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Fix your Eyes on the Invisible

Do you ever get discouraged? Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.

Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).

Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by physical beauty and outward success. The Bible stresses the importance of the inward and unseen: the beliefs, thoughts and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour. ‘For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). The invisible is eternal.

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100% Heart

All of us are far from perfect. I still do things that I wish I did not do. But I have been determined to try and follow the Lord with all my heart and be fully committed to him.

To be ‘fully committed’ with ‘all your heart’ means 100% commitment. It means seeking to do what the Lord calls you to do. It means rooting out anything that is bad – ruthlessly tearing down the high places and getting rid of the other gods in the midst of life. I’ve struggled with this, having compartmentalized some struggles and not always wishing or wanting to do the work.

The Lord is looking for those whose ‘hearts are fully committed’ to him (2 Chronicles 16:9). The psalmist prayed, ‘Give me an undivided heart’ (Psalm 86:11). The expression ‘all your heart’ appears many times throughout the Bible. For example, you are to do the following things ‘with all your heart’:

  •  Love the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Matthew 22:36–38)
  • Trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5)
  • Obey the Lord (Psalm 119:34,69; 1 Chronicles 29:19)
  • Praise the Lord (Psalm 111:1; 138:1)
  • Work for the Lord (Nehemiah 4:6; Colossians 3:23).

This is how to enjoy life and life in all its fullness (John 10:10). It’s a life of love, trust, gratitude, joy and meaningful work.

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Soften Your Heart And Harden Your Feet

A twenty-one-year-old music college student took the cheapest ship she could find, calling at the greatest number of countries, and prayed to know where to disembark. She arrived in Hong Kong in 1966 and came to a place called the Walled City. It was a small, densely populated, lawless area controlled neither by China nor Hong Kong. It was a high-rise slum for drug addicts, gangs and prostitutes. She wrote:

I loved this dark place. I hated what was happening in it but I wanted to be nowhere else. It was almost as if I could already see another city in its place and that city was ablaze with light. It was my dream. There was no more crying, no more death or pain. The sick were healed, addicts set free, the hungry filled. There were families for orphans, homes for the homeless, and new dignity for those who had lived in shame. I had no idea of how to bring this about but with ‘visionary zeal’ imagined introducing the Walled City people to the one who could change it all: Jesus.

Jackie Pullinger has spent over half a century working with prostitutes, heroin addicts and gang members. At a talk she gave she began by saying, “God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.’

Jackie is a glowing example of this; going without sleep, food and comfort to serve others. God wants us to have soft hearts – hearts of love and compassion. But if we are to make any difference to the world, this will lead to hard feet as we travel along tough paths and face challenges.

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Perspective

In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture seemed slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.

The dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.

It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years, it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming, on bended knee, found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer. The right perspective is the position of worship.

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Restoring Relationships

Hans worked his way up from being a miner to owning a number of mines. His eldest son, Martin, was very intelligent and went to university at the age of seventeen. A respectable career as a lawyer lay ahead of him. Suddenly, to his father’s dismay, he cancelled his registration for the law course and became a monk and then a priest.

Martin wanted to live a righteous life. He fasted for days and spent sleepless nights in prayer, but he was still plagued by his own unrighteousness before a righteous God. Around the age of thirty, as he was studying Romans 1:17, the penny dropped. He later wrote:

‘I began to understand that in this verse the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous man lives by the gift of God, in other words by faith; and that this sentence, “the righteousness of God is revealed”, refers to a passive righteousness, ie, that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “The righteous person lives by faith.” This immediately made me feel as if I had been born again and entered through open gates to paradise itself.’

This experience occurred 500 years ago. It not only changed his life, it altered the course of human history. He became one of the pivotal figures of western civilisation, the founder of the Reformation – the seedbed for social, economic and political thought. His name, of course, was Martin Luther.

In essence, righteousness means a right relationship with God, which leads to right relationships with others. It is a gift made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Here lies the secret of restored relationships – first of restored relationship with God and then all other relationships.

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Your Words Are Powerful

‘The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.’ These words were in a speech given by Sir Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in 1940. Facing defeat, he inspired the nation to fight from the corner, urging them to brace themselves to do their duty and carry themselves in such a way that even a thousand years on people would still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ The speech was powerful, the nation responded and ultimately a lasting peace was achieved.

It is one of the speeches that shaped the modern world, displaying the power of words. Speeches have affected the outcome of war, women suffrage, human rights and many other issues.

The apostle James writes that although ‘the tongue is a small part of the body… it makes great boasts’ (James 3:5). This small instrument has enormous power. It can cause great damage but it can also bring extraordinary blessings. Your tongue is a powerful instrument.

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Challenges

President John F. Kennedy said, ‘We stand today on the edge of a new frontier… but the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.’

Life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we are facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.

The temptation is to see these challenges as preventing us from carrying out the ministry God has given us. In actual fact, dealing with the problems is the ministry. As one former Bishop of Kensington put it: ‘These are not the problems associated with the ministry, they are the ministry.’

The Bible is true to life. The psalmist faced pain and distress. Paul faced false accusation and the frustration of being kept in prison on trumped up charges. The kings in the Old Testament faced battles and a massive building project challenge.

