31 Jesus-Benefits: Sympathy

Day 19, and how amazing is Jesus? He had everything up in heaven; a close relationship with His Father for a start. Depending on the translation you read, John 1:18 calls Jesus ‘Near to the Father’s heart’, or ‘In the bosom of the Father’. Can you imagine Jesus on the Father’s lap in a giant hug? But He left all of that behind to become one of us – Immanuel, God-with-us, and it’s because Jesus has experienced life in this world that Hebrews says:

He sympathises with our weaknesses.

It’s awesome that having perfection at His feet, Jesus would give that all up to come into our world of suffering and pain, just so He could identify with us.

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

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Why Paul Probably Wouldn’t Sing “Oceans”

“They also know I was there when Stephen, your witness, was killed. I stood there agreeing and holding the coats of those who were killing him!” (Acts 22:20).

I was singing on the worship-team at church this morning, and we sang the song “Oceans”. I looked at the words last night and felt uneasy about them, but I went along and sang some of them. I felt peace as we prayed before the meeting and that God wanted me there, but:
“In oceans deep my faith will stand;
“I’ll keep my eyes above the waves” – it seems a bit boastful and self-focused to me. I’d rather say that when I’m out of my depth, I’ll trust God to complete His work in me, and I’ll call on His name to keep my eyes above the waves (because I haven’t always done a very good job of it myself).

And then my pastor got ready to preach and someone read the verse above. I had never noticed before that Paul publicly confessed his part in Stephen’s death. My pastor went on to talk about how Jesus had utterly transformed him, and how Paul had completely changed his belief-system. It reminded me of Abby Johnson, the former director of an abortion clinic who’s now pro-life, swapping from one side of the fence to the other. The ridicule they must have had to endure from people who were once close friends.

I don’t think Paul would have sung a song like “Oceans”. There are lots of things I admire about Paul – his passion; his commitment; his willingness to confront wrongdoing, but I’m also impressed with how humble he is. He doesn’t hesitate to say: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). He knows that of himself, he’s totally unworthy of anything God could give him. He’s absolutely missed the mark. He’s nothing, and yet God loves him completely.

And it’s the same with me. If I lived every day according to my old nature, I would be an angeraholic, and yet God called me to something better.

“God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure He will continue it until it is finished” (Philippians 1:6).

Doubting his Calling?

I was reading the beginning of Acts 11 this morning, and it got me thinking. You know how in those stories you know really well, an earlier part can remind you of what happens later? Yeah, it was a bit like that.

I was reading about when Peter returned from telling the good news about Jesus to Cornelius and watching his household being filled with the Holy Spirit. Some people thought this good news should only be told to Jews, and Cornelius wasn’t a Jew, so Peter came in for a bit of criticism. Fresh from witnessing God’s power, this opposition didn’t faze him at all. You see, Peter himself had been reluctant to associate with non-Jews, but in Acts 10:9-20, God had shown him a vision of animals Jews were forbidden to eat and said: “Don’t call anything unclean which I have called clean.” So, Peter described the vision he’d had in the previous chapter as his reason for visiting Cornelius. Great! What a transformation!

But later on, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes that Peter ate with non-Jews, but when some strict Jews came along, he started to back away from them. In typical Paul fashion, Paul opposed Peter to his face ‘Because he stood condemned’. (I love how Paul confronts these issues.) Why did Peter stand condemned? Because God had already revealed how He wanted him to treat people: “Don’t call anything unclean which I have called clean”, but instead of being led by the Spirit of God, Peter was acting in fear – backing away from the non-Jews because he was afraid of those who were Jewish like himself.

What about the vision? What about the power God had given Peter to communicate with non-Jews? Perhaps it’s not dissimilar to that day in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent came along. “Did God really say …?” As time passes, it can be so easy to let doubt creep into our minds, but Paul tells us: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Instead of walking in the flesh (in our fears or doubts), let’s walk according to God’s Spirit and be faithful to our callings.

