Hope in the Face of Death

At the moment the whole world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The news is full of it, the papers are full of it, the internet is full of it. There’s no escaping it. Governments have shut down much of society in a bid to stop the virus spreading. Health systems are buckling under the strain. Some men and women are losing their lives from this virus.

Perhaps what this virus has done for us, particularly in the West, is to bring people face to face with their own mortality. It’s said that in some countries, including our own, there simply aren’t enough ventilators to go around, so difficult and stark choices will have to be made about who gets these machines, and who doesn’t.

Here in Britain, we have enjoyed a long period of protection from deadly diseases. That’s not to say they aren’t out there, just that we’ve had the medicines or access to health care which mean they aren’t a problem. This means we go about our lives as if we’re going to keep on living forever. We expect that when we’re ill, there will be treatments for us, and that generally we will get better. Death is something far off in the future, when we’re very old and have lived a long and fulfilling life.

Now people are scared. Perhaps not for themselves, but for loved ones and friends who fall into more vulnerable categories. Many people will of course have the virus and get better, but we tend to focus on those figures which come out daily of the numbers of those who are infected and those who have sadly died.

When Jesus was ministering, He often healed the sick and showed compassion towards the suffering. However, Jesus’ main focus and reason for being here was not to heal people of all their physical ailments. When the angel appeared to Joseph to tell him about the baby that Mary would have, he said to him:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt 1:21

This indicates that Jesus’ purpose was much more than to be a miracle maker, a fine teacher and a kindly man. He came to give up His life so that sinful men and women might enjoy abundant, everlasting life. There is so much we could say about sin, what it is, where it has come from, but I think we all recognise deep in our heart of hearts that we’re not perfect and we don’t always do what we ought to do. In fact, speaking for myself (and maybe you too), I can be downright selfish. And lazy, uncaring, envious, etc. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do, I just want to do what I want to do.

This is what the Bible calls “sin”. Appropriately enough, the word even has the letter “I” right in the middle. Why did Jesus want to save us from this? Couldn’t He just have left us to get on with it, since for the large part people are happy to ignore God? The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Facing death without Christ is surely worse than this virus.

Nowadays it doesn’t seem fashionable to mention the word “hell”. Jesus spoke often about the reality of an eternal state of darkness and suffering (eg Mark 9:43, 48; Matt 13:42; Luke 16:19 – 31; Matt 25:30). In fact, He spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. Are we to reject this teaching of Jesus and only consider the much more palatable teaching about heaven?

Without acknowledging that such a place exists, and that in fact it is the default destination of everyone apart from Christ, we can never fully appreciate why the gospel is such good news. The second part of Rom 6:23 says:

“..but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus showed so much compassion when He left the glory of heaven and came into our messy and sinful world, in order to give His life on the cross to save people from an eternity without Him in utter darkness. He didn’t have to do that, but He did.

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:7 – 8

Knowing Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins and His loving presence in our lives means that we no longer have to live in fear of death. Unless the Lord returns first, one day we will all die. For some that day will come sooner than for others, but still the outcome will be the same. Do you have faith in Jesus and have you trusted in His sacrifice for you? If you have trusted Him as your Saviour and King, you don’t have to be afraid of what this coronavirus may mean for you. I’m sure ideally none of us wants to fall victim to this virus and we pray that a vaccine will soon be developed, but to know Jesus as our loving Saviour means we will never be alone, and even as we face the final enemy of death, He will hold our hand and lead us safely home.

"No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow'r of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand"


Didn’t Our Hearts Burn Within?

One of the recorded appearances of the risen Lord Jesus was to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 – 35). The two men set out on the two hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, feeling sad and disappointed by all that had gone on. Without their recognising Him, Jesus Himself came up to them and joined them on their journey. He asked them what they were talking about. They couldn’t believe that He didn’t know, given the enormity of all that had gone on. They told of Jesus and who they thought He was and recounted the details of His crucifixion, sharing with Him their sense of hopes dashed that Jesus didn’t seem to be the Messiah they were waiting for. They had thought it was Him who would redeem Israel, but now it seemed that they were wrong. They also doubted reports of some of the women who had been to the tomb that morning only to find it empty, and two men in bright clothing who had told them that Jesus was indeed risen.

