Familiar and Comfortable

Did you have a good Christmas? Before spending most of the day with my parents, I walked across the road for a family service led by a couple of friends. They talked about how Jesus came into the world as the light of the world, and one sentence stayed with me from the sermon. “We’re comfortable moving around in darkness when we’re in familiar places.” I think I liked it because that was a picture of the start of my Christian life.

When I first came to know Jesus, I wasn’t particularly miserable. My gran had died that year, so I was feeling down about that, but otherwise, I was doing very nicely, thank you very much. Then suddenly, sitting in a church, I heard a verse I didn’t know was in the Bible: “Envy rots the bones”, and I was confronted with my own sin. I knew for the first time that hell was real, I was on my way there and I couldn’t fix myself.

Nobody could have told me that. In fact, I’m glad the moment came in church and not through personal confrontation because if someone had said: “You need Jesus,” I probably would have bitten their head off. I didn’t see myself as being in need. Life was familiar and it was comfortable, but without Jesus, it amounted to nothing, and I was heading in the wrong direction. Sometimes people criticise preachers for talking about the fire of hell, but I was glad of it that night in 1999, because the Holy Spirit used it to shake me out of my complacency and prompt me to reach out to God.

When I heard God say in my heart: “Come because I love you,” I had no concept of the effect it would have on my life – how it would change my priorities and open my eyes to the needs of others. I don’t regret saying yes to God. I’m glad that as I live for Him, Jesus does what I couldn’t do and takes away my sin. Because of Him, I can look forward to an eternity not in hell, but in heaven where there are no more tears, and sin and suffering will be gone forever.

Righteous One

In “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, there’s a great section about hungering and thirsting after righteousness and what righteousness actually is. The author, Kenneth E. Bailey, makes the point that righteousness isn’t a quest for perfection; it’s not just adhering to the Law, but it’s treating others the way God’s always treated His people – with kindness and compassion.

The ultimate Righteous One is Jesus, and His ultimate act of kindness and compassion happened on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. “Father, forgive them,” He said of those crucifying Him, and you don’t get kinder than that. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so we wouldn’t have to, and you can’t get more compassionate than that. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Holy Spirit

When Joseph’s emotions are in turmoil thanks to Mary’s pregnancy, an angel reassures him in a dream: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

When Jesus touched someone, people could see Him touching them. But when God’s Holy Spirit’s at work, something always happens on the inside and flows out – the total opposite of two people having sex, which is an outward, visible act. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was integral to His existence, as my parents are to mine.

When Jesus died, His Spirit could work in every one of His followers. “But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things” (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s one reason we’re instructed to be filled with the Spirit – so our lives can display this fruit for all to see. I’ve learnt that verse in Ephesians about being filled with the Spirit is a continuous tense in the Greek, so it doesn’t mean be filled only once; it means be being filled. Be filled; flow out; be filled again. That’s what God wants for us.

Aimlessness

Last month, I had a job-interview where I was asked: “What motivates you to get out of bed each day?”

I wouldn’t always have been able to answer a question like that, but I said: “Knowing God has a good plan for my life, and that I can do something useful for Him.” How do I know that? Because it says so in the Bible. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s a good plan. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). That’s one of the reasons we’re here on earth.

Everything we can know about God, we’ll find in His Word. Nothing Godly will ever contradict it, so when we’re told to test everything, that’s what we test it against – for our benefit. I’ll give you an example. “All you who are thirsty, come and drink. … Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). In other words, God’s offer to nourish us is unconditional, so if someone asks you for money in order to receive something from God, alarm bells should start ringing. Jesus was so passionate about everyone having access to God’s kingdom. Listen to what He said against the religious teachers: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Jesus doesn’t want any barrier to stand in the way of us getting to know God. He wouldn’t want people taking advantage of us.

If I keep on about the Bible, it’s because I’ve found it so helpful in the decisions I’ve made. When my attitudes have been wrong, God’s Word has put me right. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Who became flesh and came to live among us? Jesus. God’s Word is Jesus. When we read the Bible, it points us to Him.

