The Love That Surpasses Knowledge

How Jesus is My Hero #51 of 52

From my quiet time on Friday – Ephesians 3:14-19:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Greater than any human love is the love of Christ – a love that surpasses knowledge. I think this is an awesome prayer from Paul – that we could be strengthened to know that which is inherently beyond knowing. Even the tiniest little glimpse of Christ’s love is greater than the full extent of human love. And yet wonderfully, graciously, human love does give us a little picture of the greater reality, as we bear God’s image and so reflect a little something of his glory. Here in these verses we see that a human father shows us something of the true Fatherhood of God, and then a few chapters later we see how husband and wife reflect the union of Christ and the church. But these are only tiny glimpses, pale reflections that are as nothing compared to the reality they point us to.

The Greatest Blessing

Why Jesus is My Hero #50 of 52

I’m getting married on Saturday. It feels a bit surreal that it’s quite so soon all of a sudden, having been waiting for it for months and months. Suffice it to say, I am very excited about this fact.

But I’ve had some good reminders recently that it’s not the most exciting thing going on in my life. Marriage is just a picture of the much cooler blessings that are coming to those who are Christians, and in Christ the good God who gave the gift of marriage has given us blessings far beyond comparison. Listen to the Apostle Peter:

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10)

In Christ, God the Father has called Christians out of darkness into his marvellous light. Not out of singleness into his marvellous state of marriage. Not out of unemployment into his marvellous world of work. Not out of low self-esteem into his marvellous place of confidence in who I am. But out of darkness into his marvellous light – we were saved from God’s wrath and ignorance of him and an eternity of hell so that instead we could enjoy life forever in his presence, adopted as his children, living his way with all the blessings of life with him poured out upon us.

Getting married may well be one of the greatest temporal blessings I’m likely to ever enjoy in this life, and so it’s only right that I should be not a little excited and very very thankful to God. But ultimately it is only for this life, and I need to keep reminding myself of the much greater eternal blessings Jesus has won for me at the cross. As Peter writes a little later on, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The Lord’s Chosen Servant

Why Jesus is My Hero #49 of 52

Isaiah 42:1-9:

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,

who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people on it

and spirit to those who walk in it:

‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;

I will take you by the hand and keep you;

I will give you as a covenant for the people,

a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.

Behold, the former things have come to pass,

and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth

I tell you of them.'”

I’m not really sure what I can add to this totally awesome passage about why Jesus is so fab.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes makes much of v3 in his book “the bruised reed”: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench”. It really brings out Jesus’ tenderness and gentleness with his people – as Psalm 103:14 puts it “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Being a Christian isn’t all about being perfect all the time and never messing up – it’s about trusting in a great saviour who paid a great price to forgive us a great debt so that we can live a grateful life. However bruised we feel, however much we feel like the flame is about to die out altogether, Jesus knows our need and he longs for us to run to his grace-filled arms for strength.

I rather like v4 as well: “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” Here is someone who will not rest until his purposes have come to pass, and being God he will never run out of enthusiasm or patience before achieving his goal. “Justice” here is a picture of the created order being brought back in line with God’s will – of all of the effects of the fall being reversed and things being set straight that formerly were crooked. What a great day that will be, and what a relief for bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks!

“I am the Lord; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.”

The Long Promised King

Why Jesus is My Hero #48 of 52

On Thursday voters across London were turning out to choose their candidate for Mayor, and there were also many local council elections across the country. Yet however enthusiastic we are about the concept of democracy, it can sometimes be hard to get especially excited about local elections – sometimes there’s a sense that we’re voting for people we’ve never heard of into positions of very limited authority (but as somebody who’s about to do a Bible study on Romans 13 next week, let me encourage you that you should still vote!)

Yet there is one leader that we should be very enthusiastic about – God’s anointed king, his Messiah. King David was one of Israel’s greatest kings, ruling a united nation at a time of unprecedented political and economic power, and who most importantly had a healthy relationship with the Lord God. David has this bright idea that he’d like to build God a house – a temple for his name to dwell in – but it turns out that God has other ideas. God turns it around and says he’s going to build David a house instead – an eternal dynasty that will know no end:

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever.'” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

This passage is the foundation for all of the Messianic expectation that follows in the rest of the Old Testament – this sure and certain promise from God that he’s going to raise up a ruler in the line of David to sit on the throne forever. Superficially it looks like it might be referring to David’s son Solomon, and indeed there certainly is a partial fulfilment through him. But at the same time there is much about the ruler described here that seems to go beyond any merely human king.

When Jesus shows up on the scene in Mark 1 he announces “The kingdom of God is at hand” – because at last, after years of waiting, the king of that kingdom has arrived. Read the book of 1 and 2 Kings sometime and you find yourself being perpetually frustrated, as king after king fails to obey God as they ought, bringing ruin and disaster on themselves and the nation as a whole in the process. It’s heartbreaking to see the prosperity that Israel had under Solomon, only to see him throw it all away as his heart turns away in idolatry and goes after the foreign gods of his many wives. As much as we like to complain about our leaders, it’s God’s grace and mercy to give them to us for our good. But our supreme good is found in our supremely good leader – Jesus Christ, the true son of David. He’s the one king we can depend on – his heart remains eternally true to his Father in heaven, and through his resurrection from the dead we know he will never die again. Unlike the temporary prosperity enjoyed under Solomon’s reign, the blessings of being part of Jesus’ kingdom will never end, because his godly rule will never cease.

