LIVING WITHOUT GOD

A student was in a philosophy class, where there was a discussion about whether or not God exists. The professor had the following logic: “Has anyone in this class heard God?” Nobody spoke. “Has anyone in this class touched God?” Again, nobody spoke. “Has anyone in this class seen God?” When nobody spoke for the third time, he simply stated, “Then there is no God.” The student wasn’t happy about this and asked for permission to speak. The professor granted it, and the student stood up and asked the following questions of his classmates: “Has anyone in this class heard our professor’s brain?” Silence. “Has anyone in this class touched our professor’s brain?” Absolute silence. “Has anyone in this class seen our professor’s brain?” When nobody in the class dared to speak, the student concluded, “Then, according to our professor’s logic, it must be equally true then that our professor has no brain!”

The pressures and problems of living drive rational people to a restless search for meaning and purpose in life. Many never find answers, as they live out their lives without God. So, if an atheist friend asked you, “If God is real, what difference does He make?” How would you answer?

First of all, don’t fumble for a response. Do what Jesus often did, turn the tables, replying to their query with this question: “What is the point of life without God?” Even Solomon, who next to Jesus is possibly the wisest person who ever lived, once asked this same question: In Ecclesiastes, the book he wrote, he comes up with the answer in one word that he uses 33 times – “meaningless” – concluding without God all is futile, only He gives meaning to life.

Consequently, people need to hear about God so that they can know Him and make a decision that will change their eternal destiny. Christ’s mandate to His Church is to sow the seed of the Gospel. Sin is deadly serious and the Bible pulls no punches here. But people will follow their own desires: “For a time is coming when they will no longer listen…they will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Tim.4:3,4).

For example people love Christmas, and all the naff that’s tacked onto it, but they don’t love Christ. As those verses in 2 Timothy remind us, against apathy we are to “work at telling others the Good News” it’s the ministry God has given us. To fight the good fight! “We have a priceless inheritance…beyond the reach of change and decay”, says Peter. (2 Tim.4:5; 1 Pet.1:4). Therefore, don’t worry about being misunderstood and ridiculed in family, society and popular culture. We are servants of the Church and somehow surviving against all the odds. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” (1 Jn.2:15)

Christmas happened once: In Jesus, God comes to us with a desire to free us from sin, evil and death and to show us how meaningful life is with Him. Easter happened once: Jesus suffered, died and rose again to save people from their sins, giving the gift of eternal life. All human hearts need do is receive, believe and not be ashamed of the Gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom.1:16).

Life without God is a daily routine of running in circles and going nowhere: Scripture is speaking clearly: “The world only offers a craving for physical pleasure…and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (1 Jn.2:16). Yet, all our money, successes, property, stocks and shares are meaningless without God. The old saying rings true: a rich man without God is just a poor man with money!

Furthermore, not only does life not matter, if God is absent from it, then it doesn’t matter how we live, as we have no moral compass, nothing to distinguish been good and evil. All Scripture is God breathed. It’s humanity’s guide. Obedience to the Good Lord’s commands results in right conduct, diligence and virtue and “anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 Jn.2:17).

Naturally people will retort they don’t need God in order to try living according to what they think is right or wrong, good or evil. We hear it all the time: “I’m a good person, I believe in compassion, logic, empathy, honesty…et.al” but Solomon also wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Pr.14:12). It’s fundamentally irrational to think we’re the source for our moral values. We don’t have it within our hearts. There is absolute moral decline in society; godly influence is disappearing and the Church by siding with popular opinion, and finding ways to be seen as acceptable, is complicit in activities that are morally wrong and will incur the Lord’s great anger. Same-sex marriage, euthanasia, Sunday trading et.al. Anything goes. Anything is permissible. Because without God, right and wrong simply become a matter of emotions, intellect or opinion.

If God doesn’t exist then it doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you are honest or you lie, whether you give or take. If no one rewards you for good, or punishes you for evil, then what does it matter? Without God there is no justice for evil. So Hitler, Saddam Husain and countless others get away with killing millions of people. Jack the Ripper gets away with it too. Without God, every unsolved murder remains, not just unresolved, but unpunished.

Divine justice is necessary for a flawed humanity rebelling against God’s authority and holy law. God’s real and that’s the difference He makes to this world and the next. Two men were discussing Christianity. One said, “I don’t have anything to do with things I don’t understand.”

“Have you had your breakfast this AM?”

“Yes, but what’s that go to do with God?”

“Did you have butter on your toast?” persisted his friend.

“Yes”, replied the man, increasingly confused.

“Well, can you tell me how a black and white cow eating green grass can make white milk that makes yellow butter?”

“No, I can’t”, admitted the skeptic.

“Well”, his friend advised, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with breakfast then.”

Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner once remarked that the Lord requires “muscular Christians”, believers who are serious about their faith. We might say we believe in God, but does He really make a difference to our lives? Are we only moderately interested in Him? Singing hymns and sharing in worship, is good, and I’m glad you’re here, but religion is not the way to salvation.

