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!

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 5:39 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 2

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

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

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

Luke 16:19-26 (NIV)

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

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

Abraham’s Response

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

How does Abraham respond? Verse 25 tells us:

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

Luke 16:25 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Great Chasm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Pt. 1

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

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

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

Luke 16:19-26 (NIV)

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

A Parable?

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

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

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

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

A Stark Contrast

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

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

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

A Time and a Place

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

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

The Rich Man’s Request

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

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

Luke 16:24 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

We take a little break from the book of Acts to consider this question today. Many individuals over the centuries have tried to answer this one, and the vast majority were cleverer than I am! I offer a few thoughts here which I hope you find helpful.

The argument often goes something like this. If God is supposedly all good and all powerful, then how can there be suffering in the world? If God can remove suffering and chooses not to, then He can’t be all good. If He can’t stop suffering in the world, then good He may be, but He is not all powerful. Suffering therefore disproves a good or all powerful God, right?

It is a compelling argument, and one that many have used over the years. The problem of suffering in the world is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. For most, it is sufficient to conclude that there is no God at all, or at least not one that is in any way interested in us.

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

God is a good God. It is easy to say of course, yet we see throughout the pages of Scripture it is true. There are many places in the Bible where God’s love and goodness are demonstrated, but all could be argued away by pointing to other Scriptures are wrath and judgement. In my view, God’s wrath does not diminish God’s love, but is in actual fact a necessary part of that. Love is not love without hatred of evil. Something for another day perhaps!

I can say with absolute confidence that God is a good God because of one single event. Jesus Christ crucified.

Jesus, who we believe was both God and man, sacrificed Himself for the world. If God was mean or distant, there is no way He would have come down as a Man, lived a perfect life and then allowed Himself to be executed in such a cruel and undignified way. Such a mean or distant God would not have cared about whether humans lived or died for all eternity. Such an uncaring deity would have simply washed His hands of us.

Not our God!

Our God is so good and so kind and so full of love for us, that He became a Man and took on the punishment we all deserve. Not satisfied to let us die in our sin and face eternal punishment, He gave up His very self to pay the ransom only He could pay. Praise this wonderful God of ours!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (WEB)

No one who sees the cross and what it took for God to do that, could ever claim our Lord is not good or loving. Suffering is a very real problem, but the cross, if nothing else, tells us clearly that suffering is not on us because God does not love us. The cross has the final word. Even in the midst of all suffering, we can know for sure that God loves us, and He is good.

God is All Powerful

if you accept this, then perhaps suffering exists because God is simply unable to remove it from us. Good as He is, perhaps He does not possess the power necessary to withdraw all suffering from the world.

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

We read in the book of Genesis in the Bible that God made the entire universe, and He did so by uttering a few words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

We cannot comprehend the kind of power God possesses, and must still possess, to have created all that we know. Neither can we restrict this creation to just the physical, as there is an entire spiritual world beyond that which we can see and perceive with our eyes.

There is probably no other example which better demonstrates the kind of power we are talking about here. Yes, God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, and yes, He made the sundial go back and even held the sun in the sky for a time (see 2 Kings 20 and Joshua 10) but do such astonishing miracles compare to the creation of all things?

Are we to say nothing of the resurrection of the dead? We see many examples in the Bible of those who were dead, and yet lived again. None more important than Christ Himself. Could a God who could do all of this and more ever be considered less than all powerful? I think not.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us then? If you accept the points above, then you accept that God is both good and all powerful. Yet, suffering still exists.

We must therefore conclude the following. If God is all powerful, it means He can remove suffering from the world if He wishes. As He has not, then we see that He has a reason not to do so. As we demonstrated above, if He is good as well as all powerful, then His reason for not removing suffering must likewise be a good one. And we do not know what it is…

I put it to you that God, being both good and all powerful, has His reasons for not withdrawing suffering from the world. Just because we cannot comprehend or understand it, makes it no less true or valid. God has no obligation to explain Himself to us.

I would love to be able to sit here and explain to you why you are suffering. If I did though, it would not in any way reduce that suffering. Someone will always ask, “Why me?” and yet, “Why not you?” For us to try and fathom such things is perhaps no small hubris on our part. We are not God, nor can we expect to understand all that He does and knows. Job lost everything, and he was not privileged to know the reason. When he encountered God at the end of the book, he was silenced before the Almighty daring not to even question the God who made him.