That’s why Jesus is my hero – because he’s exactly the kind of ruler I need: one who will remain wholly true to the Lord his God for all eternity, selflessly ruling over his kingdom for good forever.

The Downsides of Cohabitation

Interesting article on the potentially detrimental effects on a relationship of living together before you’re married from the New York Times:

“I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.”

(-HT Tim Challies)

The Kindness and the Severity of God

Why Jesus is My Hero #47 of 52

Have you ever heard people make a distinction between the seemingly vengeful, angry God of the Old Testament and the kind, loving God of the New Testament? What is God actually like? Which picture of God are we to believe?

In reality it’s an entirely false distinction – time and time again, both the Old and the New Testaments emphasise both of these aspects of God’s character side by side: both the kindness and the severity of God, the mercy of God side by side with the holiness of God.

Numbers 16 is a good representative passage. The constant grumbling of the people of Israel as they wander through the wilderness has finally broken out into outright rebellion against Moses & Aaron, and ultimately against God himself.

“They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'”

The passage stresses that this grumbling and rebellion is a very serious matter. Grumbling is highly addictive and can spread rapidly throughout a community – instead of responding to God in humble submission and thankfulness for what he had done, all they could see was the negatives and how they wanted things to be different.

As events unfold, it quickly becomes apparent just how offensive this kind of grumbling is to God:

“Moses said, ‘Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.'”

It’s a deeply sobering passage as we see God acting in judgement against the sin of the people. God clearly displays his severity.

And yet God also displays his kindness:

“Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”

God provides Moses and Aaron to intercede on behalf of the people, and provides a way for the people’s sin to be atoned for – that is, something to turn aside God’s anger and allow restored relationship to take place.

The God of the New Testament is exactly the same God we see in this passage. Nowhere are these two aspects of God’s character, his holiness and his mercy, more clearly demonstrated side by side than at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross God shows us more starkly than ever just how serious our sin is, that he can’t simply sweep it under the carpet, that it must be judged according to the holy purity of God’s character – in giving up his one and only Son to die, God shows that there is simply no other way. Yet God also proves his mercy beyond doubt, in punishing his Son in our place so that we can be forgiven, so that we can go free. He died the death that we deserved – his death atoned for us, if we’ll trust in him. Like Aaron and his censer, Jesus’ cross stands between the dead and the living and makes all the difference in the world.

The kindness of God, and the severity of God, side by side, shown at the cross. It’s a thought that should deeply humble us, as we recognise the seriousness of our sin, and how deeply it grieves God. But it’s also a thought that should make us profoundly grateful, as we rejoice in the free and full forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ – that we don’t need to pay the penalty for our sin ourselves, because it’s already been dealth with.

Fretting and Procrastination – What They Have In Common

anxiety disorders

I’m an accomplished procrastinator, and yesterday I did a fair bit of fretting as well, and I’ve come to an important realisation about what these two traits of mine have in common, with some big implications for how to deal with them: both procrastination and fretting ultimately involve wasting time being anxious about a problem rather than dealing with a problem.

Firstly, some definitions:

  • Procrastination is when you know you’re supposed to be doing something, but it just seems too much like hard work, so you put it off and waste time doing something less important that you’d rather be doing instead.
  • Fretting is when you’re anxiously thinking about a situation and all the ways in which it might go wrong and all the problems that might arise and what about this and what about that and… agh, make it stop!

I’ve written before that the root of so much of my procrastination is uncertainty – for example why I never seem to be able to bring myself to wash up my parents’ teapot when I go to visit:

“The reason I always left the teapot is that I never quite knew what to do with it – it clearly needed some kind of cleaning action applied to it and yet it was so grimy and dirty inside and I didn’t really want my future cups of tea to taste of washing up liquid and I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with it and – Agh! Uncertainty. My brain gets scared and shuts down and prefers to leave it rather than figure it out and deal with it.”

For me, procrastination is a fear of what would actually be involved in solving the problem I’m avoiding. It’s running scared instead of embracing the problem and getting on with it.

And I’ve realised that fretting is exactly the same. When facing a potentially stressful situation, there are two possibilities:

  1. The situation is entirely outside of my control, and no amount of fretting is going to prevent the situation going wrong. In this situation I just need to pray and entrust it to God, knowing that he is good and that he loves me and that if things go wrong it’s only because he permitted it.
  2. Or maybe there is something I could do to address the situation, maybe being prepared for some of the ways it could go wrong, maybe asking some sensible questions of the people who know the situation better than I do, anything at all to actually get on with addressing the source of the anxiety. In this situation, I should probably just get on and deal with things.

