George Floyd and Martin Luther King

I want to write about George Floyd, because hearing about him on Twitter really got to me. Police say he was a forgery suspect – not a crime that carries the death penalty, yet George (a black man) was arrested and pinned to the ground by white officers, heard to say he couldn’t breathe before he lost consciousness and subsequently died. I’m white myself, but I think this sort of behaviour is a disgrace. I had a similar feeling when I went to the apartheid museum in Cape Town and saw a bench labelled: “For Europeans only”. I’m deeply ashamed. It actually prompted me to listen to Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream that his children would be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. He had that dream in 1963 and at times like this, it seems no closer to coming to fruition.

Surely we don’t have to sit back and feel powerless. There must be something we can do to make a difference, which doesn’t have to involve taking to the streets or damaging property. As Christians, we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds, and we can pray the famous words of Jesus: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. What’s that like – God’s kingdom coming? At the moment, God’s kingdom is ruled by Jesus Christ. We only have to examine His life on earth to see what God’s kingdom looks like: Blind eyes opened; diseases cured; the greatest of its subjects glad to serve; right living; peace; joy; love for God and others. As the church, Jesus is our Head and we’re His body – members of God’s family. Paul said a message of reconciliation had been committed to him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). He implored people to be reconciled to God because in the end, that’s what God wants: For everyone to be in His family, so they too can have the blessings of His kingdom. “God is being patient with you. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost. He wants everyone to change their ways and stop sinning” (2 Peter 3:9).

All the positive qualities we see in Jesus, we can pray for ourselves: Not just one day when we get to heaven, but on earth as it is in heaven. Eventually every one of Jesus’ enemies will be destroyed, even death. After this, God will take overall charge (1 Corinthians 15:22-28), and He’ll live with His people in the new heaven and the new earth. What an amazing place that will be. Can you imagine walking around in complete safety? Everyone eager to help each other? Nothing corrupt or impure even allowed through the door? No such thing as white supremacy. Martin Luther King’s dream realised: Little black boys and little black girls joining hands with little white boys and little white girls, as he put it. Makes me want to be there, seeing it all play out, and when I pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, that’s what I’m praying for.

Most Confusing Verse in the Bible

I think 1 Timothy 2:15 is the most confusing verse in the whole Bible, particularly if you’re like me – a woman with no biological children. It’s the conclusion of a passage about men and women in the church, and here’s what it says: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:14-15). What is that all about? Surely salvation doesn’t come with the condition that you procreate. I don’t think it does, because Paul states clearly in another of his letters: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). That’s how you’re saved: By a belief that God raised Christ from the dead and confession of that faith, so what’s childbearing got to do with it? I wondered if Paul was talking about being a spiritual mother – sharing truths and being an example to the next generation, but it says childbearing, not child-rearing.

Then there’s the second part of the verse: “If they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control”. Who are they: Is it they – the women who bear the children, or they – the children themselves? Is Paul telling women: Your children (whose choices you can’t control) need to keep following God, otherwise you’re out? I discounted that straightaway. Imagine the fear and anxiety that could cause any mother! I really don’t think God would want that. John says God’s commands are not burdensome and Jesus Himself tells us His burden is light, so ‘They’ must mean Christian women. We’re to continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. That makes sense. There’s plenty in the Bible encouraging us to continue in the hope held out for us in the gospel and hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, but it still doesn’t answer the childbearing question.

One thing’s for sure: I can’t dismiss it. Paul tells us that: “All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live” (2 Timothy 3:16), so it must be there for a reason. The author of “1 and 2 Timothy for You” shed some light on this for me. In the verse before, we’re reminded of the garden of Eden, where the serpent deceived Eve. Having eaten the forbidden fruit, she offered some to Adam. Because he went against what God had told him, sin came into the world. Eve was deceived and sin (or transgression) was the result, but her childbearing eventually brought about salvation. One of Eve’s descendants, Jesus Christ, would die to take away the sin of the world. It was part of Eve’s purpose to have offspring so that we could be saved. Not every woman has to give birth to a child, but our salvation comes through the birth of a child, and we’ll be saved if we continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

That left me feeling much more peaceful and if you’ve been confused about the verse, like I have, I hope you feel the same.

“The Medium is the Message”

That’s a quote by someone I hadn’t heard of – a man called Marshall McLuhan. He was a Canadian philosopher, who predicted the Internet about thirty years before it was invented. He examined the effect media has on us and wrote in a book published in 1964: “The medium is the message”. In other words, you could say: “Life is precious”, but if you wrote that on the side of a gun or an atomic bomb, the message would lose its meaning because of the way it was put across.

This could just as easily apply to you and me. If you like, our life is the medium. People are watching us, like they would watch a character in a TV-show. We can give any message we like, but if our lives don’t back it up, it won’t carry any weight. I could say: “As a follower of Jesus, I’m not afraid of anything”, but put me in a room with a dog and you’ll know that’s not true. A more honest thing to say would be: “I know Jesus can help me when I’m afraid, and as one of His followers, I wish I loved all of God’s creation like He does”.

James confronts a problem when he writes: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:10). He’s effectively saying: The medium is the message. You’re meant to be living like Christ. People are watching you, and Paul explains it this way: “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). As Christians, yes, we should live primarily to please God; but in a sense, it does matter what people think of us because we’re representing Christ to them. Our lives are preaching His message, so how we live is important. Sometimes I feel terribly inadequate. I see the ways I’m unlike Him and feel such a pale representation of who He is, but we’re not the best judges of ourselves. Sometimes we can forget how far we’ve come, and we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us. What I’m trying to say is, don’t be discouraged. Jesus said: “You are the light of the world”. Let your light shine out to those around you.

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.