The Rule of Six

Here in the UK, the government have now introduced a new rule known as “The Rule of Six,” which means that outside of work or other specific situations, no more than six individuals should meet together. This is an attempt at preventing further spread of COVID-19 which is on the rise across the country right now.

Some have questioned the new rules, accusing the Government of having no science to back this up. While true, there are no scientific papers to support the idea of six people being anything other than an arbitrary number, it is more a practical decision. Previous rules were somewhat confusing about who could meet and when. The premise of the Rule of Six is to simplify things. Sadly I don’t think it has achieved that.

Our family is a family of six, which means we cannot all meet up with any other person or group. Some point to the absurdity of being able to work with a group of seven people but then not being to go out to lunch with them.

It is all rather easy to criticise the Government in this situation. They cannot get it right for trying. No one wanted a lockdown, and yet they were criticised for not locking down sooner. There is obvious contradiction in their seemingly random approach, encouraging us to eat out one minute and stay home the next. I do want to point out what a difficult job the Government have and it is right that we believers pray for them continually.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my usual approach to blogging. Typically I stick to the Bible and leave politics out. I make no comment here on the new or previous rules, and so turn to the Scripture in our uncertain times.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, a great sense of fear was created around this virus. We have never locked down before, and many – rightly – understood this to mean how serious the situation was. The subsequent consequences to the economy pose an equal or even greater threat, so steps are being made to try to undo the damage. Fear is not so easily dismissed as it is created.

We were not created for fear. In fact, we see that fear was the very first negative experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall of humanity.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realised they were naked. They were just as naked before, but now, for the first time, took their eyes off of God and turned them on themselves. Sin entered the world, and the first emotion they felt was fear. There is no evidence of fear prior to this.

The Bible has much to say about fear – far more than I can ever say in this one short post. Suffice it to say that fear is not what God wants for His people. Fear often stops us obeying the Lord or doing what we know is right. Sometimes we fear other people and so don’t fully serve God, frightened of people’s judgement or criticism.

Many places in the Bible tell us not to fear. It does not necessarily mean do not feel the emotion of fear, but rather, do not allow the fear you feel to stop you doing what you know is right.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

So how do we conquer fear? How do we master it in these fearful times? I could write a whole book on the subject, but hope these few points help.

We must start from the point of understanding that God does not want us to be afraid. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion at times, but we must harness it, not allowing it to drive us but instead God’s Spirit. As you act and speak this week, ask yourself if the words or deeds are driven by fear or the Holy Spirit.

We must pray through fear. Fear is not an easy foe at times, and so we must stand firm in prayer and draw on the strength of God. If you are facing a particularly frightening time, then please do seek God more and more. Often the thing we fear becomes tiny and insignificant as we compare it to the splendour and majesty of our God!

My final suggestion is to think through the consequences or outcomes of what you fear. For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a situation which was quite scary. I knew it was coming and was getting anxious about it. As I thought about it however, I realised if it did not work out as I wanted, there were virtually no consequences. at all. Fear and worry about it was a major waste of energy. We play the “What if?” game which can be mentally draining. Many of the things we fear though have little consequence, and even fewer have eternal ramifications.

The world we live in can be a frightening place at times, but you do not face it alone. Fear can be beaten, and we do so in the strength of our Lord. What do you fear right now? Talk to God about it and fight that fear!

Fear Nothing (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Fear nothing, except God Himself

We are often afraid of many things in life. That fear can prevent us doing what we know is right. Often the fear of other people stops us doing or saying the things that God has prompted us to. Or worse, peer pressure leads us to do things we know are sinful.

The Bible has much to say about fear, and while I do not think the emotion of fear is prohibited in the Scripture, bowing down to it and letting it stop us certainly is.

When this life is over, and we stand before God, all those things we feared will seem rather insignificant. There is nothing to fear, except God Himself.

When we say “fear” these days, we simply mean things that we are scared of. Often people are afraid of spiders, heights or public speaking. This kind of fear is not what we were made for. God does not want His people to be afraid. Evolutionists explain fear as a safety mechanism, and yet we saw no sign of fear in Adam and Eve until after the Fall and sin entered the world.

Our Heavenly Father does not want us to fear Him in the sense of being afraid of Him. Rather, when we speak of fearing God, we mean a reverential fear. This is to highly respect God in His position of Sovereign Lord with the power of eternity in His hands.

Next to God, there is nothing worth fearing. If your fear is stopping you from serving God then cast it out today! Fear nothing, except God Himself!

Prayer and Sovereignty

A couple of years ago, I was challenged about my view of God’s Sovereignty. I once believe that He did not control all things, but rather had delegated some control (for want of a better term) to humankind. Yet, a careful look at the Bible made me question this view, and ultimately dismiss it. God is in control of all things, directing and holding everything together.