But in neither situation is anything achieved by sitting there and fretting! Just like procrastination, fretting is running scared instead of embracing the problem and getting on with it.

Being anxious isn’t just a personality quirk – I firmly believe that it is an expression of my sinfulness. It’s a failure to trust God for the future, and to get on and do what I can to serve him in the present. Realising this fact has been a helpful step towards growing less anxious, by his grace – even if there is still an awful long way to go!

Book Review: Walking With Gay Friends

The following is a guest post by my friend Dave.

Has anyone ever asked you to change?

Not just your clothes – though that could be part of it. Has anyone ever asked you to change your behaviour?
Has anyone ever asked you to change not just your behaviour, but the way you think?
Has anyone ever asked you to change not just your behaviour and the way you think, but also the things you believe and the feelings you have?
To change your behaviour, the way you think, your beliefs, your feelings, the people you hang out with, the places you go, and the dreams you have for the future?
To dump your partner, to ditch the friends who love you the most, to turn away from the only people who seem to understand and support you, and to eradicate pretty much everything that makes you you – your entire identity?

If you can answer “no” then you are probably not a gay person investigating the Christian faith.

We all know that homosexuality and Christianity are not particularly amicable companions. While tempers are especially high at the moment, in the wake of the government’s proposals to allow gay marriage, historically neither side has tended to come to the debate demonstrating a great deal of tact, respect or understanding. In a recent article on the Guardian website, one group’s viewpoint was described as a rampant, sickening plague. In this particular case, that was the author talking about a church – but we’ve all seen the same sort of language wielded by self-professed Christians against the gay community. “Objections to equal marriage rights are, as ever, only bigotry hastily smeared with religious justification”, claims the author of the article, and, sadly, that can often be the case. Even smart, well-educated, Biblically-knowledgeable Christians can be hopelessly bigoted, ignorant, or just painfully insensitive when it comes to issues of same sex attraction.

Which is why every evangelical Christian should read Alex Tylee’s short book “Walking with Gay Friends“.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any.

For one thing, you may. Same sex attraction issues are common, and most Christians who wrestle with them don’t tend to shout about it. Would you?

For another thing, the storm brewing around the marriage proposals means that more and more people are going to be taking note of what the church has to say on the subject. It is vital that there are at least a few Christians out there who can navigate the turbulent course between the twin evils of Bible-denying liberalism and Bible-distorting homophobia.

Thirdly, even well-meaning Christians, who have thought through the issues, and know how to argue against homosexual practices from the Bible (which means not just crying “The Bible says it’s wrong”, but being able to show how the Bible says it’s wrong), can still be guilty of gross insensitivity toward their struggling brothers and sisters. If you can’t see how the questions at the start of this post relate to this topic, for instance, then you definitely need to read the book. Telling someone that they need to “stop being gay” if they want to become a Christian is not like telling someone they need to stop swearing, or wearing short skirts, or beating up pensioners. There are deep issues of identity involved that will require huge amounts of love, support, understanding and encouragement to work through.

(It’s worth saying that even the top guys mess this stuff up. Around three thousand Christian men recently went to the London Men’s Convention, for an excellent day of Bible teaching, praise and fellowship. Estimates vary hugely as to what proportion of the population experience homosexual urges, but in a group of three thousand there could have been anywhere from 30 to 300 (or more) men there for whom this is a painful battle. Inside the complimentary booklet, Evangelicals Now chose to run a full-page advert featuring a buff, topless man. One of my friends commented that it looked like the cover of a gay magazine.)

Walking with Gay Friends is subtitled “A journey of informed compassion”, and it’s the word informed which, I think, is this book’s strongest recommendation. Written with an insider’s perspective on same sex attraction issues, the book gives the heterosexual reader an eloquent and frank insight into the pains and sacrifices a homosexual person faces when called to be obedient to the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality. Alex includes many quotes from Christian strugglers, highlighting some of the good and bad experiences they have had at the hands of their church families, and while there are some encouraging descriptions of things going well, the overall picture that emerges is of a church family that doesn’t seem to know how to understand their struggle or how to support them in it. A church that is generally ill informed.

In all the debate, it’s easy to lose sight of an important truth: the greatest problem that a gay person faces is the same problem that faces us all. We are all equally guilty in God’s sight – all of us, straight or gay, need to turn to Christ for forgiveness. Gay people need the gospel as urgently as everyone else. And this is why the church desperately needs to be better informed. Because someone who is dealing with the burden of homosexuality naturally wants to find a group who will care for them, encourage them, understand them, and make them feel accepted and wanted. And at the moment it’s the gay community who are fulfilling that role, not the church.

Please read this book.


Reconciled

Why Jesus Is My Hero #46 of 52

Do you ever take it for granted that God would be on your side? That if there is a God out there, and if you could ever find a way to meet him, that he’d be really thrilled to see you? Maybe you’ve spent your whole life trying to live for him, so of course he’s a really big fan of yours!