All the Bible’s teaching points to the death of Jesus as sin-bearer and Saviour. The cross demonstrates the holiness and power of God. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, instead of standing for death and destruction, it stands for victory. We are free to accept or reject Christ’s love and forgiveness; we can either live in the power of the cross, or remain ungodly. But if we are to be saved, then we must turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus.

Lastly, those who don’t believe in God, ignore the judgement of God. When we ignore the judgement of God, we disregard the fear of God. Without fear we lack wisdom. Humanists, agnostics, atheists by the end of their lives will come to regret their lifestyle for their lives are doomed to end in death. Not so for Christian souls, as after death, life will truly begin.

In conclusion then life without God is like an unsharpened pencil…there is no point!!

 Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

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I Believe In Angels

Blessed be your glorious name, Lord, you made the heavens and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Neh.9:5-6).

If you ask a child what part they want in a Nativity play I think most hands, particularly those of little girls, would go up for the angels. The opportunity to wear wings and a tinsel halo! Boys generally get the shepherds and tea towels!

Angels are fascinating spiritual beings. This time of year, naturally, they can be a topic of conversation among believers and non-believers alike. Angels are big business; there’s angel books (not necessarily Christian ones), paintings, poetry, personal stories, as well as something called ‘angel therapy’ -whatever that is! Even in this advanced technological age, surveys show public belief in angels is still strong. 74% of teenagers and 68% of adults believe in them.

We’ve all heard of guardian angels. In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life an angel called Clarence comes to the aid of George Bailey, as he’s contemplating suicide. This is pure Hollywood fantasy, a feel good movie, and I hate to burst a bubble but the Bible doesn’t teach that everyone has a guardian angel. Angels only guard and protect those who will inherit salvation – those, who know, love and trust God.

Consequently, as the pop group Abba sang, I believe in angels. They definitely exist. I believe in them, not because someone has told me about them, or because they’ve seen one in a dramatic visitation (which is actually very rare). I believe in them because the Bible says there are angels and I accept the Bible is the true Word of God.

Angels have always been and continue to be mysterious. Max Lucado describes the story of angels as “biblical whale watching”. He says, “They surface just long enough to catch a glimpse and raise a question, but then disappear before we have full view.” So what do we know about them from the Good Book’s sacred pages? We know that God not only created the world and human life, He also created the heavens and things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. God created angels, and just as we are the highpoint of His earthly creation, they are the pinnacles of His heavenly creation.

There’s a lot of them. At Jesus’ arrest, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest. Jesus chastised him and said: “Put away your sword…don’t you realise that I could ask my Father for twelve legions of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Mt.26:52-53). A legion was equal to 6,000 soldiers. So do the maths. At least 72,000 angels were ready to rescue the Messiah. Wow!

They were created before the earth came into existence. When God spoke with Job He confirms this: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job.38:4,7). Stars do sing by the way. Scientists discovered ages ago they emit radio waves received on earth as a high pitch: “O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth…” the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem makes perfect sense.

Like stars, angels also like to praise and worship. In actual fact their worship of God never ends. Revelation, the last book in the Bible, says: “All the angels were standing round the throne…they fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God…Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.”(Rev.7:11-12).

They worship God’s glory. They are singing to the Lord Jesus Christ, who existed long before He was born in the manger! His glory filled the heavens, “In the beginning was the Word” [which is a name for Jesus] and He called them into existence, everything was made through Him and for Him. Jesus spoke about the glory that He shared with the Father before the world began, and the angels first saw His glory in heaven. Therefore, angels are created beings with a definite beginning. Modern views of angels doesn’t equate with the Biblical picture. Often they are portrayed as fairies with wings, or as plump baby cherubs looking all meek and mild.

Cherubs, along with the Seraphim, are part of the angelic rank but they don’t look anything like this. In Ezekiel they are described as having two pairs of wings, and four faces; one looks like a lion, the second like an ox, the third that of an eagle, and the fourth of a human. Meek and mild indeed! They are mighty in power. An image certainly not popular on Christmas cards!!

Also in Scripture other angelic beings, when they take on human form at God’s command, are always portrayed as male, but in reality they have no gender. Although they take on human form, humans never take on angelic form. We do not become angels when we die sitting on fluffy clouds playing harps! That’s the stuff of nonsense.

Angels do not have bodies like us, so they cannot die. They live eternally. They have names. There’s the archangel Michael, Raphael, Uriel (who appear in the Apocrypha) and, of course, Gabriel who communicates God’s most important announcements to people. Angels are mighty beings. It took only one to protect Daniel in the lions’ den. They are not all powerful like God, but they are stronger than we are. They are not all knowing but have greater knowledge than we do, and though they are not omnipresent, they can travel more easily and quickly than we do.

We are not to worship or pray to them. Christ alone is the source of salvation. SJohn the Apostle was rebuked when he worshipped one: “At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” (Rev.19:10). It’s why Jesus was born in the first place, to reconcile to Himself all things by making peace through His blood on the cross. The crib and the cross go together. You cannot separate them.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Lk.2:10-12). Angels are messengers sent to specific places at specific times for specific tasks. They do the Lord’s bidding and obey His word (Ps.103:20). To me it paints a picture of military precision, with angels standing to attention, waiting on an order from God to do whatever He wants them to do.