You can read my posts on that subject here – Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God, and – The Sovereign God.

Taking the view that God does indeed have supreme sovereignty and controls everything that happens leads to some very difficult questions. The problem of evil for instance, how can evil exist within God’s will? This is a subject for another day, and is by no means a straightforward one.

Another question relates to prayer. If God controls and directs all things according to His will, then what role does prayer play? The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 9, where he discusses sovereignty, yet also wrote Romans 10 which encourages us to pray. Clearly Paul saw no contradiction.

I have been reading a book on sovereignty this week, and the subject of prayer was briefly discussed in a chapter I read last night. The author did not say what I am about to, but certainly inspired my line of thinking.

Prayer is not about getting God to do what we want. Rather, prayer is God asking us to align to His will and purpose.

Let me explain with an example: football (or soccer for our American readers!).

When I line up a shot in a football game, and kick the ball with all the precision and accuracy I can muster, and it goes towards the corner flag (not the goal), my teammates do not run forward, grab the goal and move it to the corner so that I score! Imagine that for a moment, and how silly it sounds!

Instead, when I play football, I must kick the ball towards the goal. The goal never moves nor does it grow or shrink. I need to get that shot on target and it does absolutely no good to shoot anywhere else on the pitch.

How does this apply to prayer? Well, often we pray and are expecting God to move. We give Him our list of wants, and we are waiting on Him to make it happen. This is akin to shooting at the corner, and expecting the goal to move.

As God is Sovereign, He will do His will and His will only. When we pray, if we are praying for something outside of His will, then it will never happen. Similarly, if we pray in His will, we can be certain it will come to pass.

Why pray then? If God will do His will alone, then our prayers cannot change that. If I pray in God’s will, it will happen, but certainly would have happened independent of me. Likewise, if I pray outside of His will, it will never happen no matter how elequont or frequent my prayers. Prayer is just a waste of time right? Absolutely not!

Take the Lord’s Prayer – we pray “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is a prime example of a waste of breath if we are asking for God’s will to be done. If sovereignty holds, then God will keep His own will no matter what. Yet this prayer is not a request! We are not asking for God’s will to be done, as it certainly will be. Rather, we are praying in recognition and agreement with that! It is not a request but acknowledgement! God’s will is done on Earth as in heaven, and we rejoice of that fact!

God wants us to recognise the fact that His will is good, pleasing and perfect (see Romans 12:1-2). When we accept that, why would we pray for anything else other than His will?

Prayer is not about taming God and getting Him to do what we want. It is about humbling us, and changing our mindsets such that we want all that He plans to do. We pray, “If it be your will…” so that we recognise and accept that God’s will is best for us.

Understanding this, I’ll admit, very difficult truth, provides us with extreme security. We may want one thing or another, yet if it does not happen we know that it is because God did not will it. That means He has a different purpose in mind. Too many of us do not think about the long game, only about our immediate comfort.

I say all of this absolutely realising that many of us are going through some very difficult, even life-threatening things. How dare I say people facing such things are in the midst of God’s will? The objection usually comes down to the fact that no loving God could ever allow us to go through such suffering. I humbly submit that this is a human way of looking at things, and we cannot begin to fathom what God has in mind. I can say with 100% certainty that no matter what you are facing today, it is not because God does not love you. Jesus went to the cross and died for you, that’s how much He loves you! No matter what you are facing, do not let go of that cross and knowing your Saviour bled and died for you!

So, we pray in humble submission to God’s will and purpose. We pray to surrender to God and what He wants for our lives. We are free to ask for whatever we wish, understanding that only His will shall be accomplished.

I close with this. Prayer is not primarily about asking God to do things for us, it is about building our relationship with Him. Our praise and thanksgiving should always outweigh our petition. God is love, and He loves you, and He loves to hear your prayers and loves to answer them according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. Amen.

We’re Here to Serve God (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

As Christians, we are here to serve the Lord, not the other way around

I am certainly not against all television ministries, but an unguarded look at Christian TV might make you think that Christianity is all about getting the best life you can. Some falsely lead you into thinking that having a relationship with God will make all of your problems go away or that all of your dreams will come true. This is not so.

I do want to add though that God does indeed love us and want us to have good lives. He is a good, good Father and wants what is best for His children. However, God’s primary concern is neither our comfort nor our bank balance.

God is not a cosmic genie ready to grant your every request and wish.

God does not exist to serve us, rather quite the opposite is true. If the focus of your Christian life is to get whatever you can from God, then I suggest you perhaps care more about what God can give you than God Himself.

