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.
I heard on the radio last night there is actually a word, ohnosecond. It’s that moment when you realise you’ve just done something you really shouldn’t have done. I know I feel terrible if I’ve acted out-of-character and think I’ve misrepresented God, but that feeling can’t last long. If it did, I wouldn’t do anything positive ever again. Paul agrees that worldly sorrow brings death, whereas Godly sorrow produces repentance. Repentance means turning from what you’ve done wrong and living the right way.
When that ohnosecond comes, there are three things we can do:
1. Say sorry, but not really mean it. John the Baptist saw this when he was preparing the way for Jesus. He cut to the chase and said: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, if you’ve truly repented, your actions need to match your words.
2. Drown in our own guilt. Judas Iscariot chose this option. When he betrayed Jesus, Jesus called him ‘Friend’ (Matthew 26:50), which says to me that Jesus’ friendship was still on offer. Judas didn’t take it, but hanged himself instead.
3. Turn to God and confess our wrongdoing. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “There is therefore now 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).
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).
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).
“’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (John 8:11).
Day 12 and I really admire people who stand for what they believe in without compromise. Jesus is absolutely perfect at that, but we needn’t feel threatened by Him because:
Jesus is against the wrongdoing, not the person.
There are others, but probably the best example is the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8. The teachers of the Law want to stone her and make a spectacle of her, but Jesus says the one who’s never done any wrong should throw the first stone. Gradually they realise their imperfection and drift away, until only Jesus is left with the woman. At that moment, He tells her He’s not going to condemn her, but that’s not all; He tells her to leave her life of sin. He’s not condemning, but He’s not condoning either. Just because He loves this woman, He’s not suddenly going to rethink His stance on adultery. Adultery is still wrong, but she’s a woman loved by God, who’s not being excluded from His saving work.
We can be no-compromise people, like Jesus when He lived on earth. Some would say Christians hate homosexuals, for instance, but you can hate homosexuality without hating those who practise it. Let’s be against the wrongdoing, not the people.
Day 9 of Write31Days, and I’m glad I can choose to attend a church where there’s:
A pastor who says what I need to hear.
I was told years ago that if we weren’t challenged, we wouldn’t grow. I’ve always remembered that, and it’s helped me to stick with the church. Because when your pastor preaches and it touches a raw nerve, it’s tempting to do the spiritual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears! Well, that temptation’s been around for thousands of years. God even addressed it through His spokesman Isaiah:
“These people are like children who lie and refuse to obey; they refuse to listen to the LORD’s teachings. They tell the seers, ‘Don’t see any more visions!’ They say to the prophets, ‘Don’t tell us the truth! Say things that will make us feel good; see only good things for us. Stop blocking our path. Get out of our way. Stop telling us about God, the Holy One of Israel’.
“So this is what the Holy One of Israel says: ‘You people have refused to accept this message and have depended on cruelty and lies to help you. You are guilty of these things. So you will be like a high wall with cracks in it that falls suddenly and breaks into small pieces. You will be like a clay jar that breaks, smashed into many pieces. Those pieces will be too small to take coals from the fire or to get water from a well.’ This is what the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘If you come back to Me and trust Me, you will be saved’” (Isaiah 30:9-15).
Sobering, isn’t it? Do you really want to hear only what makes you feel good? Wouldn’t you rather have the odd sleepless night now than get to the end of your life and realise there were things you should have paid attention to? Let’s appreciate those pastors who preach truth, even when it doesn’t sit easily. God can use their words to make us more like Jesus.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1).
Day 2 of my Write31Days, and pretty close to the top of my list – of course it has to be:
The forgiveness God offers to us.
The night God first let me know where I stood with Him, I was envious because my younger sister was having driving lessons. When I told people my story afterwards, some would say: “Well, you can’t see. That’s only natural,” but just because it’s natural doesn’t make it right. So many will try to tell you you’re ok; you’re basically a good person, but the truth is, our old selves can’t stand before God. We’re walking down the wrong path and need someone to save us. We need Jesus to come along and make those wrong things in our lives disappear.
“Listen, if your hand is on the plow but your eyes are looking backward, then you’re not fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
“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).
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.
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.