Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Key to Paul's Ministry and My Life Verse

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 1 Timothy 1:8-12

Within these verses is the key to Paul's ministry and my own life verse.

Many times I've felt, quite rightly, awed by Paul's life and ministry.    Let's look at some of what he did and achieved for the good news of Jesus.

He wrote nearly 30% of the New Testament.  He started at least 14 churches, but more likely he started many more, as not everything he ever did would have been documented in writing.

Paul suffered more than we could ever imagine: persecution, violence, threats, abandonment by his fellow Christian friends, rejection, suspicion...here's just a taster:

[Paul’s Sufferings as Recorded in the Book of Acts]
• His life was threatened in Damascus (Acts 9:23) then again in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29).
• Persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50)
• Threatened with stoning at Iconium and fled to Lystra and Derbe with Barnabas (Acts 14:5)
• Stoned in Lystra, dragged out of the city and left for dead, Paul got up…and went back into the city (Acts 14:19)
• Caused controversy in Antioch (Acts 15:1)
• Fell out with and abandoned by his close friend Barnabas (Acts 15:39)
• Beaten with rods and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16:23)
• Cast out of Philippi (Acts 16:39)
• His life was threatened in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-7, 10)
• Forced out of Berea (Acts 17:23-14)
• Mocked in Athens. (Acts 17:18 )
• Taken before the judgment seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12)
• Caused a riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)
• Plotted against by the Jews in Greece. (Acts 20:3)
• Seized by the mob in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:27-30)
• Arrested and detained by the Romans (Acts 22:24)
• Barely escaped being scourged (Acts 22:24-29)
• Rescued from the Sanhedrin by some soldiers because their commander thought Paul was going to be pulled to pieces (Acts 23:1-8)
• Assassination plot against him (Acts 23:12-22)
• Two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 23:33-27:2)
• Shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta) (Acts 27:41-28:1)
• Suffered a snakebite (Acts 28:3-5 )
• First Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:13-15)

At the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul is suffering his second Roman imprisonment.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28: 'From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.'

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about a ‘thorn in his side’ a ‘messenger of Satan’ which he pleaded with God to remove from him – whether this was a physical infirmity or a person persecuting him God said, ‘My grace is sufficient’. Paul continued to suffer.

In Galatians Paul speaks about suffering an ‘infirmity’ It sounds like he had some kind of problem with his eyes: (Ch 4:13-15)

He writes to the Philippians in Chapter 4:11-13

'Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me'

Paul even found opposition and rejection from fellow Christians. At the end of the second letter to Timothy Paul says this:

'Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.'
2 Timothy 4:9-16

So, what made Paul so sure of God and so sure that what he was doing for God was actually achieving any good when SO much went wrong and he suffered so much? How did he do it all?  How did he keep going in adversity? How did he not collapse from sheer exhaustion and despair? How did he keep his passion and energy?  How did he endure the shame, the imprisonment, the rejection, the slander?

The key is found in verse 12: 'For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.'

Paul knew Jesus, He knew God. Knew Him. He didn’t just know of Him, he didn’t just follow God’s teaching, he didn’t just have good knowledge of the truth, he didn’t just hear people talking about God, he knew Him intimately, though the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we look back at Paul’s life and what he really did suffer it brings new meaning to his words to the church in Philipi:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

Knowing Christ was worth it for Paul, it was His treasure and it was a treasure he sought every single day, forsaking anything that might keep him from Jesus. And as Paul points out later in the chapter , He hadn’t achieved the pinnacle of his relationship with Christ – but he pressed on diligently.

2 Timothy 1:12 is my life verse.  It is the answer to every question of life, questions like: 'What is the point?  Is this worth it?  Is this the right way to go? Why am I floundering? Why am I struggling? How can I do what God has asked?'  The answer is to know Jesus.  To know Him whom we have believed. To know Him.  And as we know Him, to seek to know Him more. He is the answer to everything - life the universe and everything.

And how does God relate to us?  Through love sent in the gift of His Son Jesus (1 John 4:7-10).  And Paul knew this, as he himself taught the Corinthians that we can be awesome, prophetic, prayer warrior, evangelistic, sacrifice our lives to the death kind of people, but without love we are NOTHING. 