Matthew ch.1 and Luke ch.2 are the most famous of passages. In the Christmas story we see angels appearing to Mary, to Joseph (twice), and to shepherds. A whole choir of them announce the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Lk.2:14). Angels were worshipping at the incarnation when Jesus comes into the world. They gazed on the baby in the manger. Like Mary and Joseph they saw their maker in human form for the first time. That really invites us to view the Nativity from their perspective – He was seen by angels and they burst into song. To the shepherds and to us it’s like they are saying, “Do you realise who has come to you. God has taken on your flesh? Do you realise the gift you’ve been given?

If we believe this chorus of Good News then we worship the Messiah alongside thousands and thousands of angels in joyful assembly. How can we not be captivated by their extraordinary message of the greatest gift of all time? God so loves sinners like you and me that He is prepared to send His Son to be born in humility and to die upon a cross to save us so that we might become part of His family alongside Gabriel and the entire heavenly host. Jesus could of summoned 72,000 angels but He died alone for you and me.

It’s hard to ignore angels. They serve those who will receive salvation. They provide and protect. They offered food for Elijah and attended to Jesus when they were alone in the wilderness. Perhaps we have also been provided for by others that we thought were people but may have been angels?

I really believe if God opened our eyes, sometimes we would see angels protecting our home, escorting our children to school, encircling the car we are driving in, monitoring the moves of the surgeon operating on us, and watching over us as we sleep. It’s Ps.91: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands…”

In the midst of an ordinary night, ordinary shepherds encountered an extraordinary thing. At first they were scared to death. To calm their fears, an angel of the Lord said to them: “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy. Today a Saviour is born!” (Lk.2:10). This Christmas, instead of being stuck in the tedium of it all, let us truly appreciate the angels singing and the shepherds hurrying. That’s what the birth of Jesus means. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

 

 

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

A blind lady was flying from London to Aberdeen on a budget airline. Unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to Leeds along the way. The captain explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the plane they could re-board in an hour. Everybody got off the plane except the one lady who was blind. The pilot had noticed her as he walked by and could tell she was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her. “Excuse me, we are here for an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” The lady replied, “No thanks, but perhaps my dog would like a walk.” So the pilot, who incidentally was wearing sunglasses, walked off the plane with the guide dog and everyone came to a complete standstill. The other passengers, with mouths opened wide, not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to upgrade to a better airline!!

The old adage that “things aren’t always what they seem” rings true here, as indeed it does in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus is King. But in John 18 we encounter that King – beaten, bloody and bruised with His hands tied behind his back. Jesus looks nothing like a king. He’s meek and unassuming, interrogated by Pilate, who no doubt was wearing his robes of office, and was a man who had worldly power and might, with armed soldiers at his command standing by. When we think of kingly power, that’s what we think of.

This text highlights the debate between Jesus and Pilate. A supposed rebel against Roman authority, a would-be “King of the Jews” exchanging ideas with the procurator: a man employed by the Emperor to manage the affairs of the Jewish people. But Jesus was no usurper to Pilate’s crown: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom” He said. (18:36).

Things aren’t always what they seem. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall. Flags, borders and military might define nations. It’s easy to see who has the power in the kingdoms of this world. Presidents and dictators have their moments of glory. God’s realm, though, is entirely different. There are no borders, but there is angelic might and heavenly power that unites all believers under the banner of the Cross.

The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; judge not, love your neighbour as yourself, look at the log in your own eye before criticizing others. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast and is, therefore, no threat to this world. If it were then a battle would already have been fought. “My followers”, says Jesus, “would fight to prevent my arrest. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). Then in the end Jesus says, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” (18:37).

Things aren’t always what they seem. This carpenter’s son from Nazareth is King of all the earth! How can this be? The crowds didn’t “clap their hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy”, as we heard in our opening Psalm this morning (47:1). The learned men, the priests and scribes, had overlooked the prophecies that spoke of Israel’s king as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed. It’s no wonder that few recognised Jesus as the Messiah. It doesn’t have an easy explanation. But what matters is Scripture’s affirmation.

That’s the life application to us garnered from these verses. To recognize who Jesus is and know that what He has done in the lives of millions of people, He can do for you. However, you’ve got to allow His Spirit the opportunity to challenge your heart – for that’s where faith begins and sees what has been carefully revealed as God, throughout history, has unveiled His opus of salvation.

My eyes work fine. I don’t rely on a white stick, or a guide dog. I don’t need glasses to assist my vision. Yet for years I couldn’t see that the way I was living my life would eventually lead me into eternal damnation. Though I could see the world around me, I couldn’t see the need for Jesus Christ. Like Pilate, who goes on to say, “What is truth?” (18:38) – I shrugged my shoulders at the outrageous notion that Jesus was the High King of Heaven even at His birth. I was celebrating Christmas for the wrong reasons.