The Shuddering Reality

God really hates the destruction of the poor.  Yet again, He talks about His people walking all over them, but this chapter’s different, in that God’s had enough.  “I will not overlook their sins anymore” (Amos 8:2).  It’s not just talk this time; He’s showing Israel there are consequences for their disobedience.  “The whole land will shake because of it”, and its people will mourn for their dead (Amos 8:8).

 

When God talks about the sun going down at noon and the earth being darkened, like a time of crying for the death of an only son (Amos 8:9-10), I can’t help but think of Jesus’ crucifixion day.  Yes, the shuddering reality is that our wrongdoing displeases God, but the marvellous truth is that Jesus took our punishment when He died on that cross – when the sky was darkened for three hours.

 

Here in Amos 8 though, God’s talking not only about a physical darkness, but a spiritual one.  “The Lord God says:  ‘The days are coming when I will cause a time of hunger in the land.  The people will not be hungry for bread or thirsty for water, but they will be hungry for words from the Lord.  They will wander from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, from the north to the east.  They will search for the word of the Lord, but they won’t find it’” (Amos 8:11-12).  After this was written and before Jesus’ birth, there were apparently four hundred years when God didn’t speak through any prophet – the silent four hundred years, I’ve heard them called, and perhaps we’ll experience another time like that before Jesus returns.  So what to take away from this?  Well, I’m reminded of a phrase in Isaiah 55:6, which simply says:  “Seek the Lord while he may be found”.  If there’s something inside you that longs for God, reach out for Him with all your heart; I know you’ll find Him.

Happy to see Justice?

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“Those who disobey what they have been taught praise the wicked, but those who obey what they have been taught are against them.  Evil people do not understand justice, but those who follow the Lord understand it completely” (Proverbs 28:4-5).

 

How much do wickedness and unfairness bother you?  Has your faith in God changed the way you see the world and what goes on around you?

Not Disqualified

“Fools don’t care if they sin, but honest people work at being right” (Proverbs 14:9).  When you look back at the things you’ve done, is there something there that you think disqualifies you from ever being used by God to show Him to the world?  I hate how people have such long memories of the things we do wrong, but God’s not like that.  God is a God who loves unconditionally, who forgives us lavishly.

 

If you feel sorry for what you’ve done, if there’s something in you that wants to change, look at this verse and see the hope in it.  You’re not like the fool – uncaring and hard-hearted.  There’s a part of you that wants to ‘Work at being right’, and you can.  The good news is that God doesn’t wait for us to have it all together before He accepts us.

 

The verse in the Bible that changed my life and brought me into a personal relationship with God is also in Proverbs 14:  Proverbs 14:30, which says envy rots the bones.  You can read the story of when I became a Christian here, but take from it the fact that God didn’t say:  “Come when you’ve got rid of all that envy”; He simply said:  “Come because I love you”.  When I said yes to that, then He started working in my heart; changing the way I thought about things; taking me on this journey that’s called Christianity.  There are still things He’s working on in me; I’m still not the person I’d like to be, but I care when I mess up, and I want (with His help) to work at being right.  I hope you do too.

Proverbs in 31 Days

I hope you enjoyed the A-Z challenge last month.  This month, Proverbs has 31 chapters and I’m setting myself a challenge to read it in 31 days.  Will you join me?

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“These are the wise words of Solomon son of David, king of Israel.  They teach wisdom and self-control” (Proverbs 1:1-2), just in case you wondered what Proverbs was there for!

 

“My child, if sinners try to lead you into sin, do not follow them.  They will say, ‘Come with us.  Let’s ambush and kill someone; let’s attack some innocent people just for fun’” (Proverbs 1:10-11).  Does that seem farfetched, as though you’re not likely to mix with those sorts of people?  I suppose it did to me in the past if I’m honest, but something awful happened last year in a city near where I live.  A woman randomly stabbed two men.  She and her accomplice were charged and went to court.  I heard one of the victims interviewed on the news and his words shocked me.  “She said, ‘Oh look, you’re bleeding.  I’d better do some more’.”  There really are people out there who would kill innocent people just for fun, and they might not be as far away from you as you’d think.  Please, don’t be an accomplice to sin.