And how do we find this love? By knowing Him in whom we have believed. Not head knowledge, but knowing deep within of His love.

'knowledge puffs up but love builds up' 1 Corinthians 8:1

To know God is to know love, and to know love changes us, it enables us too to walk in love and to offer the love of God to others, and thus we spread the Kingdom of God.

'And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.' 1 John 4:16-17

And so I have learned to focus on Him. May I know Jesus more and more, and more and more and more.  That is the answer.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Blood of Jesus


Introduction

The Bible is pretty bloody from beginning to end. There is a lot of talk of blood. In today’s squeamish, squeaky clean times it can be hard to relate to this language of blood.   It can seem barbaric archaic and inexplicable.

There are also a lot of terms used in relation to blood in the Bible: atone, sprinkle, sacrifice, ransomed, redeemed, blood of the Lamb, sanctify, cleansed by the blood, plead the blood…there are many more. But it is so important to understand: the Old Testament is full of it, Jesus talks about it and the apostles referred to it in their letters.

Why Blood?

From the beginning blood has been regarded by God as a most precious thing. From Genesis (Gen 9:4) onward, God said that “The life is in the blood”. This is true medically as well as spiritually. In the human body the blood carries oxygen from the lungs to the cells and organs that need it. Blood carries life around the body, as one website put it, 'Blood truly is the river of life'.   So we breathe in air and the blood carries the oxygen which brings life to the body.

In Genesis 2:7 we read:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” 

Can you imagine that, the very breath of God actually zooming around in your blood? Yes, blood is precious.

Things were great, man walked with God as a friend in the Garden.  But then things went a bit pear-shaped.  You know the story of the two special trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree – except the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned them that if they did so they would die. Despite knowing God, Who is pure goodness, they wanted to know good and evil.  They ate of the fruit.

Now, knowing evil, their lives were darkened by evil desires and intents.

Adam and Eve were now under the sentence of death.  Not just physical death (it was never really about just physical death), but eternal death - separation from the source of life - God.  This was symbolised by Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden and access to the Tree of Life.

So, our first need for blood shed is because we:

Need a Substitute: something or someone to die in our place

In the Garden of Eden God sacrificed an animal and covered them with its skin. God was beginning to paint His picture through the history of man, showing mankind that the “wages of sin is death” (as Paul puts it in Romans 6:23), and that in order to prevent them being put to death for their sins, something has to die in their place (and also they needed a spiritual covering - which I'll look at later)

This is why the Old Testament can seem so bloody. Each time the lifeblood of an animal was shed it was as a substitution – an instead of - for the shedding of man’s lifeblood.

The need for a substitute is prophetically shown in the story of when God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  This is Abraham's longed for, only son, the son through whom God promised Abraham would have countless descendants. So how could God meet that promise if the progenitor is to be put to death!?

As they travelled up towards Mount Moriah, Isaac asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham knew that somehow Isaac would live (Hebrews 11:19), but he didn't fully understand the prophetic truth he spoke as they walked, because God did provide Abraham with a lamb - a substitute for Isaac - for the offering. Abraham named the place “The Lord Will Provide.” (Gen 22:14).

The truth is, God never intended Abraham to sacrifice his only son, but He did always intend to sacrifice His only Son.  Abraham's faith revealed God's faithfulness and was a beautiful prophetic act. Over 2000 years later on that very same mountain, Mount Moriah, Jesus Christ was sacrificed – the LORD did provide a lamb as a substitute for us: Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.

A few hundred years after Abraham, the Law was given by God to Moses, this Law involved the codified sacrifice of animals for sin.  Again, this is God painting us a picture through the story of Israel's history, to show us that the wages of sin is death - but equally that God didn't ever want our death (He is our Father after all).

The law was a picture though of a deeper truth.  The lifeblood of animals would never be enough. In fact the prophets point this over and over in the Old Testament - it's not about the sacrifice, the sacrifice is never enough.  The law shows our sin and the sacrifice points to our need.  What God really wants is changed hearts and lives.

As the writer of Hebrews says in Chapter 10:1-3:

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins.”