Jesus didn’t mince His words and told them that they were “foolish” in not believing all that was written about Him and the sufferings He would endure throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. He went right through these passages and made clear to them what was said about Himself. Perhaps He included such passages as Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” v1

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; You lay me in the dust of death.” v14, 15

Or maybe He spoke about Isaiah 53:

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was cursed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” v4, 5

You can’t go far in the Bible without something coming up about Christ. “A golden thread of gospel grace runs through the whole web of the Old Testament” (M. Henry). Jesus truly was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.

We can only imagine all that He shared with these two disciples, but whatever He said they wanted to know more. Here was the Word Himself (John 1:1, 14) explaining the Scriptures to two disappointed, grief-stricken men, and it left them wanting more. He met them where they were at and took the time to teach them, enlightening their understanding.

Jesus looked like He was going to carry on walking, but the two men persuaded Him to stay with them for a meal. When He broke the bread their eyes were opened to His true identity, and He disappeared from their sight (v31). Although they could no longer see Him, He had a lasting effect on their hearts (v32).

We, too, can meet with Jesus in His word by the power of the Holy Spirit, and when we see Him for ourselves our hearts are changed. The two men here were so glad to have met Jesus and heard His teaching from the Word that they immediately set out to return to Jerusalem! They couldn’t wait to tell their fellow disciples all that they had seen and heard.

You too can have a heart encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in His word today. Pray and ask God for understanding as you read His word and seek after Him for yourself, and He will meet you where you’re at, just as He did with these two disciples.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me.” Revelation 3:20

Faith in a Time of Fear and Uncertainty

At the moment, you can’t get away from the coverage of the coronovirus and all the measures being taken to try and deal with it. Each country has its own plan, some with much stricter measures than others. 24 hour news coverage has gone into overdrive, each hour bringing more speculation about the possible effects on society and the economy. Radio talk shows are full of conversation about it. Contributors call in to talk about their fears, or to criticise the government’s handling of the crisis so far.

What should the response of Christians be to all of this? Many times in the Bible we are told not to fear, yet for some of us fear is our knee-jerk reaction to heath scares like this. I remember the last time I had flu, and went on to develop pneumonia. That does make me feel a bit scared about this virus only because I remember what that was like! I am fortunate not to belong to any high risk group, but still the memory of that stay in hospital and the vulnerability of human life is enough to spark fear.

Do you remember the story of Peter when he jumped out of the boat and began to walk towards Jesus on the water? Jesus had gone up on the mountainside to pray and had sent his disciples across the lake to get to the other side. Being the Lord of the universe, he must have known the storm that was to come. Jesus went to walk out to them on the lake, and the disciples were terrified believing him to be a ghost. Jesus calmed their fears telling them it was him. Peter, always the first to jump in, (this time quite literally!) said to Jesus that if it really was him, he should ask him to walk towards him on the lake. Jesus said “Come”. Peter got out and was walking on the water just fine until he started looking at the wind and the waves and began to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cried and immediately Jesus put out his hand to rescue him. (Matthew 14:22 – 33)

Doesn’t the same thing happen to us when we begin to focus more on whatever today’s worrying news is than the Lord himself? We start to sink into the waves of fear until it feels that we might drown in anxiety. The comforting thing is that Jesus is there to reach out his hand for us when we cry, like Peter, “Lord, save me!”.

I love the words of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”. Many times a verse from that hymn comes to mind and the words point me once more to God himself. A few of the verses are relevant to this situation. Christians are not somehow immune to the suffering in this world; in fact the Bible is very plain about suffering. However, in the midst of troubling circumstances we have the knowledge of the presence of the Lord and of his love and care. There may be tough times ahead, but he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Fear not, I am with Thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I cause thee to go, 
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. 

First published 1787 by J. Rippon

Ruth’s Resolve

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about Naomi and her journey from bitterness to blessing. Today I want to consider Ruth and her trusting obedience which saw her leaving behind everything she had ever known to embrace God and His people, and in the process becoming part of the genealogy of Christ Himself.

Ruth was a Moabite lady married to one of Naomi’s sons, and she was left widowed and without any children. Her mother-in-law had moved to Moab with her husband Elimelech and two sons Mahlon and Chilion when there was a famine in Bethlehem, Judah. Elimelech and his two sons sadly died over the ten years that they lived there. On hearing that there was now food in Judah, Naomi sought to return to her people, and initially both of her daughters-in-law wanted to go with her. Both Ruth and Orpah at first insisted that they would go with Naomi back to Judah, but Naomi was just as insistent that they return to their own families and homes. She tells them three times to go back, and after much persuasion Orpah did do just that. There were tears and kisses before Orpah went on her way.