Well the Bible says that by rights, in a world where people get what they deserve, God should be decidedly against us. By nature, there exists hostility and enmity between God and us. I phrased it that way deliberately: hostility from God towards us, as God rightly stands in judgement against our instinctive hostility towards him. As Romans 1 puts it: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

So we have a problem. It doesn’t matter how much we try and seek God, how many good works we do or how much money we try and donate to worthy causes – if we’re trying to get to God by our own efforts, then we can never overcome God’s hostility towards people who have treated him with the contempt which we have all shown towards him. The hostility is on God’s side, the wrath belongs to God, and so any solution has to come from and originate with God.

This is precisely why the message of Good Friday is such good news, as we discover that on the cross God was providing a way to remove the hostility that existed between us, and to allow for reconciliation to occur – for us to be restored into a loving relationship with him. The apostle Paul describes it like so in this wonderful passage, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.


… All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

On the cross, God’s wrath against our sin was poured out on the innocent, Jesus Christ. He absorbed that hostility that we deserve so that if we commit ourselves to him, God might now treat us as his friends – more than that, as his children! It means we can pray to him with confidence, trust him to act towards us in love for our good, enjoy spending time listening to him as he speaks to us in his word, delight in the gospel of peace full of the hope of eternal life. None of these are things that we can take for granted – none of these are privileges that we should be able to enjoy by rights. We were by nature children of wrath, and only by his grace are we now made children of light.

That’s why Good Friday is such good news, and that’s why Jesus is my hero.

Jesus Was Innocent

Why Jesus Is My Hero #45 of 52

We don’t often think about it like this, but at the end of the day, Christians follow a condemned criminal. Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a Roman cross on charges of treason against the Emperor, amidst additional accusations of blasphemy. If there’s any truth to these claims – if Jesus was rightly condemned as a criminal – then the whole Christian faith is a complete sham and holds out no hope of salvation whatsoever.

It’s no wonder, then, that in his gospel – designed to bolster the confidence of doubting Christians – Luke should be at such pains to stress the complete innocence of Jesus. His account of the accusation states it again and again, designed to show us that Jesus is utterly above reproach in the matters under examination. Pilate’s initial investigations prompt him to decree “I find no guilt in this man.” After trying to abdicate responsibility to a thoroughly ambivalent Herod, he is forced to respond like so:

“After examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” (Luke 23:15-16)

Even the criminal on the cross next to Jesus is presented as a witness by Luke, stating “this man has done nothing wrong”, and then to wrap up the passage, we have the Roman centurion declaring “Certainly this man was innocent!”

It’s hard to miss the point that Luke is making: yes Jesus was executed on a cross, but it wasn’t because there was the least shred of evidence against Jesus. He was completely innocent of wrongdoing. If Jesus died on the cross, it’s only because he allowed it to happen – only because he chose to die. That’s clear from way back in chapter 9 of Luke, where after Jesus has predicted his death, we read that “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. ” (Luke 9:51). Jesus died for a purpose, freely of his own choosing.

What was that purpose? Simply put, innocent Jesus died so that the guilty might go free. What better visual aid could there be than that of Barabbus, who Luke twice describes as “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder”. This clearly guilty man is released from prison as Jesus is put to death despite his obvious innocence. This is the glory of the cross – that Jesus died as a substitute in the place of guilty men and women so that they might live. The just punishment that our sins deserve was poured out on Jesus in our place instead of on us, so that God can accept us as though we were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

That’s why Jesus is my hero – because he’s the only reason that I can stand before a holy God with any shred of confidence. He has paid the price for my sin, because he had no sin of his own.

Life Without Guidance

ghostworld3.jpg

Me and my flatmate Dave watched the movie “Ghost World” tonight. It’s really depressing. It’s kind of a commentary on the angst associated with growing up, growing apart, dealing with the vacuum of life without guidance and any moral framework.

It relates to something Dave has blogged about recently about what a disaster it is to follow your heart, seeing as how it’s deceitful above all else and all that:

“I think the Bible’s teaching can be summarised like this: the heart is an unruly child – capable of good things, but if you leave it to its own devices, you will be in a pickle.”

I really like this quote by John Newton which isn’t entirely relevant but which is really great so just needs to be shared, and it kind of sums up the experience of one of the characters in the movie:

“Whatever we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands shrinks upon trial, and will not fully answer the expectations which the prospect raised. It quickly ceases to be new, and then we secretly say to ourselves, Is this all?”

How Photoshop Denies the Generosity of God

Airbrush-Pistole Typ: Badger 200

Came across this must-read article on The Satanic Ideology of Photoshop by Mike Cosper that ties in really well with a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about recently about thankfulness and contentment. It talks about the lies that feed and are fed by the culture of photoshopped beauty that we see all around us in magazines and on billboards. He says that ultimately, it’s all a Satanic assault on our contentment in God and what God has given us:

“When Satan came to Eve in the garden, his assault (amongst other things) was an attack on her contentment. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) To paraphrase: “Has God held out on you? Has he given you less than you need, less than you deserve?” The temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 are likewise assaults upon contentment. For Jesus to turn stones to bread would have been to deny the sufficiency of God’s provision. To worship Satan in exchange for the kingdoms of the earth would have been to deny the sufficiency of Jesus’ inheritance to come. In these cases, Satan’s message was the same: God is holding out on you. You’re lacking what you really need. You don’t have what will really make you happy.”