The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a shadow – a picture - of the reality found in Christ – they didn’t take away the sin, they just reminded the worshippers that the wages of sin is death and that they needed a substitute to die in their place. The perfect, holy Son of God became flesh and blood. As both God and Man, his blood was not ordinary blood, but was infused with the life of God – the breath of life zoomed around in His blood! Eternal Man, Eternal blood. This sacrifice was big enough for an eternity of sin and big enough to conquer the curse of eternal death.  Eternal life always trumps eternal death: we now have access to the Tree of Life.

Covers and Preserves

I also mentioned that the first sacrifice in the Garden of Eden was used as a covering for Adam and Eve, this symbolised that we need a covering to protect us from God. This might sound surprising, you may question why we would need protection from such a good and loving God.  He is our Father after all. Yes, but He is also utterly Holy and Righteous and Glorious and He is a consuming fire. In our sins we are, as Paul puts it in Romans, enemies of God.

CS Lewis wrote:

“God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger - according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”

God is our Father, and longs for us to draw near.  But we are steeped in sinfulness and sin cannot survive in the presence of the pure good holy fire of God's presence.  To bring us near to God sin needs destroying, but that sin is IN us.  So, in order to destroy sin and not us, Christ who is sinless became sin for us [all our sin was put on/in Him]. We who believe are hidden in Christ. He is our covering and it is His blood that covers us and preserves us.

This is prefigured in the story of the Passover in Exodus. This is another picture God shows us prophetically through the history of Israel. In the story, Israel are God's children, Egypt (as in other places in the Old Testament) represents the world without God.  In the final plague sent on Egypt God said He would pass through Egypt and kill the firstborn of both people and animals as a judgement. But in order that the Israelites didn’t die in the plague, God gave them a covering. They were to sacrifice a year-old male lamb without defect and sprinkle its blood over the door-posts of the house.

God said:

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Ex 12:13)

God didn’t look in those houses to see who or what was in there, He just saw the blood and passed over. We are covered by the blood of Christ, we may be still sinful, we may be still wayward, but under His blood we are safe while the wrath of God against sin passes over. We talk about being ‘saved from our sins’ and we are grateful, BUT let’s be utterly grateful that we are saved from the wrath of God – by the sacrifice of His own Son - because of His great love for us!

As Paul said:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from [God’s] wrath through Him. (Rom 5:8,9)

Those who belong to Christ are covered by His blood. He doesn’t check to see if you’re good enough or holy enough or anything, He sees the blood and we are saved.

Jesus is our Passover Lamb – the lamb of God.

But, God’s bountiful generosity and love doesn’t stop there. Oh yes, because of Christ we are saved from destruction – He died in our place and His blood covers us. We are utterly safe in Him. But God wants more than that. He wants us to have EVERYTHING. And so, this is where Christ’s blood achieves even that with a new covenant:

New Covenant

For us, covenant probably just means an agreement or a treaty. In Hebrew the word covenant is בְּרִית 'berith' – and it has a root meaning of cutting. A blood covenant signifies that it is a covenant through sacrifice until death.

The old covenant was the covenant God gave through Moses; Israel would keep the Law and God would bless Israel, that is, God's blessing was dependent upon Israel's obedience. It was then ratified by the sprinkling of blood.

This kind of covenant only ends when one of the parties dies. God could have ended the covenant by the death of mankind (the eternal separation of mankind from God) and started again. But, instead God sent His only Son, Jesus, who as the second person of the Trinity is God, to die instead. A mystery of which the great reformer Martin Luther said:

“God forsaking God, who can understand it?”

So the old covenant was begun by sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood, and it was ended by Christ’s death.  The new covenant was begun by Jesus' sacrifice and the sprinkling of His blood.

This new covenant confirms a promise God gave to Abraham before the Law of Moses was given. It talks of an inheritance given through faith. For an inheritance to pass to the inheritor, the owner of the estate has to die (rather like a will: you can read about this in Hebrews 9). So for God's promise (the 'will') to be passed on to the inheritors the 'owner' of God's estate (the Kingdom of God) had to die: Jesus.  So Christ died so we could really live a glorious life as inheritors of the Kingdom of God!

As I have already shown, for the covenant to be ratified blood had to be shed. Jesus said:

"For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:28). 

