Course in Christian Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

#Prayer video #3

Watch as Andy gives a quick update on some of the prayer requests we prayed over in recent videos. Some good news and some bad news unfortunately. But we rejoice that we can pray and praise the Lord together in this way.



Prayer is a wonderfully powerful thing that we can all do. If you have anything you would like prayer for, please do get in touch so Andy can pray for you. You can comment below, or use the Prayer page to send a note. 

If you would like more videos like this, then please hit the Like button and even better, leave a comment. You can subscribe to the blog to follow the latest posts, and please also share with anyone you think might be interested. 

Spiritual distancing #2

In Monday’s post, I talked about spiritual distancing as opposed to social distancing. In that post, I said that one version of spiritual distancing was to distance our spirits from anything harmful. We need to protect our souls in the same way and to the same degree we are protecting our bodies right now. 

You can read that post here – Spiritual Distancing #1.

Today, I want to explore another meaning of spiritual distancing. This is one we do not want to practice. 

We should not be spiritually distancing ourselves from the rest of the church now or at any time. 

Here in the UK, we are not allowed to leave our homes except to do essential work, shopping or caring, or to obtain medicine. All places of worship, christian or otherwise, are closed indefinitely. It might be much the same where you live. 

This is to, of course, prevent the unnecessary spread of COVID-19, and so churches and Christian fellowships across the world are not physically able to meet together right now. 

That being the case, how can we fulfil the following Scripture?

Do not stop going to church meetings. Some people do stop. But help each other to be strong. You must do it all the more as you see the Great Day coming closer.

Hebrews 10:25 (WEB)

This verse seems to contradict the law of the land and tell us to “go to church.” Of course, I am certainly not telling you to go against the law! We must be obedient to the law and not go to places of worship, but there are other ways to fulfil this Scripture.

Firstly, we must remember that it is only church buildings that are closed, not the church itself! The church is not a building, but a group of believers – a family. Even if our buildings are shut for any reason, we remain a family. 

Our church has been on something of a journey with live streaming. When UK restrictions were first put in place, our church building remained open (in line with guidance at the time) and the services were streamed from the premises. We had some technological issues, with a lot of buffering and such like. 

Since then, restrictions meant that the building itself had to close and so services have been conducted from someone’s hone. To overcome the buffering, things have been pre-recorded which makes for a much smoother watching experience! 

The thing I really enjoy about our streaming services is that our church leadership have made a real effort to include as many people as possible. Some have recorded video messages and sent them in. Others have phoned in audio, or written letters. We now have a church phone where people can text in messages during services to say hello or join in. 

It reminds us that church is not a spectator sport, but one in which we are all a part. 

Perhaps your church is doing something similar, or perhaps it is not in a position to work with technology in this way. Either way, how can you avoid spiritually distancing yourself from the rest of the church? 

Another local church I know of does not have the ability to stream services at present. Instead, they have divided the church membership into groups and are ensuring that everyone gets a phone call at least once a week. 

We need each other. We were not created to be alone. In this world where Christian values are no longer valued, we need to spend time fellow shipping with  other like-minded believers. 

Now more than ever, we need to support and encourage one another. We need to be praying for other members of our church on a daily basis. Hard as these times are, they are also a great opportunity for us to witness to the world. When the world loses all hope and is being swallowed up in fear, they should be able to look to a united church and say, “I want to be a part of that!” 

Who can you call today? Who can you send a little encouraging note to? IF you venture out shopping (for essentials), can you pick up one or two extra items for an elderly church member who may need them? Can you record a video to share with someone? Don’t forget that young family whose children are going stir crazy stuck indoors – perhaps you can send them something to do?

There is something you can do, and it will bless someone today. 

So then, when we can, we should do good to all people. But most of all, we should do it to those who are in God’s family.

Galatians 6:10 (WEB)

While practising social distancing today, do not practice spiritual distancing from the Body of Christ. 

Prayer Video #2

I was planning on writing a follow up to yesterday’s post – Spiritual Distancing #1– but actually felt I needed to record another prayer video today. Hope you enjoy it, and please join me in prayer.

You can find the first prayer video here – Praying for you. 

For some strange reason, the video looks upside down in the post preview… but when you play it, it comes out fine. Not sure why, but just wanted to point that out!

Please do send in any more prayer request, as I’d be glad to pray for you too.

God bless you and yours.