I am reminded that the relatively minor challenges, problems and hassles that I face are nothing compared to what the people of God have faced in the past, and still face around the world today.

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Just in Time

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were middle-aged Christian women in Holland when World War II erupted. They resolved to conceal fleeing Jews from the Nazis. They rescued many. But they were eventually arrested and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Betsie died there. Corrie miraculously survived to bear witness to the way in which God can save, heal and forgive.

When asked how to prepare for persecution, she used to tell this story about her childhood: 

‘When I was a little girl, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I was afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.” “Tell me,” said father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That is right,” my father said, “And so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need just in time.”’

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Prayer Makes A Difference

Saint John Chrysostom (349–407) wrote, ‘Prayer… is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings… The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, it has bridled the rage of lions… extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases… rescued cities from destruction… and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.’

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On Justice Continued: Who Is Unjust?

Justice and righteousness are about a radical, selfless way of life.

Like in the book of Proverbs, what does it mean to “bring about just righteousness?”

 “Open your mouth for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

And what do these words mean for the prophets, like Jeremiah?

“Rescue the disadvantaged, and don’t tolerate oppression or violence against the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow.”

And look in the book of Psalms. “The Lord God upholds justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, and sets the prisoner free, but he thwarts the way of the wicked.” Woah. He thwarts the wicked?

In Hebrew the word wicked is rasha’, it means “guilty” or “in the wrong.” It refers to someone who mistreats another human, ignoring their dignity as an image of God.

So is justice and righteousness a big deal to God?

Yes, it’s what Abraham’s family, the Israelites, were to be all about. They ended up as  immigrant slaves being oppressed unjustly in Egypt, and so God confronted Egypt’s evil, declaring them to be rasha’, guilty of injustice. And so He rescued Israel. But the tragic irony of the Old Testament story is that these redeemed people went on to commit the same acts of injustice against the vulnerable, and so God sent prophets who declared Israel guilty.

But they weren’t the only ones, there’s injustice everywhere.

Some people actively perpetrate injustice, others receive benefits or privileges from unjust social structures they take for granted, and sadly, history has shown that when the oppressed gain power, they often become oppressors themselves.

So we all participate in injustice, actively or passively, even unintentionally; we’re all the guilty ones.

And so this is the surprising message of the biblical story: God’s response to humanity’s legacy of injustice is to give us a gift: the life of Jesus. He did righteousness and justice, and yet he died on behalf of the guilty. But then God declared Jesus to be the righteous one when He rose from the dead. And so now Jesus offers His life to the guilty, so that they too can be declared “righteous” before God – not because of anything they’ve done, but because of what Jesus did for them.

The earliest followers of Jesus experienced this righteousness from God not just as a new status, but as a power that changed their lives, and compelled them to act in surprising new ways.

If God declared someone “righteous” when they didn’t deserve it, the only reasonable response is to go and seek righteousness and justice for others. This is a radical way of life, and it’s not always convenient or easy. It’s courageously making other people’s problems my problems.

This is what Jesus meant by loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s about a lifetime commitment fueled by the words of the ancient prophet Micah: “God has told you humans what is good and what the Lord requires of you: is to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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Why Do We Care About Justice?

If you were a praying mantis, it would be socially acceptable to devour your mate. And if you’re a honey badger, you have no regard for other animals, you don’t care. If you’re a Panda with twins, it’s normal to abandon one to take care of the other.But if humans do any of these things, we would call it wrong, unfair, or unjust.

Why do humans care so much about justice?

Well, the Bible has a fascinating response to that question. On page 1, humans are set apart from all other creatures as “the image of God.” God’s representatives who rule the world by His definition of good and evil. And this identity, it’s the bedrock of the Bible’s view of justice: all humans are equal before God, and have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, no matter who you are. And that would be nice if we all did that, but we know how the world really works. And the Bible addresses that too: it shows how we are constantly redefining good and evil, to our own advantage at the expense of others.

Self-preservation, and the weaker someone is, the easier it is to take advantage of them.

And so in the biblical story, we see this happening on a personal level, but also in families, and then in communities, and then whole civilizations that create injustice, especially towards the vulnerable. But the story doesn’t end there. Out of this whole mess, God chose a man named Abraham to start a new kind of family. Specifically, Abraham was to teach his family to “keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice.”

Doing Righteousness? That’s a Bible word I don’t really use, but what comes to mind is being a good person.

But what does that even mean, “being good?” The biblical Hebrew word for “Righteousness,” is tsedeqah, and it’s more specific: it’s an ethical standard that refers to right relationships between people; it’s about treating others as the “image of God.” With the God-given dignity they deserve. And this word “justice” it’s the Hebrew word mishpat. It can refer to retributive justice. Like if I steal something, I pay the consequences.

Yet most often in the Bible, Mishpat refers to, restorative justice. It means going a step further, actually seeking out vulnerable people who are being taken advantage of and helping them.

Some people call this charity. But mishpat involves way more, it means taking steps to advocate for the vulnerable, and changing social structures to prevent injustice.

So justice and righteousness are about a radical, selfless way of life.