His death and blood shed means we inherit the Kingdom – through grace, by faith alone. It’s a free gift.

This new covenant is a million times better than the old.  I mentioned that under the old covenant God's blessing was dependent upon Israel's obedience?  Now, our blessing in the new covenant is dependent upon Christ's obedience not our own!!  Isn't this unbelievable freedom?  Not a licence to sin of course - sin does no-one any good...but for those of us who regularly trip up (i.e. me! haha) it means a great deal.  This is why the new covenant is such good news.

But even better! Christ rose from the dead, so we get to worship and adore the One Who saved us forever…AND we get to be CO-HEIRS of the Kingdom WITH Him - that is His brothers and sisters!  His friends.  Friends with God!  Wow.

Redeems and Ransoms

And there's more...

Jesus mentioned the ‘remission of sins’ in His statement about the New Covenant. Remission is the cancelling of a debt and Christ’s blood has paid for our debt. Because we sinned we owe God. Under the Old Covenant God showed through Israel and the law that trying to make up for sin through works and sacrifice was slavery.  And yet try as they might this slavery to the Law made sin stronger! (We all know that once something is forbidden or 'bad for us' it seems to waken temptation in us).  God used the law to reveal hidden sin.  Thus anyone under the law is not only a slave to the law but the law reveals we are slaves to sin too. But Christ has ransomed us, and redeemed us!

1. Ransomed: A ransom is an amount paid to release someone kidnapped and imprisoned. Jesus called his life a ransom given for many in Matthew 20: 28 and the payment was His precious blood.

2. Redeemed: Redeem and redemption means to ‘buy-out’. In the Old Testament it was generally applied to purchasing a slave’s freedom from their master. We are redeemed – set-free - from having to follow the law [the old covenant] and from the power of sin. Through the shedding of blood we no longer live under the curse of death for disobedience! We are set free and given the Holy Spirit to enable us to resist temptation and walk in a new life.

Jesus’ blood sets us free!

Forgives our sins

We are not only redeemed from the power of sin by His blood, but our sin is entirely forgiven!

As Paul wrote to the church at Colossus:

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 )

But we are not only forgiven of our sins! We are cleansed too…

Cleanses and sanctifies

In the human body, blood is cleansing, it carries waste such as urea to the kidneys to be expelled as urine, lactic acid to the liver to be broken down and carries carbon dioxide to the lungs to be expelled; blood also has cells that detect and destroy viruses and bacteria and suchlike. Similarly, blood has a spiritually cleansing symbolism in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, the priests and the Tabernacle, had to be sprinkled with blood for symbolic sanctification. Sanctification is the making of something holy – something set-apart for God’s use. We are defiled by sin and Jesus’ blood cleanses us. We are made clean and sanctified – a saint means one who is sanctified, therefore we are saints!

The Bible also tells us that Jesus’ blood washes our conscience clean (1 John 1:7; Heb 10:22). We are no longer guilty, we no longer need to work and sacrifice to pay for our guilt (old covenant), and no longer need to feel guilty. We stand before God completely clean!

Justification

This cleansing is part of justification – in the scripture I mentioned earlier Paul says we are justified by Christ’s blood. God’s justice is satisfied (death for sin has taken place), and now by Jesus' blood we are made the righteousness of God in Christ.  You may remember in the section about how Jesus' blood covers and preserves us I said that Christ became sin for us so that we wouldn't be destroyed in our sin.  Well, the full truth is that Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ.  What a swap!  He gets our sin, we get His righteousness!  We are justified by His blood – a good way to remember this is to say: JUST-AS IF-I’D never sinned. Justified.

Now, there is nothing to separate us from God, in the Bible this is known as atonement.

Atonement

In modern usage atonement means simply ‘making amends’ – making up for some misdemeanour. But the original meaning and the Biblical meaning is reconciliation. The best way to remember this is as a Jewish website put it – AT-ONE-MENT. Being ‘at one’ with someone means to be in close connection with and at peace with them. Atonement reconciles us, brings us back to, and draws us close to, God. And this is God’s greatest longing, the Father wants His children back.