Spiritual distancing #1

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:33 (WEB)


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

1 Timothy 4:7 (WEB)


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

Ecclesiastes 7:21 (WEB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:29-30 (WEB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Timothy 4:8 (WEB)

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

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

What might spiritual exercise look like? 

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Stones that shout for joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

34 They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’

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

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

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

‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’

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

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

Luke 19:28-40 (NIVUK)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Palm Branches and Prophecy


 

Time or Effort? (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Are you ready for the bridegroom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 25:1-13 (WEB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you do that today?

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

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

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

Who can you pray for?

Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.

James 5:16 (WEB)

Are you tired of hearing about the corona virus yet? It has been quite a while since the headlines mentioned anything other than the global pandemic! Sorry to mention it again here!

In these difficult times, there is a lot of practical things we can do as the Body of Christ to support each other. If you have elderly or vulnerable family members or neighbours, you might be able to shop for them to save them having to go out.

Our family, led by my wonderful wife, is setting about sending Easter cards or cards of encouragement to all the members of our church (the ones we have contact information for that is).

As you might have noticed, I have been trying to post on the blog every day. I am hoping that even in the difficult days ahead, many will read the blog and ideally be encouraged or uplifted in some way.

What practical things are you doing? What things could you do to bless those around you at this time?

You might be in a situation where doing something practical is just not possible right now. Not all of us can. There is one thing you can do however, and it will make a tremendous difference. You can pray.

Sometimes we think of prayer as a last resort. We do all the practical stuff, and then turn to prayer when we run out of ideas. This really shouldn’t be the way we think. Prayer is our first and foremost response in every situation.

Who can you pray for today? I hope it won’t take you long to think of someone.

my family has a jam jar full of lolly sticks. On each stick, we write the name of a friend or family member. When we sit down to pray, we draw out a stick and then pray for the person named. It is a great way of remembering to pray for different people.

Don’t be afraid to ask for prayer at this time either. There are prayer warriors out there just looking for someone to cover in prayer. Why not be the “squeaky wheel?”

As well as the people you know, please also pray for your government and leaders. They need God’s wisdom and guidance right now to make right decisions and to time them well.

I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks be made for all men: 2 for kings and all who are in high places, that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (WEB)

Please also pray for your church leaders. Many places of worship have been closed and this presents something of a unique challenge for ministers and pastors alike.

Those working in the medical field will also very much need our prayers right now. In the UK, our health service was stretched prior to the pressures of the corona virus, and so they need our support now more than ever .

I could go on, but there is an unending list of people and situations we can pray for. Prayer is powerful, and we in the family of God can make a huge difference.

Pray without ceasing.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (WEB)

What about the animals?

Jonah 4:11 (NLT) But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

As I write this, I’m overlooking a sort of forest woodland. In the last few minutes I have seen an abundance of nature! I’ve seen ducks, squirrels, deer, rabbits and even what I think was a stoat.

Due to the Coronavirus, the woodland has largely been abandoned at the moment. I suspect that the sudden drop in guests will quite badly affect the wildlife here. Over time I am sure they have become somewhat dependent on the food given to them by visitors. This area will be closed to the public for several weeks leaving the animals to fend for themselves for a while.

While the sudden drop in available food will be a bit of a shock to them, I am not overly worried about them. God cares for people, but He cares for His creation also.

There have been a number of posts on social media about panic buying and stockpiling. As a result, many food banks and charities have seen a dip in food donations. This is not limited to charities offering support for people either, and a number of animal rescue shelters are struggling too. The Coronavirus is affecting the whole world in myriad ways.

The verse above is quoted from the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. In fact, it is the closing verse of that book. Most people recall that Jonah was once swallowed by a big fish, but in case you don’t know the rest of the story, here is a brief summary.

God called Jonah to preach to the non-Jewish (Gentile) city of Nineveh. Instead, Jonah heads in the complete opposite direction and boards a ship to Tarshish. A great storm swamps the ship, and in the end Jonah confesses to the crew that he is the cause of their struggle. Ultimately they have to throw him overboard to still the storm.

It is at this point – more or less – that Jonah is swallowed by the fish. The fish later spews up the reluctant prophet on to the shoreline, and Jonah finally goes to Ninevah as he was instructed.

Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah and preach because he was afraid the people would listen to him… He knew that if they heard his message, they would repent and turn back to God – and God would forgive them. Imagine that?

