You Should Read This Blog

My flatmate Dave has started writing an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable blog and if you have any sense you will read it.

Dave is attempting to blog about the world from a Christian perspective but for a target audience of people who don’t consider themselves to be Christians, which means it’s a good read for anybody and everybody, and is bound to give you food for thought. It’s also just a lot of fun.

Dave’s a classically trained musician with a great love of power ballads and Disney movies, currently working as a computer programmer. He is also generally a stand up chap and I am very thankful to God for him and my other flatmate Paul, who doesn’t currently have a blog.

Unshakeable, Unchangeable

Why Jesus Is My Hero #39 of 52

Things rarely remain the same for very long in this world: favourite restaurants come under new management who callously change the menu; favourite beauty spots in the countryside get bought up by property developers who turn them into housing estates; friends and family members drift apart, and we lose touch with people who were once close companions.

But there is one person who remains unchangeable: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

In his sinless perfection, Jesus’ nature and character aren’t liable to change. The Jesus we can relate to today as Christians is the same Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Certainly his situation has changed: he’s now seated at the Father’s side in heaven, ascended and glorified in a way that he never experienced during his time on earth. But it hasn’t changed his loving character. If it were you and I who were given such honour and authority, I’m pretty sure it would have gone to our heads and turned us into ruthless monsters on the ultimate power trip. But Jesus is the same meek, humble, servant-hearted, loving Lord he was when he walked to his death on the cross.

Some people accuse Christians of being out-of-date and out-of-touch with the modern world – times have changed, they say, and we need to revise our views and our ethics in the light of it. But if Christianity is first and foremost a relationship with a person, Jesus, then the more important question isn’t whether the times have changed, but whether that person has changed – has he revised his views on what he loves and what he hates, what pleases him and grieves him? But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever – there is no shifting or changing with him – and so Christians seek to please him in the same way today that they did long before the Internet and the 60s and vanilla ice cream came along.

The writer to the Hebrews applies his truth in this way: “Jesus Christ is the same… Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings”. If Jesus hasn’t changed, nor should our views on right and wrong, on the nature of the world and of who God is.

But it also means we can have huge confidence for the future – Jesus will always love those who trust in him, he will always be interceding for us at the Father’s side, he will surely fulfill his promises and return one day to bring us to be with him. None of his fundamental characteristics like his trustworthiness or his faithfulness to his word are ever going to change. Hurrah!

Pleasing God

Greek Temple Ruins

I’ve been blown away recently thinking about the Bible’s teaching that Christians are able to please God through their lives and their actions. Allow me to try and explain.

A little group of us were studying Haggai chapter 1 the other day. The prophet Haggai was living in a time after the people of Israel had begun to return from exile to a Jerusalem that lay in ruins. They started to rebuild God’s temple there, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years earlier, but a combination of opposition and general selfishness meant that they gradually lost enthusiasm for the project and it more or less ground to a halt. Along comes Haggai and delivers this message from God:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:7-8)

“Get off your lazy backsides and get building!”, says God. But in doing so, he says something which seems to me to be quite remarkable: “I want to be able to take pleasure in this temple you’re going to build – this tangible symbol of your obedience and your love for me.” God will look at the temple and heave a big sigh of contentment and delight, taking pleasure in his people who built it.

Amazing! I tend to think of God in a very “static” kind of way – he is who he is and that’s just the way it is. But the Bible consistently teaches that the way we act matters to God – we can grieve him by our sin and we can delight him by our acts of faith. Now, of course, it’s important to say that we can’t “please God” in the sense of earning his love by trying really hard to be good. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him”. Or as Romans 8:8 puts it, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Through faith in Christ, united to Jesus, we can actually bring pleasure to God by living godly lives in line with his will. Ephesians 5:10 puts it like this:

“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”

That’s a pretty good life motto. Try to figure out what’s going to please the Lord. In whatever situation I’m in today, how can I please the Lord in this?

I think it gives real meaning to even the most mundane of moments. Struggling to find joy in your work? Well, try to discern how you can do your job in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Finding relationships difficult? What’s going to be pleasing to the Lord in this situation? Finding church a bit of a battle at the moment? What’s going to bring pleasure to the Lord in the way you relate to your brothers and sisters there? Battling away with a particular sin that never seems to go away, and wondering why you’re even bothering? Take heart – when you overcome by faith in the power of his Spirit, you can pleases God.

What are you living for at the moment? Who are you trying to please? I’m very challenged by all this to try day-by-day to fix my eyes on God and how I can live in a way that pleases him, and it really encourages me to keep on battling sin even when it seems like an utterly thankless task. What a thought, to know that God might actually take pleasure from those little acts of obedience prompted by my faith.