 

What jumped out at you from the first chapter of Proverbs?

31 Days of Song: “Slow Fade”

A week ago, I was brunching in a café with my friend, and we were saying how sin creeps in little by little.  I had already written my post for that day, but I knew the perfect song to go with our conversation.

 

I absolutely love this interview.  I’ve added it to my favourites and just listened again, and had to listen all the way through it was so good.  In it Mark Hall, lead vocalist from Casting Crowns, talks about how he started off as (and still is) a youth pastor at his church, and their songs started out not as songs but as Bible-studies and products of the one-on-ones they had with teenagers.  The rest of the band are all youth-workers, small group leaders etc.  When asked about getting into the music business and doing what they did on a bigger scale, they said as long as they could stay in their church, they would do it.  Talk about getting your priorities right!

 

There’s a kids’ song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” that starts:  Be careful little eyes what you see.  Well, Casting Crowns have taken that song and made a grown-up version, which gives the very message my friend and I talked about last week – that sin can start with something small and escalate.  I love the line:

“It’s the second glance that ties your hand, as darkness pulls the strings.”

A-Z: No Compromise

“I often warned you that many people are living as enemies of the cross of Christ.  And now with tears in my eyes, I warn you again that they are headed for hell!  They worship their stomachs and brag about the disgusting things they do.  All they can think about are the things of this world.  But we are citizens of heaven and are eagerly waiting for our Saviour to come from there. …  Dear friends, I love you and long to see you.  Please keep on being faithful to the Lord” – Philippians 3:18-20, 4:1.  N in the A-Z challenge is for ‘No compromise’.

 

How seriously do we take sin?  Have we become comfortable with it?  Paul took it very seriously when he said:  “A little yeast can spread through the whole batch of dough” – 1 Corinthians 5:6.

There has to be a place for confronting sin – in ourselves and in the lives of others.  If you’re anything like me, when you talk to some people about this, they’ll tell you we shouldn’t judge; we should leave that to God.  I don’t agree.  Jesus said “Do not judge”, but He didn’t say do not confront sin, and I don’t think they’re the same thing.

The teachers of the Law wanted to judge the woman who was having an affair (John 8:3-11).  They said she should be stoned to death.  That’s what I think judging is:  It’s dolling out consequences for someone’s sin.  Jesus didn’t want that woman stoned to death, but He did want her to know He took her sin seriously.  “Go now, but don’t sin anymore,” He told her.

That woman was someone who hadn’t become one of Jesus’ followers, but what about those people who do know Him and call themselves Christians?  This is the uncomfortable bit – well it is for me.  I’ll let Paul say it, ‘cos he says it best.  “I was talking about your own people who are immoral or greedy or worship idols or curse others or get drunk or cheat.  Don’t even eat with them!  Why should I judge outsiders?  Aren’t we supposed to judge only church members?  God judges everyone else.  The Scriptures say, ‘Chase away any of your own people who are evil’” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.  Do we do this?

Broken to be Filled

We had an interesting illustration today.  2 jugs – 1 representing Adam, the other symbolising Jesus; and grapes, which represented us.

 

Someone put the grapes into the first jug to show that Adam’s sin/wrongdoing meant that when we were born, we were born into sin – born with that same corrupt nature.  Then Jesus came along and, yes, the grapes were poured out of jug 1 into jug 2.  When we become Christians, we’re born again and we’re in Jesus, but the pastor went on to say that not only are we in Jesus, the miracle is that He’s in us too.

 

Well, that got me thinking.  How could that happen?  What would need to happen to one of those grapes for a piece of that jug to get inside it?  It would need to split in half.  It couldn’t remain a whole grape.  That’s a bit like us isn’t it?  We need to die to our selfishness and the bad stuff inside us before Jesus can shine through.

 

And, by the way, a whole jug couldn’t fit inside that one tiny grape.  Could it?  Wouldn’t the jug need to be broken too?  Yes, Jesus needed to die before God the Father could send His Spirit to live in us and transform us.

 

So that’s one thing I came away from church with this morning:  Broken to be filled.