We are told in Leviticus that “it is the blood which makes atonement for the soul”. We have been separated from God by our sin, we need to reconcile our soul, who we are, with God. And as a picture of this God instituted a feast for Israel called The Day of Atonement.

In the Jewish Tabernacle, and after that the Temple, there was an inner part called the Holy of Holies separated from the Holy place by a huge thick curtain. This was where God’s presence rested. It was so holy that only the high priest could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement with sacrificial blood to make atonement for himself and for the people for their sins.

The Temple and the feast was a picture of a beautiful future in the New Covenant. Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary as an eternal High Priest, with eternal blood, once for all. If we sin now we don’t need to sacrifice, His sacrifice was once for all – if we confess our sins He will forgive them simply because we ask! That separating curtain was symbolically torn in two when Christ died on the cross. The way to God is opened up forever. We don’t need to grovel or sacrifice or do penance – we can come boldly to the throne of God to find grace (Heb 4:16) to help us in our time of need always. In fact, because we are 'at one' with our Father and now true children as heirs of the Kingdom we can not only come boldly to the throne, but we can run to our Father with every need and every care - He in turn has promised to never forsake us and to never leave us.

Nothing we do can make us ‘at one’ with God, it is all achieved by the precious blood of Christ.

Brings Life

So, being close to God the source of life brings us life.  We are not only in His presence but He is in us and we are in Him through Jesus. Remember in the beginning I mentioned that God breathed His life into Adam so that the breath of God – spiritual oxygen – coursed around His veins? Well, Christ has restored that – and more! His blood brings life.

Jesus said in John 6:53:

“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

This totally freaked out some of his followers and they left Him. But Jesus didn’t mean a literal drinking of blood – as Jesus says later in that same discourse (v.63) “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing”. And God is Spirit. To drink something in metaphorically you mean really taking something deeply to heart.

So, in the beginning, God breathed His life into Adam and the life of God coursed around His veins, and in John 20:21,22 we read that Jesus breathed that life again into the disciples:

“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit..."

Jesus breathed his breath of life into the disciples, eternal life coursing around their blood.  This is showing us what happens when we truly receive Jesus, we receive His life breath - His spiritual oxygen in our blood. We receive - drink in - His life.  God’s life is now in us, His very DNA in our spiritual veins bringing life to our souls.

But we are in an even better place than Adam, because Christ rose from the dead, returned to the Father and sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit connects us to this life with power.  It's not just in us hidden, we can live it out too.

Pleads

As I hinted at in the part about atonement, we are still subject to temptation to sin, and we sometimes do sin. The tempter is the devil, who appeals to our flesh weaknesses. One of the devil’s names is Satan which means accuser. When we sin Satan points his finger at us and accuses us before God and whispers that same condemnation in our ears.

This is where we might “plead the blood of Christ”. This is rather like a legal plea. If you were accused and taken to court you might plead guilty, not guilty or make a plea of insanity or whatever. If we sin, we can turn from the sin (repentance) and run to our loving Father with boldness and plead the blood of Christ. Instant forgiveness, instant acquittal. Not a desperate pleading with a distant God, but a simple grateful pointing to the blood of Christ: "I am not guilty, but I am not innocent by my own goodness – I can only plead the blood of Christ".

But even better, the blood of Christ pleads for us! Some Christians fear that they might die in their sin, before they have chance to repent. Well, in Hebrews 12:24 it says:

“to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” 

This is referring to Abel’s murder by his brother Cain in Genesis. Abel’s blood cried out to God, a cry of death, condemnation and of vengeance. But Christ’s blood cries out life, mercy, forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation every minute of every day. Jesus' blood pleads for us eternally, we have no need to fear anything.

Overcomes

We also have the victory by the blood of Christ. Revelation tells us we overcome Satan by the blood of Christ! (Revelation 12: 11 ). We are overcomers by the power of the blood! We don’t need to fear anything the devil can throw at us, we are sons and daughters of the living God, His very DNA courses around our veins.

