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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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?
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.’
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
Disclaimer: I am merely someone with some life experience (now including some anxiety and depression) and have NO medical or psychological degree. A professional, such as a doctor, should be consulted if anyone has symptoms like anxiety and depression to a noticeable, serious degree. I do believe there is a spiritual component to these health issues, as I’ll address in this blog.
We often treat symptoms. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with that, but it does little to get at the real reason behind the source of the issue causing the one or myriad of symptoms.
Just as a physical ailment or sickness is accompanied by symptoms of fever, shivers, and other out-workings, so can physical or mental hurts or wounding’s show symptoms indicating that deeper issue.
I’ve had cause and reason to reflect on anxiety and depression lately. Anxiety and depression are, in fact, two symptoms of physical and mental abuse.
“The Link Between Verbal Abuse And Anxiety That No One Talks About” is the article link here. It was thanks to a friend who brought it to my attention. (I rather recommend reading this article.)
What’s the fix? There’s no ready, immediate, one-size-fits all solution. It is a process, as with so many things.
Yes, anxiety and depression is treatable. There may be ways people cope, mechanisms that people employ. Treatment could be medical, dietary, altering routines and habits, etc. Those approaches and means may certainly be useful for some; yet, there may come a point when the root of what led to that anxiety and depression should be addressed, or at least recognized for what it is, if one is pursuing health and healing.
Thinking back to those times – specifically when and where – have I been … (And these things are connected to what’s in the article)
2. Been called names (was it persistent?)?
3. Had my interests (passions or dreams too) attacked?
4. Felt a huge need to be alone?
5. Been the butt of persistent jokes?
Yet, I think I’ve done that enough and have grieved enough over those occurrences.
If I were to examine the unintended Swiss cheese of my formative years, I’ll find …
1. I’ve felt unappreciated at times! “Seen but not heard” was spoken often, too often it seemed.
2. Yes; I was called names at times. I was bullied as a kid, and thankfully became friends with him eventually. Even name calling happened later in life too. Fortunately, this was not persistent.
3. Not sure about my interests being attacked but felt that talents, maybe dreams and pursuits weren’t validated or encouraged.
4. Yeah, felt rather lonely several times. Well sure, I’m an ISTJ according to Myers-Briggs type indicator – an introvert. Though I know I reverted at times more into myself.
5. My Self Confidence had been greatly stunted, likely because of trauma in receiving some form of abuse. Had a hard time with my confidence.
6. I lacked in affirmation and encouragement. Some of my skills and talents were recognized, but it was more like “oh, that’s nice that you have that” kind of comment.
I never exactly identified or thought of myself as a victim of verbal or mental abuse; yet, it may in fact be true in looking at myself and in explaining past trauma and wounding.
These questions only start to get at details and specifics. We each need to understand our own stories in depth! It is important to be able to spell out those things with care.
What next? Fact is that this type of healing simply cannot happen inside one’s head. It requires that shame be silenced by the empathy of others in the healing process!!
For myself though, I can also:
Encourage myself some.
I have good friends and a wife who also can help encourage me.
Do things, because I have accomplished things! My skills have grown. I can hone my talents and skill sets.
Can enjoy company of friends and family, while knowing when a “me” time can be refreshing for my introvert self. I know with whom I can be real and vulnerable, assured that they’re a safe and trusted person.
Though affirmation or appreciation isn’t an everyday occurrence, I know friends and family have shown it to me every now and then.
What’s in a name? Yes, I have learned and can and to take a playful joke. I won’t tolerate though someone who will consistently belittle my name. That’s an insult to anyone regardless.
What’s more though, there’s plenty that God has for me in His word. He has promises, encouragement, and loves me! He loves us all.
He has given us talents and gifts by the very nature of you being you. No one can do you since only you can.
You think you’re alone? You are not, simply by the fact that you’re reading this. Others have felt this way and dealt with the same exact stuff! What’s more, there are your friends and family who should be able to be there for you. However, in the case that that might feel inadequate, there are support groups, counselors, and people at church.
Even better and even more, there’s Jesus! Whether you believe in Him or not, He’s ever present. God is right there, willing to hear and help. He waits for engaging you in love and patience and kindness. He is full of grace and mercy.
God’s truths and promises are better than the lies and inhibitors with which that I have lived.
If I remind myself of those truths frequently, even daily, that’d be a sure way to attack not just my depression or anxiety but also those areas of hurt from formative years.
I can be confident in God because He’s been there and knows the way through.
I should realize just praying won’t magically, immediately fix me or take away feelings or things I’ve carries for so long. Yet, that will not limit my expectations and hope! For I have seen God work in my past experiences and know nothing’s impossible for Him.
