God doesn’t forgive issues (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

God does not forgive issues; He forgives sin

Every so often, I put out a shorter post which I call Pearls of Wisdom. The usual format is a short phrase or “pearl” with a few words from me highlighting its wisdom. I mention it here as I’ve not done one in a while, and I know there are a few newer readers. (Thanks for joining me!)

I listened to a sermon this week, and the preacher happened to mention the above phrase. It struck me that when we minimise sin (referring to it as slip, mistake or issue) we also minimise what God has done to resolve it.

We may not like to use the word sin or sinful to describe our behaviour, and so water it down with words like issues. All this does is serve to weaken our resolve against sin in all its forms.

God hates sin, and so should we. Christ’s great work at the cross did not achieve the forgiveness of “issues” but of sin and its wickedness.

The older I get, the more I realise the depth of my sinfulness. Not that I consider myself worse than anyone else, it is rather that the more I get to know Christ, it becomes apparent how far short I fall of His wonderful holiness.

Sin is a dreadful thing, and it carries a heavy cost. We Christians can be thankful that this cost is fully paid for by Christ. Let us not minimise His work by softening sin down to mere mishaps. Sin is sin, and yet God forgives it through the blood of Jesus! Hallelujah!

Rejoice in this truth today, and be blessed!

Every Morning and Every Evening

“And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to him.”

1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLT)

In my daily Bible reading, I have been working my way through 1 Chronicles. I deliberately chose the words “working through” as it is quite tough going at times! The Chronicler has quite a different angle than the writer of Kings, and so there are some stark differences between the accounts of King David and his sons.

This morning I read from chapter 23, and include a particular verse above. In this chapter, we essentially see a total staff reorganisation like you might have in the business world. The Levites, who previously served in the Tabernacle of God, would soon begin to serve in the Temple built by Solomon. This meant a change in their duties. No longer would they need to pack up the Tent of Meeting, and move it around, as the Temple would be a fixed site to stand for generations.

With this change, what would the Levites now need to do? Chapter 23 gives some of the details, but verse 30 in particular stood out to me.

Imagine the job advert or “Help Wanted” sign… dedicated servant to give thanks to God each morning and evening. Desired characteristics – strong singing voice…

The Levites were given the specific role of thanking and praising the Lord both morning and evening. It was deemed such an important task that it was noted alongside all the other necessary duties of worship in the Temple.

Two thoughts spring to my mind about this. Firstly, it is wonderful to recognise the importance of praising and thanking God. We should learn from this, and much of our prayer lives should be focussed on that very task. We have so much to be grateful for, and yet often we find ourselves grumbling that we do not have more. Perhaps I’m alone in that, but I suspect not!

I was reading a fellow blogger’s post yesterday about the terrible situation in Mozambique, where not just Christians are being attacked and killed on a daily basis. Very few of us reading this are doing so in secret, or in fear of our lives. We likely have basic comforts – a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food in our stomachs. For this, we should be truly grateful. It is certainly not too often to thank God both morning and night.

My second thought was this: did the people of Israel become complacent about thanking God because they had a dedicated team of servants doing the job for them?

I recall a time in a previous church where we discussed appointing a “welcoming team.” The role of the team was to keep an eye out for new people and to make sure they were welcomed and looked after the first few times they attended the church. The problem we worried about was whether by having a dedicated team like this, those in the church not on the team might falsely believe it was no longer their responsibility to welcome anyone.

It is everyone’s responsibility to give thanks and praise to God. Even if you have a dedicated worship leader on staff at your church, that does not absolve you from the need to worship Him yourself. I hope that the people of Israel likewise gave regular thanks to the Lord in the same way.

How is your thanksgiving looking at the moment? Mine is inadequate I’m ashamed to admit. When I really think about how much the Lord has done for me, and all the many blessings I have in my life, I’m humbled. There is more than enough for me to thank and praise Him for the rest of my life – non-stop – and all eternity as well.

What are some of the things you need to be thankful for? Do share them below. And I leave you with this verse from 1 Thessalonians.

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)

Notice Paul tells us to rejoice always. This can only be done by someone who is willing to thank God every morning and every evening.

Have a great weekend – full of thanksgiving to the Lord!

What Should You Be Doing?

