In His Image

I’ve just started reading “Colossians and Philemon for You”. I really like the “God’s Word for You” series, and hope they’ll expand it to include all the books of the Bible.

In Colossians 1, I thought the author explained verse 15 very well. If we want to know what someone looks like, we can find their photograph (their image) online. When Paul calls Jesus the image of the invisible God, he’s saying if we want to see what God is like, we can look at Jesus.

So far so good, and it got me thinking about Genesis 1:27, where it says God made humanity in His image. If we want to see what God is like, we can look at Jesus. Furthermore, if the world wants to see what God is like, they should be able to look at us. Wow! I started to consider those in my church made in the image of God: The couple in the retirement complex, with a loving concern for their neighbours; the couple with their rambunctious dog, who remind me of God’s tenderness toward all His creation; the voices lifted in song, just as God sings over us; the lady whose positivity despite everything reminds me of the time Jesus was filled with joy through the Holy Spirit. God made humanity in His image: Not exclusively the church, but everyone He created.

Someone who doesn’t believe in God won’t recognise their good qualities as His handiwork, but as a believer, I can enjoy the fact that God’s fashioning my character, moulding me so I’ll eventually be like Jesus. I know I haven’t always got it right, but I hope people can look at my life and see something of Him in me.

I think the saying “There’s good in the worst of us” must be true, as God is our Maker. Let’s look for the best in everyone and give thanks for it.

All You’ve Got to do is Show Up?

As someone who’s in the house quite a lot, I like to engage my brain, and sometimes I watch quizzes. Today, I was watching an old episode of “The Weakest Link”. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, contestants answer questions (banking money for their correct answers) and at the end of each round, they vote the weakest player off. The host (Anne Robinson) talks to the team between rounds about their work, hobbies etc. She puts them on the spot and throws in a lot of caustic comments. She’s pretty mean. The episode I watched featured a youth-worker from a Christian centre, so Anne asked about his church. Tambourines? No … no tambourines. Tongues? “Yes, some people speak in tongues,” he said, “but we’ve got television screens … electric guitars” …

She carried on. “If I wanted to join your church, what doctrine would I follow?”

“Oh, there’s no doctrine, Anne. All you’ve got to do is show up.” That was the point at which I turned off, because I felt sad and quite indignant. Is there anywhere in the world you can go where all you’ve got to do is show up? If you join a football club, you have to play football. If you join a book club, you have to buy the book and perhaps pay a subscription. If you join a church, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to agree with their beliefs and contribute in some way.

So, if someone asked me about doctrine, how would I have responded? I think my answer might have been: “Read the Bible and do what it says”. It’s in the Bible that we find all the important doctrine – all the teachings by which we’re supposed to live our lives. And if they asked me to be more specific? Then I might narrow it down to what Jesus classed as the two greatest commandments: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). That’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s difficult to love when you don’t feel valued as a person. It’s difficult to be self-controlled when you’re angry. It’s difficult to be joyful at a time when the world around us seems to have its shoulders slumped, but if “The joy of the LORD is your strength”, it must be available to us. That’s why we need God.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We need God’s Holy Spirit, to help us grow in these things we couldn’t do effectively without Him.

If you truly want to join a church, to be part of the people of God, there’s more to it than just showing up. We have a responsibility to pray, to live our lives the way God would want us to, and to ask His forgiveness when we fall short of that. I don’t just want to be a show-upper; I want to be an enter-inner, and I hope you do too.

The Hope of Heaven

A friend from church phoned the other day and asked me: “What are you looking forward to most about heaven?” My only response was being with Jesus and being pain-free. Nothing else, so I searched for Bible-verses about heaven and here are some that stood out.

Firstly, Deuteronomy 3:24: “For what God is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds?” Don’t we need God’s power, especially now? Nehemiah 9:6 talks about how God preserves all that He created – heaven, earth, the sea and everything in them. God’s right hand stretched out the heavens, we’re told, and a few chapters later Isaiah adds: “Where is the fury of the oppressor?” At this turbulent time, Coronavirus and its ramifications could consume us, but “Where is the fury of the oppressor” reminds me that God is so much bigger. A verse in Jeremiah was turned into this old song, which is first on my Hymns playlist: God has made the heavens and the earth by His great power, and nothing is too difficult for Him.