Ruth, however, “clung” to Naomi and simply would not return to her home of Moab. Her proclamation to Naomi is heart-felt and certain:

"Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there I will be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me."

Ruth 1:16,17 

Can you imagine what that must have been like for Ruth? To leave everything that was familiar to her, including her own family, to go with Naomi to an uncertain future? What faith she must have had to make such a proclamation!

The Moabites and Israelites were sworn enemies, and God had forbidden the people of Moab from having any part in Israel because of past failures.

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever…” Deuteronomy 23:3

“You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.” Deut 23:6

Perhaps we could question the wisdom of Elimelech’s decision to move his family to Moab in the first place. It would mean mixing with the enemies of God and being exposed to their false religion and idol worship. However, it seems that Naomi had had a positive influence on her daughters-in-law so much so that both at least initially considered going to Judah with her. It would have been a frightening thing for them to go into enemy territory, particularly as young women.

Nowadays, the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law can be quite tense. Some might feel that it would take a lot for them to leave everything behind and go to a new country with their mother-in-law! However, there was clearly a warm and loving relationship between these ladies and Naomi had been able to pass on something of her own faith to them.

Ruth clearly understood that the Israelites had something that the Moabites did not, and she wanted that for herself. By going to Judah with Naomi she was rejecting the idols she had grown up with and choosing Yahweh. Verse 18 tells us that Naomi saw how “determined” Ruth was to go with her and stopped trying to put her off.

How determined are you and I to follow after Christ? What are we willing to leave behind in order to be numbered with His people? It’s very challenging to think upon Ruth’s declaration here; would I have been willing to do that? In our society today, are there certain things we ought to be leaving behind in order to have a close relationship with the Lord? What things occupy our hearts and minds in a way that only God should?

Jesus told His disciples that following Him would cost them everything. Are we willing to suffer that cost for the prize of knowing Him and receiving His gift of eternal life?

“..he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds His life will lose it, and he who loses His life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38 – 39

Why Did God Persevere With Jonah?

Recently I read through the book of Jonah for my Bible study. It’s a well known story; the prophet Jonah was given instruction by God to go to Ninevah and tell the people there that judgement was coming because of their sin. Having received this clear message from God, Jonah immediately ran the other way, boarding a ship for Tarshish located in southern Spain. Ninevah was located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern day Iraq. Jonah sought to go as far away as possible from where God wanted him.

Can you imagine how many bosses would put up with an employee who deliberately disobeyed their instructions and instead did the exact opposite? It would at least call for a disciplinary procedure, if not for the guilty party to be sacked and sent on their way.

The Lord had another way of handling Jonah’s disobedience. The boat that he was travelling on hit a bad storm. The sailors were scared and cried out to their own gods to save them, but to no avail. Feeling that they were under a curse, finally they drew lots to see who might have caused this problem. The lot fell on Jonah, who told them to throw him overboard which they did extremely reluctantly and with great fear.

Virtually everyone knows what happened next, how he was swallowed by a great fish and kept alive inside it for three days and nights. Jonah prayed to God in desperation:

"I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, 
And He answered me."  2:2

"...You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.
When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple."  2:6b,7

Jonah was spat out onto dry land, and the command came to him a second time to go to Ninevah. Somewhat reluctantly, Jonah this time obeyed God and went to Ninevah, bringing His message of destruction to the massive metropolis:

“Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!” 3:4

The people responded straight away to this message of judgement and the king of Ninevah himself ordered his citizens to fast, wear sackcloth and cry to God for mercy, because:

“Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” 3:9

God did indeed recognise the sincerity of their actions and turned away from bringing judgement on them. You would think that this would be a cause for rejoicing. Jonah’s mission had been a complete success! The people of Ninevah, whose wickedness was recognised by God Himself, had now turned from their rebelliousness and trusted God’s mercy. But one person wasn’t happy, and that was Jonah. In fact, he was thoroughly miserable and angry with God for forgiving the Ninevites. Jonah had wanted these people to be punished. In fact, it seems that he was looking forward to watching them get their just desserts as we are told that he made himself a shelter on the east side of the city to see what would become of it (4:5). God questioned his anger, and dealt with Jonah’s attitude problem.