Our ideas about what is beautiful are so distorted that we become unable to accept aging with grace. But more than that, our self-centredness and pursuit of pleasure means that we elevate outer beauty to the point where it makes us miserable, unable to rejoice in the reality of how things actually are.

Yet the Bible reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Exactly as we are, God knew what he was doing! We need to keep remembering what life is all about, that we’re here for God’s glory and not our own pleasure or our own egos, and that even as we wrinkle and sag we will continue to grow more and more beautiful if we persist in seeking first the kingdom of God. There’s a glory to a person’s godliness that cannot help but shine.

We might wish to be eternally youthful, but instead we need to keep trusting that our God is generous and good, and rejoice in how things actually are today.

(-HT Justin Taylor)

Busyness and Rest

I’ve been really enjoying the “Life of a Steward” blog recently – a stimulating resource for anybody thinking about productivity and wise stewardship of our time from a thoroughly Christian perspective. Yesterday’s post was titled Jesus and Rest: The Mater’s Way of Refocusing. Here’s a little excerpt:

“Rest has a way of refocusing us… When we live at a busy pace, rest is the chance for us to rejuvenate and avoid burnout. But it goes beyond that. Rather than simply recharging us so we can tackle our work week, rest can change how we fundamentally view our lives. Rest gives us the ability to refocus.”

For a few years now I’ve been a big fan of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to time management. I’ve long thought that one of the most valuable and foundational components of his method is the regular review – taking time out to consider what you’re working on and what you should be working on. I’m rubbish at being proactive enough to make it happen. But reading that post above made me think that it’s invaluable in other areas of life as well to take a step back every now and again and ask ourselves what’s going on.

When we’re busy we tend to become more reactive and less pro-active: in mathematical terms, we look for a local maximum, becoming hyper-focussed on where we are at the moment and responding to the demands being placed on us, and so we fail to notice that if we just zoomed out a bit we’d realise that the real answer lies elsewhere in doing something else entirely.

Read the whole thing here.

Marriage is for Losers

Great post by Dr Kelly Flanagan on relating well within marriage:

“In marriage, losing is letting go of the need to fix everything for your partner, listening to their darkest parts with a heart ache rather than a solution. It’s being even more present in the painful moments than in the good times. It’s finding ways to be humble and open, even when everything in you says that you’re right and they are wrong. It’s doing what is right and good for your spouse, even when big things need to be sacrificed, like a job, or a relationship, or an ego. It is forgiveness, quickly and voluntarily. It is eliminating anything from your life, even the things you love, if they are keeping you from attending, caring, and serving. It is seeking peace by accepting the healthy but crazy-making things about your partner because, you remember, those were the things you fell in love with in the first place. It is knowing that your spouse will never fully understand you, will never truly love you unconditionally–because they are a broken creature, too–and loving them to the end anyway.”

-(HT Tim Challies)

Fading Are the World’s Best Pleasures

Why Jesus Is My Hero #44 of 52

The "New iPad"

How do we take seriously the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil?

Yesterday I went along to the London Men’s Convention at Westminster Chapel. The theme was “The Fight” – encouraging us blokes to take that battle seriously. Al Stewart from Australia delivered the first talk, tackling the issue of our battle with The World – that is, the world in rebellion against God, the constant atmosphere of anti-God thinking and values that is so pervasive that we’re hardly even aware that we’re breathing it in all the time.

Al’s address was based on these verses from 1 John 2:15-17:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides for ever.”

This sinful world craves and chases after all manner of things – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s unrestrained sexual desire or greedily lusting after the latest iPad or gluttonous eyes that are constantly bigger than your stomach, the world is constantly feeding us messages about what will make us happy – encouraging us to seek our happiness and contentment in the things that God has made rather than in God himself, and often in the process making us sick through overindulging in things we’d have been better off without. Add to that our pride in our possessions – the way we use the things that we have as a kind of status symbol, seeking our identity in the stuff that we own rather than in Christ.

But John gives us the antidote when he reminds us that “the world is passing away along with its desires”. None of the stuff we crave and lust after will last. The new iPad soon becomes the old iPad, the food is soon gone and its taste quickly forgotten, the illicit pleasure of the affair gives way to the misery of guilt and broken relationships.

Putting our hope for happiness in the things of this world is a recipe for disappointment. Yet there is one source of lasting joy that will never let us down: as I have written previously, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He never changes or passes away, and the joy of living with him as your king is the kind of pure, unadulterated pleasure that doesn’t leave a rotten taste in your mouth.

As Psalm 37 puts it so beautifully:

“But [the wicked man] passed away, and behold, he was no more;

though I sought him, he could not be found.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,

for there is a future for the man of peace.”