God’s Glory vs My Comfort

Why Jesus is My Hero #38 of 52

I’m not always great at having quiet times, and sometimes when I’m struggling to muster enthusiasm I like to try and dip into one of the Psalms as something slightly gentler. This morning I was reading Psalm 57, which I found really encouraging.

Psalm 57 is described in the headline as “A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” In the rest of the Bible it’s generally worth mostly ignoring the section headers, since they’re added in later by editors who are trying to be helpful but are often simply misleading. But in the Psalms those introductory sentences are genuine originals, and often give important contextual information. In this case, it’s a Psalm written by David – the one who would go on to be one of Israel’s greatest kings – but it was written before he was crowned, whilst his predecessor King Saul was still on the throne. Saul was a jealous man who viewed David as a threat to his power, and he spent much of his latter years chasing down David and trying to have him killed. The fact that this Psalm was written in the midst of that, whilst hiding from Saul in a cave, gives real poignancy to David’s words. This was no idealistic daydreaming from someone who fancied himself a bit of a poet. This is the outpouring of a heart right in the thick of it.

So it’s amazing how utterly God-focused it all is. If I were hiding in a dingy cave from a murderous tyrant I’d be full of talk like “what are you doing God?! Get me out of here, now!!” Instead, David’s longing remains firmly fixed on seeing God’s name glorified: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (v5)

David is utterly confident that he can trust himself to God and that God will do what’s best. “God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (v3) God’s love and his care are utterly unwavering – and he has the sovereign power to back up his good intentions to. Hence the note of confidence behind David’s prayers: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me.” (v2) Whatever the outcome, David knows it will be for the best. It won’t necessarily be comfortable and straightforward. It certainly doesn’t mean that Saul gets struck down dead in an instant so that David is safe again – it took many years before Saul’s rule came to an end. But it does mean that David could trust God to care for and provide for him.

And ultimately, David’s heart is not about his own safety, but about God’s glory. He knew that God’s motive in caring for him and protecting him was not first and foremost so that David would feel better. God’s primary motive in acting on his behalf was so that David would have cause to praise Him – so that God would get the glory. David so loved God that he longed to see God’s name exalted – for his glory to be over all the Earth. He longed to have a better reason to praise God’s name – to have yet another story to tell around the camp fire of God’s grace and provision at work in his life. A right concern for God’s glory gave him the strength to persevere through suffering in the present without descending into grumbling and despair.

Yet as you read Psalm 57 you can’t help but feel echoes of another king in David’s line who was also pursued to death by his enemies – the Lord Jesus.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts–
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords. ” (v1-4)

As Jesus hung on the cross, surrounded by those who hated him, despised and mocked by all and sundry, he was able to entrust his soul to his almighty Father. He endured the cross because ultimately he valued God’s glory above his own comfort. His desire was not to be spared pain, not to be immediately rescued, but to see God’s name exalted above the heavens. That might seem like a cold and dispassionate concept, except that God’s glory is bound up in our good – God is glorified as we have cause to praise him. And three days later, as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he had some pretty serious reasons to praise God!

I found myself really challenged in the way that I think about my life, and about prayer. How much do I really value God’s glory above my own ease and comfort? How confident am I that God will work all things for my ultimate good, even if it hurts in the short term? I pray that my heart will be changed, and that as someone who is united to Jesus I’d be able to pray with that same sense of confidence: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me.”

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!

A Message of Hope For Bad People

Why Jesus is My Hero #37 of 52

The heart of the Christian message is the message of forgiveness. There are plenty of religions and philosophies of life out there for good people – people who think they’re good might get on well with Buddhism or Islam. Say your prayers, do your meditations, try to be nice to people and generally feel a bit better about yourself when you see other people royally stuffing up their lives – “at least I’m not that bad”. Even vegetarianism or a strict diet can be a good opportunity to look down our noses at other people who don’t have as much will power as us. There are plenty of religions out there for good people.

But what if you’re not a good person? What if you’re a failure, or a loser? What if you’ve stuffed up and you know you’ve stuffed up? What if you’re the kind of person that would never fit in in a club full of good people? The kind of person that people would stare at in disbelief if you dared to show your face in a prayer meeting?

Well that’s exactly the kind of person that Jesus came for. Christianity is a message of forgiveness for bad people – it’s good news for rotten sinners who know they could never be good enough to please God by their own efforts. Jesus is a saviour for bad people who are honest enough to admit they’re bad.