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God Even Uses Your Mistakes

Handley Moule, when he was Bishop of Durham, had the task of visiting the relatives of 170 miners who had been killed in a mining accident. While he was wondering what to say to them, he picked up a little bookmark his mother had given him. As he held it up, on the reverse side of the handwoven bookmark there was a tangled web. There was no rhyme, no reason, no pattern, nothing. But on the other side it said, ‘God is love’.

The world often seems to us like a tangled web. Often we cannot work out what is going on or why we are suffering in the way we are. But the claim of Jesus and the Scriptures is that behind it all is the love of God. Even though things may seem very difficult for us to understand now, God is working out his loving purposes in the world.

God can weave a pattern from the threads of our lives – including the suffering, heartaches and even our mistakes and make something beautiful. The apostle Paul tells us that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). Reflect today on the fact that, even though your situation may be challenging, God is weaving his purpose for your life.  

Job said, ‘You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit’ (Job 10:12). Everything that happens in this world is within the sphere of God’s working. ‘Providence’ means God’s foresight: the way he anticipates and prepares for the future. ‘Providence’ is the way God guides and steers human history – he is present and active in the world – sustaining it and ruling it.

It is also the way he guides and steers your life personally and individually. God has a specific, unique destiny for you. Sometimes this thought worries people: that they might somehow mess things up and miss out on God’s purpose. But that isn’t the case. Even your mistakes he uses for good. In all the circumstances of your life and the events going on around you, you can trust in the providence of God.

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On My Brothers

Our nation has had more than its share of distractions lately.

There’s one facet that grieves me more than others: this division of racism.

It should not be citizens against police. It should not be blacks against whites. We are all citizens; we are all people.

I pray we each and collectively can respect and love one another as a brother and part of our nation regardless of race, skin color and background.

I do think Jesus Christ is a huge part to healing and solving the hurts and wounds so many have with this issue in our country. That’s my opinion and I don’t mean to preach.

I did want to share a poem I wrote this morning ( 1st draft):

So, here I want to try a new mnemonic
Speaking of ill of a plague, not bubonic
Deeper than the skin that we’re in
It’s the face of a race to start and begin

Yes, it fractures the heart and does shatter
The fact my brother black lives do matter
No one feeling a hurt or deep pains
Presumes not to get wet as it rains

Don’t ignore or lift again an umbrella
Lend your voice and join a capella

There’s too much a cry to ignore
Not a bump, bruise but a deep sore
There’s a chance here to truly heal
Without a bandaid slap you barely feel

If only we care beyond the surface
No masked vain attempt lip service
Yet love and kindness to kith and kin
Gently trying to get at the root within

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The power of unity

In Buchenwald concentration camp, 56,000 people were put to death by a totalitarian regime that saw the Christian faith as a threat to its ideology. One block of cells in the camp was reserved for prisoners who were deemed especially dangerous or notable. Paul Schneider, a Lutheran pastor who was called ‘the preacher of Buchenwald’, was placed in this special block because even from the small window in his cell he loudly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ – in defiance of the orders of the Gestapo guards.

Otto Neururer, a Catholic priest whose work on behalf of the Jews and other so called ‘undesirables’ had made him a threat to the Nazi warlords, was also put in this block. He too ministered in Jesus’ name to his fellow inmates in the concentration camp until he was crucified upside down.

In unity, these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, bore witness together to their common Lord – Jesus Christ. Unity is so powerful.

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The Ultimate Valentine

Romantic love is wonderful – but it’s only a reflection of the much deeper love God has for His children!

– from Pastor Begg’s broadcasted sermon today

I was encouraged and reminded by a sermon from Alistair Begg on God’s love, his “First, Love: The Original Plan” that broadcasted today.

https://www.truthforlife.org/

Yes, I recommend giving this sermon a listen. Dated February 14, 2020.

It is mind blowing to me how crazy deep, rich, broad and intimate God’s love is!

“The Love of God” Hymn is a favorite of mine and gives a descriptive attempt at the vastness of God’s love:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade


To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

– A few stanzas from The Love of God hymn

And to think that in Christ his love is inseparable!

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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You Can Trust God

During World War II, in the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, ‘I can’t see you!’ The father called to the silhouette of his son, ‘But I can see you. Jump!’ The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. In other words, he loved him, he believed in him, he trusted him and he had confidence in him.

‘Faith’, in the Bible, is primarily about putting our trust in a person. In that sense it is more akin to love. All loving relationships involve some element of trust. Faith is trust in God that transforms all your other relationships.

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– A Poem – [untitled]

I wrote this today actually. I currently don’t have much of a title idea for it. I would welcome any suggestions, thank you

I want to make these thoughts rhyme

Or at least to make sense the craziness of mine

Though You call me up, You call me towards

Yet still sin of yesterday entangles and hoards

To entice and enchant heart and mind

It’s Mine! been mine; it’s a hug, though a bind

How comforting and familiar this rut and cave retreat

Sure, a sin You call to fall away since it’s already beat

God, it was my comfort and a craze

A secret, a precious, in coping ways

You ask me to strip it away?