Christians are here to serve and worship God. Our time, energy, money and resources should be devoted to His service. We should go about our days not thinking about what we want to achieve, but seeking to serve Him and follow His lead.

This is a real challenge. Speaking for myself, I am only just realising the depths of my pride at times. Surrendering to Jesus as Lord is a daily (or even second by second) process. Few of us put and keep God at the very centre of our lives. I ask you though, is there anything more important?

Are you in this to get what you can from God, or are you fully committed to serving Him? How might your plans for today change as a result?

God bless; you!

What is Prayer?

Recent news has reported a big increase in the number of Google searches for the term “prayer.” The stories suggest that the increase in these searches is in step with the spread of Coronavirus and in general perhaps reflects people’s growing fears in recent times.

Just yesterday I caught a video on Facebook of Russell Brand, the British comedian, talking about “prayer” and this attracted (at the time I saw it) of nearly 5,000 views.

In this global crisis, people have questions and this current generation seek answers from Google or Alexa. Even questions of a spiritual nature start with a simple keyword search in your chosen engine, and see what the Internet has to offer.

The danger is that if you are taking your first tentative steps into prayer or spiritual matters, then you are likely ill-equipped to sift through the huge variety of answers you will be pointed to.

Meditation is a good example of where difficulties lie. What an Eastern religion means by the term is very different to what Christian (should) mean by it. Biblical meditation is about using our minds to consider God’s Word, not to empty them of thought altogether.

So with so much information out there, and not all of it good, I wanted to put forward my own views on prayer – what it is, how to do it and direct you to what the Bible says.

What is prayer?

Prayer is communication with God. It simply means to talk to Him, but also to listen.

It may be a straightforward definition, but prayer is not complicated. When I talk to my wife or children, I do not overthink it – i just talk to them about what’s on their hearts or what is important to me. The same is true for talking with God.

Let’s be very clear though, as a Christian, I am specifically referring to praying to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as made known to us through  the Bible. Other forms of prayer depicted by other religions are not compatible with biblical prayer. Chanting, for instance, or using a mantra, is not a biblical practice.

I also need to say something about listening to God. I do believe that as we pray to God, we should expect to hear from Him also, but I do not want to cause confusion on this. It is possible, but extremely rare, for God to speak in an audible voice that you hear with your ears. I have never heard God speak in that way. So when I say, “listen to God,” I am generally not meaning you listen with your ears.

To listen to God is to be open to Him, and to be guided by His Holy Spirit. This guidance can come in a variety of forms, including through the Bible, an inner witness (that is, a sense on the inside of us of God’s guidance) and through other believers. It is not a simple subject and I cannot do it justice here. The main point is that if you feel God is directing you in a certain way, it will never – NEVER – contradict the Bible.

Let’s focus on talking to God in prayer and how to do it.

How do I pray?

Jesus’ disciples asked Him this very question.

Once Jesus was praying in a certain place. After he had finished, one of his disciples told him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

2 So he told them, “Whenever you pray you are to say,

‘Father, may your name be kept holy.
May your kingdom come.
3 Keep giving us every day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive everyone who sins against us.
And never bring us into temptation.’”

Luke 11:1-4 (ISV)

There is much we could talk about in this one prayer alone, and indeed many books have been written about it. We know it as the “Lord’s Prayer,” but is perhaps better described as the Disciple’s Prayer.

Jesus goes on in the rest of that chapter to tell us more about prayer. He uses a parable to show us what God the Father is like, and to encourage us to be persistent in prayer – that is, to keep on praying.

There are a few points I would like to draw out from this passage today though.

Firstly, Jesus opens the prayer by recognising Who He is praying to. This is very important as the power of prayer lies in the One we pray to, not in our words or methods.

It is good practice to begin our prayers with words of worship and praise. Too often we can jump straight into our list of wants without remembering that prayer is not a means to get what we want, but to enjoy relationship with Jesus.

Notice that Jesus makes no mention of our physical position. He does not instruct us to bow our heads, kneel or lift our hands. These things are absolutely fine to do of course, but are not a requirement. Our physical attitude is not as important as the attitude of our hearts before God.

So, practically speaking, find somewhere that is quiet and comfortable. Turn off any screens or phone which may distract, and take a seat. Some find it helpful to close their eyes, but there’s always a risk of falling asleep!

Then, just talk. Talk to God about anything that is important to you. You can tell Him your hopes and fears. You can ask Him to help your family or friends. Spend some time recognising the things you have done wrong, and ask Him to forgive you. Thank God for the good things in your life, even if times are hard right now.