An Object Lesson of How To Get Smart Developers To Apply For Your Job Opening

There are a few companies out there who are overwhelmed with applications from amazingly talented individuals, but more often than not that’s not the case. Smart people get to choose where they work, and to recruit for the best talent companies need to sell themselves to the candidates just as much (or even more) than the candidates need to sell themselves to the company. My first employer learnt this the hard way when they had job openings sitting unfilled for months at a time because no decent candidates were ever applying.

Today I came across an awesome job advert for a position that I just couldn’t resist applying for: the post of Web Developer at Hubbub. This job advert makes me smile on so many different levels:

  • These guys show that they’re serious about only hiring smart people – by showing that the bar is high, it makes you as a candidate want to take on the challenge of proving you’re good enough. Requiring a JSON hash is a really simple but effective way of immediately screening out the vast majority of potential applicants who really haven’t the first clue about web technologies. Not to mention those pesky recruiters :)
  • Having a sense of humour – nobody who has a choice in where they work wants to work for a dull and boring corporate machine (well, maybe a few do – but certainly not me!) and this job advert oozes a sense of a company culture that is a lot of fun (and without simply faking it)
  • Reflecting the company’s values – it’s obvious just from reading the job advert that this is a company that is serious about food, and they’re obviously going to want to hire somebody that’s serious about food too.
  • Bacon – what more needs to be said?

The health of a company depends entirely upon the quality of the people that work for it, and in this day and age you can’t expect to just post a bland notice about a job vacancy and expect to get anyone remotely exceptional applying for it. Big kudos to Hubbub for making something that really stands out from the crowds.

What Does Our Future Hold?

Why Jesus Is My Hero #43 of 52

backtothefuture.jpg

What does the future hold for me? If you’re anything like me, that’s a question that is frequently on your mind, and one which often causes a certain amount of anxiety. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will I be there with? How will I be feeling about it all?

As Euston Church we’ve been away on a church weekend this weekend, and we began by looking at a passage that tells us the answers to all of those questions, if we’re Christians, and gives us just the answers we need to battle with anxiety about the future:

“In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7-10)

God has made known to us the mystery of his will. He’s revealed his plan to us! There’s no need for us to guess at it and wonder what he’s going to do – he’s told us. When’s it going to happen? It’s a plan for the fullness of time – in other words, when the world reaches its conclusion and everything arrives at the point towards where it’s been heading all along. And what is his plan? To unite all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth.

This is where your life is heading, if you’re a Christian: as those who have been adopted as God’s children through his undeserved grace and mercy, we’re going to be with Jesus united with all the company of heaven under his rule. It’s all sorted – God’s going to make sure it happens, and nothing can stand in his way. Doesn’t matter what exam results you get, whether you get offered that dream job or not, whether the purchase of your house goes through as planned or whether your parents get ill – if we’re trusting in Jesus, then we can be totally sure what the future holds for us: God’s going to take us to be with him.

Of course, there’s still lots about the “in between” bit of our future that we don’t know, which God doesn’t reveal to us in advance. We kind of have to figure that bit out as we go along. But we don’t do it alone – we know that God goes with us to make sure that we end up safely at our destination. Knowing the big picture plan with certain confidence really helps deal with anxiety about the little day-to-day stuff – because if God can save us from our sin and make us alive again when we were spiritually dead in rebellion against him, then he can certainly deal with the issues of today. It’s like if you saw a tennis player win all of the Grand Slam championships in the world in a single season, and then started worrying about whether they’d be able to win against your 12 year old nephew. If they can do the hard thing, then of course they can do the easy thing!

What a great relief it is to know that my future is secure with Jesus – what it holds is not in doubt!

God’s Adulterous Lover

Why Jesus Is My Hero #42 of 52

What kind of a God is God? And how does he feel about us and the way we treat him?

When we hear the word “sin” it’s easy to think in terms of broken rules or a general feeling of guilt about things we’re doing that we know we probably shouldn’t. But the Bible often talks about our sin using relational categories – it reminds us ultimately our sin is a rejection of God himself. When we love other things more than we love him – when we turn and start to rely on idols – from God’s perspective that’s no different from a wife cheating on her husband. It’s spiritual adultery.

One particularly hard-hitting passage that picks up on this relational view of sin is Hosea 2:

“Plead with your mother, plead–

for she is not my wife,

and I am not her husband–

that she put away her whoring from her face”



“For their mother has played the whore;

she who conceived them has acted shamefully.

For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,

who give me my bread and my water,

my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'”

God sees his people turning aside from him and going after other gods, and it deeply grieves his heart like a husband discovering his wife has been giving herself to other men. The language here is the language of divorce proceedings: “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” marking an end to the marriage relationship. Yet God is still pleading with his adulterous lover, Israel – still longing for her to turn back to him in repentance, rather than trusting in the pagan fertility gods – the Baals – that she’s started to rely on to provide for her needs.

What makes this scenario so tragic is that it was all so utterly unnecessary:

“And she did not know

that it was I who gave her

the grain, the wine, and the oil,

and who lavished on her silver and gold,

which they used for Baal.”