And when my heart finally catches up to my head

That I find myself a slow learner knowing little, I dread

In grasping knowing you more, it’s at a snails pace

It’s only with Your grace each day that I can lift my face

Finding then it’s your lead through Your strength in every way

However to put to phrase these right longings to say

In and of each weak, inadequate things of me

Discard, burn, grow, sift, refine the things you see

What little I have is enough still that I can start

Shedding sin that binds my heart

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Ambition – Directing it Where?

Chuck Colson was a self-made man. As a student, he arrogantly turned down a scholarship to Harvard. He joined the Marines, set up his own law firm and entered politics. By the age of forty he had become one of President Nixon’s closest advisers. Later, he described himself as ‘a young ambitious political kingmaker’. He was known as Nixon’s ‘hatchet-man’.

He pleaded guilty to his part in the Watergate cover-up scandal and was sent to prison. By then he had encountered Jesus. When he left the court after hearing the sentence he said, ‘What happened in court today… was the court’s will and the Lord’s will – I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for him in prison as well as out.’

Colson did just that. After his release, he set up Prison Fellowship and became directly or indirectly responsible for leading thousands to Christ. I once heard him say, ‘I was ambitious, and I am ambitious today, but I hope it is not for Chuck Colson (though I struggle with that quite a lot as a matter of fact). But I am ambitious for Christ.’

Ambition has been defined as the ‘desire to succeed’. There are ultimately only two controlling ambitions to which all others may be reduced: one is our own glory, and the other is God’s glory.

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To Be Free

He had no one to help him become a lawyer or a politician. He was not interested in the army. He had no desire to be a doctor. Therefore, the only obvious career move in those days for a man of his background was to become a clergyman in the Church of England.

He tried to make himself acceptable to God by keeping the whole law, inwardly and outwardly. He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself. He tried to earn forgiveness and peace by increased effort. But he ‘groaned under a heavy yoke’.

On 24 May 1738, at 8.45 pm he heard someone reading a book by the great reformer, Martin Luther. He later recalled, ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given [to] me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

John Wesley became one of the greatest preachers ever, preaching over 40,000 sermons centred on freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. He had, as he put it, ‘exchanged the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’. He was free at last.

‘Freedom’ is the word that best sums up the Christian life. You, too, are free. Therefore, refuse to be trapped by your past.

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Your Life. Making a Difference

Alfred Nobel (1833–1896) is best known for the Nobel Peace Prize. Less well known is the fact that Alfred Nobel also invented dynamite. As well as a chemist, engineer and innovator, he was a weapons’ manufacturer.

In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died. A French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, stating: ‘The merchant of death is dead… Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’

Alfred Nobel was devastated by the foretaste of how he would be remembered. His last will and testament set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel prizes. He gave the equivalent of US $250 million to fund such prizes. Alfred Nobel had the rare opportunity to evaluate his life near its end and live long enough to change that assessment.

Have you ever wondered what difference your life might make? How can your life bring blessing to other people? How can you change the world for the better? How can your life be of ultimate lasting value? How can we lead fruitful lives?

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Recognize Who We Are, part 2

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
‭‭John‬ ‭1:12-13‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Yes, I have kids. Every now and then I see a goofy side or serious reaction that seems all too familiar. My little ones have, and do, display aspects I’ve seen of me!

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:14-17‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Through Christ we have become children of god! This is more than just being a sinner saved; we are reconciled to God.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17-21‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Yes, Paul has described us as ambassador. That’s certainly a role we play.

Yet, it’s deeper and more relational than that. We can, and should as we grow in our relationship with God, display aspects of our Heavenly Father.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NASB‬‬

As redeemed and reconciled, we should grow in Him. We should recognize that God sees us as children, we are His. Though we may stumble and fall in this walk, His grace and kindness is there. We are sons who stumble.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:1-19‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Though we may have started separate from God, we have become children. Let us long for, love and grow in Him! We need to press and remain in Him to grow. While into realms and aspects we step as ambassadors, we can show that it’s more personal than a religion – it’s a relationship. Where I go I can represent my Father and put Him on display – hopefully. At least I desire to show an aspects of God my Father. I am a child of my Heavenly Father.

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Recognize Who We Are, part 1

Ambassadors, chosen very carefully, have all been trained in the art of diplomacy. They are skilled at representing their country by both how they act and what they say.

To be an ambassador is an immense privilege. An ambassador is ‘a minister of the highest rank sent to a foreign court to represent the… sovereign or country’. A British Ambassador is a minister who represents Queen and country wherever they are sent.

Paul writes that we are ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Greek word translated as ‘ambassador’ shares the same root as ‘presbyter’, which is one of the words used to describe church leaders. Whether you are in a recognized leadership role in the church or not, you are an ambassador of Christ, with the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of representing Jesus in this world. You are God’s representative on earth.

Through you, God makes his appeal for others to be reconciled to God; to receive his forgiveness, love and grace. Appeal to them to become friends of God and ambassadors themselves. As royal ambassadors, act with diplomacy and skill because you are representing Christ on earth.

Yet, there’s a more endearing term in how we are viewed. I’ll continue the thought in the next post.