I strongly recommend people use the Bible to pray. Ask God about particular verses or passages, and to help you understand them. Use prayers that you find in the Bible, particularly those of Jesus and Paul. The Psalms of the Old Testament are also a great place to find inspiration.

If you are taking your first steps in prayer, then my advice is to keep it simple. Try not to clock watch as it is more about quality than quantity. God wants to listen to you and keenly wants a good relationship with you.

That relationship is  made possible through Jesus Christ and His work at the cross. We dare not approach God on our own merits, as we fall very far short of God’s perfection. But when we approach God in and through the blood of Jesus – that is, recognising His sacrifice for us, and putting our trust in Him fully – we can approach God’s throne with boldness and know we will find grace and mercy there.

Why not spend today thanking the Father for the sacrifice of His Son, and rejoicing in the salvation we have through Him.

You Thrill Me (Psalm 92 #2)

Yesterday I wrote about the first few verses of Psalm 92, and so today i thought I would just carry on and talk about more of this great song of praise.

You can read yesterday’s post here – Praise in the morning, praise in the evening.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.
2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
3 accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp,
and the melody of a lyre.

4 You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
5 O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
6 Only a simpleton would not know,
and only a fool would not understand this:
7 Though the wicked sprout like weeds
and evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.

Psalm 92:1-7 (NLT)

All He has done

Verses 1-3 encourage us to worship God for particular aspects of His character. It points us toward God’s unfailing love and His faithfulness. Verse 4 turns our attention to the good things God has done as a result of His wonderful character.

I once heard it said that worship is about recognising who God is, whereas praise is about the things He has done. Perhaps the definitions aren’t so rigid, but it is a helpful way to look at it. The psalm, in that case, turns worship into praise.

The New Living Translation, quoted above, uses the word “thrill,” which is a powerful term. God’s work should thrill us! We associate the word thrill or thrilling with something like a roller-coaster or extreme sport. I suppose in some ways our Christian lives can be a lot like that at times!

We are thrilled, or excited, by god’s wonderful works. Think of all He has done for you! We can look at Creation and see its complexity and beauty. We can look at the blessings we receive on a daily basis. Most of all we can focus on the saving work of Jesus Christ and the immense grace shown to us who believe.

Again, we are encouraged to sing in response to the kindness of God. Not just sing though, but sing for joy!

Joy is something I feel I lack. I’m happy, don’t get me wrong, but I find it hard to grasp joy in my inner man at times. Even as I write these words, I hear the Spirit’s whisper that it is because I do not do what the psalmist is instructing us here. I do not consider what God has done often enough. All too frequently I am caught up in the concerns of this life – work, family, or even recreation, and not nearly enough on the things of eternity.

The solution to lack of joy:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

Colossians 3:1-2 (NLT)

Does this apply to you also?

Flourishing Evil

Verses 5-7 are really quite interesting. Verse 5 directs us to consider how deep the thoughts of God are. I am truly humbled by the times I have questioned God or what He has done. How dare I even imagine that I could fathom His reasons or actions with my limited mind?

When my children repeat over and over, “Why, dad, why?” I try to explain as best I can, but sometimes the answer is simply because I know things they do not. I cannot ask my six year old to understand the economic impacts of COVID-19 nor explain to my two year old about genetics or astrophysics. Some things are just beyond them.

The same is true for me. God’s thoughts and ways are sometimes so far above our comprehension, it is rather comical that we try to figure it out. God wants us to use our brain and to understand what we can, but we must also know our limits.

Verses 6 and 7 have some tough words for us. It says that only a simpleton would not understand this – that evildoers may flourish like weeds but they will be destroyed forever.

The psalmist is adamant. He tells us it is as plain as day! Yes evil may well flourish around us and be as abundant as weeds in a neglected garden, but they will not get away with it. Evil will not go unpunished. Why not? Because there is a just God in heaven!

Some people ask how a loving God could punish people in an eternal hell. The answer is simple, if not easy. A loving God must also be a just God. If God were to simply ignore sin and evil, then the result of that would not be “loving” for all. Imagine if someone committed a horrendous crime against someone you dearly loved, and the police just let them go. Would you feel loved? No, you would want justice!

The problem we have though, is that we are all guilty of sin and evil. So God, to be just, must punish us all. But thank God for His mercy and “deep thoughts”!

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NLT)

God has done something astonishingly amazing. He could have just left us to face the punishment of our sin but He didn’t – He had a plan. God came down and became human. We call Him Jesus. He never once failed to do good, and never once sinned against God or man. Yet He took the full punishment we deserve. He became our substitute so we can go free.

This thrills me!

God’s justice is fulfilled in Christ’s death. God’s love is demonstrated in the same way. Only a fool or a simpleton would accuse God of injustice or a lack of love towards His creation.

