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.

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.

Zealous

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me’” (John 2:13-17).

A thought came to me, as I wondered how I would finish an Advent series with these verses. Paul says to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). If Jesus was that fired-up about goings-on in a building where worship-rituals were performed, how much more zealous will He be for us – the people He loves and wants to spend time with!

Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you’re His temple. He’s up there in heaven, pleading with God for you. By believing in Him, you became a part of His Father’s household, so you can be sure He’s absolutely committed to you.

* * *

I have a Saviour who’s been proclaimed by angels; born in Bethlehem; Creator and Nurturer of everything; deity; Everlasting Father; glorious, Holy Spirit-filled, God-with-us Immanuel; Jesus; King; Lord; Messiah; Nazarene; one with the Father; peace-giving; quiet; righteous; servant-hearted; timeless; unparalleled; victorious; the Word; my yesterday, today and forever zealous God! So many reasons to celebrate Him this Christmas.

Yesterday, Today and Forever

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), but that doesn’t mean much unless you know who He is. We’ve already seen that God and Jesus are one. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3), so anything we read about Jesus can also be attributed to God and vice versa. “Christ Himself is our peace”, says Paul. “God is love”, says John.

If God is love, then surely those two words (God and love) are interchangeable. Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, replacing ‘Love’ with Jesus or God:
God is patient, God is kind. He’s not envious or boastful. He’s not proud or rude, or self-seeking (if God had sought adulation, He would have made us robots incapable of feeling anything else). Jesus isn’t irritable and keeps no record of wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil, but He’s happy about the truth. God always keeps us safe, gives us His trust, is constantly hopeful and never tires of us. God never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

That’s who my Lord is, and He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. If I snap at a parent I’m supposed to honour, God is still patient. If I’ve harboured an unkind thought, God’s still kind. When I’m struggling, His peace is still available to me. If I feel like throwing in the towel, God’s not about to give up. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).

I think I’m glad I serve a God who doesn’t change.

Insecurity

A friend was talking on her latest radio-show about someone daunted by their new job, who really needed peace. If anything’s unusual or doesn’t go the way we think it should, it can cause panic, can’t it? Because we don’t know what a future employer, a spouse, or whoever, might be thinking.

I remember another friend telling me about her husband’s funeral – how people said such lovely things, and she wished he had known what he meant to them. That’s why I try to point out the good in people. It does no harm to give encouragement, and better now than when it’s too late, but not everyone expresses themselves in words. If you haven’t read it, I’d really recommend Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love-Languages” for ideas on various ways people can show their feelings. They might buy you a gift, or do something extremely kind. If I expect a certain response from someone, eventually, they’re going to let me down. That’s not their fault; it’s just that nobody’s perfect, and (thankfully) nobody’s exactly like me.

My lovely friend Becky from New York is a reader of this blog. After her husband proposed, he wrote her a poem. It’s really beautiful and I’ll just share a little of it here:
When you feel your feet slipping down into the deep and you’re looking for something to stand on,
My love will never be enough …
When you are determined to rely on God and not give up,
Then my love will be enough
.”

Can we take a leaf out of Becky and Dave’s book? If we feel the weight of insecurity, let’s give whatever’s troubling us over to God. “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That means if I haven’t been the person I’d like to be or if I feel let-down, God can help us with our shortcomings. It’s only through Him that real transformation is possible.

If this has brought to mind a situation in your family, or the family of someone you know, why not pray about it? “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Inadequacy

This morning I read about the three servants, who were each given different amounts of money to steward. Let’s say one had £10, the second £5, and the third £1. The one who had £10 used it wisely and was given ten cities to take charge of. The one with £5 got five cities, but the one with £1 gave it back and said to his master: “You are a hard man, and I was afraid of you” (Luke 19:11-27).

There’s a similar story in Matthew’s gospel and the measurement’s in talents, which makes me think of the gifts and talents we’ve been given. Have you noticed that someone who’s afraid to use their gifts tends to have very little self-worth?