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Fix Your Eyes on the Invisible

Do you ever get discouraged? Do you sometimes feel, ‘Is this all worthwhile? Are we actually getting anywhere?’ Are you ever tempted to ‘lose heart’? If you are, you are not alone. Paul was almost certainly tempted himself to lose heart, and he wrote to other Christians who were also tempted to do so.

Yet Paul wrote, ‘We do not lose heart’ (2 Corinthians 4:1,16). ‘We do not throw up our hands and walk off the job’ (v.1, MSG). Why not? Paul explains that it is because in Jesus we have received a ‘treasure’ (v.7). The treasure is the message of Jesus. It is because the message that Paul has to proclaim is so amazing that he starts and ends by saying, ‘Therefore… we do not lose heart’ (vv.1,16).

Yet the treasure is inward and unseen. Paul describes it as being in ‘jars of clay’ (v.7). Our culture emphasises the outward and the seen. The media is dominated by money, possessions, houses, cars, food, physical beauty and outward success. The Bible is very different. It stresses the importance of the invisible – the inward and unseen aspects of our character: the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that determine our outward behaviour. ‘For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.18). The invisible is eternal.

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Distractions – are you distracted yet?

My kids start school today, this time all of them. They were all excited to get on the bus and to start their first day.

They seemed well prepared. My wife and I saw them off after getting them breakfast, packed lunches and packed backpacks prepared and ready. It was only later that I felt I may not have been ready for this day.

It was a first! A first day at the start of elementary school year. A first for all of them together to get on the bus. It was a first for us to say goodbye to them – all of them – as they got on the bus for school.

We knew and had prepared for this days in advance; yet, in retrospect I found that I had not given thought to myself or my own preparedness for today. Yes, I well knew that this was a week full of change, but I hadn’t really considered much of my reaction and how I’d feel or react about all the changes. I got choked up, more than I expected.

I even had lost my train of thoughts, allowing them to be derailed last night and succumbing to a tangential sidetrack that wholly distracted my mind from the events of today. This distraction even threatened to take my attention away from the firsts that happened at the bus stop. Thankfully I’d recognized my mind and attention was being diverted and brought it back to focus on my kids. I nearly lost my enjoyment of those moments thanks to my distracted self.

Too easily I feel that I can allow legitimate things, that can be good in their own way, to become too much of a distraction of my life. This could include time and efforts at work, enjoying a hobby, exercise, a mental break with a phone app, or most anything. They each may have their usefulness and acceptable allotment of focus. Still, what’s the priority? In that moment and time, what should I be focusing on? The moment or moments I recognize that they are sapping energy, time and effort away from more meaningful life priorities are the moments I really need to self check myself to see what I am doing.

I say this of myself, since I know what can be a easy tendency. What about for you?

Being aware and mindful of present things is not always easy, yet I think it’s well worth it to recapture our attention to be more diligent at being present where we are.

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Work & Weekend

Yay, the weekend started. Monday is a Labor Day, a day off from work for me.

The average person will spend approximately 150,000 hours at work in their lifetime – that is to say, about 40% of our waking lives are spent at work.

‘Is God interested in our work? Many people do not see God as a 24/7 God, but as a withdrawn actor confined to a Sunday show with a declining audience. There is a widespread view that God and work simply don’t mix: the competitive, cut-throat demands of the working world are seen as the obvious enemy of Christian compassion and love. But the God who created and sustains the world is also the God of the workplace. If the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all.’

– Ken Costa in his book God at Work.

Whatever kind of work you are called to, it will probably occupy a large proportion of your life. Work is an important part of God’s ‘economy’. It is part of what you were created to do, and will be part of what you do in heaven. Work has an intrinsic value. The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of our work.

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Strong Families – A Devotional Thought

A busy father was looking for a way to entertain his young daughter. He found a map of the world in a magazine and cut it into pieces. He gave the pieces to his child and suggested she try to piece the map back together.

After a very short time, she said she had finished. He was very surprised by how quickly she had done it. He asked her how she had managed to do it so fast. She replied, ‘I noticed when you took the page out of the magazine that on the back of the map of the world there was a picture of a man and a woman. I thought that if I could put the man and the woman back together, I could put the world back together.’ 

Marriage and family life are hugely important. They are part of God’s natural order, and are a vital part of the fabric of society. Pope John Paul II once wrote that family is the ‘foundation’ of society and ‘nourishes’ society continually.

The Bible has a great deal to say about family life. Not only do we have a natural family but, as Christians, we are part of the church, which the New Testament sees as ‘the family of God’.

Psalm 102:18-28

Children and the next generation

Every generation has a responsibility to think about the future and to planfor it. We should be concerned, not just about what happens in our time but also about the next generation. The psalmist is concerned for the next generation: ‘Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord’ (v.18).

Jesus is the key for every generation. Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews quotes verses 25–27 of this psalm and applies them to Jesus (Hebrews 1:10–12): ‘Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). He ‘laid earth’s foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens’ (Psalm 102:25, MSG). Jesus will be there forever: ‘Year after year you’re as good as new’ (v.27, MSG).

The psalm ends with this hope for the next generation: ‘Your servants’ children will have a good place to live and their children will be at home with you’ (v.28, MSG).