Evil may flourish for a lifetime on Earth, but eternity is a very long time.

Let the God of love and justice thrill you this day! Sing for joy for the things He has done! And another day we will complete this stunning psalm.

Have a great weekend!

Praise in the Morning, Praise in the Evening (Psalm 92 #1)

Part of my Bible reading this morning was in Psalm 92. It is a wonderful psalm of praise and thanksgiving, and I think we need a good dose of that right now. In fact, we always do, but times of struggle seem to require an extra boost of worship.

The psalm is one for the Sabbath day. In case you are not familiar, the Sabbath was a day of rest, dedicated to the Lord which the Jewish people celebrate from Friday evening to Saturday evening. No work is done on the Sabbath, and the intention is that the time is spent in praise to God, resting our bodies and souls.

While Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath in the same way, the principles are still very much needed and it would not hurt us one bit to dedicate a day to the Lord to rest and worship. We do not need to make it a law, and whether you do it on a Saturday, Sunday or any other day perhaps does not matter. what matters is that we spend dedicated quality time with God.

The psalm begins like this:

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.
2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
3 accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp,
and the melody of a lyre.

Psalm 92:1-3 (NLT)

It is good to give thanks to the Lord

Amen to that!

It is indeed good to give thanks to God, and something we all lack at times. Too often we are asking for more from God, while neglecting to thank Him for all He has already done.

Thankfulness is less of an activity, and more of a heart attitude. I mean that we ought not to just thank God for a set time, then move on, but rather make thankfulness an integral part of our lives and who we are.

Times may well be tough right now, but can you find things to be thankful for? Knowing Jesus is no small thing if it be the only thing you can think of immediately.

Sing praises to the Most High

I love music, but have never been specially musical. I play guitar, but it has always been a bit mechanical rather than any natural musical ability. Singing, like my guitar playing, is not a natural talent of mine. Where I have learned to play the guitar, I have also learned to aim my voice in the general direction i wish it to go!

Whether you are tone-deaf, or a top suprano, we can all sing praises to the Most High God. In church or at home, we can all lift our voices and unite in singing about the goodness of God.

Verse 3 encourages us to use instruments to accompany our voices. Whether you play or not, many of us can play background music to sing along with. I mentioned in my post on Wednesday – The Blessing– how we had been playing a lot of worship music lately. This is good to do, and helps us focus on our relationship with God and not on the worries of the world.

In the morning and in the evening

Verse 2 tells us it is good to proclaim God’s love in the morning, and His faithfulness in the evening. While I do not think these two specific things are literal instructions i.e. that we should only proclaim Gods love in the morning, and the evening is reserved for His faithfulness, I think the principle is clear. We should start and end each day in worship to God.

If you are like me, then you tend to start your days rushing around getting children ready, grabbing a coffee and then dashing to work. Days end in a similar way, but in reverse and with less coffee!

The ideal is to put God first, right at the start of the day. Jesus did this. We see many times in the Gospel accounts of Jesus rising early in the morning to spend time with His Father.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35 (NLT)

Days can end in a similar way. As we prepare for bed, what if we took the time to give thanks for all the good that happened this day. I imagine our sleep might be a fraction more peaceful having dedicated some time to recalling the good, and not worrying about the bad.

I want worship to be an integral part of your life, but do not want it to be a chore you schedule into an already packed routine. Focus on different aspects of God’s character each day. Keep it fresh by using different songs or even different places where you worship. Most importantly, worship while you work, clean or shop.

Never stop giving praise to the Most High!

The Isolation Test

Every Christian can act like one when they are home alone. But when we are trapped in the same four walls with our close family, not able to go out as we wish, it can be a lot harder to be a good witness for Christ. 

How are you coping with the Isolation Test?

I’m not quite sure how long we have been in lockdown now, but I know it has been over a month since I was last in a moving vehicle. I have not left the house since the weekend, and then only to walk our two dogs around the village where I live. My four children are fed up with being cooped up and all they want to do is run around.

For us, the sounds of children bickering about their latest make-believe game may be grating, but for those who live alone it would be a welcome noise.

How are you coping with the extended lockdown period? I call it the “Isolation Test”. And some days I’ve not doing a great job of passing it!

I saw on the news this morning that a charity in the UK are saying that as many as 1 in 6 relationships could break down as a result of this extended lockdown period. Those couples who thought they were in good shape have been shaken or broken by this strange time. We all need space at times, and even our closest friend or spouse can be a source of irritation if we indulge our selfish side.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIVUK)

Paul has some very challenging words to say about love in these verses. Love is not easy, and especially so right now.