It’s as though she was a prostitute working her trade in the upper room, as various men brought her payment, and she thought she was so clever and self-reliant for earning all this cash without having to depend on her husband. Only what she never realised was that all this time, those guys had been slipping in to her husband’s study downstairs and stealing £50 notes out of her husband’s drawer in order to pay her. The same supply of money that her husband had told her about on many occasions should she ever be in need, that she was welcome to help herself to at any time to provide for her. It was her husband who had been providing for her all along – it was his money they were using to pay for her services. If only she’d turned to her husband and looked to him, instead of thinking she could find what she wanted elsewhere.

That’s what makes our sinful idolatry so stupid and so utterly abhorrent. God our Creator is the only one who can really provide for our needs, and he longs to care for us and give us what we need. We can look elsewhere – to our education, to our wallets, to our relationships – to make us happy and protect us from evil, but ultimately all those things come from God in the first place. How it must grieve him to see us reject him for the things he has made.

Seeing sin in these relational categories makes it all the more amazing when we then recognise God’s grace towards us sinners. How incredible it is that he sticks with us, patiently persevering with his wayward wife. It’s a beautiful picture later in the Bible when we see Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom who laid down his life to present the church spotless and without blemish before him. It’s an amazing thing when a spouse forgives the one who has betrayed them so deeply and chooses to stick with them in spite of their adultery – and it should truly blow our minds when we remember that that’s exactly the way Jesus treats us, his people.

In Christ

Why Jesus Is My Hero #41 of 52

The further we go in the Christian life, the more conscious we become of what hopeless sinners we are. Any pretence that we could earn our way to God by our own efforts, and simply “trying harder” becomes very hard to maintain in the bitter face of experience. That’s why it’s such a joy to know that the Christian’s fate depends not on their own goodness and purity, but on Jesus’. The more we can lift our eyes off ourselves and onto him, the better. That’s why I started writing this series in the first place – to try and grow my own vision of Jesus.

The way the New Testament describes this is the idea of “union with Christ” – that we are in him. One place that describes this really clearly is Colossians 3:1-4:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

If we’re Christians, then through faith in Jesus we are united with him such that Paul can say “your life is hidden with Christ in God”. His future is our future. When Christ who is your life returns, we also will appear with him in glory. It’s a very different way of thinking for 21st Century Westerners like me, but it’s an awesome truth that gives such confidence and hope in the midst of life’s ups and downs.

The irony is that the more we focus on Christ and not on ourselves, God often works through that to change us so that we actually do become more holy. But that is the result not the cause of our salvation, meaning that it doesn’t become this anxious introspection of constantly wondering if we’ve done enough good to be right with God this morning. The Christian life should be one of confident assurance, joy and thankfulness at what God has already achieved. The fact that we don’t deserve our salvation at all just makes it all the more wonderful, if we’re humble enough to embrace the fact that we simply aren’t good enough to contribute anything except our need of it.

PrayerMate 1.3 – Introducing scheduled requests

PrayerMate is my app for iPhone and iPod Touch that is designed to help you stay faithful in prayer for the people and causes that matter to you. Today a new version went live on the App Store, version 1.3. It adds a couple of new features that I’m really excited about: scheduled prayer requests, and auto-archiving.

Scheduled Prayer Requests

Each day PrayerMate will pick a selection of prayer requests from your library for you to pray through. Traditionally it just picked whichever subjects you haven’t prayed for in a while. But we all know that there are certain things you just want to pray for at specific times – maybe you want to pray for the Sunday service every Sunday morning, or you want to pray for your friend on the morning of their job interview.

PrayerMate 1.3 allows you to do both of these things using scheduled prayer requests. When you enter a subject, you can choose the “scheduling mode”: either “Default”, which behaves as normal; “Day of the Week”, which lets you pick one or more days of the week on which you wish to pray for this subject; or “Date”, which lets you pick a specific date from a calendar.

For those who want to go a bit deeper into how it works, here are a few of the under-the-hood details: every day, PrayerMate will begin by looking for dated requests scheduled for today (e.g. 20th February). If there’s any space left for extra requests, it will then proceed to look up requests scheduled for the current day of the week (Monday). It will then fill up any remaining allocation using unscheduled requests, in the same order as they’ve always appeared. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t have so many dated or “day-of-the-week” requests that there’s never any space left for unscheduled requests.

PrayerMate gives you a little bit of flexibility on dated requests – if you don’t fire up the app on a given day, any scheduled prayer requests that you missed will show up for up to a week afterwards.

Auto-Archiving

A related for separate feature is “auto-archived” prayer requests. Very often we want to pray for things which are time sensitive, and which cease to be relevant once a particular date has passed. With the new auto-archiving feature, you can tell PrayerMate to automatically move a subject to the archive after a certain date.

For example, if your friend is on a short term mission trip until Friday 16th March, create a new subject with 16th March in the auto-archive field, and on the 17th that subject will automatically get moved to the archive so that you no longer see it.

