What’s the Formula?

I’ve been thinking tonight about some of the healings that took place in the Bible, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sometimes, they require action. In one of my favourite healing miracles, Jesus told a blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – a word that means ‘Sent’. The man washed, and came home seeing (John 9:7). An action on his part resulted in the healing on Jesus’ part.

Sometimes, they follow an answer. In Luke 18:35-43, again before healing a blind man, Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” is the response.

Sometimes, Jesus takes the person aside and works quietly. Another of my favourite healings is in Mark 7:31-37. Some people bring a deaf man to Jesus, wanting to have him cured. Jesus starts by leading the man away from the crowd, by himself – what a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. If you were deaf and you got your hearing back, wouldn’t it overwhelm you to be in a crowd of people and suddenly assaulted by all their voices? Jesus tells us He’s gentle and He really shows it here, taking the man to a quiet place to heal him.

If you’re wondering what the formula is that ties these healings together, well … that’s the whole point: They’re all very different. Interestingly, in Luke 18, Jesus doesn’t say: “I made you well because you answered the question I asked you”; He says: “You are healed because you believed.” In Mark 7, Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing, but the more He commanded them, the more they told about it! In John 9, the blind man confessed his faith after he was healed and not before.

Can we learn anything from this? Are we, perhaps, too quick to try to find a formula when Jesus might just want to treat each person differently?

Peter the People-Pleaser

In my last post, you heard that Peter went back to his old way of living, but Jesus met him there, talked to him and restored him. You almost want to put a little sentence after that: “And they all lived happily ever-after.” Except Peter was a human being just like us, and when we become Christians, we don’t all live happily ever-after. We can have some amazing moments; Peter certainly did. I think particularly of the day the Holy Spirit filled him, he preached a sermon and three thousand people put their faith in Jesus, but he also had a deep-seated prejudice to iron out along the way.

You see, God’s kingdom wasn’t exclusively Jewish; it was open to all. We read in one of Paul’s letters that through His death, Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews/Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). As a Jew himself, Peter would have been brought-up with all their preconceptions. Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles (they believed doing so would desecrate them). In fact, many held the view that their Messiah’s coming would herald victory for them and judgment for everyone else, so this was a big lesson God had to teach Peter. He did it by sending him to the house of Cornelius, a non-Jew, to tell him about Jesus, but first He had to prepare Peter’s heart. He showed him a vision of animals, all of which were unclean by Jewish standards, and told him to kill and eat them. “God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter soon discovered his vision concerned more than food; it was about people. The servants Cornelius had sent took him to the house and God’s Holy Spirit filled them all, Jews and non-Jews alike. Peter had learnt his lesson … or had he?

Paul later wrote about an incident in a place called Antioch. Peter had been happily eating with the other believers, whatever their backgrounds, until some fellow-Jews came along. (It’d be a bit like me ambling along at my own pace, until someone I admire pays a visit and I shift myself up a gear.) Peter wanted the approval of these men and immediately conformed to their expectations, associating only with the Jewish believers. Paul saw his hypocrisy and challenged him because he was trying to follow a set of man-made rules, when in fact he already had right standing with God through his faith in Jesus Christ. Peter was being a people-pleaser, putting the approval of men before the approval of God. It’s good to have someone like Paul in our lives, who’ll put us right when we’re going off-track.

What lessons has God been teaching you? Maybe you’re a bit like Peter. He’s taught you something, but you’ve tripped up and He’s had to teach you all over again. If that’s true, don’t be discouraged. The main thing Peter’s remembered for is being a close friend of Jesus. Stay close to Him, and He’ll make sure you get to the finish. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end” (Hebrews 12:2).

Going Back

I wrote last time that “Peter left his old life behind in favour of all that Jesus had for him” and yes, he did, until after Jesus was crucified. This Jesus he followed was arrested, beaten, stripped, nailed to a cross, and left to die. Peter was there at the time of His arrest and even tried to defend Him, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. Clearly, Peter thought if he couldn’t escape, he would also be condemned. In that context, standing in the high priest’s courtyard, he denied several times that he knew Jesus. Some time later, he told his friends: “I am going out to fish” (John 21:3) – the ultimate rebuff. It was like saying: This new life, this being sent out to bring people close to God, it had nothing to offer me after all; I’m going back to what I knew, but as the rest of the chapter tells us, that’s the exact time Jesus spoke with him and sent him out all over again.