He made a plant come up and provide shelter for the prophet, and Jonah was very grateful for it. However, the next day a worm attacked the plant and a punishing east wind blew on it. The plant withered away and Jonah was left without any protection from the heat of the day. Jonah said for the second time in this chapter that he would rather die than live, having seen God’s mercy in action and lost his own protection. The Lord again questioned Jonah, asking if it was right for him to be angry about the plant.

“You have had pity on the plant for which you have not laboured , nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?” 4:10,11

Why did God keep persevering with Jonah? In any earthly setting, he would surely have lost his job and been replaced with a more compliant worker. Jonah partly answers this question for us:

“..I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” 4:2

God’s character is not like ours. Whereas we can be quick to give up on difficult people and situations, the Lord is patient with us and understands well our struggles.

"For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust."  Psalm 103:11-14

None of this is to say that God was pleased with Jonah’s actions. He was disciplined by the Lord in the storm and the belly of the fish; he was taught a lesson about himself and his own selfishness in the incident with the plant.

There were wider implications to his story, too, as Jesus Himself makes reference to Jonah in the gospels. Jesus told His listeners in Matthew 12:39 & 40 that the only sign they were to receive was that of Jonah, in that just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights, so Christ would be in the grave. Jesus used a story they were familiar with to teach them what was going to happen to Him. Whereas the people of Ninevah had repented at Jonah’s message, the scribes and Pharisees who Jesus dealt with refused to repent, failing to recognise their own sin and His divine nature.

Jonah’s story has eternal significance, and despite his sin and failures, it is recorded in the Bible for our teaching and understanding. We, too, are inconsistent in our living, making mistakes and sometimes really messing things up because of our own sin. However, thankfully our salvation rests on the character of God Himself and His unfailing mercy, not on our consistency in Christian living. Perhaps we sometimes wonder why God perseveres with us; our lives are part of a much bigger story that He is guiding and directing, just as Jonah’s life was. By His grace, even our faults and failings can be weaved into something beautiful and of eternal significance in His hands.

Try the UP Look!

I don’t know what sort of a week you’ve had. In many ways I am very well and have had a week filled with the usual highs and lows you might expect – when I say “highs and lows” I don’t mean the earth-shattering types of things, more run of the mill things! I have struggled, though, with a sense of my own inadequacy which if left to fester would lead me to retreat from the world and stay here at home. When I was considering what to write about this week, a chorus came to mind that we used to sing when I was a child at church:

"When the road is rough and steep
Fix your eyes upon Jesus;
He alone has power to keep
Fix your eyes upon Him.
Jesus is a faithful Friend,
One on whom we can depend.
He will keep you 'til the end,
Fix your eyes upon Him!"

Norman John Clayton

Mostly in life, the struggles that I face are not dramatic things that hit hard and cause intense pain, but are rather dealing with the failures I see in myself and how that impacts those around me, and people and circumstances in my life. When I think of the chorus above, it encourages me to keep going and look to Jesus rather than turning my gaze inwards and becoming thoroughly miserable about what I find there.

Another chorus which came to mind earlier in the week was this one:

"When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My guilty soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me."

C Bancroft

This song reminds me to look to the finished work of Christ upon the cross rather than to the sin within. The devil wants us as believers to become so bogged down in our own sin and the problems of our lives that we lose sight of our true state before God, as forgiven by Him and made righteous through the shed blood of Christ. He wants us to lose hope and give up. At times I have felt like that myself, but the Lord has graciously brought me back to His word and the truth which is found there.

Over the years I have had the privilege of attending numerous Bible studies. One of my Bible teachers was great at pithy one-liners! One thing that she said which has stayed with me was this:


All of us need reminding of this when we are distracted by circumstances or our own struggles with sin. Jesus isn’t finished with us yet; the Bible tells us in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Choose to look up today, trusting Him and believing in His promises; He won’t let us down.

“The Truth Shall Make You Free”

I wonder if you’ve ever got the wrong end of the stick about something? Maybe you’ve been given some directions to visit someone and have not heard properly, so you believe that the person lives at number 22 So-and-So Drive, but it’s actually number 32, so you turn up at the wrong address and have to be re-directed. Perhaps you’ve always believed that a pair of trousers you own is a lovely red colour, until you are told that they are in fact green! You have been living with a form of colour blindness and have therefore made some unflattering fashion choices because you simply weren’t able to decipher the true colour. These kind of things are fairly small but still have an impact on our lives and decisions.