I’ve been given the ability to write songs. I’ve made CDs with them on because I think if God enabled me to write them, He must want people to hear them. I totally understand not wanting to draw attention to yourself, and so does Jesus. After all, He said: “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured” (Luke 18:14), but you don’t have to use the gifts God’s given you in a flashy, attention-seeking kind of way. Someone might have the gift of hospitality. They could hold a big, lavish banquet and invite the whole neighbourhood, or they could invite a couple of people to lunch on a Sunday. In either case, they’d be using that gift.

Have you ever thought about God’s commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matthew 19:19)? If you’re going to love another as much as you love yourself, then surely, first you have to love yourself and appreciate what you’ve got to offer as a person.

If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, like I do sometimes, can I encourage you to bring them to God? Ask Him what He sees in you – what it is He loves about you. If He’s given you something you feel you can use for His glory, please let Him give you the confidence to do that because the world around you really needs to hear your voice.

Fear

I said earlier in the month that our difficulties were as diverse as our personalities. Our fears are diverse as well. I don’t write or talk about this often because I’m ashamed of it, but I have a real phobia of dogs. Intellectually I know not all dogs are the same, and that it’s unlikely I would be bitten by a dog in a public place, but I still tense up if I’m with somebody and a person with a dog walks past us.

1 John 4:18 says perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and that the one who fears is not made perfect in love. Really, this is logical. If I had the same love for dogs as I do for people, I wouldn’t distrust them. Perhaps you’ve known someone for a while, and there’s something about yourself you’re afraid to admit to them. If you could be sure they loved you perfectly, that fear wouldn’t be there. Fear of the future is considerably less for me because I know my God loves me and delights in my wellbeing.

Maybe you’re telling yourself that as humans, we can’t show that perfect love to each other, but Jesus commands His followers: “Love each other as I have loved you.” With His Spirit living in us, we have the power to show extraordinary love.

Let’s be people whose love calms the fears of others.

Illness

I remember my nan telling me about a time before her mother died. She was very ill and kept repeating a certain phrase. I can’t remember what she said it was in Welsh, but it translated: “What have I done? What have I done?” I find it sad that at a time when they’re in most need of comfort and reassurance, not just my nan’s mother but others too wonder deep-down whether their affliction is some kind of punishment from God.

When you’re ill, you can hold onto the love God has for you. One of the verses I keep coming back to says that God “delights in the wellbeing of His servant” (Psalm 35:27). Illness is only a temporary thing. When we step into eternity with God, there won’t be any more sorrow, and He’ll wipe away all our tears.

If you’d like to read the rest of this Write31Days series, click here

Turn it on its Head

Do you remember in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, Wonka would get something wrong and then he’d say: “Strike that! Reverse it”? I’d like to give certain quotes the same treatment. Take this one as an example:
“You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re no earthly use!”
I would argue that those who are heavenly-minded are of far more earthly use. Heavenly-minded people examine their lives. They look at what they do and ask: Does this have eternal value?

When we think of God’s greatest commandments (love the LORD your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself), we see that anything we do for God or for others has value not only for now, but for eternity. That’s what heavenly-minded people give the majority of their time and their money to.

Here’s another:
“Preach the gospel and where necessary, use words.”
When I was growing up, the philosophy was that there were two things you didn’t talk about at dinner parties: Politics and religion. Your beliefs were to be kept private, but faith in Jesus is more than a religion – it’s a crucial part of my life. If God comes first and my loved ones come second to Him, asking me to keep quiet about my faith is like asking a newlywed not to talk about their spouse; it doesn’t work.

I can understand that people don’t want to make a great speech but leave their hearers still in need, and the Bible supports this: “A brother or sister in Christ might need clothes or food. If you say to that person, ‘God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,’ but you do not give what that person needs, your words are worth nothing” (James 2:15-16). We don’t want our words to be worth nothing, but meeting people’s needs should never be a substitute for telling the good news of Jesus and His love that invites us into a relationship with God. Remember when that crowd of five thousand-plus stayed with Jesus so long that they were hungry? Why had they stayed? What were they doing? They were listening to Jesus talk to them about God! God’s Word came first and always will. Meet people’s physical needs if you’re able, but don’t neglect the spiritual. “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, but answer in a gentle way and with respect. Keep a clear conscience so that those who speak evil of your good life in Christ will be made ashamed” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Are there any quotes that you’d like to turn upside-down?