We could spend a long time reflecting on the God of heaven and His brilliance. Heaven itself is also glorious (Isaiah 63:15), and there’s so much in store for the people of God. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory”. Well, go back a few pages to the book of Daniel and you’ll find this verse: “Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:27). The kingdom, the power and the greatness are God’s, and He’s chosen to give them to us! We’ve been given the privilege of knowing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:11). Jesus talks about the life to come when people will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be like the angels of God (Matthew 22:30). The book of Hebrews says angels are spirits who serve (Hebrews 1:14), so when we get to heaven, we can look forward to serving God in everything we do. Hopefully we already do that now, in this life.

The old heaven and earth will pass away, making way for a new heaven and a new earth, in which the old won’t even be remembered (Isaiah 65:17). There can be no more tears because all the pain of this life will be far from our minds forever.

We needn’t have any insecurity. We can rely on the Lord, as Paul did, to preserve us for His heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18). As part of the church of Jesus, my name is registered in heaven (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:23). I have an incorruptible inheritance waiting for me there (1 Peter 1:4) and most importantly, God Himself will be with me (Revelation 21:3).

When someone asks what excites you most about heaven, those are a few pointers, but remember 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him”.

The King’s Miracle

I was reminded recently of King Hezekiah, and what happened when he got ill. It features three times in the Bible. Usually when a story’s told more than once, it’s done for a reason. 2 Chronicles 32:24-26 mentions it briefly. 2 Kings 20:1-11 gives us the order of events, and Isaiah 38 records the song Hezekiah wrote concerning his illness. I knew King David was a songwriter, but hadn’t realised King Hezekiah was too.

So, what is the story, and what can we take from it? Hezekiah was so ill. He had a boil, which must have got infected, because God’s spokesman Isaiah was sent to tell him he was going to die; he wouldn’t recover. Hezekiah’s response was to pray fervently, so much so that he broke down and wept. Isaiah had left by this point, but he hadn’t gone far when God told him to return to Hezekiah. God had heard the king’s prayer, and seen his tears, and was going to heal him. “Three days from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life,” God said.

Hezekiah wanted a sign that God would do this for him. I imagine Isaiah as a very softly-spoken man, with penetrating eyes that seem to see into a person’s soul. He looks at doubting Hezekiah and reminds him: “The LORD will do what He says”. Nevertheless he asks: “Do you want the shadow to go forward ten steps or back ten steps?”

“It’s easy for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” Hezekiah answers, so Isaiah cries out to God and the shadow moves backwards.

* * *

The first thing that strikes me is the power of prayer. If Hezekiah could pray earnestly in the face of death, surely we can too, at a time like this.

What did God promise after such a passionate prayer? “Three days from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD.” Hezekiah was on his deathbed, and on the third day, he would rise again. I know someone else God raised from the dead on the third day. Because Jesus conquered death, we can ask Him to give us life: Not just in the natural, but spiritually too – hope when things seem hopeless; peace in a time of anxiety.

A friend has a quote on her Facebook profile that I like. It says: “Be realistic … demand the impossible”. Perhaps God gave Hezekiah that sign of the shadow moving backwards not just for his benefit, but for ours – to remind us that God’s supernatural, and we can ask things of Him that would defy logic. If He can move a shadow back instead of forwards, surely He can shorten this season we’re in. People are in isolation with a lot taken from them at this time, but God’s still a God of miracles. He wants to meet all your needs, today and always.

A Love to Build On

In Sunday’s online broadcast from Revive Church, the preacher talked about Joseph in the Old Testament – Joseph, the one who had dreams. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he ended up being falsely accused by his master’s wife and sent to prison. Two other men were in that prison with him – the ruler of Egypt’s chief baker, and the chief butler who served his wine (Genesis 40). In Joseph’s isolation, he talked with a baker of bread and a wine-server. Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:29-37). We always have access to His presence, and we always have access to His blood, shed for our forgiveness.