Love is patient

They say that patience is a virtue. I say it is a critical Fruit of the Spirit which we all need to live a successful Christian walk. You cannot defeat a patient person.

My own patience has been somewhat lacking in recent days. Working from home with childcare and all social events cancelled has made it much harder to bear this fruit. Yet, we are in a very blessed position compared to many, and my focus should be on that fact and not on what I feel I am missing out on.

It is all too easy to fall into the temptation to be impatient. Impatient with children. Impatient with spouses. Impatient with technology, supermarket staff or social media. We all need a healthy dose of patience right now, and we can only find it in walking close with the Lord.

Love is kind

Kindness is another fruit we need right now. It is so easy to forget others and focus on our own circumstances. Alongside all of the bad news stories we hear, I’m so pleased to hear of other stories of kindness. Kindness to key workers. Kindness to neighbours. Kindness to those in desperate need.

Be kind to those you live with. They are likely finding it just as difficult as you are. Go the extra mile and do it even when you really don’t feel like it. Ask God to give you ideas about innovative kindness.

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not self-seeking. This statement alone stops me in my tracks. Love – God’s kind of love – is not about serving ourselves. Love is outward facing. It focuses on other people and sometimes doesn’t even consider itself.

When I lose my temper, it is nearly always because something or someone is getting in the way of what “I” want to do. While this is understandable at times, it is very humbling for me. I clearly have a long way to go in crucifying my flesh and dealing with my pride. I tend to fail the isolation test when I don’t put others before myself. I am guessing that I am not alone in this.

Selfishness is an ugly thing, and one we do not like to talk about or focus on. Yet it is something which affects us all to some degree. The more we deal with our selfishness and pride, the more loving we will be.

How do we do that though?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 16:24 (NIVUK)


 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24 (NIVUK)

Crucifying the flesh means putting it to death. It means that each and every day we deny its desires and wants, and we put love first. Every time we feel that temper rise, we deny it and put the needs of others first. It is hard, but will only get harder if we choose not to do it. Likewise, the more we do it, the easier it will become.

There are no miracles or shortcuts to cure selfishness. It is a step-by-step, day-by-day process. We will only conquer it by consistently putting it down over and over again. And we will all have to do that for the rest of our lives.

Testing times

There is much more we could say about the words from 1 Corinthians on love. In fact, we could do a whole series of studies on it. For today, suffice it to say that passing the Isolation Test will be in no small part to do with how loving we can be to others.

It is an extremely hard time for many people, and so I do not write this to condemn you or make you feel worse than you perhaps already do. I have found it hard to be a good witness during the last few weeks, but that conviction drives me onward to want to do better.

I cannot behave better just because I want to, as my own strength of will isn’t enough and is too easily swayed by circumstances. I need the guiding hand of God to bring about lasting change in my life. I must renew my mind in His Word and allow Him to do the work of crucifying the flesh. Every moment of every day i must surrender to Him. It’s not easy, but God loves us.

I pray that you are able to not just survive this time of social distancing and isolation, but that you can bless others while you do.

The Blessing

We have been playing a lot of worship music in our house lately. We do normally I suppose, but now that we are all home most of the time, it feels like it is more than usual.

One song in particular has caught my attention, and it is “The Blessing (Live)” and is sung by Elevation Worship, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. If you are not familiar with it, I’m sure you can find it on YouTube or your music streaming service of choice! It is essentially a sung version of the “Aaronic Blessing” or “Priestly Blessing” from the Bible.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

This is a beautiful blessing, and so the words also make a beautiful song. I do love worship music which uses the words of the Bible. I really believe that songs have a theology, and where we sing them over and over, it’s important they are biblical words which build us up.

So a worship song which quotes directly from the Bible should be fine, right? Well…

For starters, this is a sung blessing and so the words are sung by the congregation to the congregation. That is fine, and a valid expression of our faith. Worship is of course singing to God, but singing about God to other people is worship in another sense.

While this particular song doesn’t sing words of praise to God directly, worship is implied in the fact that His blessing is so richly sought by His people. If God was not God, then His blessing would not be so valuable.

In a previous post I wrote, called “Christ is… Enough?” I discussed worship songs at some length. I won’t cover that same ground again here, but do feel free to go back and read that one.

One concern I do have about “The Blessing” as a worship song is its construction. It was recorded in a mega-church setting, with many people gathered (not that this is a bad thing). It starts softly, and slowly rises to a huge crescendo at the end. The music, the lights, the smoke etc. all combine to take you on an emotional journey. It’s wonderful on one hand, but is it God?