What about bigger things which have bigger consequences? Sometimes people are unaware that they have an intolerance or allergy to medicines until it is introduced into their system and important bodily functions are impaired. Once this is discovered, they will have to avoid the substance for the rest of their life if they want to be well. A new truth has been discovered which must be acted upon, otherwise it may have life-threatening consequences.

Similarly, there are consequences to our beliefs in the spiritual realm, which may be far reaching and eternal. Jesus had been speaking with the Pharisees, a leading group of ultra-religious Jews who thought they knew everything there was to know about obedience to God. In fact, they failed to recognise the Son of God when He was standing right in front of them. The Old Testament scriptures had prophesied His coming and how He would live; Jesus’s lifestyle and actions confirmed that He was indeed this coming Messiah, yet they simply couldn’t see it.

At the beginning of John 8, we see Jesus dealing sensitively yet authoritatively with a woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees questioned Jesus’ identity and witness to Himself, to which Jesus replied:

“Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going..” v14

Jesus continued to speak to the Pharisees about their eternal destiny, which would be apart from Him if they continued in their sin. They wouldn’t listen to what He had been saying about His identity and Jesus moved on to speak of His Father:

…He who sent Me is true: and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.” v26b

After describing the kind of death He would endure at their hands, Jesus turned to some Jewish believers and said:

“If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth , and the truth shall make you free.” v31, 32

Assuming that Jesus’ words about Himself were true, then the Pharisees were caught in a powerful delusion and were in bondage to a false notion. Not only that, but the consequences would mean that they would “die in their sins” (v21, 24). This would be a very high price to pay for their refusal to accept the Jewish Messiah who their own Scriptures had prophesied would come exactly when and where He did.

So we’ve seen that the price is high for a false view of Jesus based on His words in that passage. What about believers who do trust Jesus but don’t understand all His teaching? Are there consequences for them for having the wrong idea of Jesus and His message?

This is something I have personal experience of. I became a Christian at the age of 9, by recognising that I was a sinner and that Jesus had died for me. I prayed a simple prayer, saying sorry and asking for His forgiveness, and I believe that Jesus did come into my heart that very day. However, I lacked some assurance about the nature of His love. As I grew up, I continued to read His word, to attend church and go to young peoples’ meetings, etc; I did everything you might expect a professing Christian to do. But I struggled with low self esteem. I was bullied in various settings. I even wondered why God had allowed me to be born if I was only going to be bullied everywhere I went. I did also have friends, but I was always drawn to look at the negatives.

As I got older, I left school with good grades and went on to University to study Psychology. I had it in mind that one day I would be a clinical psychologist able to help people in real need who were hurting for one reason or another. However, I struggled to cope with the workload and when I got back a poor result for an early assignment, I decided to leave. I came home and had a few jobs that were a lot different to how I imagined my life would be! I felt like a complete failure. My old school friends were pressing on with their studies and enjoying University life, but I was a dropout.

Within a few years of this, I had married and had my first child aged 23. In many ways we were blessed with good things, but there were ongoing difficulties which made life hard. I went on to have my second child at 28, but even after this I had a gnawing sense of failure. I wasn’t a good enough wife or mother. I hadn’t made anything of my life. People my age were doing much better than I was (or so I thought). It got to a point where I felt I didn’t want to go on any longer. After all, my children would be better off without me. I still prayed and read my Bible and did all of those things, but nothing positive could get through.

One night I prayed to God in desperation; where was all the joy and peace Christians were supposed to feel and experience? Why was I so miserable? Couldn’t God just give me a terminal disease to end this misery?

What actually happened next change my life for good. One night I went to a church meeting; I felt there was no point in my being there. I didn’t have anything to contribute, I felt I was pretty useless as a church member. My pastor was a long way from where I was in the room. It was my plan to slip in and out without really having to talk to anyone. At the end of the meeting, however, my pastor ran over to me in the foyer of our church and hugged me tight, saying with some urgency, “We love you here, Jesus loves you”. I thought it was a bit over the top, but I knew he was trying to be nice. I went into the car park to drive home, but as I started off he ran over to me and banged on the bonnet of my car. I wound my window down and he asked me a very pertinent question. I was really moved by this; I felt that he knew to run after me and ask this thing through the Holy Spirit. That’s the only explanation I could come up with. My plan had been to go in and out with minimal human contact, but God had another idea.

