God doesn’t forgive issues (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

God does not forgive issues; He forgives sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoice in this truth today, and be blessed!

Every Morning and Every Evening

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

1 Chronicles 23:30 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

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

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

Legacy

I watched a movie last night called “The Dig.” It is about an archaeological discovery in Suffolk, England. At the site of some burial mounds, the team of excavators discover a 90 foot long Anglo-Saxon boat buried with its owner after his death. They found a number of treasures and gold along with it. It may not sound the most exciting blockbuster from my clumsy description, but it was an enjoyable film.

One of the key themes of the movie is about what we leave behind. On the one hand, it was a tremendous find – the boat, the treasure and the history – and yet little is known of the owner. One of the characters comments that they feel futile in the face of death, fearing they will be forgotten in a few short generations. The chief excavator rather thinks we are all part of an ongoing story, and each play our part in the richness of history.

It got me thinking about what we leave behind us – our legacy.

Life is short, and it can so often fly by without us paying full attention. Someone once said that you don’t grow old, but instead wake up one day and realise that you are! Yet we can each make a lasting difference in the world. Few of us can be world leaders, chairs of huge internationals or jet-setting celebrities but we can each make a contribution to those we live life with.

Don’t feel you have to change the entire world, but do change it for someone. You may not be able to end world hunger on your own, but you can feed someone in need for a single meal. And I suspect that is something that person will not forget in a long, long time.

The Bible tells us to think about those generations that follow.

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children,
but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

Proverbs 13:22 (NIV)

We see in this verse that we are to leave an inheritance for our grandchildren. Many of us make plans to pass on our belongings and wealth to our children, and that is clearly a right thing to do. The Bible goes further though, encouraging us to think not just of our direct children, but of their children beyond them.

Finances are but one way of leaving a legacy of course, and there are much more important things we can leave behind.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)

The most important thing we can give the next generation, and all those that follow, is knowledge of the Lord and His Word.

These verses were given to the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land, but they are every bit as applicable to us Christians today. We are to fix them in our hearts and minds. For me, that means using our brains to really understand them, but also to let them change our hearts in our inner being. Without the heart, studying the Bible becomes a mere intellectual exercise without any need for faith or a changed life.

While the Israelites took these commands literally, and actually bound the Scriptures to their hands and foreheads, I think there is a symbolic notion here too. Binding God’s commands to our foreheads again speaks to me of keeping the Word ever in our mind. It means the Word of God is ever before our eyes no matter what we or where we go. Likewise, binding the Scriptures to our hands to me means letting the command of God influence all that we do. When we work with our hands, we do so in and for God and His glory.

These verses tell us to pass on what we have learned about the Lord. We are to teach our children of the things of God, and to do so when we go out and when we come in. We are to talk about God in every situation; while we eat, while we educate, while we play games with them. Let everything we do with our children be an opportunity to point to the goodness of God and what He has done for us.

Surely this is the most vital legacy we can leave behind us! It is not about us being remembered, or our individual contribution being marked, but rather that God is remembered and His praises sung by each generation that follows.

Will these words be read by someone in a hundred years? Will one of my descendants pick up one of my books to read? Only God knows. Even if I am forgotten, I pray that my life will mean that there are more people heavenbound than there were before.

What kind of legacy will you leave? What contribution can you make to God’s glory? Seek the Lord for the answers today.

Yesterday I posted an audio post introducing A Journey with Jesus. I put the video out on Facebook last night, but for some technical reason I can’t post the video to the blog. If you want to watch, please click here to see it on Facebook.

Having a Bad Day

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

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

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

Ever had a day like that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 16:22-25 (NIV)

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

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

Now that’s “having a bad day!”

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

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

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

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

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

Lent 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Eternity in the Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said:

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

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

Luke 16:22-26 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why water into wine?

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

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

https://fb.watch/3d1lSFD0DE/

Love Discipline

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

    but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1 (ESV)

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

Loves Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hates Reproof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the Demons Believe

Do you believe in God?

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

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

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

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

James puts it like this in his letter.

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

James 2:19 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 6:25-29 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Example of Suffering

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

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

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

22 “He committed no sin, 

    and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

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

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

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

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

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

As Christ said: 

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

John 16:33 (NIV)

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

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

For You 

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

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

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

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

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

1 Peter 2:20 (NIV)

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

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

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

Do Not Retaliate  

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

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

Romans 12:21 (NIV)

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

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

Trust in Him Who Judges Justly 

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

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

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

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

Live for Righteousness 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willing to Pray

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

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

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

Yet, the book of James tells us that:

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

James 5:16 (NLT)

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

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

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

King David was a man of prayer:

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

Psalm 141:1-2 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Words to live by. Amen!