Harking back to your old life – the days before you were a Christian; the things and people you left behind – is generally a sign of discontent with the new one. In fact, Jesus says: “Anyone who begins to plough a field but looks back is not prepared for God’s kingdom” (Luke 9:62). I’ve had times where I’ve wanted to get away from my problems and felt God hasn’t done it for me, so I’ll escape onto YouTube to take my mind off it, but the safest place to go back to is His love. On 2 October 1999, God said in my heart: “Come because I love you.” That’s what I need to remember.

Jesus talked about this coming back to love in His letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:2-5): “I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. You have patience and have suffered troubles for My name and have not given up.

“But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place.”

The first question in the Bible was “Where are you?” and it’s always one worth considering. Do I really believe God will come through for me? Am I just going through the motions? Have I forsaken my first love – stopped loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength? If I have, I need to go back: Back up the beach like Peter, to that time with Jesus.

Jesus Never Said, “You are a Sinner”

In my previous post, we looked at the call of Peter in Luke 5:1-11. In verse 8, Peter says to Jesus: “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” Hearing those words, it struck me: It wasn’t Jesus who said, “You are a sinner”; it was Peter who acknowledged his sinfulness.

In fact, Jesus never said “You are a sinner” to anyone.

But what about the woman who was caught committing adultery? John 8:3-11. In her case, He said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He had a problem with the way she was living, not with her as a person.

I was reminded of a book I read recently – “Out of a far Country”. It’s about Christopher – a former homosexual drug-dealer who became a Christian. He wrote about Leviticus 18:22 – the part in the Bible where it says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” When he actually read the verse, Christopher discovered it was an abomination. He and his friends had always got the message from Christians that they were an abomination, but it wasn’t them as people God hated; it was the act of homosexuality. I’m deeply sorry that for so many years, he carried around the wrong message, and considered himself unwelcome and unloved. I think that’s why it’s so important for me and my Christian family to know what the Word of God says, and to give people the right idea of God and how He feels about them.

If you’re in a place today where you’re thinking: “Go away from me, Lord. I’m full of sin!” how about following Peter’s example? When Jesus told him not to be afraid and offered him a new life, Peter left his old life behind in favour of all that Jesus had for him.

The Thing They had to Offer

Have you ever had a moment when you were reading two books at the same time, and there seemed to be a recurring theme? This happened to me with Renee Swope’s “A Confident Heart Devotional” and Kenneth E. Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes” (and by the way, I would thoroughly recommend both).

Day 44 in Renee’s devotional really stuck with me because it’s written with such empathy. It’s about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, who was from Samaria, and Renee calls her Sam because “it makes her feel more like the woman she really was.” In John 4:7, Jesus asked her for a drink. Renee writes: “Jesus asked Sam for the one thing she had to offer.” Coming to the well at the hottest part of the day to escape the accusations of others, she must have felt she had nothing to give, but sitting by a well, there was one thing she did have – water.

In chapter 11 of “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, Bailey concentrates on the call of Peter. Peter (initially known as Simon) was a fisherman, who became one of Jesus’ closest friends. In Luke 5:3, Jesus asked Simon to row a little way from shore, then He sat in the boat and taught the people. Bailey writes that Luke’s readers will know Peter ‘Owes Him one’ because Jesus had just healed his mother-in-law, but that’s not all there was to it. Jesus was requesting Peter’s help – his considerable rowing skills. Peter didn’t have anything else; he’d just fished all night and caught nothing, but he did have his boat, and the ability to row. I was instantly reminded of Sam … and the one thing she had to offer.

Have you considered that Jesus could be asking the same of you – that ‘Thing you have to offer’, whatever it might be? For me, I think one of those things is my love of words, and the desire to share what I’ve learnt with others. I don’t know what it is for you, but are you willing to use it for the glory of God?

