Why Does God Allow Suffering?

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

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

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

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

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

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

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

Not our God!

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

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

John 3:16 (WEB)

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

God is All Powerful

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

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

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

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

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you.

Prayer Video – 8th May 2020

Andy shares another prayer video today. Please join him in praying for the recent requests and also for all those suffering persecution at this time.

Andy mentioned the following Scriptures in today’s video.

Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]

John 14:27 (Amp)

If you have any prayer requests which you would like Andy to pray over, then please do send them in. You can comment below, use the Facebook page or use the contact or prayer page on this site.

God bless you today.

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.

Catch someone (PoW )

Pearls of Wisdom

Delight in catching someone doing something right

Whether it be a celebrity, a politician, or some other high-profile person, there is often a lot of social media activity trying to catch those doing something wrong. The newspapers post photographers outside of nightclubs and parties trying to catch people in a compromising situation.

For some reason, we often delight in seeing others fail or embarrassing themselves. Perhaps in some way it makes us feel better about ourselves if we know the others trip over sometimes.

Today though, instead of trying to catch someone else out, why not try to catch them doing something good?

There are people doing good all around us all of the time. It only takes a moment to mark that. We have seen many examples of this in the recent period of lockdown. People thanking key workers or medical staff with little acts of random kindness.

Just last night, a friend of mine described how he bought a case of beers which he then left outside for those collecting the bins from his house. Now you might choose to show gratitude in a very different way of course, but the point is made. 

If you see someone doing something good, take a moment to tell them. Thank them. If you are able to give them a little gift or encouragement, then it is a great use of resources.

Instead of trying to catch people out, let’s all try to delight in catching someone doing good!

I think you will find the reward far outweighs the effort it takes.  God bless. 

Prayer Video #2

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

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

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

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

God bless you and yours.

What about the animals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feed My Sheep (Audio)

Here is a short talk Andy gave at the Morning Praise service in the Parish Church in St Osyth. It was on John 21:1-19 – text below.

 

After these things, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.”

They told him, “We are also coming with you.” They immediately went out, and entered into the boat. That night, they caught nothing. 4 But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, “Children, have you anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around him (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits[a] away), dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fish, one hundred fifty-three; and even though there were so many, the net wasn’t torn.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”

None of the disciples dared inquire of him, “Who are you?” knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Then Jesus came and took the bread, gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples, after he had risen from the dead. 15 So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.”

19 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:1-19 (WEB)

New Book Announcement – A Journey with Jesus

I’m excited to announce that my book – A Journey with Jesus: 40-day devotional – is now available on Amazon as a Kindle eBook and paperback!

Some years ago, I wrote this devotional for a Lent series at Bramerton Road Community Church. I’ve now updated this and released it as both an eBook and paperback.

Free Kindle Version!

Between Saturday 2nd March and Wednesday 6th Mach 2019, the Kindle eBook version will be available completely free of charge! This is for anyone wanting to use it over Lent.

After that, it will still be available for free as part of the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library programs. For anyone else, it only costs 99p!

Find it on Amazon here: A Journey With Jesus (Kindle)

Also available outside of the UK on the relevant Amazon site.

Paperback

Prefer to read on paper? Not a problem, as a paperback version is now also available for £3.99. This covers the cost of printing the book and Amazon’s share, so no large profits are made (well, 3p per copy!). I think it is important you know that and indeed, any sales go towards funding this site and blog.

The paperback version is available here: A Journey With Jesus (Paperback)

Please also note that anyone buying the paperback will qualify for a free copy of the Kindle version also.

About the book

Jesus spent forty days in the Wilderness – but what did He spend His time thinking about?

Of course, we don’t know for sure, but this devotional explores some possibilities, focusing on God’s love, Jesus’ teaching, who we are in Christ and much more.

Each day is a short read, and is great for individuals and groups alike. There is a Bible verse for each day, some questions to get you thinking plus a word of encouragement.

I hope you enjoy reading it!

Christ is… Enough?

I’ve been thinking about worship songs recently. In particular, their content and origin.

This began several months ago when singing the song “Christ is Enough for me…” It got me thinking… is Christ really enough? Of course He is, but what I mean is – is enough an adequate term to describe the One Who redeemed us?

Perhaps it’s just semantics, and maybe some feel it doesn’t matter all that much. I understand that, and certainly don’t want to come across as overly picky here. But for me at least, Christ isn’t just enough, He is everything – He is so far above enough that it can’t easily be put into words.

Maybe that’s the point – some of these truths can’t easily be put into words and so writing a worship song isn’t as easy as we might think.