I cried in the car going home and went round the block a few times until the tears had subsided. When I did get home I remember praying and almost trembling because I knew that God had seen me and knew my distress. I recognised that He was telling me that He did love me! For years and years I had “known” this love in my head, but it had little effect on my life. From that point on I knew His love in my heart. I went to see a Christian counsellor who helped me enormously. I realised that God loved me as I was, that He hadn’t wanted me to hit an unattainable standard of behaviour before He would accept me. The Bible says that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). This truth had been there all along, along with many other verses that speak of His love for His own, but I had never taken them to heart.

These truths about God’s love changed my life. I no longer look to my own performance as a basis of His love for me, but rather to the finished work of Christ on the cross. Really, I repented of my unbelief for all those years. The truth was staring me in the face, but it wasn’t until I was at rock bottom that God dealt with me and I truly understood His love. Knowing the truth has set me free from a lifetime of dashed hopes and forever missing the mark to know the comfort of His enduring love. I pray that you too will experience this in your own lives.

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing:
This is victory.

Kate B. Wilkinson

The Blessings of Light

This time of year can be very gloomy and dark, and unlike the Christmas period there are no pretty fairy lights to lighten the mood! When you get up, it’s dark; when you return from work, it’s dark. There’s the odd sunny day, but many more damp, grey days. Some people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and use light boxes to help them through until the days lengthen.

Everything looks and feels different in the dark. Familiar places and routes appear different and scary, even though we might travel that way regularly. I struggle to make things out in the dark when I’m driving. Things that I know are simply lampposts could be people waiting to cross the road. I find it harder to assess the speed and distance of oncoming vehicles. If I walk in the dark, I feel a bit wary, being anxious in case someone is following me with the will to do me harm. I had to laugh at myself recently when I got into my car to go somewhere one evening and locked myself in, which I do in the dark but not in the daylight, and then suddenly thought, “hold on, what if there’s someone in here and I’ve locked them in with me?”! I laughed thinking about how silly it all was; the likelihood was no-one was in the car waiting to pounce on me, and probably no-one will ever jump into my car at the traffic lights to do anything to me. What is it about the absence of light that affects us so deeply?

Light makes plants grow. Daylight enables us to get on with our life, to see where we are going. Sunshine brings with it warmth and a sense of well-being. When we go into our homes in the dark, the first thing we will do is reach for the light switch. Thank the Lord for the gift of electricity!

This week I have been writing a talk on Revelation 2:18 – 29, which is a letter to believers at a church in Thyatira. The Lord promises Christians who persevere the gift of the “morning star”. I did some research to find out what or who this morning star is, and found a thought-provoking quote in the commentary by Matthew Henry:

“Christ is the morning star. He brings day with Him into the soul, the light of grace and glory.”

This is when I started to think about the necessity of light in our everyday lives, and of what we miss without it. What does it mean that Christ “brings day with Him into the soul”? This implies that without Him our souls are in a state of darkness, of night-time. Like us trying to find our way around in the dark, we are merely groping around for truth but with no guiding light. To know Christ is to see things as they really are. Our eyes are opened and we recognise the folly of trying to make our own way in life, of trying to do it all on our own.

We experience the warmth of His love and the joy of sins forgiven. For the first time in our lives we are truly alive; before, we thought we were living, but now we really are. We recognise the grace of God that has brought this gift of salvation to us, and thankfulness wells up inside us, where once we were completely indifferent.

We know something of the glory of God. When Jesus was glorified before the disciples at the Transfiguration, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mat 17:2). In the early chapters of Revelation when He appears to John on the isle of Patmos, we are told that “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Rev 1:14). No-one can stand before the glorified Christ in their own strength; only through the shed blood of the Lamb will we be made right before Him.

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13 – 14

The darkness of this life need not swallow us up. If we have put our faith in Jesus and trust Him as our Lord and Saviour, not only will we know the light of His presence in our lives today, but one day we will see the “Bright and Morning Star” for ourselves and live in His light eternally.

New Year, New You?