It’s a tragedy when we fail to recognise this unchanging truth. It’s God’s testimony to a stubborn people. It’s not like the X-Files with the truth being out there somewhere! It’s right here. Truth was birthed and walked among us and stood right in front of Pilate stating: All who love the truth listen to me.” (18:37). What more could the Truth say? Yet that’s the message that Jesus’ contemporaries rejected. It’s the truth people still have to freely accept today. Yet the promise is that more understanding will be given to those who diligently seek the fullness of life in the Kingdom of God.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Pilate’s cynicism is the wrong reaction. He couldn’t find Jesus guilty of any crime, but had to show his authority to pacify the bloodthirsty mob. “Your leading priests have brought you to me for trial. Are you the king of the Jews?” (18:33,35). Well yes He is! And we are truly blessed if we can confess Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords without arrogance or mocking. He shall reign forever and ever. His Kingdom is not of this world. It’s upside down. It’s not about power and status. Where did Jesus spend His time? With outcasts, the poor and sinners. In His Kingdom we are treated as friends and equals. That alone should determine our attitude in the presence of the King.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Jesus redefined what Kingship means. A reminder worth having on Christ the King Sunday is that despite His glory, we can meet the Lord in unexpected ways. Secondly, that as our King, as the Truth, Jesus gives us our freedom. Ultimately though God wants us to change. That’s the point of His love and forgiveness shown by the cross. However it’s in our nature to wander from the truth. We want to have our cake and eat it, believing that whatever we do isn’t really important as it will all work itself out somehow and eventually we’ll all end up in heaven. Naturally, God’s Kingdom is open to anyone and will have no end, but it does make demands on us. Let’s face it, if we don’t change from whatever we’ve done in the past then we remain unrepentant sinners. Remember that our faith is based on a relationship of love, obedience and service to God in our lives.

Things are not as they seem. Yet there was no contradiction in anything that Jesus said and did. He gave hope to all whom He encountered. Embrace that hope; be encouraged, motivated and refreshed – for next week it’ll be Advent Sunday and once again we’ll begin to prepare the way – for Christ the King in splendour arrives!

Blessed be the Word. Love in the Messiah.

The Will of God

Think back to the last funeral that you attended. As you held the order of service and looked at the picture of the deceased, you noticed the dates of their birth and their death. Every one of us is guaranteed them. But did you notice the hyphen between them? This represents that individual’s entire life and that short line is what God looks at as we move through life.

If we want our lives to count today and last beyond tomorrow, we want to make sure the line we’re on is pleasing to the Lord. If we’re at a crossroads in life He wants us to “Come back to the old godly way and walk in it. Travel its path where we will find rest for our souls.” (Jer.6:16). His goal for us is spiritual maturity. His will is for us to become more and more like Christ. It’s not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God.

In the Bible there are plenty of passages describing our relationship with Him: “Those who delight in the law of the Lord are like trees planted along the riverbank bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Ps.1:3); whilst those who believe in His Son have the right to become children of God (Jn.1:12). Growing spiritually, being made holy, involves an encounter with the will of God. We pray “thy will be done” and sing “let us be content to know and do your will.”

The Hebrews reading shows us Jesus’ approach to the will of God where He states: “Look, I have come to do your will…” (Heb.10:7). How does this compare with our approach? Being self-centered folk we either do what we want to do, or do what we think we ought to do, rather than do what God wants us to do. The last option is the best. Adopting the first one can cause major conflict. The second may lead us to make hasty decisions. But doing God’s will remedies the problems caused by the other two.

How can we, therefore, know God’s will? When we’re stumbling and struggling through it all how can perceive what God wants or desires? Naturally, our knowledge of divine will is limited to what our minds can comprehend, but His Word is always a lamp for our a feet and a light for our path, so let it speak for itself, just pick it up and read it!

First there’s God’s SOVEREIGN WILL. This is those things that the Creator is determined to make happen that nobody can stop. The Lord Himself fulfills His own decrees. For example, the virgin birth of His Son, His death on the cross, His resurrection and His second coming are all a part of God’s sovereign will. Ephesians 1:11 says: “Because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.”

Secondly there’s God’s PRACTICAL WILL or His MORAL WILL what He considers right and wrong for us to do and how we ought to believe and live. This is most fully revealed of course in the commandments, as well as through the life and teachings of Jesus: “Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honour anyone who serves me.” (Jn.12:26).

Thirdly, there’s God’s PERSONAL WILL for our lives. The Bible is full of promises which show us how He guides His people. The most famous being: “The Lord’s my Shepherd; I have all that I need.” (Ps.23:1). Martin Luther King said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure nor avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.”

Basically he’s saying if we’re serious about our relationship with God it means that we need to seek His will in every area of our lives, including all those daily decisions – do I take this job; have this holiday; buy this house; does God want me to join the Bible study?