This is a hope, a prayer and, to some extent, a promise. Whilst everyone is responsible for their own lives, there is a sense in which God treats people as families. We can hope, pray and believe that our children, grandchildren and their descendants will live in his presence and be established before him (v.28).

Lord, I pray for my own family and for those in the church, that we will live in your presence and that our children will grow up to know, love, serve and be established before you.

1 Corinthians 16:5-24

Family and homes

Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has a big sign outside saying: ‘Welcome Home’. The vision of Brian and Bobbie Houston, the senior pastors, is that everyone who comes to the church will be welcomed, loved and given the hospitality that we would give to a guest in our own home.

We need to recapture this New Testament vision of church as a home. Of course, the early Christians did not have church buildings. They met in homes (v.19). Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If Timothy shows up, take good care of him. Make him feel completely at home among you’ (v.10, MSG).

The church is the family of God. God is our father. Paul sees the whole church as a family. He talks about other Christians as his ‘brothers and sisters’ (v.15). The church is not an organisation you join; it is a family, where you belong.

Paul, who was single and did not have his own wife or children, loves the Corinthians and sees them as his family. He found spiritual refreshment by spending time with them (v.17). He ends his letter, ‘I love all of you’ (v.24, MSG). He expects them to ‘love the Lord’ (v.22) and to love one another. They should express this love by greeting ‘one another with a holy kiss’ (v.20).

This is not just a nice theory; it is very personal. He longs to see them (v.5). He knows that they will ‘help’ him (v.6). He does not want to spend only a short time with them; he wants to spend much longer ‘if the Lord permits’ (v.7). Paul’s message in his letters flows from his love and concern for the people in the church. He practiced what he preached when he wrote ‘do everything in love’ (v.14).

The only reason Paul is not coming sooner is that ‘a great door for effective work has opened to [him], and there are many who oppose [him]’ (v.9). (It seems that whenever God opens ‘a huge door of opportunity for good work’ we should expect that there will also be ‘mushrooming opposition’, v.9, MSG.) Do not let such opposition deter you from making the most of great opportunities when they arise.

He goes on to talk about Timothy, whom he describes elsewhere as his son in the Lord (4:17). He then speaks about his ‘brother Apollos’ 16:12) and goes on to talk about ‘the family of Stephanas’ (v.15, MSG). It appears from the New Testament that it was quite common for whole families to be converted and baptised together.

We also see in this passage an instance of a married couple having a joint ministry. Aquilla and Priscilla ran a church in their home (v.19). Here, Aquilla is named first. However, more commonly Priscilla is the one whom Paul names first (see Romans 16:3). It is clear that they ran the church together.

The family of the church is made up of single people like Paul, married couples like Priscilla and Aquilla, and whole households like those of Stephanas. Together we make up the family of God.

What Paul writes applies to us all: ‘Keep your eyes open. Hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, MSG).

Lord, please give us such love for one another that whether we are single or married, we all experience the riches and refreshment of being part of the family of God.

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28

Parents and children

Good parenting is a huge advantage in life. Joash’s father died when he was a baby and he became king at the age of seven. His mother ensured that he was ‘taught and trained by Johoiada the priest’ (24:2, MSG). He clearly received a good education and ‘did what pleased God throughout Jehoiada’s lifetime’ (v.3, MSG). Joash had a family of his own which included ‘both sons and daughters’ (v.3, MSG).

God had promised his blessing on David and his family. Kingship passed down the family line. However, although God’s love was unconditional, each person was responsible for how they responded to this love. ‘The book of Moses’ (probably a way of referring to ‘the Law’, the first five books of the Old Testament) is quoted in support of the fact that ‘parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sins’ (25:4). (‘We each pay personally for our sins’, MSG.)

We see this principle worked out here. Joash started out well. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (24:2). He ‘decided to restore the temple of the Lord’ (v.4). Everyone joined in: ‘All the officials and all the people brought their contributions gladly, dropping them into the chest until it was full’ (v.10). ‘They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design’ (v.13). (Buildings for worship do matter and can be restored if everyone gets involved.)

Sadly, Joash’s reign did not end well (vv.17–27). It is so important not just to start well but also to finish well.

Tragically the same pattern was repeated in the life of his son, Amaziah. He started well (25:2), but did not finish well. He became ‘arrogant and proud’ (v.19) and ‘turned away from following the Lord’ (v.27).

Lord, help us to be good examples and to finish well. I pray that family life would once again be the foundation to nourish our society continually. May there be a reversal in the decline in marriages and a restoration of strong families.

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Are you like a Mosquito?

The Night with a Mosquito

History is in many ways a story of influence. Leadership is about influence. Everyone influences someone. Therefore, in a sense, everyone is a leader. Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime. We all influence one another in all sorts of ways – from what to have for lunch and what films to watch, to more important matters of truth and ethics.

My life has been influenced by so many people – my parents, teachers, friends and family. Just as I have been influenced by others, inevitably what I do and say will influence others for good or ill.

As the African proverb puts it, ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.’ The mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. Each person matters.

How can you maximise your influence and use that influence for good?

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The Right Perspective

How to Worship God

In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition. But the proportions of the picture seemed slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor. The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the problem might be his. The painting had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.

The dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed. From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace. Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.