“Bible Trivia, Jokes, and Fun Facts for Kids” Book-Review

I might have called this “The Bible Joke and Quiz Book”. In places it’s not clear whether the author’s in joke or fact mode, and I’m not sure what age-group it’s aimed at. For instance, the most memorable joke – Why did Moses have a hard time as a baby? He was in de-nial – wouldn’t be easily understood by a 5-year-old. There are certain words the author explains, such as ‘Lame’, but then he’ll use ‘Prophet’ or ‘Apostle’ with no explanation. The reference to NFL teams is also a mystery to anyone living outside of the US.

On the positive side, it’s a very good concept to have questions parents can ask their children. I’m reviewing the eBook, and I don’t think it works in this format. It would work well as a hard copy so that someone could cover up the answers.

Considering the book as a whole, there were parts I liked, particularly the section on Jesus’ disciples, but there were also some discrepancies, E.G. Troy Schmidt says King Nebuchadnezzar saw an angel in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; however, many Christians believe this 4th figure was not an angel, but Jesus. Schmidt also claims Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Bible with 150 verses; it actually has 176.

Bethany House were kind enough to give me a complementary copy in exchange for my honest review. While I wouldn’t recommend this book in its entirety, it may hold some useful ideas for parents; they might just want to have a Bible handy to check the facts.

We Three Magicians?

In the church calendar, today is Epiphany – the day when we think about the wise men following a star to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, and that carol is sung. You know the one:
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright;
Westward-leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light
.

I do like some of its truths: Gold for kingship; frankincense for a deity; myrrh as a reminder of the kind of death He would die, but you won’t catch me singing the first verse. I hate it with a passion: Firstly because they weren’t kings and nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three of them, but it’s more than that. I don’t like it because it takes away from who they really were and what that means.

The ministry Telling the Truth once released a box set called “Coping with Christmas”. I bought the series on CD and would recommend it. In their message about the wise men or Magi, they said the first four letters of that word gave us a clue: Magi … magic. In Biblical books like Daniel, when it came to distant nations (E.G. Babylon), their ‘Wise men’ were magicians and astrologers. Very likely, these were too.

I find that amazing because in the Law Moses wrote for the Jews, God had something to say about magic and astrology: “Don’t let anyone use magic or witchcraft, or try to explain the meaning of signs” (Deuteronomy 18:10). “The LORD hates anyone who does these things. Because the other nations do these things, the LORD your God will force them out of the land ahead of you.

“The nations you will force out listen to people who use magic and witchcraft, but the LORD your God will not let you do those things” (Deuteronomy 18:12, 14). Astrology and magic aren’t what God wants for His people, and living like that, they (or we in our generation) aren’t right in God’s sight.

But the story of the Magi is so awesome because God didn’t toss them aside or give up on them. When they weren’t living right before Him, He met them where they were at. They studied the stars for guidance, so the Messiah’s star appeared in the east. When they bowed down and gave Jesus their worship, it was a call to a changed life – a life centred around this new-born King they’d come to see.

* * *

Perhaps this Epiphany, it’s worth celebrating that God offers the same to us. If you accept His offer, you can say with me and with Paul: “We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. … But God’s mercy is great, and He loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, He gave us new life with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5).

My One Word for 2017

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to do this again. Last year, my word was Restoration and although in some areas the restoration process has started, I didn’t leave 2016 feeling completely restored.

Taking a brief look at last year’s post, activity-wise, I mentioned I wanted to do more outside the house and try to organise something different once a month. Well, nine out of twelve ain’t bad. Some particular highlights were the Stuart Townend concert in April, my meeting with Damon Hill in June, the first-ever ChristianityWorks conference in October (shared between ChristianityWorks and GNBA), and my Christmas present to Mum – a trip to York in December for the carol concert at Yorkminster.

When it came to community, I was finding it difficult at my church with the size of its congregation. I did celebrate their move to new premises, but left halfway through the year to try a smaller church. This is a better fit for me – much easier to figure out who’s who, and where they are. Meeting new people and opening up to them can be hard. I want to be known and respected, even though I haven’t been there long enough to earn their respect, but I’m grateful for their patience and the way they’ve welcomed me.