Where is my faith and trust in these things? To where am I looking?
I’ll try not to levy undue expectations on friends and loved ones.
Though my faith may be little, God is so much greater; I’ll look to and trust in Him.
I will need to remind myself to try to see things with His perspective, knowing how He sees me.
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.
Imagine a boy meeting a girl, a very special girl. To this boy, he couldn’t tell what it was but knew there was something different about her. He wanted to get to know her; he wanted to spend every available minute and second with her. Perhaps he was too shy or perhaps he didn’t want to encroach upon her space too much, so he tried to give her little hints. He opened the door for her, offered to carry heavy loads when she seem burdened, and tried to be there for her when she needed someone to listen. To him there was no one else in the world. “Could this love exist?” He thought, “How did I get so lucky? Does she even notice me?” For it seemed that some days she didn’t even give him a second look or acknowledge he was there. Could such a creative and loving affection be innocuous to even the creator of such great love and affection? Imagine, if you could, God as this boy. He tries little things to get her attention. Even as kids, little nudges and pushes were the playground equivalent for attention. Yet, she didn’t seem to notice. She might have seemed a little flattered, but soon became distracted by what she considered to be older, more attractive boys. At least for some time, she lost interest. After realizing the self-conceited attitude that these once appealing boys had, she remembered her ‘old stand-by,’ the boy that never actually left her. Though his affection and attention never waned or wanted, she was used to the pampered treatment by the others and asked for a sign of his affection. It was in the little things his affection showed. Had she but paid more attention to the little things she might have seen his love. It was in a small, relatively little way that God became real to her. Had she but noticed the little things that led to this, perhaps more fuss would have been made. Maybe she would have taken notice. Maybe she would have listened better to what he had whispered. He tried to tell her about how much he loved her, about the plans he had for her, about how much he would sacrifice for her. He spoke until his voice was drowned by her unnerved conscious. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this, and some of what she heard had scared her. Her rejection of him cut him deep and broke his heart, and the sacrifice he spoke of was all that was left to do. There was no other choice. He loved her enough to die for her; he laid down his life for her. The talk of sacrifice seemed like a little thing, not a warning. Did he have to die for her? He had mentioned how a man might lay down his life for a friend, for someone he loved. She didn’t fully understand that it was this sacrifice, this gift that was the proof she had asked for. If only she had paid more attention to the little things, she might have seen this seemingly-little … thing coming. He had spoken also of a future. What future? Was there life after death? What comes next? The one she loved died; he had taken her place. It was still in her grief that hope came. Death could not contain such love, though it might try to restrain. Such was God’s sacrifice. His redemptive love took form to take her place and released death of its power. His gift was his place for hers. Death no longer has its power; it no longer has its sting. Its once held victory was its ultimate defeat. There is a life after death. The future he spoke of is still to come. It was the little things that spoke of this. God, still, remains real through the hope of what’s to come. There are little things to be done; preparations are to be made before the fruition of the promise. There is still the reminiscent helper that reminds her of the little things. One day when all the little things are done, there will be one more thing, one not so little, to do. The boy that once tried to get the girl’s attention will return in his fullness and glory to take an expectant maid in hand to be his eternal wife.
(This was first written down December 17, 2005 with slight revisions at different times, after mulling over the relationship God has had with thenationIsrael – and later on “the church” – throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. Jesus Christ has been depicted as the bridegroom to the Church in the New Testament. There is so much to who Jesus is that this creative prose may only scratch the surface at the whole of truth.)
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
I Felt Challenged upon listening this morning to a sermon by Alistair Begg on Forgiveness (7 May 2019, “Forgiven and Forgiving” Part 3 of 3;https://www.truthforlife.org ).
This is an aspect of Christian living that is vital, necessary, and not easy. It is really at the core of things. In light of Pastor Begg’s look at the Lord’s Prayer and his sermons breaking down the phrases Christ uses, I find it pressing on me to examine my heart and thoughts for what might still be slights or offenses that I need to fully or completely forgive. I rather appreciate Pastor Begg’s look and what it means to forgive:
(Excerpt from the sermon:
And it is essentially a threefold promise, because when we express forgiveness to another person, this is what we should be saying: “I forgive you. And therefore, I will not bring the matter up to you again. Secondly, I will not bring the matter up to someone else. Thirdly, I will not bring the matter up to myself.”
