The biggest ‘but’ in history

There must be numerous contenders for the most game-changing word in the history of the world, but today I’m going with this one: ‘but.’

Today I was reading through Mark chapter 14 and was meditating on the time Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

The first half of verse 36 struck me like never before. Jesus was praying and said these words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”

In this are two profound things. First, Jesus knew that God could do anything. He knew that it was well within the power of his Father to pull the pin on redemption and instantly take His son back into the eternal glory from which He had come. Furthermore, Jesus asked for it. Such was his agony at the thought of what he was to endure, that he asked his Father to remove it from him.

The Father would not deny the Son. Except for one entirely game-changing word: ‘but.’

At the most intensely pivotal moment the world has seen, the Son surrendered his will to His Father’s saying ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will,’ and the Father, in that moment of Jesus’ submission, overruled the will of His Son. Together they endured the cross, despising the shame, for the redemption of mankind.

How grateful I am for Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, and how challenged I am by my lack of it.

Why would God destroy a city?

Sodom and Gomorrah are two famous historical cities known for their destruction. The account of their demise begins in Genesis 18, when the Lord says to Abraham, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

I was reading this passage as a part of our church’s Genesis study, and this question was posed: ‘Why would God be so concerned about the reports coming from Sodom and Gomorrah?’ I was stumped at first. Sure I know that God hates sin, but evil is just a part of our world, right? Why did He feel the need to destroy them so dramatically?

As I pondered this I was suddenly reminded of something Jesus said: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”

Sin is not static. It spreads like a cancer, sometimes slowly, but surely. It seeps into a culture until it moulds minds and consciences and lulls people into deception, saying, “You can live as you like” and “There is no consequence.”

God’s destruction is always characterised by two things: justice for evil, and protection of that which is good. Just like a cancer in the body must be killed, in order for the body to be saved, so has God worked throughout history to restrain the spread of evil, so as to protect his people and offer salvation to all.

Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

The number ONE reason we should follow Jesus… isn’t to get eternal life

Why do we invite people to come to Jesus?

This questions was raised in my lunchtime Bible study group today, which amazingly, this year, includes two atheist students. I see reflected in it many mistakes of my own evangelical history.

Over the years I have invited people to come to Jesus for many a reason, some more flawed than others:

To some I promised a more purposeful life

To others, increased happiness.

At times it was because they were at risk of hell

And on the flip side, who isn’t enticed by the promise of heaven?

Shamefully, I admit, there were also times when I merely wanted to recruit allies; people who would see the world from my point of view and not oppose me.

Today, however, I was reminded, as I studied the Word with these students, that the number one reason that we should invite people to come to Jesus is because He is worthy.

If God is as powerful as he must be as creator, and Jesus is truly Lord of all, then people should come to him in humble worship, simply because He deserves it.

The beautiful paradox of Christianity is that God invites us to come, and then blesses us with every spiritual blessing and life eternal when we do.

It is His kindness that brings us to repentance, but we must never forget who He is or how worthy He is. We must call people to worship the giver, not come for the gifts.

 

 

 

When we’ll concede salvation, but not honour

healthy-self-esteem

As Christians, we know that God saves those who don’t deserve it. It is often with joy (and sometimes indignation) that we will admit that a person could live the most awful life, committing the most heinous of sins, and still be offered forgiveness and salvation on their death beds.

Many life-long Christians, some of whom the world would consider to be morally flawless, will even concede that they are no more deserving of salvation than the murderer or adulterer or even the paedophile.

Honour, though? That is something different.

I’ve been thinking about Paul. Here is a man, who was one of the chief persecutors of Christians, and yet became the best known, and most honoured of the apostles.

What of those precious saints that he once tortured or killed? Stephen’s name we know, but most others we don’t. Sure, they are honoured in heaven, but on earth it is not their names that have gone down in history, but the name of their tormentor.

Sometimes God saves those who are least deserving, and then brings them honour in this life above those who it seems have been faithful all along. The truly righteous person will not resent this. They will be so consumed by the glory and will of God that they care not who brings the Word, or who receives the honour, as long as Christ is preached.

May I learn to honour others above myself, and Jesus above all.

I don’t ever wanna be caught on the wrong side

When I read the Gospels, why do I automatically assume that I belong alongside Peter, or that I would have been Mary Magdalene? Why do I rarely see myself in the Pharisees or the Rich Young Ruler?