I also touched on exercise, but I’m not back into a good exercise routine yet. I did join a gym, but the pain I sometimes experience meant I was having to finish early, which didn’t work well with taxies etc. I’m still working on this.

* * *

So that’s why I was unsure about a word for 2017, but I prayed God would show me if He wanted me to have one. At church on Sunday, I got my word. And it is?

Shelter

During the worship, my friend felt God was saying we were a shelter for many. 2017 would be a year of shifting sand for people, but our dependence on God and His Word could be an anchor for them.

Can you picture it – people coming to us because they see Jesus living in us? “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This was a challenge, and made me see the importance of staying strong in God. Who wants to come to a crumbling shelter? I’m thankful that in Christ all things hold together, but I need to take responsibility too. As Paul says to the church at Colosse: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

I’m a shelter for God (a place where He lives through His Spirit), I’m a shelter for others, and God is a shelter for me. “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

Quiet

“’Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.’

“This is what God the LORD says – the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“‘I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not yield My glory to another or My praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you’” (Isaiah 42:1-9).

Christians see those verses in Isaiah as a prophecy about Jesus. Prophecies are messages from God to those He loves, and I’d like to go through this one phrase by phrase:

  • God’s chosen Jesus, and of course He’s going to delight in His Son.
  • God’s Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus when He was baptised (Luke 3:21-22).
  • Jesus brought justice, but it wasn’t packaged the way His friends thought it would be. He didn’t come shouting out or aggressively raising His voice in the streets, keen to do battle with the Romans; His was a quieter and altogether different deliverance. He came gently, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
  • Jesus won’t kick you when you’re down. Maybe as a young Christian, you were fired-up, but life’s knocked you about a bit. You’re feeling bruised, or as if your candle’s been smothered. Jesus isn’t waiting to condemn you, or to replace your dying embers with a brighter flame. He wants to fire you up again – get you back in the race.
  • During His life on earth, Jesus was in constant communication with His Father, holding His hand in prayer.
  • God sustained Jesus, and yes, He has become the New Agreement between God and His people. Whereas beforehand the Jewish High Priest would offer sacrifices to make the people acceptable to God, now Jesus has sacrificed His life as the peace-offering for all who will believe in Him. “In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new agreement that God makes with His people. This new agreement begins with My blood which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20).
  • Jesus came into this world as the Light for everyone – to open eyes, physical and spiritual; to free from prisons, real or imagined.
  • God gave His glory to Jesus, and told us about Him centuries before He was born – this quiet Deliverer of ours: Not aggressively raising His voice in the streets; just inviting all those who are thirsty to come and be satisfied.
  • A Time to Give and a Time to Keep

    In a Jewish wedding ceremony, a groom would suddenly come for his bride during the night; no one knew when to expect him. With this in mind, Jesus paints a picture: Ten young females, five wise and five foolish, waiting to attend the wedding. They carry lamps to light their way when they go to meet the bridegroom. Some of them think to bring extra oil.

    They all wake up to the news he’s on his way! The dopey ones (whose oil has run low) say: “Let us have some of your oil!” but the others realise there may not be enough to go around, so they’re refused. Off they go to buy some more oil and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and the feast starts without them. They’re too late!

    Maybe you never do this, but I’m a writer. I like to imagine different scenarios. What if one of the girls, out of love for her friend, pipes up: “Yes, here. You take my lamp; I’ll go and buy some more oil” … What would happen? She would miss out on the wedding.

    * * *

    This story shows me there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Let’s take that oil as a symbol of faith in Jesus. We can’t rely on somebody else’s faith to give us right standing with God. It’s no good saying: “I’m a member of this church group,” or: “I come from a Christian home.” When you stand before God, it’s your light He’s going to be looking at.

    Maybe you think it’s impossible to give too much, but be careful not to do so much for others that you disqualify yourself. I’ve heard of people going into something on-fire for God, but then they’ve suffered because their dedication to the task has overtaken their desire for Him. A. W. Tozer cautions against becoming so engrossed in the work of the Lord and forgetting the Lord of the work. It’s important to acknowledge God, to remember that He gave us the ability, and to let Him refresh us and give us a heart of wisdom so we can serve Him more effectively.