I’ve started to pray-fully think and review the things that come to mind when I ask myself, “Who or what do I still need to forgive?” and I intend to take these things to God. While upon examining these things, I know or realize that the better approach isn’t to take it to the person but to God since it’s been so long or could make things more complicated or worse. My initial thoughts when I go to my mind and start to look at my heart is a bit like, “I’m good; there’s nothing I need to forgive,” but that doesn’t seem wholly true. Oh, I guess I suppressed or didn’t fully address this or that. In fact, a couple things easily came to mind as I was listening to the sermon. Turns out I thought I’d already dealt with them, and I may have. Perhaps I didn’t address them to the fullest extent. Some of that may be God’s timing in dealing with a me that wasn’t completely ready. No, I’m not going to list those past things here. I intend to list them elsewhere and then pray over them. I want to take them to God and forgive those slights. Then I’ll strike them off the list and throw the list away – not quite as far as the East is from the West but in a trash bin far from me.
It is a choice, not dependent on feelings. Yes, I know I may not feel like wanting to forgive but I can still choose to forgive.
(Excerpt from sermon:
So we forgive in obedience to the command of God, we make the promise as God has made, and it is more than possible that eventually the feelings will follow.
There have been clearly defined faults by others in my life. There have been things of my own making in a sense. Maybe then I need to forgive myself about those things that I’ve influenced? There are past relational complications. Bitterness and resentment have been allowed to grow, and there may need to be recognition of forgiving what I can and relinquishing the rest to God. What then might I do with these residue of feelings? Take them to God I suppose.
I know I’ve previously wanted to blame those who’ve hurt me and wanted them to recognize, recompense or deliver restitution. I’ve gotten angry, but come to fatigue myself and think it all wasted energy. What’s the point since harm’s been done? Is it going to do any good if I pursue what seems reasonable vengeance? Maybe they should at least know I hurt.
Is it so hard for the other party to see how much I’ve been hurt?! Though in looking at the cross, I feel so small and unqualified when I want to yell that to others.
Yes, there are consequences to what transpired. Forgiving doesn’t eliminate or make those consequences go away. And it seems I’m living with the hurt and wounding of some of those consequences. Can I then properly address and help heal those areas without getting pissed off or negating forgiveness? I know these things are best handled by God and His grace; yet, it’s still hard not to get my emotions so stirred up and potentially in the way. Are they going to scar much in the healing process?
I feel like it’s been slow, but the more manageable approach it seems to me is to address each in turn those rooted aspects, to weed them out with love and patience.
I need to be intentional about speaking God’s truth over and replacing where I’ve harbored, and internalized, lies about myself, others or situations. I am NOT alone! I have brothers and sisters in Christ. I have a wife. I am a loved person, a child of God. Truths that should be reiterated again and again, since years have passed to only reinforce lies.
I need to realize and wholly embrace all that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit provide in a complete consummate relationship as a believer and fellow heir. I need Jesus! I depend, and should even more, upon Him daily. I need to look to God in all things and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. I should start the day off with Him and be intentional throughout the rest of the day, every day.
I need to adopt better habitual mechanisms that could replace sinful, harmful ones that have become ingrained. Easier said than done, I know; new habits can take time. That’s why and where reminders and others can help, supporting me in going through. I need to choose to look at right or good things, instead of letting my mind wander. Let my guard be ready. I need to put on God’s armor daily and dwell in His word frequently.
I need reminders that emotions are acceptable, as well as communicating in a safe, right way and environment. At times I need to yell at paper! At times I need to cry on the carpet before God! I need and can confide in close friends! I need and should be open and honest with my wife!
It’s all about relationships. Praying intentionally the Lord’s Prayer allows me to examine my relationship with my Heavenly Father and my relationship with fellow people, especially those I love. Forgiveness is key.
Fyodor was a wild young man. His life revolved around eating, drinking, talking, music, theatre and the company of women. He dreamt of fame. He was caught up in a movement for political and social reform in Russia during the repressive reign of Tsar Nicholas I. He was arrested, tried and condemned to be executed.
On a bitterly cold morning, the prisoners were taken out to be shot. The prison guards raised their muskets to their shoulders and took aim. At the last moment, a white flag was raised to announce that the Tsar had commuted their sentence to life imprisonment in Siberia.
On his arrival in Siberia on Christmas Eve 1849, at the age of twenty-eight, two women slipped him a New Testament. When the guard turned away momentarily, they suggested he should search the pages thoroughly. He did.
While in prison, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist, read the New Testament from cover to cover and learnt much of it by heart. He wrote, ‘I believe that there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus. I say to myself with jealous love not only is there no one else like him, but there never could be anyone like him.’ It was through the Bible that he had encountered Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul describes all Scripture as ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is not just inspired in the way that artists, poets, composers and musical performers can be said to be inspired. It actually has God’s breath, his Spirit, in it. Through the Bible, God speaks to you.