It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years, it was the perspective of the people looking at it. Robert Cumming, on bended knee, found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer. The right perspective is the position of worship.

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Giant Problems – A Devotional Thought

How to Face Giant Problems

Goliath was a giant. He was nine-feet tall, a champion, wearing heavy armour, standing and shouting, defying the people of God (1 Samuel 17:1–11). As well as physical giants, there are metaphorical ones. A ‘giant’ is a big, seemingly insurmountable problem or issue.

  • ‘Personal giants’ could include giant personal challenges in relation to your health, marriage, family, relationships or lack of relationships, job or lack of job, other work issues, or some sin, temptation, addiction, fear, loneliness, discouragement or debt.
  • ‘National giants’ in the UK include terrorism, gang violence, homelessness, the breakdown of marriage, family life and community, exploding prison populations, failing schools and the decline of church congregations. There is therefore the giant task of evangelising the country, revitalising the church and transforming our society.
  • ‘Global giants’ include extreme poverty (as a result of which thousands of children die each day), preventable disease (millions dying of diseases for which we have a relatively easy cure), the need for universal primary education (almost one billion people unable to read) and the need for worldwide water sanitation (which could be funded by the amount of money that Europeans spend on ice-cream every year).

There are two possible attitudes when facing a giant. One is to say, ‘It’s so big, there’s nothing I can do.’ The other is to say, ‘It’s so big, I can’t miss!’

Psalm 67:1-7

Think global

God loves the entire world. He wants all nations and peoples to know him, worship and love him.

The psalmist prayed for God’s blessing on his people in order that ‘your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations’ (v.2).

We see in this psalm that the global vision for the people of God beyond their own borders was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

The psalmist prays for the entire globe (vv.3–5). If we are to tackle the global giants, we need a global vision. The words of this psalm are all about God. The size of your vision will be dependent on the size of your vision of God. As A.W. Tozer put it, ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.’

Lord, be gracious to us and bless us. Make your face shine upon us. Make your ways known on earth and your salvation among all nations. May all the people praise you.

John 15:1-16:4

Testify about Jesus

There is nothing more important and no greater privilege in life than to be a friend of Jesus. Jesus says, ‘You are my friends… I no longer call you servants… I have called you friends’ (15:14–15).

Having Jesus as your friend allows you to tackle the giants in your life, in the church and in society from a unique standpoint.

  1. Personal
    Jesus tells us that there are two secrets of Christian fruitfulness.

    First, there is pruning (vv.1–2). The purpose of pruning is so that you can bear even more fruit. Pain, sorrow, sickness and suffering, loss, bereavement, failure, disappointment and frustrated ambition are some of the ways your life is pruned.

    Pruning can seem cruel; branches are left jagged and exposed to face the harsh winter. But the purpose of pruning is to give way to newness of life. When spring and summer come, there is an abundance of fruit. The sharp pruning knife will, in the end, bring fruitfulness and blessing.

    The second secret of fruitfulness is closeness to Jesus (v.4). You cannot take on the giants by yourself. Jesus says, ‘When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing’ (v.5, MSG). You will only succeed in tackling the giants if you stay close to Jesus.

    Cultivate a growing friendship with Jesus (vv.14–15) by spending time with him, walking with him, praying and listening to him through his word, following his desires.

    Jesus says that if you stay close to him (‘remain in him’) three things will happen in terms of fruitfulness. First, your prayers will be answered (v.7). Second, God will be glorified (v.8). Third, your joy will be complete and overflowing (v.11, AMP).

    Jesus wants you to be filled with joy and fully alive. There’s no greater joy than to know you are valued, precious and loved by God and to love others as you are loved. There’s no greater joy than giving eternal life to others in and with Jesus.
  2. Church
    There are massive giants facing the church today. The biggest giant is disunity. Nothing is more of a hindrance to the message of Jesus than division between Christians. Disunity will only be overcome by love. Jesus said, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… This is my command: Love each other’ (vv.12–13,17).
  3. Society
    Jesus warns us that we will face the giant of a world that hates us (vv.18–19). He says, ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (v.20). He says, ‘Those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God’ (16:2). There are parts of the world where this is literally true today.

    But there are also other more subtle forms of hidden persecution. No one likes to be rejected, looked down on, made fun of or ridiculed. Jesus warns that, wherever you are, you should expect opposition, hatred and even persecution.

On our own we would have no answers but Jesus says, ‘When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify’ (15:26–27). The Holy Spirit enables you to testify about Jesus and to take on these giant challenges, to see our society transformed.

Lord, thank you that you call me your friend. Help me to love others as you have loved me.

1 Samuel 16:1-17:37

Trust in God

David was extraordinarily gifted – naturally as well as supernaturally. He was handsome and in good health (16:12). He was talented musically (v.18). He was a gifted speaker (v.18). He had athletic ability (17:1–37; 18:11). He was a leader (18:13). He was successful (vv.14,30). He was famous (v.30).

Yet it was for none of these reasons that God used him. The Lord said to Samuel, ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Human beings look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (16:7).

David was outraged by Goliath’s defiance of the living God (17:26). He was a courageous leader. He says, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine [Goliath]’ (v.32). What lessons can we learn from the way in which David tackled this giant?