Summing up

So, to sum up:

• We don’t need to fear death because Christ died and His blood was shed instead of ours – He is our substitute;
• We don’t need to fear God’s wrath because in love Christ’s blood covers us and preserves us;
• We have eternal life in God’s glory as heirs of the kingdom of Heaven through Jesus’ blood of the New Covenant;
• We can live in freedom and grace and not under law and condemnation because Christ’s blood was paid as our ransom and our redemption;
• We can live guilt free because Christ’s blood bought us forgiveness and cleansed us from all our sins;
• We are ‘at one’ with the Holy Living God Who loves and offers us grace and mercy daily because of the blood of Christ’s atonement;
• We have the very life of God within us because we spiritually drink in the blood of Christ, empowered by His Holy Spirit;
• We don’t need to fear condemnation or judgement because Christ’s blood pleads for us eternally; and,
• We have the victory because we overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb.

Conclusion

I’ll finish with the words of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon: “The blood of Jesus! sin dies at its presence, death ceases to be death: hell itself would be dried up if that blood could operate there. The blood of Jesus! heaven’s gates are opened; bars of iron are pushed back. The blood of Jesus! my doubts and fears flee, my troubles and disasters disappear. The blood of Jesus! shall I not go on conquering and to conquer so long as I can plead that! In heaven this shall be the choice jewel which shall glitter upon the head of Jesus—that He gives to His people "Victory, victory, through the blood of the Lamb."

And now, is this blood to be had? Can it be got at? Yes, it is free, as well as full of virtue,—free to every soul that believes. Whosoever cares to come and trust in Jesus shall find the virtue of this blood in his case this very morning. Away from your own works and doings. Turn those eyes of yours to the full atonement made, to the utmost ransom paid; and if God enables you, poor soul, this morning to say, "I take that precious blood to be my only hope," you are saved!”

-The Precious Blood of Christ, Charles Spurgeon

Friday, 26 February 2016

On Leadership

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours. 2 Cor 1:24 (Msg)

I love this reworking of Paul's words in The Message, it paraphrases this: "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm." 2 Cor 1:24

This is Paul's leadership style and it is clear from the scriptures that this ought to be the leadership style of the New Testament leader.

It makes me think of the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-24:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’c and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This is Jesus living out an example of the truth, which is that a godly leader leads by example, speaks the truth always, but leaves the transformation in the hands of God.

This is in direct opposition to the general rule of leadership in the world.  Worldly leadership lords it over people. Worldly leadership says, "I'm the boss! I'm the boss!". Worldly leadership drives people rather than leads by example.

Also, note that Jesus doesn't use any motivational techniques, He doesn't use flattery or promises, He doesn't try to coerce, cajole or demand that the young man comply, nor does he chase after him with threats or promises when the man walks away.  Jesus leaves it in the hands of God.  Which is funny in a way, because Jesus is God, and so He could have quite easily zapped that man there and then with some kind of mind-control influence thing. But He didn't, because Jesus did it the right way...always.  So He is therefore always our example of how to deal with a thing.

If most of us are honest with ourselves, what Jesus did was very hard.  When we speak our words of advice it is very difficult when people just ignore them, disagree with them or walk away from us unchanged. But Jesus wasn't a busy-body.  I am guilty of this though.  I think I see a problem, I believe I have the solution (with scriptures to back it up of course!! *smug*) and get gosh-darned annoyed if no-one seems interested! Ha, but that's where humility, gentleness and trusting God comes in.  And Jesus had all those in spades (Matt 11:29).

The disciples learned a few hard lessons along the way.  Thinking amusedly of James and John wanting to call down fire down on a village because the people there wouldn't receive Jesus, "Reject you Lord?  Nuke them all!" - and getting a rebuke from Jesus, "That's not the way we do it lads". Then them wanting to be top-dogs amongst the disciples and getting a gentle admonition from Jesus followed by an amazing teaching on true godly leadership. (Matthew tells us in ch. 20 that they got their mum to ask hahhahahaha - awesome...beware of church people wanting to 'big up' their kids in the church LOL).  Anyway....it is clear that after the cross and the baptism of the Holy Spirit they followed Jesus' example of leadership.

We can see it in Acts 1:1-7 :


In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Firstly, here we have the Twelve working as a group, it seems that the general rule of New Testament leadership is one of group work, not some top-down hierarchy.