If you are in the midst of suffering right now, then these intellectual arguments probably don’t help all that much. Suffering can rarely be explained away, and especially not when we are personally facing it.

If that is you today, then I urge you to look to the cross. I cannot explain your suffering to you in any satisfactory way, but I can grieve along with you. The cross, if nothing else, shows you that the Maker of all things is not distant, but that He chose to suffer and die for you. He knows how suffering feels, and He will walk through it with you every step of the way.

God bless you.

Apostles Vs. Authorities

In Wednesday’s post – God Rather Than Man – we discussed the events of Acts 5 and the arrest of Peter and the Apostles. Peter miraculously escaped the jail, with the help of an angel, and continued to teach in the temple courts. Again, he is summoned by the authorities, and we close chapter 5 thinking about his words.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were determined to kill them. 34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. 35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. He was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!”

40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.

42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:29-42 (WEB)

Peter begins, as discussed on Wednesday, by telling the authorities that he must obey God rather than man. God has instructed the apostles to share the message about Jesus, and they must obey this command even if the authorities tell them to stop. This is not without risk, and nearly all of the apostles lost their lives because they refused to stop talking about Christ.

Peter pulls no punches. He states that Jesus was raised up by the “God of our fathers,” that is, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and tells them that they are guilty of His death. They killed Him. They hung Him on a tree. Yet God exalted Him, making Him Prince and Saviour. We must understand Jesus is both Lord (Prince) and Saviour. He saves us yes, and we rejoice in that, but He is our Lord also and we must revere Him as such.

Jesus achieved “repentance for Israel,” and “remission of sins.” The people of Israel, not able to fulfil the Law, require a Saviour to act as a substitute for them. Similarly, Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross achieved the remission of sins, meaning that sin is fully paid for. This leaves us the choice of facing the consequences of our sin before God, or accepting what Jesus has done and His payment of that sin. Choose the latter I urge you!

In verse 32, Peter says that they – the apostles – are witnesses for what Jesus has done. Not the apostles only however, but the Spirit of God also. To deny the testimony of the apostles is to deny the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The unpardonable sin, mentioned in Mark 3:29, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In my own mind, I suspect the unforgivable sin is to deny the witness of the Holy Spirit, that is to refuse to believe what He says about Jesus and to reject Christ as our only Saviour.

They react rather angrily to this, as you might expect. But a peacemaker among them, named Gamaliel, interjects and has the Apostles sent out. He names a number of individuals who raised up and gathered followers. Gamaliel points out that all of these came to nothing.

Gamaliel says something very insightful. If this is not of God, then the authorities need not worry about it. If it is of God, then they cannot stop it anyway and would be foolish to try. Two-thousand years later, the church numbers in the millions and stretches across the globe. It did not fizzle out or lose momentum after Jesus’ and the Apostles’ deaths, rather it has only grown and become established.

There is a lesson for us here I’m sure. How often do we try to force open doors that God has shut, or close doors He has opened? We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done,” but at times fight against it. Take this blog for example, I might want it to grow and pay for all manner of advertising to make it happen. That may be a perfectly valid thing to do, but it might also be pushing out ahead of God and beyond His will. Never a good idea.

Are you rushing ahead of God right now? Do you need to fall back and walk beside Him again?

The authorities bring the Apostles back in, and once again strictly command them not to speak in the Name of Jesus. This did not work last time, so I am not certain why they believe it will work now. Peter has already said that he must obey God and not man, so there is clearly no intention to stop their ministry of God. The authorities have them beaten, but this too, does not deter them.

Verse 41 gives us a lot to think about. I don’t know about you, but when I suffer for the Name of Jesus, I rarely “rejoice” about it. In fact, I am sometimes a little offended. After all, I am doing what God has asked me – why would I face opposition or persecution? While we may feel like this, it is not biblical. Our faith cannot be used to move all opposition or to remove persecution from us. Instead, we are to rejoice when we suffer for Jesus.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2 Timothy 3:12 (WEB)

The Bible makes it very clear. If we want to live for Christ, we will be persecuted. But we rejoice when it comes, because it indeed means we are living a life worthy of Jesus. We may suffer persecution now, in this life, yet we have a whole eternity to celebrate and enjoy God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The problems of this life won’t even register!