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

2 Samuel 11:1-3 (NIV)

King David was without a doubt Israel’s greatest king. He was beloved of God, and penned much of the Psalms we know and love today. Yet he was not a perfect man, and 2 Samuel 11 begins to tell how he fell into temptation and committed the sin of adultery.

These passages are not here for us to pick on David, nor is anything I say in this post meant to be criticism of him. These stories and words are here in our Bible to teach us, and we must learn the lessons from David’s mistakes. Hopefully by doing so, we will avoid the sins he fell into.

2 Samuel 11 opens by telling us it is spring time, and the time when kings go off to war. We might then expect it to say that King David gathered his army and went after the Ammonites, but it does not… Instead we read that David sent Joab with the army to go fight, and he stayed at home.

This is probably David’s first mistake. For whatever reason, he decides not to go out with the army. Perhaps he was fed up with war, or perhaps he was just tired. We do not know if Joab tried to convince him either way, but ultimately he was not where he needed to be – and that led him down a path of trouble.

David’s first misstep was to not do what he should have been doing. What should you be doing? Are you putting off things you know God has put on your heart? Are you making excuses not to fulfil your commitments or responsibilities? If so, then it could likewise lead you into problems.

There are likely countless examples. Do we find ourselves watching all kinds of sinfulness on TV, instead of spending time with God or our families? Are we surfing the web instead of putting in the hours at work (this is all too easy while working at home)? Are you laying in on a Sunday morning instead of being with God’s fellow people? Insert your own example here…

Verse 2 begins “One evening, David got up from his bed…” What does that tell you? David had been in bed during the day. Some immediately assume he’s spent all day in bed, and all night doing whatever he wanted. This could well be true, but we must also remember Israel can get very warm and so he may have just been resting during the heat of the day.

Irrespective, he then decides to take a walk on the roof. We do not know if this was his custom, or the done thing of the day, but again, it leads him into the path of temptation. I have no idea if David’s palace was the biggest and tallest building around, but it is in my mind at least. David, on the roof, would have had a good view of the entire area. Was it pride that took him up there, to survey his entire kingdom? Did he know it was a common time for women to bathe, and so hoped to catch a glimpse? We don’t know, and i have no wish to unfairly criticise him – as the text does not necessarily support it.

From the roof, David sees a beautiful woman. As above, we do not know if it was an accident or contrived in some way. Either way, what should he have been doing at this point? Averting his eyes? Definitely. Running away? Quite probably. And as an aside, one day i’ll write a post about “running away” as we see several examples in the Bible of people who did this, for good and bad reasons.

When he saw her bathing, instead of doing what he should have done, he sends a servant to find out who she is. It is clear that he is flirting with sin at this point. He has likely looked on her with lust, and now sets his mind to having her for himself. When he finds out that she is married, that should certainly have been the end of it. But if you know the story, then you know it is not the case.

There is more to learn from the rest of the account, but my point for today is simply to say – what should you be doing? We see more than one opportunity here for David to have done the right thing, and he chose not to. Instead of doing what he ought to be, he takes small steps towards sin.

Temptation is often like that. Rarely is someone simply tempted to commit adultery. It starts with minor things; the laugh by the water cooler, the touch of the arm, the sharing of personal thoughts… and before you know it, you are in a situation where you have moved closer and closer to sin, and it’s now much harder to escape.

Had David just gone to war as he should, then he may never have laid eyes on Bathsheba at all. If you were doing what you should be, what sin might you never lay eyes on?

Perhaps you are not engaged in a particular sin right now, but recognise you are slowly moving towards it – one step at a time. Take time now to reflect on this, and turn back before it is too late. Talk to the Lord about it, and ask Him to give you strength to resist temptation.

Having a Bad Day

A few days ago, one of my children was “having a bad day.” She had tried to play with her sisters, but no one could agree on a game and so it descended into a heated debate. She then tried to draw a picture, but it did not turn out as she wanted and this led to further tears. It all became a bit overwhelming and we agreed the only solution was a short nap to reset.

Such “bad days” are not limited to 7 year olds however…

Truth be told, I woke up in a bad mood today. I had not slept that well and then my youngest woke me up early, refusing to settle back to sleep for even a short time. I got up with her, and she scattered cereal across the floor and covered items in orange pen that were perfectly good the colour they were. I let these things feed into my mood and it is not unfair to describe me as “grumpy!”

