The Early Church and Podcasts

It has been a bit difficult to write over the last few days. This is largely down to the demands of everyday life, and I sometimes under estimate the time it takes to put a post together. As long as I am able to however, I will continue to post daily. It has been nearly three months since I started to write each day and that is not a bad streak!

I do want to continue with the book of Acts, and we are up to chapter 5 which carries on the narrative of events from chapters 3 and 4. To be perfectly honest though, I am still rather stuck on the following verses which concluded the fourth chapter.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:32-37 (ESV)

Digression

I do not want to “go on and on” about it, as you’ve probably heard enough from me on this. The post on these verses – One Heart and Soul – came out last week, and then I put up a podcast mulling over some similar issues on Saturday.

Did you know I had a podcast? As I developed this blog further, and as I started to include some audio of sermons etc. I set up a podcast feed as well. The podcasts are replicated on the Audio page here too, but some prefer a pod-catching app to a website, so thought I would offer both.

If you are interested in subscribing, you can find “The Andy Brown Podcast” in your app of choice. It is available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify and where all good podcast are found!

Alternatively, you can find the podcast at the following link: https://anchor.fm/andy-brown2/episodes/Help-the-poor-efcjr3

While I am on the subject, and sorry for digressing from actually discussing the Bible, could I ask you – the reader – how often you read the blog? Would you prefer audio or video content to my written ramblings? I’ve noticed that Facebook videos seem to get more views than a typical blog post, but perhaps that’s because it is easier to just watch the video for a few seconds rather than read an entire 1,000 word post.

In my mind, it may be that the blog stays with its biblical study focus, and I use the podcast for more opinion or “Andy’s musings!” Whatever I do, of course I will seek the Lord about it first, but would also appreciate your views, so please comment below if you have any strong feelings one way or the other!

Anyway, I digress…

Early Church Life

It is fair to say that I have been rather challenged by the way the Early Church lived. It looks so drastically different to how we live today, and while that does not necessarily mean we ought to try to mimic them precisely, I think there is a great deal we should learn from them.

How do we implement their way of life in our modern world? This is something I have been thinking about and yet not necessarily come up with clear answers. As much as I love to teach what the Bible says, I am regularly forced to recognise that I do not know it all and so some of my writing is less instructional and more conversational. I find I can work out my thoughts as I write them, but apologies I cannot tell you to do this or do that.

Verse 32 says that they did not consider any of the things they owned as theirs. Everything they had became shared with the family. One of the problems the modern day church faces in this respect, is that we are not so closely connected as they were. We may refer to one another as “church family” yet, in my experience at least, we still have barriers between our church life and our personal life.

Does verse 32 require me, as a member of Christ’s church, to sell my home and give the money to the church? If I did, where would my family and I live? I think that common sense must apply here, and we ought not to be reckless or irresponsible when it comes to providing for those we care for.

I’ve been wondering about communal living arrangements and shared housing. I have heard and read lots about communal housing and property, where people pool their resources and share responsibility for all the necessary elements of running a large home. For example, they share cooking responsibilities or have a rota to cover the garden or farming work. Perhaps such an arrangement with a group of close-knit believers is a step closer towards the kind of Early Church life we see described.

To be clear, I am not telling you that the Bible or God is insisting you do this. Do not go out, sell your home and buy into a communal living arrangement based on my thoughts here today! I am perhaps “thinking out loud” and wondering if we are falling short of what God intended for His church.

The persecution the early believers faced is certainly a factor in their lifestyle. They had to unite to stay safe in a way that we, in the West, can only imagine. They also lived like people who believed Jesus would return soon. They did not cling to their possessions because they simply did not expect to be here that long. I am not certain we think or live that way either.

One final thought on this subject before moving on. Many would be reluctant to share their possessions in the way described in this passage for fear of being taken advantage of. If I give up all I have, what’s to stop someone else holding back? That question is answered in no small way in chapter 5! But note the passage said there no needy people among them at all!

If you have read this far into the post, then I am hoping it is a sign you do not mind my musings on this subject! It is rare for something to grab me so strongly as this passage has over recent days. Part of me is hesitant to move on for fear that I will forget its impact or just carry on as normal without any change. Keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts at least ensures I won’t forget!

Normal service will resume tomorrow… Lord willing!

You Can’t Please Them All (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

You can’t please everyone all of the time

I heard this story the other day and thought I would share it with you.

An older father and his son were heading into town. The father allowed the son to ride on the family donkey. When they arrived in the town, the people said, “Look at that! Insolent youth riding on a donkey and making his father walk like that!”

The next time, they swapped places and the father rode the donkey while the son walked beside. Again the people cried, “Look at that! Irresponsible father riding along while his poor boy walks!”