You know the Good Lord does speak to us. As a general rule not audibly, but through His Word – living and as sharp as a two edged sword, through the daily activity of prayer, letting ourselves be guided, through visions and dreams, through prophesy, through a third person acknowledging something to you, and through circumstances – not coincidences but God-incidences.

The first step in knowing God’s will begins with complete trust in Him: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding.” (Pr.3:5). The word ‘trust’ means to ‘lie down upon’ or to ‘stretch out on.’ Nobody sleeps with one foot on the floor because we don’t question stretching out on our beds at night. We just trust the bed to hold us. That’s the first step to beginning to understand God’s will for your life. You’ve got to stretch out on Him – completely trust Him. Like Peter when he stepped out on the water, or like blind skiers obeying the “Left!” and “Right!” of their sighted partners skiing next to them. Absolutely trusting them that they are not going to hit a tree!!

Of course we can manage our lives on their own, we can make decisions and get them right. But we can’t lean on ourselves! Proverbs continues: “In all your ways acknowledge him” (3:6). If you acknowledge something you pay lip service to it, or nod at something. But here, acknowledge means to “focus on something and follow it.” Focus on God like a laser to discover His will by putting yourself in a position to hear His voice: “Your own ears will hear him”, says Isaiah, “Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (Is.30:21).

So far the verses in this proverb have been about what we are to do. Now notice God’s part: “And he shall make straight your paths” (3:6). This means that He directs and shows us His personal will for our lives. By trusting Him and following His guidance, we can be confident He’ll guide us even when we feel like we’re in the dark. Listen to another tremendous verse from Isaiah: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not know, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (42:16).

When we put the Good Lord in His rightful place, He will put us in the right place. This doesn’t mean that life will always be easy or hard times won’t come. It does mean that we will always be where God can protect us and provide for us as we walk in the paths He directs: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Ps.128:1).

Lives are transformed by discerning God’s will. To quote George Muller –“Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will.” When we begin to follow Him with our entire lives, our priorities and desires change. Ultimately His will is for us is to worship Him, love Him and serve Him. If we do that, the future becomes a lot clearer.

Almighty God, you know the way I should live, and you are present in every one of my choices. Give me complete trust in you so that I can see the path you are leading me down. Amen.

IF YOU NEED WISDOM ASK OUR GENEROUS GOD

The challenge we all face every day is confronting the things we can change and making the right decisions about those changes. Life comes down to wise or foolish decisions. Bought a car you wish you’d never bought? Entered into a relationship you wish you had avoided? Accepted a job you wish you’d never taken? Are you building your faith in Christ upon rock or sand?

Hindsight’s a great thing we can all look back and see where we made both good and poor decisions. A wise man learns by the experience of others. An ordinary man learns by his own experience. A fool learns by nobody’s experience. Wisdom is a strange thing. There’s the wisdom of the world and a wisdom that comes from God. Which is influencing us today?

What’s the wisest decision you have made last week? How about yesterday? How do you know it was wise? Wisdom is not always caution or cleverness. It’s not even knowledge. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad!! Knowledge is knowing you can hit a 7-iron 150 yards. Wisdom is taking a 6-iron when it’s over water and into the wind!! If our faith foundations are solid then to seek and use God’s wisdom for every decision is imperative. All we need do is ask: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (Js.1:5).

We are living in a world that is awash with knowledge, but thirsty for wisdom. Many people know a great deal. But the wisdom of the world wants nothing to do with God. Yet “fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Pr.1:7). There is a benefit to following heavenly wisdom rather than worldly wisdom. It brings a blessing from God and a harvest of righteousness.

We’re introduced to King Solomon in 2 Chronicles. Now a king, or any leader for that matter, needs to make wise decisions. Solomon was just 20 years old when he had his coronation. He hasn’t sorted anything out yet, made no government appointments, hasn’t chosen his furniture and is still riding high on his new position. In vs.7 of ch.1 the Lord appears to him, offering him an incredible opportunity: “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

The Good Lord always relates to His people on a personal level and equips them to complete His purpose. Having grown up in the royal court Solomon was highly educated, his earthly position was rich and powerful, but listen to his reply:S“O Lord God, please continue to keep your promise to David my father, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth! Give me wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” (vs.9-10).

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Js.4:6). Humble dependence upon God is the foundation of wisdom. If God were to put the same question to you, as He did to Solomon, what would you ask for? It’s basically a blank cheque, your wishes could come true! Long life, wealth, big house, designer clothing and expensive jewelry. Ok so Solomon had these things but the love of money, prestige and power can so easily corrupt. He could also have asked for the death of his enemies. Instead, he asks the One True God for a wise and understanding heart to be a good king for the people.

Solomon went on to become the writer of Proverbs, which is really a letter on how to live a life of wisdom. He advises us to cry out for insight: “For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.” (Pr.2:6-7).

Wisdom connects us to God. Solomon recognises he could ask for anything but he makes a decision that in turn makes him a great king. He asked His Maker to make him wise enough to live the right sort of life, because he realises he does not have what it takes to make the wise decisions a king must make. He understood that the Good Lord grants us wisdom not so we can show how much we know but so we can be an example to others living by God’s Word.