Ever had a day like that?

If I am totally honest, the source of my grumpiness is really just plain old selfishness. I didn’t sleep well… I woke up early… I didn’t get to start my day the way I wanted… Count the “I”‘s here…

Selfishness is about looking inwardly, and it means our focus is solely on ourselves and not on anyone else. Now it is perfectly fine to take care of yourself at times, but sadly most of us are addicted to comfort and getting what we want. If we do not get what we feel we should have, then we throw an adult fit of one kind or another. For me, this often looks like a fraying or shortening of the temper. I sit down to do something, and life (or children) have other plans and I react badly, feeling hard done by.

It only takes a short time of reflection to realise how good I’ve got it. How many couples would dream of being woken early by a child, and do not have the chance? How many homeless men and women would dream of having a living room to clean? When we fix our eyes on what we do not have, we end up feeling like we are somehow missing out. Yet when we focus on what we do have, it leads us down a path of gratitude.

Yesterday I was thinking about Paul and Silas in Acts 16.

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

Acts 16:22-25 (NIV)

Paul and Silas had become involved in something of a controversy. They had cast a demonic spirit out of a slave, and she could no longer perform the fortune telling her owners required. This led to an uproar, and as we see above, Paul and Silas were in trouble.

They were stripped before the crowd, which was a major humiliation. Then, they were beaten with rods. These were not a gentle correction, but a severe beating. It is likely they were bruised, bleeding and probably with broken bones. The pair are then thrown into the “inner cell.” This was perhaps the worst cell in the jail, and being in the middle of the complex, had no windows and hence no daylight. Paul and Silas would not have been able to tell the time, and this alone would have been torturous. Lastly, we they are put in stocks. Again, these are not the ones you might have seen on TV, but equipment designed to stretch and contort the body in painful ways.

Now that’s “having a bad day!”

How did this Christian pair react? They sang hymns of praise to God! Even in that dark and painful place, those two focussed on what they had and not what had been taken away from them. My grumpiness pales in comparison to what they were facing, yet they acted far more godly than I did.

What are we willing to put up with for the sake of the Gospel? What discomfort are we willing to undergo for the benefit of our families? What are you willing to sacrifice for the need of someone else?

I confess my bad start to the day and ask the Lord to forgive me. I also ask Him to help me get my mind off of myself and on to how I can be a blessing to someone else. The cure for selfishness is selflessness. That’s something of a mouthful! Ultimately we replace one thought with another, and that means we replace thinking about ourselves with thoughts of other people and what we can do for them.

As Jesus hung on the cross, He did not think of Himself but on those He was there for. We see that from His words asking His Father to forgive them.

Let each of us follow Christ’s example today and be willing to suffer – even in small ways – for the sake of other people. What does that look like for you today?

Lent 2021

For Lent this year, I was asked if my devotional book – A Journey with Jesus – could be used in our church. It is a real honour to be asked, and humbling too. I wrote the book many years ago now, and at that time for a specific church I attended. Since then, I updated the material and published it for use by anyone. Although it is written with Lent in mind, it can be used any time of the year.

It is my intention to record a weekly video message to go along with the daily readings from the book. If you want to follow along, then let me encourage you to get yourself a copy of the book from Amazon here – A Journey With Jesus. As you will see, it is available in both paperback and Kindle format. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, then it is totally free to read. There is also a large print copy available for those who prefer it.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, then the weekly video messages will still be of interest (I hope!) so please do not feel excluded.

Lent is an interesting time and I am always fascinated by how people use the time. Some fast, while others do not mark it at all. I have always been a fan of trying to use the time to read a book or study in some way. Do you mark Lent in any special way? Do comment below if you do.

However you spend the season of Lent, I pray that it is a time where you draw close to God. If you fully devote yourself to Jesus this Lent, imagine how different your relationship with Him might be in 40 days time? Imagine how you might have grown, or how He might have guided you. Any day is a good day to focus on the Lord, but Lent gives us a good excuse to do so. Don’t waste this time but embrace it! I pray you are extremely blessed as you encounter Jesus this year.

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/

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!

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!