Another time they went into town while both riding the donkey. This time the people protested, “Look at that! That poor donkey! Having to cary two people on its back!”

The final time they went into the town, both father and son walked beside the donkey. This time the people laughed, saying, “Look at that! Those idiots! They have a donkey and yet they are walking!”

Moral of the story – you can’t please everyone all o the time. That doesn’t give us the right to do what we want or to deliberately displease, but we must ensure we are following God’s commands.

Let us please God with all that we do and say today, even if there are those who moan about us!

Praying in the Moment

We sometimes think of prayer as an activity – a spiritual discipline if you like – which we may do for a certain length of time. Yet, the Apostle Paul encourages us to:

pray without ceasing,

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

So how do we do that? Are we to quit our jobs and just spend our entire lives praying? I do not think so. In fact, I think Paul was instructing us to pray in the moment, while doing whatever other activities we needed to do.

Nehemiah did this.

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah 2:1-5 (ESV)

There is much going on here, so I will try to explain. These events occur after the nation of Israel has been led into captivity. Nehemiah is essentially asking to return and begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

He appears before the king to serve him yet clearly the king recognises that Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah is afraid because you dare not appear before the king with a downcast face. You could lose your head for such a thing!

The king questions Nehemiah, and he shares the reason for his sadness. In verse 4, the king asks what he wants. What does Nehemiah do? He does not blurt out his request, but instead it tells us he prays first. Clearly he did not stand there and hold a prayer evening before making the request. He has only a split second before answering the king. His prayer cannot have been more than a simple “Help me!”

There are definitely times when we need to dedicate a set amount of time to God in prayer. But there are also times when we need to pray in the moment, and simply ask for help.

How much trouble could be avoid if we do this? Imagine the time and energy we could save, or the pain we could avoid, if we just took a moment to pray before opening our mouths. Think of the bullets we could dodge by just asking God what He thinks before we commit and make a decision.

I’ll tell you a silly story, but hope it illustrates the point.

Many years ago, I bought a CD… That alone should tell you how long ago it was! I hope no one reading this does not know what a CD is…!

Anyway, as I was waiting in line to pay for the CD, I got a sense that I shouldn’t buy it. Not that it was sinful but just a gentle nudge inside. I ignored it. And do you know, I never once enjoyed listening to that CD? I recognise now that God was trying to tell me that in advance. if only I had followed Nehemiah’s example and just checked in with God first. I could have saved the money and not wasted the time.

What decisions do you make without praying about them first? Now you have a brain and God wants us to use it. No need to pray about whether you should get and go to work, as that’s a given. But we make a mistake thinking we know it all and can run our lives better than God can.

Pray in the moment. If you are in a conversation which is in danger of becoming an argument, take a moment to pray before you say the next thing which may inflame things.

Pray without ceasing. That does not mean pray instead of doing other things, but while doing other things. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us and wants to be our Guide throughout life. He won’t shout or raise His voice over the din of our everyday lives, so we need to take moments to check in with Him and listen.

What traps or trouble might you avoid today by doing this? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you continually to pray, and offer up prayers in the moments of your day.

I’m Still Here!

This is the eighth week in a row where I have published daily posts on the blog. Who knew I had so much to say?!

Most days I have a fair idea of what I want to write about, but occasionally God reminds me that it really isn’t about what I want, it’s about what He wants. I was all set to write about the Ten Commandments, and the commandment to honour one’s parents in particular. But not so for today. Hopefully that will come out tomorrow.

For today, I felt that it was important to talk about endurance.

I know that many of you reading this will be going through all manner of trouble and trials right now. It may feel like life is going drastically wrong and you are not sure how much more you can take. You are seeking some form of success in your Christian walk, yet just surviving has become the order of the day.

But you are still here! You are still going! Others may have fallen by the wayside or given up altogether – but not you!

If nothing else, you can say “I’m still here!”

It may feel like you can’t take any more. The temptations, the trials, the worries of this life may be piling up, but I want to encourage you today and let you know you can make it.

No temptation has overtaken you that is unusual for human beings. But God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Instead, along with the temptation he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ISV)

You may be ready to shout, “God, I can’t bear it anymore!” But, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh or unkind, you’re wrong. You can bear it! God will never allow any temptation to come upon you which you cannot bear. If you are facing it, then God knows you can stand it. If your trouble is great, then that is a compliment to you, because it means you have the strength to face it.

God will always provide a way out for you. Now don’t misunderstand that part of the verse. It does not mean God will always provide a way to stop the trouble or temptation, but provide a way out for you to endure it. Sometimes the only way out is through!

You can endure what it is you are facing. Don’t give up! Don’t quit! It may be hard or even the hardest thing you have ever faced, but you can make it if you stick with Jesus.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (ISV)

You can do all things (that He has called you to do) through “him.” Who is the “him?” It is sometimes translated as “the Messiah” and so clearly points to Christ. You can do whatever you need to do through your ongoing relationship to and with Christ.