We meet just such a woman in Luke 7:36-50. She’s a notorious “sinner” by reputation – everybody knows what kind of woman she is, and it’s clear to all that she doesn’t stand a chance in the religious rankings. And yet when she has an encounter with Jesus, she discovers that he came to forgive people exactly like her. The joy of being forgiven a debt that she could never possibly hope to pay back overflows from her in an embarrassingly lavish expression of love towards Jesus:

“when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

Jesus explains her behaviour like this: “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little”. It’s not that her love earnt her forgiveness – that much is clear from the rest of the passage. Rather, it is evident how much she has been forgiven – and how much she knows she’s been forgiven – from just how thankful towards Jesus she is. By contrast, Simon the Pharisee, who clearly considers himself to be in a much better place before God, shows very little affection towards Jesus, being barely aware of how much he needs to be forgiven.

Christianity is a message of forgiveness for bad people. The life of a Christian is all about thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us, about rejoicing in what he’s done, and looking forward to a future with the One who’s saved us. Life goes so much better when we remember that – when we keep reminding ourselves of what we deserve, and how merciful and gracious God has been to us. Thankfulness, thankfulness, thankfulness – more and more I’m beginning to see that thankfulness is the key to our contentment. May we never forget how much we’ve been forgiven.

Someone To Give Us Hope

Why Jesus is My Hero #36 of 52

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy recently, and about hope. I’ve realised that the New Testament talks a lot about joy and about rejoicing, and yet it doesn’t really register as a concept in my consciousness very often. And it’s linked very closely with the idea of our hope. Take this passage from Romans, for instance:

“Isaiah says,

‘The root of Jesse will come,

even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;

in him will the Gentiles hope.’

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:12-13)

God is described as “the God of hope”. That should give us a clue that it’s an idea God considers pretty important – that it’s somehow bound up with his very identity. Paul’s prayer is that the Romans would be filled with joy and peace as they believe the gospel, so that they abound in hope.

So what’s going on here? Firstly, I think it’s important to establish what kind of hope we’re talking about. He doesn’t mean a vague and fluffy kind of ‘hope’ – “I hope it won’t rain today”, when what we really mean is “it looks as though it probably will rain today, and that would be a shame”. When Paul talks about hope here, he means the sure and certain confidence of something that’s in the future – the hope of Romans 5:5: “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We abound in hope as we grow in our confidence that Jesus really will return and deliver those who trust in him from our bondage to decay – that a day is coming when we will be conformed to his image as we assume our resurrection bodies in the presence of God the Father.

Hopefully you can see why that would be tied up with a sense of joy and peace in the present! No matter what trials we face in the present, no matter how conscious we are of our sinfulness and our halfheartedness and of the challenges that are bound to confront us on the journey, if we know where we’re headed and we trust the one who’s going to bring us there, we can rejoice in our sufferings now. We can have peace about our situation. There is an end in sight! It doesn’t mean we’re glib in the face of real hardship – it doesn’t mean we smile and laugh as though everything is fine when really nothing could be further from the truth. But it means we know that suffering won’t get the last laugh, that our trials aren’t forever. That God really is good, even when it’s hard to imagine what he could possibly be up to.

So as we struggle with the challenges of today, I’m realising more and more how God calls us to respond with joy. To give thanks for the gospel afresh, to remind ourselves of the glorious future that awaits us in the New Creation, and to rejoice that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Putting Himself Last

Why Jesus is My Hero #35 of 52

Another new year begins, and yet we’re still the same old us. Yet another Christmas reminds us once again how sinful and selfish we are, as family tensions rise to the surface and arguments break out up and down the land.

January 1st is often a good opportunity to take stock and reflect on the year gone by and think and pray about what lies ahead. But such reflections often take place in the context of a renewed awareness of our own sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s both encouraging and challenging, therefore, to be reminded of Christ’s example to us:

“For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me'” (Romans 15:3)

How many of those Christmas arguments could have been avoided if we’d all taken the same attitude – seeking not to please ourselves and have our own way, but to lay aside our rights and put the needs of others first. If we’d sought first and foremost to please our Father in heaven and act in a way that honoured him, rather than seeking to preserve our own misplaced sense of honour.

Jesus’ desire to please God rather than himself can be seen in all manner of ways right throughout his life – from his willingness to leave the glory of heaven and be born in a mangy stable, to his life of selfless sacrificial love, through to his struggles in the garden of Gethsemane as he contemplated the anguish of the cross. At any moment he could have turned back from the path that lay before him and decided to put his own interests first. Yet he persevered, knowing exactly what it would cost him.

So this New Year, who are you going to seek to please? In whatever decisions you face this year, whose interests will come first? And every time we fail, when we end up aiming to please ourselves rather than to please God, may we come back to the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus on our behalf, and find the forgiveness that we so desperately need.