Before I was a Christian, I didn’t have the privilege of being God’s and not my own; I didn’t know what I know now – that my life is His, not mine. As we’ve seen earlier in this series, I may sometimes be homesick for heaven, but I do have someone to live for – a God who takes great delight in you and me.

If you’ve taken anything away from these 31 Days of Positive Spin, I hope it’s that God cares about you and all the difficult things you’ll ever have to go through in your life. I’ll finish with the chorus of a song I wrote:
Jesus, what You did for me –
The pain You had to bear –
It shows me that whatever I go through,
You’ve already been there,
And so I ask the question:
Why should I complain
?

Independence

This is a big one for me. As a blind person, independence is something you strive for. As a Christian, independence tends to be viewed as prideful because ‘We all need each other’. As a Christian blind person? Help! How do we get a balance?

I wrote about this subject before, and then I came across a quote in the handbook I use to support people recently diagnosed with sight loss. Torch Trust is a Christian organisation that works with blind and partially-sighted people. I think their aim is exactly right: Independence in activity and interdependence in relationships.

When someone’s said to me in the past: “You’re very independent”, I’ve replied that I’m God-dependent because I know there’s so much I wouldn’t have done without Him. Before I was a Christian, I wasn’t comfortable using my cane. At nineteen, when I left the house, I would always be with someone. Now I’ve lived in two flats on my own; I’ve taken myself as far south as London and as far north as Scotland on the train … Some might say I would have done that anyway as I matured, but even if I had overcome the self-consciousness, I probably wouldn’t have done it quite the same way. I would have regularly got angry or impatient when I couldn’t control outcomes; I might have treated staff who met me at stations as people there to serve me, rather than as people I could relate to. God has an amazing way of taking our focus off our own needs and putting it onto the people we’re with.

If you want to be competent, choosing to rely on God shouldn’t take that away from you. I read about a little boy trying to type. His mum had the power to tell him where the keys were, but she didn’t because she knew he had to learn. I believe God’s like that too. He wants us to learn how to navigate life, but don’t just take my word for it. Look at Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was asleep and they woke Him in a panic. He said: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” then He calmed the storm (Matthew 8:26). Later, there was another storm. This time, they were in the boat without Jesus. He came walking towards them on the water, and the Bible says: “He was about to pass by them” (Mark 6:48). I believe His desire was that they would have learnt from Him, and stilled the storm themselves. Independence in activity; interdependence in relationships.

For the rest of this series click here, or you can find other blogs on the Write31Days site

Darkness

It surprises me every year – the amount of Christians who involve themselves in Halloween, dressing their kids up in costumes etc. When Compassion had its own website for sponsors, I asked one of them why she did it. She wrote back with a link to an article by someone I’d never heard of, which I found sad because I was genuinely interested in her thoughts – not somebody else’s. I don’t want to let some article by someone somewhere justify my actions; only the Word of God. I’ll be honest and admit I was brought-up in a home where we did go out trick-or-treating our neighbours and grandparents, but I think this was probably done in ignorance. The only parts of the Bible we read as a family were the famous stories – Adam and Eve, Noah … We certainly didn’t study or consider it when living the rest of our lives.

As a Christian though, I became more interested in how God wanted me to live. The first year, I went to a Halloween party. I thought as long as I didn’t actually do anything evil, it would be all right. I didn’t know this verse: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). By going to a Halloween party, I was involving myself in that celebration, whereas God says have nothing to do with it.

Galatians 5:19-20: “The wrong things the sinful self does are clear: Committing sexual sin, being morally bad, doing all kinds of shameful things, worshiping false gods, taking part in witchcraft” … This is why I can’t understand people going round dressed as wizards and witches, as if God’s ok with that.