Practice carrying each other’s burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah.

Galatians 6:2 (ISV)

Don’t try to go it alone. Draw your strength from Christ, but also seek the support of the family of believers. Let others help you bear the burdens you carry. If there is nothing practical they can do, then they can at least listen to you at this time.

More importantly, they can pray for you. If you have no one in your life who can stand with you in prayer, please get in touch and I will gladly pray for you. Use the Contact page to get in touch.

Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles[a] us, let us keep running with endurance the race set before us, 2 fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ISV)

There is nothing I can add to these words. Many have gone before us, as mentioned throughout Hebrews chapter 11 (such as David, Moses, Abraham etc.) and faced their own challenges and trials. We, like them, must run our own race and run it to completion.

Your race won’t be the same as mine. Some will have a flat course to navigate, while others a steeplechase with all kinds of obstacles in their path. Whatever your race looks like, keep on going!

Don’t give up. And don’t give up on Christ. You can bear up under the temptations you face today and every day. Hard it may be, but you can do it!

If you are one of the few who have no problems right now, then help bear another’s burdens. Support them and lift them up. Pray for them and bless them.

For those who feel they cannot go on, please hold on one more day. Tell God how you feel, and cry out to Him. Job from the Bible lost everything, and he railed at God. He cried out to God and he was angry and in pain. Yet he did it with God.

I pray that God will help you to endure whatever you are facing right now. I pray you will have the strength you need to continue, and to do so in His grace.

If you see no other victory in your life, then your testimony can simply be – “I’m still here!”

Amen!

The Pattern of Sound Teaching (Guest Author)

I’m so pleased to be able to welcome the very first guest author to this blog. I asked Phill Sacre if he would write something for us and he very kindly agreed.

Phill has been a personal friend of mine for a long time, and forms part of the ordained ministry team at our church.

Alongside his church ministry, Phill has launched an online ministry called Understand the Bible. This video ministry supports Christians in their walk with God and… well, helps them to understand the Bible!

I’ll say more at the end, but for now, I hope you enjoy Phill’s post.


The Pattern of Sound Teaching

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

A few years ago Carl Trueman wrote a book called “The Creedal Imperative”. In the introduction to that book he said: “The burden that motivates my writing of this book is my belief that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church.” I found the book very stimulating and it is well worth reading.

In the book, Trueman argues that 2 Timothy 1:13, the “pattern” (or “form”) of sound teaching is important for the church: this is not simply learning the Scriptures – as important as that is – but, more than that, learning the truth contained within the Bible.

Let’s consider an example: the Trinity. You may well be aware that the word “Trinity” does not occur within the Bible. However, does that mean that the Trinity is un-Biblical? Of course not! Trinity is simply a word which theologians over the centuries have come up with to explain what is in the Bible. As they studied the Bible, they realised that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity may be simply a word, but it expresses an important Biblical truth. It is a precious truth which has been passed down to us through many faithful Christians over the generations.

But if the Trinity is a deeply Biblical and important truth for our faith, why is it that Christians seem to have so little confidence with this doctrine? Why is it, as Andrew Wilson highlighted in a blog a few years ago, that modern worship songs are rarely Trinitarian (they tend to address God only as ‘God’ or ‘Lord’, rather than the specific Father / Son / Holy Spirit)?

You could extend this to many different areas. I, along with many other Christians, have been deeply distressed over the last few years that many churches in the UK have changed their minds on a number of significant moral issues of the day e.g. about marriage and sexuality, end-of-life issues, and so on. Why is it that churches in the 21st century seem too often to take on the values of the surrounding culture rather than being counter cultural?

I believe the answer to both of these questions is that many churches have neglected the “pattern of sound teaching” which we started out with. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of people who have only recently come to Christ. They’ve been a variety of ages and from a variety of backgrounds, but one thing is common to virtually all of them: they started out knowing next to nothing about the Christian faith.

What became abundantly clear to me while as I tried to teach them the faith was that our traditional way of doing things in the church – a sermon on a Sunday, with a home group mid-week, looking at a section of the Bible – was simply not enough. For one, most of them didn’t come to church every Sunday – we’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to encourage young families to come to church! We found that home groups are attended much more regularly – but even a home group doing a traditional home group study on a Bible passage didn’t hit the spot.

It’s not that the Bible isn’t good enough – of course the Bible is sufficient. But rather, our teaching methods weren’t sufficient: I found that we needed to find a way of teaching people ‘from the ground up.’ One of my regrets with our group is that I tried to do too much too soon – we moved onto a traditional Bible study before I think they were really ready for it; they needed more time to learn.

So, the million dollar question is, what should we be doing instead?

