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Luke 16 starts and ends with one of Jesus’ stories, and both have the same theme.

Story one: A man’s about to be fired for wasting his employer’s money, so he calls in the debtors and tells them to change what they owe his employer, thereby cancelling some of their debt so that when he is fired, he knows there will be people who’ll want to be generous to him and welcome him into their homes. Though the man was acting dishonestly, Jesus uses this as a lesson to us: We should use worldly wealth to make friends, so they’ll welcome us to an eternal home (Luke 16:9). Can you picture the people you’ve blessed in your lifetime, waiting to welcome you into heaven?

Story two: A rich man lived in luxury, while a poor man named Lazarus was often put at his gate (Luke 16:20). Imagine this beggar – his body covered in sores; too ill to move himself, so he’s put at the rich man’s gate in the hope he’ll be fed. Even the dogs lick his open sores, but the rich man does nothing. When both men die, they’re sent to different places: Lazarus to the arms of Abraham (Luke 16:22), and the rich man to a place of great pain. “Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames” (Luke 16:24). The rich man’s so used to asking for what he wants and getting it, but not anymore. He had the good things in life while he lived, Abraham tells him, but Lazarus had nothing and now he’s being comforted. There are no more chances for the rich man; no one can cross from one place to the other. That must have heightened his anguish, and finally he shows some compassion. If Lazarus can’t cross over to help him, could he please go to earth for his five brothers? “I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment” (Luke 16:28).

What I want you to take away from this second story is that there really is a place of torment. I was told about the rich man and Lazarus at primary school, but no one explained it was a true story. Only the night I became a Christian did I feel convicted that it was real. When the preacher said: “Imagine you’re locked in a room. It’s hot and there’s nothing to cool your hands,” that story came alive for me; they weren’t just words on a page anymore. Then the preacher explained that when Jesus came along, He could make all our wrongs disappear (Isaiah 53:6). For the first time I knew that following Jesus led to heaven, but the alternative led to that fiery place of torment.

Only God can bring His words to life in your heart, so I’ll put these questions to myself and you can consider them too if you like. How am I living my life? Am I using my resources (my time, my words, my finance) to bless others? Will those I’ve blessed be waiting to welcome me into my eternal home? And am I still grateful to Jesus for taking my punishment, so I’ll never have to experience that place of torment?

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One More Chance

I never met my great grandmother, but one story about her always makes me sad. At the end of her life, when she was very ill, she would say repeatedly (in Welsh): “What have I done? What have I done?” thinking her illness some sort of punishment from God. I wish she had read Luke 13, where Jesus addresses that very thing. Some Galileans have just been murdered whilst offering sacrifices at the temple. “’Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’ Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! … And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No’” (Luke 13:2-5). I can imagine the progression of Jesus’ thoughts. There’s no correlation between suffering and sin, but people are so quick to put others down! And so He tells a story about a fruitless tree. The owner wants it cut down, but the gardener asks him to give it one more chance.

And straightaway, this ‘One more chance’ story is lived out. Back in Luke 6, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, leaving His enemies enraged. Now, here’s their chance to react differently. As He’s teaching, again in a synagogue, Jesus sees a woman. Luke tells us she’s crippled by an evil spirit, and has been bent double for eighteen years. I suppose her sickness would be similar to arthritis. Jesus touches her and instantly she can stand up straight. How she praised God, Luke says, and it’s hardly surprising is it? But the synagogue leader tells the crowd they shouldn’t come for healing on the Sabbath. Perhaps Jesus would have stayed silent had he kept his grievance to himself, but turning the crowd away? Doing exactly what Jesus had talked about in chapter 11 – not entering God’s kingdom himself, and keeping others from it (Luke 11:52)? “You hypocrites!” Jesus says to those in charge. “Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” According to Luke, Jesus’ words shamed His enemies (Luke 13:17). Good; I should think so! They had a chance to show compassion and failed – miserably.

As the chapter comes to a close and Jesus continues teaching on His way to Jerusalem, He talks about entering God’s kingdom through the narrow door. John explains this best in his gospel. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). If people try to enter heaven any other way, they’ll be denied. “He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.’ And He will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you’” (Luke 13:25-27).

In a nutshell, God is the God of one-more-chance. But at the end of our earthly lives, there won’t be any more chances. To go through the narrow door, you need to know Jesus personally. For those privileged to have spent time with Him during His life on earth, eating and drinking or listening to Him in the streets, that won’t be enough; Jesus has to have come into their hearts. If you don’t think He’s come into yours, all you have to do is ask Him.

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.

Condemnation

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).

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

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).

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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31 Jesus-Benefits: I’m not Threatened

“’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.

“He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

31 Jesus-Benefits: Truthful Pastors

“So each of us will have to answer to God” (Romans 14:12).

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.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Out with the Old

“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).

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).