My worry is this: are we mistaking the presence and power of God for a manufactured experience of worship? What I mean is, is the height of that emotional journey really God’s anointing, or is it just the environment and music which has led us there?

I’ve experienced settings like this in the past, and it is easy to get swept along by the atmosphere and the highly polished presentation. We should always give God our best of course, but participating in worship is not the same as being entertained at a concert.

Imagine that exhilarating feeling of being present at one of these events. Thousands of voices singing, melodic music, hands raised in celebration. Then, you return to your “normal” church setting, and there’s one individual with a piano and no lights, sounds or smoke. It is all too easy to think, “God is not in this church…” And you would be wrong.

Enjoy beautiful music by all means. Don’t however mistake it for the presence of God. These hilltop experiences can lead us to forget that God is with us in the everyday. He is present when we sing in the shower, or hum a tune while washing the dishes. Those who chase emotional mountain-tops will struggle to enjoy God in their ordinary everyday lives. I don’t want that for you.

God will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus has promised to be with you until the very end of the age.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)


Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV, emphasis added)

You will find Him not in the neon lights, but in the still small voice.

Let me leave you with this prayer from the Priestly Blessing.

Heavenly Father,

I ask you to bless every reader, to keep them, and to turn Your face toward them. May You be gracious unto them in their everyday lives, and give them peace.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen

Any Excuse To Celebrate

The blog passed a few minor milestones over the last couple of days. We exceeded the number of views we had for the whole of 2019, which is not bad for mid-April. Now, of course, it helps that I’ve posted much more in 2020 than I did last year, but it’s still an achievement!

This is in fact day 35 of daily posts, which may not be much to some, but I’m pleased to have kept the momentum going this long.

Additionally, I’ve written over 25,000 words on the blog so far this year, which is the equivalent of a short novel.

The blog has picked up more followers and more likes, and I want to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read any of this over the last few months. I really hope you have enjoyed it and it has encouraged you to draw closer to Jesus even in a small way.

Every word is worth it if it helps you to understand the Bible a little better or build up your relationship with God.

So I also take this opportunity to celebrate this small success. God gets all of the glory of course, but it is right to recognise achievements along the way and take time to reflect on them.

There is much to be down about in the world today, and it can be all too easy to shrug off reasons to celebrate. For instance, perhaps you’ve had a birthday or anniversary during the lockdown period. I imagine it was hard to mark the occasion and enjoy it as you normally might.

Even in the midst of all the issues right now though, we must enjoy our lives. We will never get this time back, and so should not just throw it away in hope of better times to come. It is not ideal I know, but we can make the best of it.

In the Bible, the Israelites were commanded to celebrate at various feasts throughout the year. Some would argue that “scheduled fun” is no fun at all, but equally if we on’t make time for celebration, it generally won’t happen. God instructed he people of Israel to remember certain events and hold festivals to mark various occasions.

The Lord gave Moses 2 the following regulations for the religious festivals, when the people of Israel are to gather for worship.

Leviticus 23:1-2 (GNT)

The Sabbath, which occurred on a weekly basis, was a day set aside for the people of Israel to do no work, and to focus on God. Some feasts or festivals were celebrated annually, such as the Passover, where they remembered and rejoiced at their escape from Egypt.

There were many other feasts, including the Feast of the Tabernacles, Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Some people suggest that each of these feast days ordained in the Old Testament point to different aspects of Christ. It is an interesting study, but one for another day.

My point today is to remind you to stop and take stock. Find a reason to be joyful and to celebrate in your life. Make a special effort to do so right now. Find any excuse to celebrate, and it does not have to be something big.

Make a special meal. Send someone (or yourself) a gift. Decorate the house with something colourful. Do something to lift your spirits and mark an achievement or just another Tuesday!

Take time to celebrate God too. He really is the most important part of life. In “normal” life, we get lost in the hustle and bustle and can lose sight of Him. In lockdown life, we can take additional time to be with Jesus.

Celebration can boost our joy. Joy is important, not just because it is a wonderful Fruit of the Spirit but because it is a source of strength too.

Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don’t have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad. The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong.”

Nehemiah 8:10 (GNT)

Don’t get bogged down in negativity today, instead celebrate the Lord and all He has done for you!

Why not leave a comment and tell me what you are celebrating today?

It Takes Time (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

If it took years to get your life into a mess, then it may take years to get out of it too

Don’t expect God to fix all of your problems overnight.

Sometimes we come to Christ and expect Him to make all things right in our lives in a matter of days or weeks. However, it may have taken you your entire life to get into the situations you find yourself in, and you cannot ask God to just wave that all away.

If it took 40 years to get into a mess, then it may take just as long to get it straightened out.