When we value what God values we are on the path to wisdom. Fools do not seek wisdom because they do not place any value on it. An egotistical person would ask for fame; a materialistic person would ask for wealth; an ambitious person would ask for power; a bitter person would ask for revenge. Often we make bad decisions and cause heartache, stress and worry because we refuse to admit we need to follow the Bible’s advice.

So, to make a wise decision we must first admit that we can’t. “Give me the wisdom and the knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” – is Solomon’s response. (v.10). The order of these words is important. We can have a lot of knowledge and a little wisdom, but if we have a lot of wisdom we have a lot of knowledge.

It is important that we seek God’s wisdom for every decision we make, no matter how small it seems to us. Anytime we want wisdom we can ask for it. We don’t have to be a king to ask for it. We can do what Solomon did. We can ask for something bigger than fame, wealth, power or popularity. We’re promised the same as Solomon.

We can read his proverbs to see that wisdom is seeing life through God’s eyes and living life in the will of God. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word daily is crucial for making wise decisions – it’s the daily bread for our soul. Knowing the Bible helps us make decisions that daily impact upon our health and happiness, how we manage our time, how we handle money and how we deal with temptation.

When we make poor choices we reap the consequences, but wisdom teaches us the lesson before we make the mistake!

The Bristol suspension bridge is an incredible feat of engineering. Spanning the Avon Gorge it opened in 1864. The iron chains and vertical suspension rods supporting the bridge connect to the two towers either side. The secret to the stability of Brunel’s impressive structure is found underneath the towers with the massive foundations carved into the rock. Four million vehicle cross the bridge every year. It’s safe because its foundations are solid. That wasn’t the case of the 50 year old Morandi Bridge in Genoa that collapsed during torrential rain back in August. Restructuring work was being done to enforce the bridge’s foundations at the time. Sadly, there were 37 fatalities.

Examples of good and bad foundations – and Jesus says: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is WISE, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Mt.7:24). When we live according to the Lord’s principles of wisdom, we establish the firmest foundation for our lives and so many wonderful benefits will follow as a result.

So let’s seek the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may live in His wisdom and reap His blessing.

When We Are Lost

Now here’s an interesting CV:-

Name: Paul of Tarsus. Former name: Saul.

Religion: Jewish. Denomination: Pharisee.

Previous employment: Persecutor who enjoyed applying violence and was particularly motivated to persecute Christians.

Present employment: Servant of Jesus Christ.

There is no discrepancy here. The Damascus Road was where everything changed for Saul. Already a religious man who honestly believed he was the avenging hand of God against Christianity. He was lost, but Jesus found Him. The text from 1 Timothy is where he points out the joyful mercy and grace of God: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly…overflowed for me…along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (v.14).

He considers himself the worst of sinners when speaking of his own rescue by God and yet understands that Jesus came precisely to save sinners, to rescue the lost and to spare no effort to find what belongs to Him. So Paul describes His Saviour in majestic terms: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v.17).

This is the acknowledgment of all sinners who repent when God’s grace breaks into their lives. We are all sinners in desperate need of the Saviour. There isn’t anything else, no psychologies or philosophies that can diagnose the human condition, and offer a remedy to relieve our condition, except the transforming grace of God who desires the joy of seeing lost souls turning to Him in worship.

Our souls have a deep need. These are the reasons why they need saving:-

  • It is valuable (Mt.16:26).
  • It is lost with God (Is.53:6).
  • It is risky to delay as the future is uncertain. Our lives are like the AM fog here for a little while – then they’re gone. (Js.4:14).

The parables that Jesus tells speak of a God who loves the sinner passionately – so much so in fact – that as the shepherd He abandons the best part of His flock to hike across the hills to search for the foolish sheep who has strayed. The Christ Light shines into our darkness, searches for us just like the woman using her lamp to look for the lost coin. Imagine the beam of a powerful searchlight exposing the dark state of your life.

According to the Bible, all lost sinners are blind to their condition and their destiny. Due to our depravity none of us can see our need, or the way out of Hell, until the Holy Spirit enlightens us and points us to Jesus: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2.Cor.4:6).

I don’t understand it. How God’s mercy held off His anger as I wandered away in darkness and deadness of sin. Or how His grace reached out to you in love to confront you and call you to His Son. It’s so incomprehensible that Jesus knew we would need a story to try to help understand repentance. The reason a lost person has been found is because he is a sinner who repents. Following religious scruples doesn’t save us. That’s what Paul discovered, as well as the fact that God never gives up on us when we are lost.

The OT gives us a beautiful example of what grace is and does.  When Moses took the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the desert the people soon became thirsty, but there wasn’t any water to be found. God told Moses to strike a rock and the water that spilled out demonstrates the grace of God flowing out to all who would drink. Without this water, without God’s grace supplying the needs of the people, they would have died.

