faith, but having a true faith will always lead to some form of action.

I believe in God and the One Whom He sent. I hope that others can see this in my life. If they were to examine my diary, my bank account, my entertainment choices, my words and indeed any area of my life, I hope they would see my faith being lived out. I am far from perfect, and there are many areas in which I want to better demonstrate my faith, but I sincerely hope there is at least some evidence of Christ in my life.

How about you? Do you believe? Great – so what will you do about it today?

God bless you as you live out your faith. Let Christ so indwell you that you cannot help but be totally transformed in his love.

Prisoners of Hope

Last night it was announced that the part of the UK I live in (England) is returning to a full national lockdown. Cases of COVID have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks and so the Government have taken the decision to put us back into similar restrictions as we saw last March.

I had a look through my social media feeds last night, and the overwhelming feeling was “Here we go again!” And also, a fair few which said, “There goes dry January!” I hope this was largely tongue in cheek, but let’s not forget that these restrictions are extremely difficult for many families.

What can I say here that hasn’t already been said?

I do not want to debate whether lockdowns work or not, and no doubt you have your own views on this. Given the pressure on our health services, and the increasing cases, something had to be done, and I do not envy those who have to make such decisions. They must weigh the cost of harmful restrictions against the virus, and choose the lesser of two evils.

Let it be an opportunity for us to pray for our government.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Lockdown: The Return

One post I read said that this new lockdown was much like the first, but with far worse weather! During that original lockdown, I took it upon myself to post on the blog every day. I did so as a way of encouraging those who read it with the Word of God. If we ever needed encouragement, then we do so again now!

The following verse springs to mind, which I want to share with you today.

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Zechariah 9:12 (NIV)

What is a prisoner of hope exactly? I believe it is someone who simply cannot escape the hope brought about by knowing Jesus as Lord. While this isn’t exactly what Zechariah was thinking of when he penned these words, I hope (pun intended) that I’m not taking too much liberty with the text here.

If we focus on our problems, or even pay too much attention to the big issues of the world, then we cannot help but feel discouraged and hopeless. If we choose to, we can find things to complain about or seek out concerns to worry over.

For Christians though, we have good reason to hope. We know Christ, and we know His salvation. We have heaven to look forward to, and the blessed forgiveness of our sin. We have had peace bequeathed to us and have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 1:3). We have the privilege of prayer, the bountiful Fruit of the Spirit, and the immense joy of sharing the good news of the Gospel.

These are just a few of the positives we can focus on, and I believe we can do so to such an extent that we can truly describe ourselves as prisoners of hope. That’s not to say that we bury our heads in the sand and deny the existence of problems. We cannot deny that there will be trouble in this life, but we do not have to dwell on it with all of our time and energy.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3 (NIV)

Let us be a people who focuses on eternal things, not on earthly matters. Let us live and function in the world of course, but let us also remember that it is not our forever home. I would venture to say it is impossible to be happy and full of hope without a genuine effort to keep our minds set on our Heavenly Father and the things of eternity.

What does the phrase “prisoner of hope” mean to you? How do you stay positive in difficult times? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts. Equally, if you need prayer support right now, please do get in touch.

New year prayer

Here is a brief prayer I heard this morning, starting off 2021 in the right frame of mind.

Lord, in this New Year, may you give me everything that I need, and not necessarily everything I want.

May I surrender to your timing, and not rush or delay in my own plans.

No matter what happens, may I always take the time to thank you for your many blessings and not dwell on the problems of the day.

Holy Spirit, guide me in your paths and your ways. Help me to trust you in all things, and lean not on my own understanding.

May everything I say, think and do be for your glory, and let my life sing out your praise for all to see.

Thank you heavenly father for this New Year a new opportunity to serve you and share my faith with all who need it.

We worship you and pray all of these prayers in the mighty name of Jesus! Amen

Bible in a year

On this, the final day of 2020, I have completed a one year Bible reading plan. I have been following a chronological plan, where you read the Bible not as it is laid out, but instead in the order things actually happened. I wanted to offer a few thoughts today on one year Bible plans, and whether you should tackle one in the new year.

Firstly, if you intend on reading through the entire Bible in a year, I think that is a positive thing to do. Too few people, claiming to be Christians, have never read the entire Bible. They may have read much of the New Testament, or select chunks of the Old, but have never systematically read each and every word. Christians, of all people, should read the Bible!

If you have never read the Bible before in a committed way, then you may find a one year plan helpful. It directs you through each daily reading, and you know that if you stick to it, then you will have completed the entirety of Scripture by the end of the year.

Quantity, not necessarily Quality

To read the whole Bible in one year requires quite a big commitment. The Bible is no small volume, and so you will need to read quite a chunk each day to get through it. This requires both discipline and no insignificant amount of time. Depending on how fast you read, you will need to set aside anything from 15 to 30 minutes to do it. Given how much TV we watch in the modern age, that isn’t a massive bite out of your day!