Secondly, the Twelve ask the church to decide.  They don't decide.  They don't say, "Make some suggestions and we'll think about it." They trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church - because, durrr, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ (if they truly belong to Him).  They live out the truth from 1 Tim 2:5: "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus".

Thirdly, once the church has decided, the Twelve lay hands, bless them and leave them to get on with it.  They don't micromanage.

And you know what, the church grew!  That's what happens when you leave the Holy Spirit to guide, change lives, bring wisdom...you know, all the stuff our tiny brains can't cope with when left to ourselves.  Because funnily enough, the Holy Spirit sees the big picture.

So, to sum up, we can see that a godly leader
  • Will not make himself 'in charge' of your faith;
  • Will work with you;
  • Will speak the truth and trust God to change your heart;
  • Will not cajole, flatter or pressure you into anything;
  • Will trust you and the wider church to listen to the Holy Spirit and make decisions;
  • Will let them get on with it - i.e. not micromanage;
  • Will not lord it over people; 
  • Will lead by example.
There are a whole host of other things I could write about leadership, but this is just what I was thinking about today.  It's easy to write about, harder to live out.  But by the grace of God we all walk.  Leaders make mistakes, we all do.  But leaders can also damage lives and even destroy churches.  It's a tricky position to be in.  That's why when we have even a tiny bit of influence over someone's life we need to follow Jesus' example.

I'll leave you with these scriptures:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." Mark 10:42-44

"For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matt 23:12

"not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." 1 Pet 5:3 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

FREE Christian Kindle Books (UK)

I love a good bargain - but when things are free...Yay!

Here are some interesting Free Kindle books available in the UK.  I've not read any of them, they just look interesting! :)

* Experiencing Father's Embrace - Jack Frost
























 








* Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God - Jonathan Edwards

A bit of ye olde time fire n brimstone!













Book Review coming soon: Searching for Sunday - Rachel Held Evans.

Happy reading! :)

Monday, 25 January 2016

God's Word is worth the effort

I'm reading the Book of Job right now.  I think it's my least favourite book of the Bible, only because I've never been a huge fan of reading long rambling soliloquies.  I say 'soliloquies' because, honestly, who's actually listening to all that?  It's why I don't read Shakespeare for pleasure. I mean really, stop waffling on and get to the point...and what is the point anyway?

Job reveals my natural impatience.

Too often, when looking at the Bible, we can err towards dismissal of the 'difficult' or the 'boring'. But, to find the hidden treasure we need to dig.  It takes effort, it takes time and we have to delay gratification...oh how we hate to delay gratification these days.  If the Bible was written for today's age, each book would be 140 characters or less.  It would be all sound bites with grainy photos of Biblical characters with hipster beards holding a cups of coffee. #Relevant #Missional #DoingLife #HangingWithJob #Truth

In fact, it is common to be quite self-satisfied in the knowledge that NO-ONE likes to read, for example, Leviticus...as we look round confident of confirmation that we are all one in this universal truth.


And yet, if something is worthwhile (and surely we agree that the Bible is at least worthwhile!) then it is worth the effort.  Digging develops strength, it develops perseverance, it teaches patience.

“As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out toward things unseen.” John H. Aughey, Spiritual Gems of the Ages, 1886.

Then after the effort you reach the treasure.

This is my second time really studying Job, and I am getting so much out of it.  I mean REALLY getting a lot out of it.  I have learned so much and it's made me take a long hard look at myself.  In fact, I am so excited about it I want to tell everyone all I've learned (just a warning in case you know me, you might want to avoid the subject otherwise I am likely to bore you to death with my long soliloquies about the Book of Job hahaha :D ).  All I'll say right now is that I keep penciling in 'Jesus' in the margin.  Everything points to Him and that's the treasure.  The pearl of great price.

The amazing thing about the Bible, about God's Word, is that I know that the next time I study through Job it will be even better and I will discover even more.  And after I've read it twenty times I still won't have understood or gained all that there is to grasp from the text.  It's a HUGE gold mine.

Then I'll talk to someone about it and find out they've learned something different, or they have a different perspective on a verse or chapter, and that's exciting too.

If we claim every book of the Bible is God's Word, we must also admit therefore it must be worthwhile and have a purpose.  If we claim to follow God's Word - Jesus - then we have to accept that the truth of God's Word reveals something to us about the One we follow - and of course the One we follow who IS the embodiment of God's Word reveals the meaning and the purpose of God's Word.