  1. Reject rejection
    Eliab said to David, ‘What are you doing here! Why aren’t you minding your own business, tending that scrawny flock of sheep? I know what you’re up to. You’ve come down here to see the sights, hoping for a ringside seat at a bloody battle!’ (v.28, MSG).

    Yet David ‘turned away’ from Eliab (v.30).

    The lesson we learn here is not to be put off if rejected or ill-treated. As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘God is not looking for someone with ability but someone with availability… keep your heart pure by refusing to allow hatred, offense, bitterness, resentment or unforgiveness to stop you.’
  2. Get involved
    David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him’ (v.32). He volunteered his services. I am always so moved and impressed by the way in which our congregation are willing to volunteer their services: praying, serving and giving.
  3. Trust God
    Saul says to David, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy’ (v.33). Yet David replies, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine’ (v.37a). He trusts God because he knows that God is with him (see 16:18; 17:37b; 18:14).

Ultimately, the reason that David was able to tackle Goliath was that he was anointed by God: ‘Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life’ (16:13, MSG). The only way you will be able to tackle the giants in your life, in society and in the world, is through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, as I face the giants, I need the anointing of your Holy Spirit upon me and your presence with me. Give me courage not to run away, not to lose heart and not to give up.

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Trials. How Useful Are They?

Your Trial Will Become Your Triumph

‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’ were the words of Jim Lovell on the evening of 13 April 1970. Nearly fifty-six hours into the mission to the moon, an explosion aboard the spacecraft plunged the crew into a fight for their survival. Within less than a minute there was a cascade of systems failures throughout the spacecraft. ‘It was all at one time – a monstrous failure,’ said NASA’s flight controller.

The spacecraft looped around the moon, using its gravity to return to earth. Millions of people followed the drama on television. Eventually, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga.

In an article headed ‘Apollo 13: From Disaster to Triumph’ the BBC science reporter wrote, ‘Although the mission was not a success from a conventional perspective, it was a triumph of ingenuity and determination’. Jim Lovell said it showed the people of the world that even if there was a great catastrophe, it could be turned into a success.

The supreme example of triumph coming out of apparent catastrophe is the cross. What seemed to the world to be the ultimate defeat was in fact the ultimate triumph.

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Black, White or Grey?

No Shades of Grey

Back in the 1960s, the band The Monkees sang about how no one seemed to believe in absolute morals anymore. In Shades of Gray they sang:

When the world and I were young,
Just yesterday.
Life was such a simple game…
It was easy then to tell right from wrong…
Today there is no black or white,
Only shades of gray.

Now the expression ‘shades of grey’ has come to be associated with the notorious and controversial books and films with that name.

Many today no longer believe there is such a thing as absolute right or absolute wrong. Stark contrasts and black-and-white distinctions are not always easy to swallow in a society in which relativism is the order of the day. Everything is relative – a matter of degrees.

As followers of Jesus we cannot give in to these relativistic ideas. We must be open to the prophetic voice of Scripture, which often traces stark contrasts, urgent ethical choices and diverging paths in the midst of complex problems and situations.

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A Hymn’s Story

Troubles Do Not Have the Last Word

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, the eldest of eight children. He had only partial vision as a boy. By the age of twenty he was completely blind. When his fiancée learnt he was going blind and that there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him she could not go through life with a blind man. He never married.

He was helped by a devoted sister throughout his ministry. She learnt Greek, Latin and Hebrew in order to aid him in his studies. Despite his blindness, Matheson had a brilliant career at the Glasgow Academy, University of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland Seminary.

When he was forty years old, something bittersweet happened. His sister married. Not only did this mean that he lost her companionship – it also brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. In the midst of this intense sadness, on the eve of his sister’s marriage, he wrote one of the most popular and best loved hymns of the Christian church – ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’. He completed the whole work in five minutes and never edited, corrected or retouched it. ‘This came,’ he wrote, ‘like a dayspring from on high.’

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

Troubles are part of life. Jesus faced trouble and so did the apostles, David and all the people of God. However, as Matheson’s hymn beautifully articulates, troubles do not have the last word.

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Kindness

Steve Sjogren wrote a book called Conspiracy of Kindness. He started a church in Cincinnati, Ohio, that grew rapidly to an average attendance of over 7,000. Their motto is, ‘Small things done with great love are changing the world.’ They carry out random acts of kindness like paying for a stranger’s coffee or writing a ‘thank you’ note to a shop assistant.

Kindness is love in work clothes. Showing God’s love in practical ways, they have discovered the power of kindness to effect positive change, both in their lives and in the lives of people around them. Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly and most underrated agent of human change. When kindness is expressed, healthy relationships are created, community connections are nourished and people are inspired to pass on kindness.

Just Grace

It has been said that the biggest problem on earth is not too little democracy, or too much poverty, or too few anti-viral AIDS medicines, but the fact that two-thirds of the world’s population live outside the protection of the law. A lack of justice has a terrible effect on many of the world’s poor.

The themes of justice and grace flow through the Bible. We cannot fully understand grace without understanding justice. One definition of grace is ‘undeserved love’. There is a mnemonic used to explain grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.