I listened to a discussion the other day about this very subject. This particular group were rather critical of certain well known churches and ministries where many famous worship songs originate. They were especially scathing of Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Bethel.

Similar to my point above, they were disecting the song “Wreckless Love.” A quick examination of the definition of “wreckless” will show you that it really doesn’t apply to God. Again, perhaps it’s just semantics and there is no adequate way to describe God in words, and so, we must make do with the limitations of our language.

Likewise, we often sing about being “desperate for you,” when referring to God. The word desperate comes from the same word as “despair,” and again is not a suitable term for our relation to God.

So, what am I getting at?

Firstly, I think we should be very careful about the words we use, and sing. Words are extremely powerful and important, and I believe have a great impact on us. Many do not respect the power of our words, and yet the Bible teaches very clearly that words have power.

God made the world with His words, and so words can be creative. They can also be destructive too. I’m sure we can all remember a time when someone else’s words cut us deeply, and we still feel those wounds today.

James, in his letter, said this:

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

James 3:4-9 (ESV)

Some very strong words about the power of the tongue.

The point I am making is that the words we sing do matter. And therefore we should choose them carefully.

So what ought we to consider when choosing appropriate worship songs?

Theology

For some it will seem obvious, and for others it may not be something you’ve thought about very much.

The theology of songs matter. Put simply, what we are singing must be biblical and accurate.

The most important thing about a worship song is not a catchy tune, but instead a good sound theology.

For example, a song that pleads with God to forgive us over and over is not good theology. Of course we must seek forgiveness, but once received from God through Christ, we no longer need to plead over and over again.

Think of some of your favourite worship songs, and ask yourself if they are biblical. It may be that you’ve never thought about it before, but we live in a time now where just because someone is singing about God, does not mean it is biblically sound.

Sadly, there are those writing worship songs who do not have a strong grasp of the Bible.

Similarly, there are churches and ministries who have questionable theology and the music coming from them mirror that theology. As mentioned above, there are those who criticise Hillsong and Jesus Culture, and it’s not my intention to comment on that here. But let’s say you did not agree with their stance on certain doctrines. It may be that some of their music reflects those doctrines.

Just be sure of what you believe the Bible says, and try to ensure your music reflects those biblical beliefs.

Romance

Worship is an expression of love – no doubt. It is right for us to love our God and Father. But worship is not romance.

Some songs you hear are more akin to love songs than worship songs. Is that wrong?

We need to be a little careful in this space I believe. While the Bible does use romantic imagery between God and His people, such as the church being the “Bride of Christ,” we need to be clear what we mean by “love.”

We love God, and He loves us. No arguments here. However, it is not accurate to describe this as a romantic kind of love. I grow concerned when I hear certain songs which seem to portray our relationship with God as a romantic one.

Repetition

I once heard someone describe modern worship songs as “7-11” songs – meaning the same seven words repeated eleven times. This was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but has a ring of truth about it.

Are you familiar with the song “Set a Fire” by Jesus Culture? I was humming it the other day and wondering not just about its theology, but also the constant repetition.

The song asks for “more of God,” over and over again. This can be taken two ways. Firstly, I cannot see how God can give us any more than He already has. He gave His Only Son to us that whoever believes in Him will not perish (John 3:16). He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). He has given us His Spirit to dwell in us, His forgiveness, His justification, His redemption, He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, and on and on and on.

Given all of that, can we really ask for “more of God?”

I appreciate that if you accept what I’ve said, then perhaps the song is really asking for God to help us receive more fully the things God has already done. In that sense, I have no issue.

The constant repetition concerns me though. I know I’ve mentioned “Set a Fire,” but don’t want to single that out. There are other similar songs too.

Most songs have a repetition in them, such as a chorus or repeated verse – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to those songs which repeat short phrases over and over again, in a melodic way.

There is a danger here – either willingly or unwittingly – to wander into Eastern practices.

Hinduism and Buddhism use mantras to “concentrate the mind for meditation.” A mantra is a phrase which is repeated over and over. Rather than increase concentration, it actually dulls the mind.

Singing the same phrase over and over, even if a good one, can have the same effect. Add to that the loud music and flashing lights that often accompanies large worship gatherings now, and we can open ourselves up to risk.

Jesus told us to avoid repetition in prayer:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Matthew 6:7 (KJV)

Entertainment or worship?

Worship is not entertainment.

As mentioned above, some worship services are more like concerts now. I have no problem with worship being modernised, or the use of instruments, lights and AV, as long as it enhances worship.

Worship can be fun, and at times it absolutely should be! But worship can also be hard. It also can require sacrifice on our part. King David said that he would not give to God that which cost him nothing. Worship can sometimes be costly to us also.