It's all about Jesus - Who points to the Father - Who points to Jesus - Who sends us His Spirit - Who reveals the purpose - which is to point to Jesus - Who points to the Father - ....you get the drift.

So, next time you look at the Bible and think, 'it's too hard', 'it's too long', or, 'what's the point?'  just start to dig.  It's so worth it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A Question of Apologetics

I'm doing a number of Apologetics* lectures in January.  One will be a general overview of Christian apologetics, one will be about Jesus and one will be about the Bible.

[*'Apologetics' is not apologising for anything, it comes from the Greek apologia, which means making a defence. Paul used it numerous times, twice in reference to defending himself, twice in reference to defending the gospel and once in reference to clearing your name in repentance; Peter uses it in 1 Peter 3:15]

Anyway, I have a feeling that most modern apologetics is directed towards questions no-one is asking or is more about people feeling smug that they have all the answers.  So to help me get some interesting stuff for my lectures it would be great to know what people are thinking/wondering.

It would also be great if Christians could also share the things they question the most.  Apologetics is not just about convincing non-believers about the faith, but is a way (I think) of exploring the faith too.

So my question here is:

*What questions do you have about the Christian faith?
*Do you have any questions relating to the existence of God?
*Basically, what questions do you think need answering the most. 

NB: this is not an invitation for arguments about it, just what sort of questions would you say need answering the most?

Comments can be entirely anonymous.  For those who haven't used Blogger before, to leave a comment click on the link at the very bottom of this post which will say 'no comments' or '1 comment', etc.  Enter your comment in the text box then select 'anonymous' from the drop down box - or you can choose one of the others if you have a relevant account.  Then click 'Publish'.

Thank you! 



Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Jesus is the answer...always

"Because dehumanization may be a message of war, but it’s never the message of the Gospel." ~Ann Voskamp.

This made my heart pound a bit, kind of cut a bit deep.

Before I start I must say, this isn't a post of self-condemnation (in case you feel the need to comfort me or something). But rather this is an awakening. God pulls us up about things and something inside just clicks...call it an inner conviction if you like.

Oh my goodness, how easy it is to fall into a trap!

Much as I've been determined not to, I've picked up some bad habits. They kind of sneak up on you and I need to nip it in the bud before it flowers.

I think I've veered recently towards wearing my religious, pious clothes to cover up the fact that I'm not perfect.  Instead it's Jesus who covers my imperfection with his love.

Too often recently I've mentally pointed the finger dismissively at a group of people that I feel aren't living up to BIBLICAL STANDARDSTM; privately perhaps, but once hatred rears it's head... When in truth it's Jesus alone who lives up to the standard...and I certainly don't.

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Matt 9:13

Too often I'm like the pharisee saying, "Thank you Lord that I'm not like XYZ..." (Luke 18:9-12). When Jesus replies, "Well then you need to be humbled".

Too often I find I'm reacting to news in fear and a state of self-protection.  When Jesus tells me to live in love with an open heart and hand.

I've subconsciously dehumanised those I feel are somehow less worthy, less good, less 'Christian' than me.  When God loves the whole world.

I think I've fallen into the trap that Isaiah bemoaned, those who fall into the trap of acting all holy
but aren't actually practically lifting a finger to help those who need it (which is the real definition of holiness).

"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." James 1:27.

Isaiah said (Ch. 58:5ff),  

You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
[Note: for modern application, insert whatever activity/speech makes us think we look particularly perfectly 'Christian' here]
    Do you really think this will please the Lord?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.


I ask myself, am I living the gospel - the GOOD NEWS?  Or am I proclaiming bad news?  Do I dwell on the bad news? Do I think other people are the 'bad news'?

Am I speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)? Am I being a peacemaker (Matt 5:9)? Am I reacting in fear or in love (1 John 4:18)? Am I casting stones from inside my glass house? (John 8:7)?

Would someone who hears me speak or reads what I write be fearful of visiting my church or sharing their struggles with me?  Do I offer the hope of Jesus?  Do I?  It's something I need to ponder more.