A one year Bible plan is really about quantity, not quality. What I mean is, its focus is about reading through all the Scripture rather than really studying it. If it is your first read of the Bible, then that is not necessarily a bad thing.

For me, while I did see some benefits of reading through the Bible in a year, I also found it hard going at times and there were many days when I completed my readings, yet could not give you much of a summary of what I read. It did not necessarily “stick”.

The other thing to be wary of is making it into a law. To do this, you will need to ready every single day of the year. I fear if you fall behind, it will be too difficult to catch back up. Again, for me at least, this can be discouraging. There are some days when I’ve forced myself to sit up late to do the reading, and felt bad on the days when I’d missed it. Reading the Bible is not meant to be about placing burdens on our backs, and should rather be an uplifting experience.

Given these warnings, are there any benefits? Absolutely!

As mentioned above, this gives you a systematic way of approaching the Bible, and a great way of helping you read it if you’ve never done so before.

Following a reading plan helps you get a better overview of the Bible. We often read specific passages and dive deep into them, or we tend to stay on our favourites. A reading plan directs us to the whole Bible equally, and this can help you see the bigger picture.

I have been using a chronological plan, and this likewise helps you to see the  events of the Bible in their context. Particularly around the Old Testament prophets, you will see where they appear in the narrative.

Is it for you?

So is a one year Bible reading plan for you? Well, as the saying goes, “Know thyself!” If you feel this would help you, then go for it. If you feel like it might become a chore, then better to read one verse a day and commune with the Lord than six chapters you resent.

Concluding 2020

As we close out this year, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to every one of you who have taken the time to read my blog. It was back in March, during the first UK lockdown, where I started posting daily. I saw huge growth in readership during that time, and I am sorry that I have not been able to maintain daily postings.

I will continue to post where I can in 2021, and I hope that you enjoy what you read. Always feel free to comment or get in touch, as I do love hearing from you.

May I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy and blessed 2021!

Approaching 2021

It is that time of year again, and many are turning to the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. I was listening to the radio this morning, and this was the subject of their phone calls.

I am not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions I must admit, knowing that many who start them have often broken them by mid-January!

New year’s resolutions are largely about forming good habits or breaking bad ones. This is good practice, but I suppose my issue is that assigning them to 1st January is a little arbitrary. If you know today that you have a bad habit you want to break, then don’t put it off until the new year, start breaking it today! Likewise, if you want to start doing something positive, don’t wait, just get cracking!

As we approach the new year however, I am starting to think about what I want to focus on. I am continuing to study through the Course in Christian Studies, so that will take up a fair bit of my time. In terms of my personal study though, there are a couple of areas I feel led to focus on.

Firstly, I want to think about the subject of words. I listened to a series of sermons on our words and their power a few weeks ago, and it reminded me how important the things we say actually are. I have noticed that my words aren’t always positive, and I want to ensure that I speak well.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

Ephesians 5:18-19 (NIV)

The Bible has much to say about the words we use, and is itself the very Word of God. God’s Words contain great power, and truth be told, ours do as well. As we know, words can inflict great harm on others but can also turn around the life of someone in despair or trouble.

We will give an account for every word we utter, and I want to make sure my words are those pleasing to God.

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

Matthew 12:36 (NIV)

As well as the subject of words, I’ve also felt compelled to use my study time to examine the four Gospels. I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection. I want to know Him, really know Him for all that He is, and the best way to do that is to study His life, words and actions as recorded in the Gospels.

I am in no way dismissing the rest of the Bible, and there is much you can learn about Jesus from its pages, but it is on my heart to really hone in on Christ and His earthly life.

More specifically though, I want to  spend some time really digging into two particular chapters and a set of Jesus’ parables. These are those from Luke 15 and 16. I’ve also been listening to a set of messages about the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, and it has such astonishing depths and much to tell us about Christ. It is not so much about this one prodigal son as it is about the love of the Father, and the equally lost older brother.

Luke 16 has Jesus sharing some parables about a dishonest steward and also the Rich Man and Lazarus. Both of those, interestingly enough, are connected by the idea of how we handle our wealth. The dishonest steward steals from his master, and then uses that same ill-gotten gain to influence his future. Similarly, we see the rich man enjoying his wealth at the expense of his eternal life.

If you are interested, I wrote a three-part series on the Rich Man and Lazarus earlier this year. Strangely, part two was by far the most popular! I am not sure why that is exactly, perhaps I included a tag that keeps popping up on search engines! Anyway, you can read all three parts at the following links.

I am very much looking forward to the new year. This year has been tough for many of us in many ways, and lots of us are hopeful that 2021 is much more positive. There will no doubt be challenges ahead, but I hope and pray it will be a better year for you.

What will you be focusing on? Will you make New Year’s Resolutions, or like me, will you just take each day at a time? Feel free to comment below and tell me what your focus is for this year.

I know it is a few days away still, but may I wish you a very happy and blessed 2021!