We’ve just celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ over Christmas, and it’s been a time of celebration and feasting. It’s the season to be joyful, we are told, and to think about our blessings. Now, a week later, we find ourselves cast into an ascetic vision of diets, Dry January, or increasingly these days, Veganuary. The papers and TV which just over a week ago were providing tasty recipes for our Christmas dinners are now emblazoned with headlines such as “15 Minutes a Day to a New You”. This happens every single year, so it becomes boring and predictable. I’m sure some of us could do with losing a few pounds, or giving up a bad habit, being more active, etc. But ultimately, how much will our lives be changed? We may feel better that we’ve addressed a particular issue, but what tends to happen then is that dissatisfaction with another area of our lives takes the place of the thing we’ve just dealt with.

Jesus spoke about the issue of the heart and how its sinful desires control us and lead us to behave in ways that are contrary to God’s commands and generally bad for us and those around us. He was speaking to some of the religious teachers of His day, who were picking fault with His disciples for eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands (Mark 7). Jesus did not mince His words and called the Pharisees “hypocrites” (v6). They were more interested in keeping hundreds of extraneous rules than in actually loving God and their fellow-men.

Later, Jesus called a crowd to Him and said to them;

“There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man…..What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” v15, 20 – 22

Our main problem is not that we eat the wrong foods or drink too much, smoke, are lazy, etc. The main problem is a heart problem. Our hearts are selfish and sinful, and therefore we behave wrongly and eat too much, drink too much, can’t control our tempers, etc. Any adjustments we make to our lifestyles will only be skin-deep. We need a heart transplant and the only One with the authority and ability to accomplish that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He went to the cross and died a cruel death in order that anyone who puts their faith in Him might be made new, having a new heart with new inclinations. When we come to Him in faith, we suddenly find new desires for intimacy with Him replacing old ones which only served ourselves. We will still need to rely on the Lord every day to walk in His light, but our old, sinful heart will have been replaced for good.

So as we are bombarded with promises of a “new you” at this time of year if only we follow a certain diet or exercise programme, let’s remember where real change comes from; in fact, Who real change comes from.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

The Enormity of God Wrapped Up in a Tiny Baby

"From heaven You came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled;
Not to be served but to serve,
And give Your life that we might live..."

G. Kendrick

This song reminds me of the glory that the Lord Jesus left behind when He came into our world as a tiny, helpless baby. A later verse in the same song speaks of “Hands that flung stars into space” being surrendered to the cruel nails of a cross. For Jesus, His entering into our world was one of complete submission to the Father’s will and involved an enormous step down that we cannot comprehend.

Jesus did not live His human life in the lap of luxury. He wasn’t born into a palace surrounded by pomp and privilege, with the best in health care and provision for all of His needs. I often think about the contrast between Jesus’s lowly start in life and that of the newest additions to the British royal family. Here, the new royal babies usually begin their lives in a plush private hospital wing, no doubt with the best doctors and midwives in attendance. Outside of the hospital, the world’s media assembles ready to capture the first valuable pictures of the newborn infant as he or she leaves the hospital with the well-groomed royal parents.

Not Jesus. There wasn’t even room in a proper inn, so He was born in a damp stable cave, probably with the smell of animal droppings all around. His mother was very young and his earthly father was a lowly carpenter. There wasn’t a midwife in sight and there certainly wasn’t an en-suite shower room attached! Here we have the King of Kings being born into poverty, while our earthly royal babies enjoy all the luxury and notoriety that their position affords.

Try to imagine the great glory that He left behind in order to do this for us. We can’t really grasp it. We read something of it in John 17 where Jesus prays in the garden before His arrest:

“And now, Father, glorify me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” John 17:5

If you have ever held or cared for a tiny new-born infant, you know something of the smallness and vulnerability of that stage of life. Babies are completely dependent on their adult carers for food, warmth and everything pertaining to life. Can you imagine the One who was there in the very beginning submitting to that fragility? He was there with God as the universe was created and was involved in the whole process.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1 – 3

Look up at the stars on a clear night. Think about how far away some of these constellations are, how massive some of the stars are, how huge and mind-blowing the universe is, and then ponder the fact that this Creator chose to enter into our messy world as a tiny, vulnerable baby! Of course, Jesus didn’t stay a baby. He grew and developed and became a Man; ultimately He became our sin offering as He died upon that cross. Praise God that the grave could not contain Him and this unique Person was raised from the dead, and now He offers forgiveness and new life to all who follow Him.

As you enjoy celebrating Christmas with your family and friends on Wednesday, and perhaps unwrap some special gifts, ponder and consider the greatest Gift of all: Jesus Christ, the infant King.