Then the worship team launched into this song. We haven’t sung it at my church, but I have heard it before. Some of the lyrics seem so appropriate for this time:
I will build my life upon Your love –
It is a firm foundation;
I will put my trust in You alone,
And I will not be shaken
, so be encouraged. You always have access to Jesus. You can build your life upon His love.

Having a Wobble?

God revealed to John the Baptist who Jesus was, and he proclaimed it (John 1:29-34). When crowds responded to his message that they must turn their lives around in preparation for the Lord’s coming, he told them to produce fruit worthy of a changed life (Luke 3:8). Just to be baptised publicly wasn’t good enough for him; their response had to be genuine and demonstrated by their actions. Always uncompromising, John was put in prison for challenging Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19-20), but when he’d been there awhile, he had a wobble. He sent two of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus’ message back to John ended with the words: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me”. Don’t be offended if I don’t set you free from your prison; don’t be offended if I don’t always change your circumstances – hang in there. (Obviously those are my words, not the Lord’s, but I think that’s the essence of what He was saying.) When John’s followers leave, Jesus tells the crowd that John will ultimately have a place in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 11:1-15).

It reminds me of the couple who walked on the road to Emmaus. Jesus came alongside them, but they didn’t recognise Him. This was no surprise because a few days before, He’d been crucified. They say: “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there? … Jesus of Nazareth … we were hoping that He would free Israel”. They were hoping, but now Jesus has died. It feels like their whole foundation – everything they believed in – is crumbling, but Jesus doesn’t leave them in that state. Straightaway He explains, through the Scriptures (our Old Testament), how the Christ must suffer before entering His glory. When they reach their destination, they invite Jesus in. When He breaks bread and passes it to them, then they realise who He is (Luke 24:13-35).

Are you encouraged by all this? John the Baptist’s earthly circumstances were less than ideal, and he got to heaven; Jesus was crucified, and He came out of the tomb; the couple on the road had lost hope, and their Hope talked to them and broke bread with them. Whatever we’re going through now, it’s temporary. One day, we’ll come out the other side. Why don’t we celebrate that this Easter?

Passover Promises

Over the last few weeks, Bible Gateway have published a five-session study called “The Path to the Cross” – a video every week and several Scripture-references. They asked bloggers beforehand to write about it, and I’m happy to oblige. Some weeks I learnt more than others, but I’m particularly glad I watched the fourth session, all about the Passover meal. I’ll admit I didn’t know too much about Passover, but videos like this make me want to find out more about Jewish feasts and the symbolism in them.

Exodus 6:6-7 points to the four specific promises Jews remember at Passover:

  • I will bring you out from the Egyptians.
  • I will set you free from being slaves to them.
  • I will redeem you with outstretched arm.
  • I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God.
  • The promises are commemorated with cups of wine – the first two before the meal, the others afterwards. They remember freedom from slavery, and Jesus mentions His betrayal, dipping a piece of bread in the bitter herbs and handing it to Judas Iscariot. The other eleven men will be set apart from the world around them because of their faith, but Judas is still a slave, embittered by his greed.

    The meal commences and as they eat, Jesus takes bread and famously says: “This is My body”. It was after supper, when Jesus took the cup, that He talked about His blood being poured out. As they spoke of God redeeming His people with outstretched arm, Jesus looked ahead to the cross, where His arms would stretch out, and He would pay the debt of the whole world.

    What an amazing God. He sent His Son to fulfil these things so precisely, and all for our sake. That’s truly awesome.

    Rejection

    Last week, we saw how Jesus was constantly persecuted, but there is something even more hurtful: Rejection from those you’re trying to reach. “’This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.’ He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

    “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

    “Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled them.’ From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

    “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:58-68). Jesus isn’t someone on a power trip. He’s gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). He allows people to walk away if they don’t like what He has to say, but there are two types of people here – the ones who walk, and the ones who stand by Him.