Over the last few years, I have rediscovered something which the church largely forgot during the 20th century: catechism. A catechism is simply a way of teaching and learning the Christian faith through a series of questions and answers. Catechisms were originally developed in the early church to teach people the faith before coming to baptism. They have been used through the centuries to teach new believers (and children) the faith. They were rediscovered at the time of the reformation, and two of the most famous catechisms still in use today were produced at that time (the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Why did they fall out of favour in the 20th century? Perhaps churches became complacent. Perhaps churches thought “everyone’s a Christian”, and so stopped doing it. There are probably many answers – but I think the weakness of the church now is simply the fruit of what was sowed then. At the start I quoted, George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We ought to learn from the experience of the church in previous generations. Not long ago I was listening to a podcast on the early church which talked about people being converted from pagan backgrounds needing to be taught the faith from the ground up. The church has been in our situation before – what we are going through in the 21st century is nothing new. We already have the wisdom of previous generations in dealing with this!

I have been enormously encouraged recently by signs that the church is beginning to learn. Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has published the New City Catechism – a modern language catechism with lots of teaching resources including a Sunday School curriculum. The church in the 21st Century is starting to wake up to the fact that people need to be taught the Christian faith systematically in order to understand it.

This is where Understand the Bible comes in. Over the last few months I’ve been working on a website called Understand the Bible. This is my effort at trying to help the 21st century church to teach people the faith. I have recorded lots of videos on different topics (e.g. the New City Catechism, Justification, Sin, and I am currently working on the Heidelberg Catechism). People can then sign up to the website and be guided through these videos, watching them in their own time at their own convenience. I have even just released a mobile app so people can watch / listen on their smartphones!

It is still a work on progress – one thing I really want to do is make it easy for local churches to link into it, to create a stronger link between UTB and the local church. I don’t want people simply to sit at home and watch the videos without getting connected to the church!

But my hope and prayer is that these videos will help people to understand the Christian faith by providing a “pattern of sound teaching” from the ground up. I hope that it will both strengthen existing believers and teach new believers the wonderful truths of the gospel which have been passed down from generation to generation.


 

A huge thanks to Phill for contributing his thoughts on this subject.

You can find out more about Phill at his personal website – phillsacre.me

Understand the Bible has a whole host of videos to take you from the basics of the Christian faith through to studies of particular books. There really is something for everyone no matter where you are on your journey with Christ. I encourage you to take a look.

Loved Much

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Luke 7:47 (ESV)

God has put this verse before me this morning, and it is hard to put into words its impact. I definitely need to study this more, meditate on it and may be able to share some thoughts on it at a later date.

I had another post lined up for today, but felt strongly I should put this verse out there with my initial reactions. I hope it blesses you, and please comment below if it does.

While I was at university, I remember clearly discussing this verse with some Christian friends. Someone asked, “Does that mean those who are worse sinners can love God more than others?”

It seems to imply that doesn’t it?

As I read it this morning, the following thoughts moved through my mind. “I know I am a sinner. I know I could love God more than I do. When I reach heaven, I’ll see the depth of my forgiveness and will love Him fully then…”

These thoughts are true to some degree, but even as I thought them, I knew I had it backwards. My thoughts were an expression of seeing before believing. And that is not faith. Faith believes first, and sees later.

Am I a worse sinner than others? Perhaps, or perhaps not. We do tend to get all too hung up on comparisons to others. We somehow feel better if we can look on someone else and feel we are performing better than they. That’s pride and judgement, and don’t tell me there isn’t a small part of you that thinks that way at times. I confess it to you this day that I am sometimes (even often) guilty of this.

I love God little (that is, less than I should) not because I am not a terrible sinner, but rather because I don’t fully appreciate the depth of my own sinfulness. That is true for all. The more we realise how deep our sin is, the more we realise our need for God’s saving work and the more – certainly – we will love Him.

Mary was the subject of Jesus words above. She loved much because she knew she was forgiven of much. Her love was so astonishing that I cannot wait to meet her in heaven one day.

At the tomb on Resurrection Day, the other women fainted at the sight of the angels, and yet Mary said, “Where is my Lord?” Most people hit the ground in the presence of an angel, yet Mary was so focused on Jesus that not even the glory of an angel would deter her.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

John 20:11-13 (ESV)

I want to love God with all of my heart. If i truly knew how forgiven I am, then my love would abound. I’m guessing the same is true for you too.

While I do not think it healthy to focus on our sin all of the time, I think too few of us really consider how enormous God’s forgiveness is towards us. Examine your life, recognise your sinfulness yes, but lift up your hearts in praise to the One who has cleansed you of all unrighteousness!

Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and resurrection is the solution to all of our sin! Worship Him today and may your love grow as you realise what He has done for you.

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!

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.

#Prayer video #3

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



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

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