Yesterday in church I was convicted to examine my life. What do I value? What am I pursuing? I saw so clearly the allure of worldly things, which easily captivate my heart. I saw how self-righteous I am in my judgement of how the world should be – what is good or right. I saw how proudly I stood amongst a multitude of people who defined success, then boasted in their achievements.double-exposure-illustration-woman-with-city-in-her-hat_1020-442

I saw a great battle line drawn. On the right were those who were glamorous, popular, wealthy and so successful that they are proud to define themselves by material things. And I saw myself with them, desiring to be one of them, pursuing the things they loved. And then I looked to the other side, to those who were poor and lowly, and cared not for this world. And Jesus was on the other side.

How often do I claim to be a follower of Jesus, then busy myself with things that are not on His agenda? How often do I scorn things he loves, or delight in things he hates? When he comes back I sure don’t want to be caught swanning around in Prada shoes and sequins, or clamouring wildly up the corporate ladder, so I’d better stop pursuing them.

Before the Throne… so many have been struck down.

Ancient-Aliens-ark-covenant

I sometimes have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament, with the God I know. I’ve just read about this horrible string of events in Samuel:

  • Israel was defeated in battle
  • The Ark of the Lord was captured by the Philistines
  • Eli the priest and his two sons died.
  • The Philistine god Dagon was found bowing and broken before the Ark
  • They were tormented with tumours and ‘the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them.’
  • Cities were thrown into panic and they decided to send the Ark back.
  • On its return to Israel, seventy men were killed when they looked into the Ark.

Imagine the people’s fear as they said ‘Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up to from here?’

I was meditating on this question as I turned my music on and was captivated by these words:

“Before the Throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea, a great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me… I know that while in Heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

The fearsome God of Israel is no less the God of today, but while nations trembled and many died in his presence, we are invited into his very Throne room finding no condemnation, only grace.

The contrast is dramatic. How radically has Jesus Christ transformed the way we may relate to God!

It’s not Carl

carlOne of the guys at our Church, Carl Robinson, preached a cracker of a sermon last night. He has a real heart for loving people and, at the end, during the closing song, I found myself thinking: ‘I really rate that guy.’

Suddenly I felt God speak to me in a surprising way: “It’s not Carl.” With that revelation, I got more clarity about godly speakers than I have, perhaps, ever had before. Instead of just seeing Carl, I saw Jesus.

That heart for people? That was Jesus. The compassion for the broken? Jesus again. The Gospel that changes people? That’s Jesus. The ability to speak with passion and conviction? Even that is Jesus working through a man to show love to his people.

How quick I was to glorify Carl and forget Jesus. I saw Jesus more clearly last night and he used his servant Carl, but all the great bits? They were Jesus, not Carl.

Next time you are inspired by a great Christian, remember that the glory you see belongs to Jesus.

Don’t have Jesus as your backup plan

plan_b

Do you realize you don’t have to do anything good to get to heaven?

I’m so blessed to go to a church that is very focused on the Gospel. We are constantly reminded that we are saved by grace, not by works, and the more I am reminded of this, the more I realize I need to hear it.

Because the Gospel of Grace is completely counter intuitive

I was sitting in church last night while a friend preached from Hebrews 11 about the righteous being justified by faith. He reminded us that when we die and come before a Holy God, we will have nothing to commend ourselves other than our faith in the righteousness of Christ and his ability to cover our sin.

I found, in that moment, sin in my heart.

You see, I kind of treat Jesus like my back up plan.

I do good things to gain approval with God, and entrance to heaven, and when I fall far short (which I inevitably will), Jesus covers the rest.

WRONG

Jesus covers it all.

It’s hard for me to accept, and may take a lifetime to grasp, but Jesus isn’t filling the gaps where we’re lacking, he’s doing it all. He’s taking the dead (both spiritually and literally) and bringing them back to life.

When I stand before God, I will have nothing to recommend myself, just faith in the fact that Jesus will speak for me.

He’s no backup plan. He’s all or nothing.

The Gift of Death

The gift of death is, paradoxically, the gift of life.

One of my beautiful students asked me the other day, why God would create such beautiful people, only to let them die.

garden_of_edenIt’s a fair question, but it’s one limited by lack of information, because if we understand the fullness of the Bible, we can understand the gift of death.

When Adam and Eve were in the garden they were free to eat from the Tree of Life. They were going to live forever in the bliss and beauty of what God had created.

The right to eat from the Tree of Life was only taken from them after they sinned. Because living forever under the curse of sin was never God’s plan for anyone.

Adam and Eve both died a physical death, but it was not a tragic one. Physical death was one of the gifts that God gave them, along with the redemptive death and resurrection of His Son, in order for them to enter into eternal life.

Death can be a great tragedy, but only when it takes a person who refuses to accept God’s gift of life. For those who have life, it is the beautiful gateway out of an existence marred by sin.