Don’t get me wrong, God can and does do miracles, and it is not wrong to ask for them. Often we don’t need a miracle though, we just need discipline.

Take debt or dieting. You can’t over-eat for ten years and expect a week’s worth of dieting to fix it. You can’t max out four credit cards and then expect to pay off your debts in a couple of months. If you’ve overeaten for any length of time, you’ll need to under-eat and exercise to make it right. If you’ve overspent, the same is true. You will need to spend less than you earn for a while to pay it all off.

What do you want to change in your life? Is it a longstanding habit? IF so, it may take time. Give God as much time to undo it as you gave to doing it in the first place.

Whatever you want to change, it may take time, but just take one step after another. If you make good decisions consistently, then sooner or later you will reach your goal.

Be blessed as you live out wisdom in your life.

The Challenging Word of God

I love it when the Bible catches you off guard. And especially so when it is a passage you think you know well.

That very thing happened to me this morning. I was looking over the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. I cannot say I was actually reading it, but was more just scanning through a few verses. I certainly wasn’t doing any quality study!

One of the statements Jesus made really hit me. I am not even going to say which one it was, because that’s not the point of this post. It was just a vivid reminder that God’s Word is alive and God so often is wanting to speak to us through it.

God’s word is living and full of power. It is more sharp than any sword that cuts on both sides. What God says cuts through and divides the mind and spirit. It cuts through and divides the place where the bones are joined, and the part inside the bone. What God says is able to judge the things people think and plan in their hearts.

Hebrews 4:12 (WEB)

There was a real challenge for me in the words of Christ which I read this morning. It was as though the Holy Spirit lifted the curtain slightly, so I could see how far I still have to go. It was convicting, but not condemning. I didn’t walk away feeling depressed or deflated, but the prick of pain I felt from my own shame has caused me to dive deeper into God.

Jesus’ words often take us to a much higher level. The Sermon on the Mount is a great example of this. Jesus tells His audience to “go the extra mile,” or “to hate is to murder,2 or “to lust after a woman in your heart is the same as adultery…” These are difficult teachings to take in.

When we think we are doing well, then there is always another, deeper level we must strive for. I don’t mind confessing the sin of pride to you today. At some point, I must have thought I was doing well on my Christian journey. But of late, God has shown me a number of areas in which I’m falling rather short.

God’s Word is like a mirror we can study ourselves in.

But obey God’s word. Do not just listen to it. If you just listen to it, you fool yourselves.

23 Anyone who just listens to the word, and does not obey it, is like a man who looks at his face in a looking glass.

24 He looks at himself and goes away, and right away he forgets what he looked like.

James 1:22-24 (WEB)

In a physical mirror in your bathroom, you take a look at yourself and make sure you are presentable before leaving the house. Now I know your mirror may be underused during this lockdown period, but you catch the meaning! The mirror shows you if anything is out of place or needs fixing. You cannot look directly at your own face, so you use a reflection to aid you.

The Bible is just like this. It allows you to look deeply into it and show you things that are out of place. When you compare your life to that described in the Bible, you can begin to see areas where you need to change. We cannot change simply by our own effort, because that is called “works of the flesh,” meaning doing it in our own strength. Instead, we need to pray and study, and the more we rely on God, the more He can change us.

The Word of God should challenge us.

All that is written in the holy writings comes from the Spirit of God. The holy writings are good for these things: to teach people, to show them when they are wrong, to make them see what is right, to teach them to do what is right.

2 Timothy 3:16 (WEB)

Paul uses four separate words here to describe why God’s Word is useful to us.

For teaching – God’s Word teaches us how we should live. It shows us the way to conduct ourselves to please God with our lives.

For training – Training goes beyond teaching. To teach is to share knowledge, whereas training is to fully equip them with practical knowledge to do a particular task or job. God’s Word teaches us about Christ on the one hand, and trains us to live for Him on the other.

For reproof – Reproof is not a word we often encounter in our daily lives. To reprove someone is to sharply reprimand them. In this case, God’s Word can bring about discipline and rebuke us for our sins.

For correction – To reprove is to point out the wrong thing we have done, but to correct is to give a steer to show us the right way to go. Reproof and correction go hand in hand. One teaches us what we’ve done wrong, and the other what to do differently in the future.

God’s Word has challenged me today, as it so often does. It drives me forward to change, and leads me to want to please God in every way that I can. It could never do this if I did not take it seriously and regularly read and understand it.

Learn to love God’s Word today and everyday!

The Bible can a little difficult to get to grips with at first, and will take your entire life to master. I suggest you start reading the book of Luke and then Acts. These tell the story of the life of Jesus Christ, and how the church was born. 

For some other resources, I also recommend Understand the Bible