After he gives his message, he goes and sits outside the city to see what would happen. The sun is burning hot, and he grows weary. God causes a vine to grow up beside him and offer him some shelter. Later however, a worm comes along and eats the root of the vine so it withers and Jonah loses his shade.

It’s something of an odd story right? Indeed it is, but it is really about who is in charge. God is running the show throughout, and He gives Jonah the vine and quickly takes it away to demonstrate to Jonah that he has no control in the situation. God wants Jonah to realise that He cares for the people of Ninevah.

The book of Jonah closes with the verse above. God tells Jonah He is right to care for the 120,000 people living there. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this, but let’s hope he learned a lesson!

Perhaps 15 years ago, I had a dog who was very poorly. They had a particularly bad night, and we had to contact an emergency vet. The next day I happened to be reading this closing chapter of Jonah. I’ll always remember that because I recall very vividly this final verse. As well as the 120,000 people, God specifically mentions the animals also.

The word animals here is sometimes translated as cattle, so perhaps refers to farm animals or bovine species. Whatever it refers to though, it is clear that God cares for the animals also.

Animals are a part of God’s creation. While they are not as important as people, they are important. We have a responsibility to take care of them, and must certainly not mistreat them.

Spare a thought this week for all those affected by the Coronavirus. We must prioritise helping people with various needs at this time. We, the church, may not be able to gather together in large numbers, but we can and must continue to be Jesus’ hands and feet on the Earth. Call an isolated family member. Check on an elderly neighbour. Let’s do what we can to share God’s love in this difficult time.

As well as those things, and if you’re not overstretched, do consider whether there are ways to take care of God’s creation also. You might consider grabbing a can of dog food to pass on to a struggling pet owner. Perhaps you could walk a friend’s dog. Maybe, like me, there is a nearby animal shelter who could do with a helping hand at this difficult time.

Like many, I’m deeply disappointed to read stories of fighting in supermarkets and immoral seller hiking up prices. There are plenty of positives stories also, and we – the church – should be leading the way in that.

How can you be a blessing to those around you at this time? And remember, God cares about the animals also.

The Sinfulness of my Sin

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two days? What’s gotten into Andy?!

I’m pleased to report that all is well, and I’m not self-isolating with nothing to do. In fact, I am very conscious of how everyone is feeling right now, and hoping that a few extra blog posts will be well received.

A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 32. You can listen to that message here. It is a wonderful Psalm and I only had a short time to discuss it. This post covers one of the things I did not have time to explore.

The totality of the Psalm is about sin and repentance. It points out the depth of our wrongdoing, the wonder outs grace of God and our responsibility to confess and acknowledge our sin.

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 5 which says God forgives the “iniquity of our sin.” We might say the “sinfulness of our sin.”

Some translations of the Bible render this as the “guilt of our sin,” but this doesn’t quite cover it in my view.

If God forgives our sin, then what does it mean for Him to forgive the iniquity of our sin?

It is like saying the “saltiness of salt,” or the “chocolatey-ness of chocolate…” What is the psalmist getting at here?

Often when we say “Sorry,” we are not really sorry for what we did, but rather are sorry we got caught. When we see hardened criminals breaking down in tears in the dock of the courtroom, it is often about the loss of their freedom, money or reputation. Being sorry for the consequences of sin is of course very natural, and a great reason not to do it in the first place. But are we sorry for the sin itself? If we never got caught, are we truly repentant for the thing we did?

The sinfulness of our sin is the badness of our sin. It is to recognise that sin is wrong, not because it has terrible consequences, but because it is wrong in the sight of God.

When we are truly repentant, we are sorry to God for falling short of His perfection. We are saying that the thing we did – the things we all do – are very wrong irrespective of consequence and punishment.

God forgives us not just from the punishment of sin through Jesus’ death at the cross, but for sin’s sinfulness also. God forgives us for the wickedness of our sin, and all of its consequences. That is not to say that we are free from any consequence on Earth of course, just rob a bank to see what I mean. God can forgive a robber, but they’ll still go to jail for it.

The point is that we need to recognise that our sin is wrong. It is wrong in and of itself. The consequences are indeed terrible, if facing them without Christ, but the sinfulness alone is wicked before God.

As you reflect on and confess your own sins, ask yourself if you are sorry for what they are, or for their consequence.

Spend some time this week to reflect on where you have fallen short, and on the One who forgives all of your sins and covers all of your iniquity. Come to Jesus at the cross and surrender your whole life to Him. It will be the best decision you ever made!