Chapter 5 closes with the following verse:

Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:42 (WEB)

The authorities have clearly commanded the Apostles to stop, yet this verse tells us that they “never stopped.” At home or in church, we must never stop preaching Christ and Him crucified. Amen!

God Rather Than Man

Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to say a massive thank you to those who responded to my blog post – Life Happens – yesterday. I really appreciate your support of this blog, and am so grateful to you all for reading it.

Now, on to the rest of Acts 5:

But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the apostles, then put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”

24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.

27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:17-29 (WEB)

Chapter 5 began with Ananias and Sapphira attempting to cheat the church, or rather God Himself, and were judged as a result. This event acted as a warning to those who would infiltrate the church and in some ways brought the group of believers together. In that group, many miracles were being performed and crowds were gathering, bringing their sick to the apostles.

The high priest and the Sadducees take notice of all of this, and verse 17 tells us they were filled with jealousy. Jealousy is an interesting motive here. The high priest is not arguing on points of theology, but on popularity. While of course they do not agree with the apostle’s teaching about Jesus, that is not their focus. They are more worried about the fact that people are responding to the Gospel than to their own teaching of the Law. They care more about what the people think of them, than what God thinks of them.

This jealousy drives the religious leaders to arrest Peter and the Apostles, putting them in custody. God has other plans though… Verse 19 tells us that an angel appears to them at night, opening the prison doors and leading them out. He instructs the apostles to go and teach the people in the temple. I’m intrigued by the phrase in verse 20 – “all the words of this life.”

The apostles waste no time and enter the temple at daybreak. Meanwhile, the high priest assembles the council ready to interrogate the apostles. They send for them, but the captain of the guard returns to say the prison is empty! Not only that, but the doors remain locked and the guards still at their posts. This means the angel led the apostles out through the locked door and past the standing guards. This won’t be the last miraculous prison break we read about in the book of Acts.

The gathered council are “perplexed,” which I imagine is something of an understatement!

It is reported to the council that these very men were now in the temple, proclaiming the Gospel. The captain of the guard is sent to retrieve them, and yet verse 26 informs us that he does it rather more gently this time, for fear of the people.

Peter, not for the first time, is set before the council. They remind him that they have strictly charged him not to speak in the Name of christ, and yet he continues to do so. Moreover, he is showing their guilt in Jesus’ death, and this is a particular point they mention.

Look at Peter’s response, and this is the heart of what I want to say today.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:29 (WEB)

Peter says that he (and the other apostles) must obey God rather than man.

I must confess to you that I am a natural people-pleaser. I hate conflict and my natural inclination is to do anything for a quiet life. It is one thing to live peaceably and to try to avoid conflict, but it is quite another to disobey God just to please people.

In Acts, the authorities are instructing Peter to disobey God, and he cannot do that. The same should be true for us. This does not give anyone a green light to disobey the law of the land or to cause deliberate disruption, but it says that we must prioritise what God says more than anyone or anything else.

Living in the Western world, there are very few occasions where my faith in Christ comes into conflict with the law of the land. Things are changing though, and perhaps for my children or theirs, there may be a time when faith in Christ is outlawed. I pray not, but should such a time come, Christians in that generation must be ready to choose God or man.

In everyday life though, you may be making choices about serving God or man. Let’s take a married couple for example, one of whom is a Christian and the other spouse not. Will the Christian continue to go to church? Will they be a generous giver as instructed in the Word, or will they compromise their faith in some way?

For many of us, believing in Christ may not lead to our arrest or death, but that does not free us from persecution. You could potentially be looked over for a promotion at work, or lose friends or family over your faith, or come into direct conflict with the education system over your beliefs. As each of us face these matters, we must put God and His ways first and foremost.

What does obeying God, rather than man, look like for you this week? What choices will you face or make? Pray ahead of time that you have the courage and conviction to make the right choice.

Peter says more than this, but we shall pick that up another time. God bless you this day.