    Jeremiah observed the wicked of his day who were distant from God. “You are always on their lips but far from their hearts” (Jeremiah 12:2). Job had that feeling of alienation too. He even cried: “God is not human like me, so I cannot answer Him. We cannot meet each other in court. I wish there were someone to make peace between us” (Job 9:32-33) – well, now there is. Jesus has come! His words reconcile us to God and give us everything we need for everlasting life with Him, so what will happen when you’re confronted with the truth of Jesus? Will you walk away, or do you feel drawn to Him – as if there’s nowhere else you can go?

    Jesus gave up equality with God; almightiness; His very self. He suffered temptation, enmity, and rejection. In case you hadn’t worked it out, that spells Easter, so have a happy Easter as you celebrate all that Jesus has overcome.

    Women and the Love-Languages: Gifts

    Why do you give people presents? I think I give someone a meaningful gift when they’ve impacted my life and I want to show my appreciation. Jesus had a huge impact on the family of His friend Lazarus. Lazarus had been so ill, it resulted in death, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus came to the graveside and called him out, effectively breathing life back into him. Lazarus struggled out of the grave because he was wrapped up, as they would wrap a dead body for burial, and Jesus ordered them to loose the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44). Imagine how his two sisters must have felt! Naturally speaking, death was the last straw. There was no coming back from that, but here was their brother raised from the dead, and here was an opportunity to thank Jesus. They held a dinner in His honour. Lazarus ate with Him and Martha prepared the food, but Mary went above and beyond (John 12:1-7). She took a pound (a Roman pound is twelve ounces) of very expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. At that time, it was customary for the host of a dinner to put oil on the guests’ heads to welcome them, but pouring that much perfume over someone’s feet? So its fragrance filled the whole house? In Michael Card’s book “John: The Gospel of Wisdom”, he says the thirty pieces of silver Judas Iscariot got for betraying Jesus were worth about three thousand dollars, whereas this perfume Mary poured was worth thirty thousand dollars – ten times as much! People thought Mary was extravagant, but nothing was too good for Jesus. Her brother was alive! How could she ever thank Him enough?

    When I search my life for a woman who’s extravagantly generous to me, it has to be my mum. I haven’t given birth to a child, so I can’t really comprehend a mother’s love except by looking at her. If anything could be done to help her family, she would do it. She doesn’t want to keep what she has for herself, but would gladly give it to us if we’d take it. I find it difficult to receive that kind of generosity, but I like the heart behind it and hope I have that same heart for others.

    * * *

    I hope you’ve got people in your life who are examples of the love-languages. If not, maybe you can pray and ask God to bring them to you. I’m certain He loves us in all of these ways, and we’re here on earth to show that love to each other.

    Faith in Focus

    This is a strange time, isn’t it? Here in the UK a lot of places have closed, and we’re being advised to stay at home as much as possible. Large gatherings are banned, so meetings happen online instead. Revive Church are really good at this. As well as their Sunday service, they video a prayer time each morning from one of the leader’s houses and broadcast them on their Facebook page. I’m not a morning person, so I’m not usually up at 7 am to watch live, but they’re really encouraging. Today they were talking about how society is being shaken, but we can be immoveable in God. It reminded me of Hebrews 12:26-28: “When He spoke before, His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once again I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once again’ clearly show us that everything that was made – things that can be shaken – will be destroyed. Only the things that cannot be shaken will remain. So let us be thankful, because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken”. For me, the only way to stay positive in this is when I focus on things that are eternal.

    My friend preached a great sermon once. He talked about going to the cinema. He said if you stood at the counter and told them you were a good person, you wouldn’t get in. You only get in if you’ve got a ticket, and it’s the same with heaven. Personal achievements won’t get you in, but if you believe in Jesus, the door is open for you. “I am the door, and the person who enters through Me will be saved” (John 10:9). As Christians, we’re not immune to this Coronavirus; but as Christians, when we leave this earth, we know where we’re going. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13). Someone joked with me once about getting left behind, and that verse came into my head straightaway: These things I have written that you may know. We don’t have to worry that God might forget us or that we might not be good enough, because our entry into heaven depends solely on faith in Jesus. I wanted to share that for anyone who needs some reassurance.

    Please let me know in the comments if you’re struggling at this time and you’d like me to pray for you.