Worship is not about making us feel better, nor about us having a great time. It is not about us at all.

I’m not trying to spoil your fun, nor do I want you to stand motionless in worship singing to a church organ. I just want to highlight the dangers of forgetting what we are there to do.

Give it some thought

There are many songs from many ministries, and we don’t always know where they come from. You could read the above and start crossing out lots of songs, even your favourites perhaps.

The point of this post was not to ruin your favourite worship songs. I just want you to give it some thought.

What we sing does indeed matter. How we worship does matter too. If you are being handed earplugs on the way in, then you have to wonder if worship is the primary focus.

We were made to worship God. Let’s do so appropriately!

From an Apostle to the Saints

Ephesians

My recent wanderings through the sovereignty of God led me to study the book of Ephesians in my quiet time. I am not certain if this will turn into a series, but it is such a rich letter with so much to explore that I’ll no doubt write a few posts about it.

In fact, in my study time, I’m still in chapter 1, which has more than enough to keep me occupied!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

Like any letter, Paul begins by introducing himself. We often skip over these opening verses to get to the “meat” of the letter, but by doing so, miss out on important things.

Paul not only gives his name, but his role as well. “Paul, an apostle…”

An apostle is simply “one whom is sent,” but in the church context it is one of the founders of the church – often a church planter or one who has seen the Risen Lord.  The role of apostle was mentioned as one of the five-fold ministry gift or positions, which we will later encounter in Ephesians.

While “role” is one word, another is calling. Paul is not just some self-appointed saint, but is an “apostle by the will of God.” I’ve thought a lot lately about the will of God, and we will see in this first chapter of Ephesians that it comes up time and again. We cannot escape or resist God’s will.

We are sometimes a bit obsessed with our calling. We ask people, “What is your ministry?” or “What is God calling you to do?” While these questions have their place, I think sometimes we spend our lives searching for some grand call on our lives instead of getting on with the business of life.

Am I saying that calling is not important? Certainly not. I believe all Christians have a calling and should live it out as best we can. For many, if not all of us, we can summarise our calling as follows: we should glorify God in our life right where we are.

Certainly we should be listening to God for His direction, and this also should come from our relationship with Him. God is not a stone idol we pray to with nothing in return. Our prayer life should be two-way, and too many of us are talking when we should be listening.

It can be hard to achieve of course (regular and constant communication with God), but I believe life is to be lived with Him. Set times of extended prayer are definitely important, but so are moments of prayer throughout the day. Living like this, we can serve God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

So we see this letter is from Paul, but to whom is it written?

The saints at Ephesus

It may be that this letter was in reality a circular which was shared among several churches. Some manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” and the lack of personal greetings suggest this. The letter was likely written around AD 60 while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Some scholars dispute the date, believing it to have been between AD 80-100, and also that Paul was the author at all.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament epistles are always written to “saints,” “holy people,” or “consecrated ones.” We never see a letter written to the “sinners in Ephesus,” or the “heathen in Rome…”

This is an important point because I often feel we misunderstand our identity.

We sin, no argument from me, and we did so both before and after we gave our lives to Christ. Sin is a critical issue for the world at large, and is indeed the whole point of Christ’s coming.

Some churches focus too much on sin, and too little on the completed work of Christ. Other churches focus too little on sin, and fail to instruct their people on the dangers of committing “sins” and the overall effect of “sin” on the world.

Christ is the cure for sin. If we continue to think of ourselves as “sinners” after the work of the cross, then we are in danger of making that work of little effect. What do sinners do? They sin. And what ought we not to do in our lives? Same answer.

Rather, our identity (in Christ) is not as an old sinner saved by grace, but rather as an imperfect saint. When we give our lives to Jesus, God puts a new heart inside of us. That is the born again experience. That new birth is something which happens inside of us (in our spirits, not our internal organs). From that time on, we are re-training our mind, will and emotions (sometimes called “the flesh” or “sinful nature”) to come into line with what God has done in our spirits.

If you are still just a “sinner” then what has the cross achieved for you?

I appreciate this is partly down to semantics, and may not seem a point worth labouring, but I think it helps in our reading of the rest of this chapter. Paul emphasises what is ours in Christ, and that must begin by us accepting we are transformed in Him.

As we work through chapter one, I will point out some of the things that belong to us in Christ. Not things we have earned, but rather things which were bestowed upon us because of God’s great grace.

Grace is where Paul begins his letter, and it’s where I’m going to draw this post to a close. He wishes the saints both grace and peace from God. A deeply meaningful greeting and opening to his epistle.

Likewise, I pray God’s grace and peace on you this week.