Christ is the Rock, He is also the Living Water. We are supplied daily with the light of the sun and air to breath, something to eat and drink. He supplies all we need, but we must choose to accept His saving grace: “I was lost till Jesus found me. Found the sheep that went astray.” Without grace, without the pardon God gives us we would be forever lost in sin, death and decay.

This doesn’t mean we’re no longer sinners. We’re sinners working out our salvation with fear and trembling, praying for pure hearts and steadfast spirits. But we live out the gospel in the reality of the world and we can’t be perfect.

A teacher asked her pupils one day, “If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which colour would you be?” It’s a tough question when there’s only 2 options. However, one very wise child answered: “Sir, I would be striped!”

It’s a brilliant answer which illustrates perfectly what Paul says in Romans 7:21: “When I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” We are striped. We are, in some sense, not completely “complete”. There’s always a part of us that needs to be exposed by the Light of Life and that’s sanctification. That’s the Holy Spirit’s power within, and the loving patience of God trying to make us more complete. When we’re truly sorry for our wrong actions and for breaking holy law – then another part of us is found – resulting in less and less red stripes! I believe every time we confess with a sincere heart angels, who keep watch around the faithful, rejoice again and again.

Hearing today’s parable is a reminder of how we have all been lost at different times in our lives. But there’s a mission focus here too, although “striped”, we’re found – and as disciples we’re tasked to be shepherds to others. To be Jesus’ co-workers. His priesthood of believers. To be the ones who seek the lost:-

  • Those who seldom attend.
  • Those who live in the community around the church.
  • The husbands and wives of the faithful who stay at home.
  • The person who blames God for everything.
  • The New-Age worshipper who thinks the Devil is just as interesting as Jesus.
  • The teenager who says they’ll believe in God when they’re older.
  • The young offender with an ASBO who never even thinks about God.
  • Unbelieving parents.
  • The drug addict and the alcoholic.
  • The person who believes they’re a “good person” and has never offended God.

 That’s the Great Commission. For they are spiritually lost; and some will want to be found. We need to share the Gospel whenever the opportunity arises. People need to experience God’s friendship and a place at His table of grace. He invites us to share His joy in finding the lost. When the shepherd gets home, Jesus said: “He calls his friends and neighbours together and says,” Rejoice with me; I’ve found my sheep” (v.6).

The joy is a present joy in the church and to the people of God. And it makes me think of the song of Isaiah that is appropriate for the redeemed to sing: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me…with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (12:1,3).

And no one can sing this song unless they’ve been saved. Unless they’ve been so moved by God’s love. Brought home upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, spiritually cleansed by the Living Water, found like a lost coin. It’s not a song Saul the Pharisee would have sung, but it is sung by Paul the Christian, and all Christians, for it is a song of humility and faith.

We think of Paul as a great hero of the faith, but Paul never saw himself that way because he remembered his life before he met Christ. The more he understood God’s grace, the more he was aware of his own sinfulness. He had scoffed at the teachings of Jesus and murdered believers, but God forgave Paul and used him mightily for His Kingdom. No sinner is beyond His saving power for He offers us salvation that leads to eternal life.

There are the lost – and there are the found and there are parts of us that are in the light, and parts still in the dark. Never forget that we are sinners saved by grace. Saved through Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross.

Today I want you to remember that Jesus found you and rescued you and is sending you out to meet some lost soul. Pray for that person this week. Look for ways to tell that person, or show that person how much God loves them and wants to bring them back into His love and care.

So may we be confident that Christ will help our faith and as our relationship with Him deepens, our love for others, for the lost, will grow too.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

WHO IS THIS JESUS?

John Wesley had never been on a ship before until he sailed across to America. They’re a week from land and there’s a violent storm. Wesley writes how they were worried that the ship was going to be lost: “The sea spilled over the ship, split the mainsail, and poured between the decks as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” 

The English passengers cringed in terror. Wesley, however, noticed the German Moravians steadily continued singing psalms. He was impressed with their faith in their hour of need. He saw the difference between those who truly knew the Lord and those who didn’t. Even though he’d been a preacher for some time, he didn’t have that faith that the Lord would, as we read the psalm: “Calm the storm to a whisper, still the waves and bring them safely into harbour!” (Ps.107:29-30).

The sea, of course, can be very dangerous. Even a small one, like the Sea of Galilee only 7 miles across at it’s widest point, can be prone to violent storms and big waves, because it lies in a deep valley surrounded by hills where hot air meeting cooler air causes sudden gales which although expected can still be frightening. Even for experienced fishermen.

Now Jesus had taken Himself off to the hills to pray resisting the temptation to allow the people to make Him king. The disciples waited for Him, but as darkness fell, decided to head back home across the lake to Capernaum. Perhaps the weather was changing and they wanted to get back rather than spend a cold night out under the stars (with a few thousand rabble rousers who were trying to make Jesus king!)

So they’re about four miles out by which time the sea is very rough. There’s a gale sweeping down upon them. Now, they probably were able to handle themselves. Unlike Wesley they were used to such conditions. The point being made in the text is they were terrified: “When suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water approaching the boat.” (6:19). Who wouldn’t be? It’s not something you’d expect to see. Bodies are heavier than water. The waves are pounding. But having already multiplied food to feed thousands of people, Jesus has already shown He can manipulate the laws of nature.