I would avoid a murder mystery night for the same reason. If we really are made to glorify God in whatever we do, then why have fun celebrating things that He (a holy God) can’t even look at? The idea of murder hadn’t entered anyone’s minds before Adam and Eve did wrong. Their son committed the first murder, and that wasn’t something to be celebrated. He had to leave God’s presence and live in the land of Nod – a Hebrew word that means ‘Wandering’ (Genesis 4:13-16). Can you imagine wandering aimlessly on the earth, knowing your home was with God but you squandered that by killing your brother?

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). What about a praise party? If we believe in Jesus, we’ve been freed from the power of darkness, so let’s do as Peter suggests: “Declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Persecution

How do you find the positive from someone put in prison for their faith? In North Korea, it’s even done by association. You might be imprisoned because an uncle believes in God, and if you’re pregnant, then your children are born in captivity. “Escape from Camp 14” showed me they’re not taught about love; they only know survival. Families have so little that they’re in competition with each other, even for daily food.

“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19). Christians can hold onto this truth: Rescue is coming. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:23). We may not be persecuted the same way as North Koreans. For us it might be people showing hostility, or mocking our faith. Perhaps your relatives follow a different religion and are doing their best to steer you away from Jesus. “They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of My name. And so you will bear testimony to Me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of Me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21:12-19). “Everyone will hate you because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).

If you’re a believer in Jesus who’s being persecuted, keep relying on His Spirit to give you the right words and attitudes. Hold on till the end, and focus on your heavenly reward.

Discouragement

PMS. Need I say more? I’ve been feeling quite down just now, and couldn’t seem to lift myself up/make myself happy, so I asked for God’s help.

Praise.

That was the word that stood out, because it’s not exclusive to women or a certain time of the month. Everyone has days where they’re discouraged and feeling lower than usual. One of my friends gave me a set of CDs from a seminar he took some years ago. He said that when he was down, he would start praising God. “Thank You for this table; thank You for this chair …” From past experience I can say it doesn’t make problems disappear, but it does make the burden of them lighter.

At the conference I told you about in Manchester, the worship-leader sang a Matt Redman song. She sang it with such sincerity, I genuinely thought she had written it, but when I asked her, she sent me the link. I just love the words. Can you sing along with it?
What am I gonna do with this life You gave me?
What can I do but live for Your praise
?

Doubt

I’ve heard it said that doubt and faith can co-exist. To me, it seems clear from Jesus’ conversation with Thomas that they can’t. I’m not sure where Thomas was the first time Jesus appeared to a group of His close friends after His resurrection. They were locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Maybe Thomas had braved the streets to go and get them something to eat, but anyway, he missed the big moment. They told him about it afterwards and he said: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Later Jesus came again and specifically said to Thomas: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Faith and doubt may not co-exist, but faith and questioning can. After all, a question Thomas asked brought us one of the most central truths in Christianity – Jesus’ statement that: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

I’m reading a book at the moment about when Christians are faced with the hard questions in life. Why does God supernaturally heal one person but leave another to cope with their disability, when we read about those wonderful miracles, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? Why does one person have a supportive network of family and friends, while others grieve loved ones and appear to have very little? We really don’t understand, so what can we do? We can hold onto what we know. We know that Jesus is our good Shepherd and our admission ticket to heaven. I’ve told you before about the time this verse came into my head immediately: “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 5:13).

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (Hebrews 11:1). We may not see the full picture; we might still have questions, but in the midst of those questions, our faith in Jesus can triumph over doubt.

Impulsiveness

We looked at marriage yesterday, but it doesn’t take much to realise that in this world, many haven’t chosen marriage as a way of life. They may feel they’re just as committed without a piece of paper to prove it, but marriage to the Christian is more than commitment. It’s including God in your union with your spouse.

It’s not just sex outside of marriage; it’s the general attitude of: If it feels good, do it. If everyone followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure the world would be a better place. People would exercise self-control and we wouldn’t see alcohol or drugs destroying lives.

“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).