John in his gospel is once again profoundly demonstrating that Jesus is clearly greater than Moses. He’s already been seen as the Prophet, as the King and now the gospel hints at Him acting like God. Moses led his people through the sea, but Jesus was able to walk on the sea! This miracle can’t be explained away by a modernist, scientific mind-set. This abbreviated story is told to demonstrate the assurance that “Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.” (Rom.10:13; Acts 2:21).

The disciples’ reaction suggests that here John intends us to understand that Jesus is walking on the water to find them. There’s a storm that could easily capsize the boat. They are in danger. However, they recognise that the Lord brings His comfort and healing to them calling out: “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” (6:20). They trust Him. The wind stops. Jesus gets into the boat beside them.

This is a forceful pledge of the divine presence: “Don’t be afraid I am here”, reflects the great “I Am” of the OT. This is undoubtedly the Most High God. It reminds us of the godly name revealed to Moses. Jesus has already used it when talking to the woman at the well and uses it a lot in this gospel, often with a description like bread or light (the signs), or on its own like here. [C]It is enough to calm their fears and they don’t even row the boat to safe haven for “immediately they arrived at their destination!” (6:21).

We often face spiritual and emotional storms and feel tossed about on the waters of life. In spite of terrifying circumstances, if we trust our lives to Christ for His safekeeping, He will give us peace in any storm. Even Jonah realized that! Also Isaiah’s prophecy: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” (Is.43:2) has been fulfilled by Christ. One could argue physically with the disciples and spiritually with us. Lastly, remember that God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us but to cleanse us. And storms don’t last forever.

Back to the text, the next morning the crowd, who were hoping to make Jesus king remember, was still lingering on the far side of the lake where Jesus had blessed the bread. Therefore they had no option but to resume their pursuit of Him. John tells us the type of people they were: (1) the curious: “Rabbi when did you get here?” (v.25). They were inquisitive, as Jesus had mysteriously crossed a lake without a boat! (2) And the sincere seekers: “What does God want us to do?” (v.29).

Jesus wasn’t flattered by their interest in Him. He ignores the first question. He doesn’t waste time discussing how He travelled and gets straight to the point of exactly why they are searching for Him suggesting it has nothing to do with His teaching or His miracles but because they like the prospect of free food! “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you [on the hillside]…” – they have no understanding of who He really is and He knows their hearts desire (6:26).

This is the start of one of the Lords greatest sermons. The point we’ve got to grasp is this: that Jesus gives more than bread to satisfy our stomachs; He is the true bread of heaven that will satisfy our souls as it leads to eternal life. The work of God is not something we have to do, but someone we are to believe in. Isaiah symbolically speaks of this invitation to the Lord’s salvation: “Why pay for bread that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.” (Is.55:2). Are you eating the bread of life?

The symbolism here is incredible for there is other “bread”, other “foods” which soon perish and sadly people expend much time, energy and money on them: the food of human wisdom; the food of pleasure; the food of great wealth: buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people that don’t matter! How many of you know people who seem to be driven, unable to relax, unable to find satisfaction, who are constantly seeking something, hoping to find in these activities some sense of peace?

Despite all this, people continue to hunger and thirst. None of these provide lasting fulfillment. The only food that lasts is the Word of God by which man truly lives: Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore! Faith in Christ has satisfied many a person; trust in God has quenched the thirst of many parched souls; belief in the Lord has filled many hungry hearts. I like what this says: Without God our week would be SINDAY, MOURNDAY, TEARSDAY, WASTEDAY, THIRSTDAY, FIGHTDAY, SHATTERDAY – 7 days with God makes ONE WEAK!!

Nevertheless, the crowd found it hard then and people find it hard today. Such is the life of faith. Jesus has come so no one need be lost. He has come to save, He gives food that endures, and abides and remains with those who receive Him. He’s not there for those who only follow Him when it’s beneficial for them. Jesus did not come to fulfill your self-centered desires. He came to change those desires, to transform how you think and how you live.

As the Son of Man, He can do all this, as He is the “one to whom God has given His seal of approval.” All that’s required is to “believe in the one he has sent.” (6:27,29). This is free grace. Yet there is something profound about human nature that spurn’s a free gift. We would much rather achieve something ourselves. When that happens faith becomes too legalistic and tends to just go through the motions of worship and prayer.

So accept that Jesus is who He claims to be and understand God has done all the work and there’s no amount of effort we can possibly make that merits salvation. Although there is effort that merits reward as in not wasting our talents by accomplishing things for God, and not taking our salvation for granted. Grace is free – but it’s certainly not cheap!

Obviously, God can tell the false disciple from the true disciple. So are you striving for that which cannot truly satisfy? Or is your focus in life on that which is everlasting?

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (Dt.30:19-20)

I’ll let the Word speak for itself. It’s Good News!