Get it on the app store today

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage

There are more than enough books in the world on the subject of marriage. Every man and his dog wants to have an opinion on the subject. One of the features of being engaged is that now suddenly you own a large number of those books, as everybody scrambles to buy you a copy of their favourite (thanks everybody! I really am grateful, honest!)

One of those books that really stands out for me is This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. As you might expect, Piper holds a very high view of marriage, and paints a Biblical vision of just how glorious marriage as God designed it should be. But one of the distinguishing features of this book is the equally high view of singleness you’ll find in it.

Piper’s main premise is that marriage is not the ultimate, it’s not the thing that’s going to solve all our problems and make us happy and fulfilled. It’s a glorious thing, yes, and it holds a special place in God’s purposes for displaying his glory, but it’s only ever a temporary thing that will not exist in the New Creation. Just as the relationship between a husband and his wife is a tangible illustration of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his church, happily-single Christians are a tangible illustration of the sufficiency of Jesus and the final state all who trust in him are heading towards. So at the same time as giving us a higher view of marriage, it also stops us making it the very highest thing in our thoughts, helping us keep first things first rather than drifting into idolatry.

Most books on marriage claim to be suitable for all kinds of people: people already married, people about to be married, and people vaguely thinking about marriage in the future. But in my experience, it’s rare to find a marriage book that I would genuinely want to recommend to a single friend for fear of making them feel a little bit sad – I know that I’ve often read stuff about marriage in the past and just been made to feel like I was missing out on something. This book bucks the trend. It reminds all of us, single or married, that as Christians we have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe that’s going to last for eternity, and that that ought to excite us more than any human relationship.

Of course Piper also explores the usual practicalities of marriage: the purpose and place of sex, the Biblical view of gender roles, brining up children, and so on. He does so in a way that gets you excited about serving God in whatever situation you’re currently in, with the gifts and personality God has given you. I found the chapter on hospitality especially helpful: Piper says what a shame it is that often married and single people in the church end up being segregated, when there’s so much potential for good if single people were to show hospitality to married people and if married people were to show hospitality to single people.

If you’re a Christian, whether you’re married or not, be excited that there’s someone in your life who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you enough to die for you – and we get to go and spend the rest of eternity in intimate relationship with him! Everything else is just temporary, but our relationship with God lasts forever.

Related posts: My review of ‘Redeeming Singleness’ by Barry Danylak – which is the basis for Piper’s chapter on singleness in ‘This Momentary Marriage’. It’s helpful stuff for single people wondering about their place in the church.

The Irony of the Forbidden Fruit

Somebody recently forwarded me an interesting post by Andy Harker on the symbolism of the bitten apple, often associated (at least in Western art and advertising) with sin, even a celebration of sin, and elicit pleasures, especially sexual.

“Do you see the great irony? The apple is not the forbidden fruit but the life of Christ. To eat the apple is not sin but salvation – the banquet of grace. How perverse we are to use a picture of Jesus as an advert for sin, to call good evil and evil good, to confuse the tree of life with the tree of death, to think that Jesus has come to steal and kill and destroy and the devil has come to give fullness of life when the little-know truth is the very reverse. Christ is the apple tree.”

Read the full article here.

How To Rejoice In All Situations

Why Jesus is My Hero #40 of 52

Real life is hard work. It’s full of ups and downs, and sometimes the downs are really down. Even when life is up we’re good at filling it with worries and anxieties about the fact that it might not stay that way for long, and that a down might be just around the corner.

I think many of us probably long to be the kinds of people who are better at rolling with the punches. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of “steadfastness”, which amongst other things conjures up images of not being discouraged when things don’t go your way – of standing firm whilst the waves crash all around you. But how do we get that way? How do we remain steadfast amidst the disappointments and challenges of daily life?

I’ve said before recently that I’m increasingly seeing the importance of joyfulness in life – and I think that for the Christian person, an attitude of joy and thankfulness is one of our key weapons in the fight. But how are we to remain joyful and thankful when tragedy strikes? How do you rejoice when you lose your job, or when you’re anxious about money or about your health?

It doesn’t completely answer the question fully, but one passage that I think is really helpful in thinking about this is Philippians 3. It’s one of the go-to passages on joy in the Bible:

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”

In other words, Paul is saying “I might as well tell you to rejoice, even if I’ve said it a hundred times before – I love talking about joy, so it’s really no trouble for me, and it’ll be really good for your souls, so hopefully you’ll not get bored of me banging on about it.”

Philippians is a letter written by Paul as he’s languishing in jail, so it’s somewhat surprising that he should be so focussed on rejoicing. So what is Paul’s secret – what is it that enables him to be rejoicing in the midst of his suffering? “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”

For Paul, the gospel is THE number one most exciting thing in his life. His relationship with Jesus Christ is more precious to him than absolutely anything else. He’s so excited about the fact that he gets to spend eternity with Jesus, that absolutely everything else seems irrelevant by comparison. Stuck in jail because he’s a follower of Jesus? Totally worth it – he’s got an eternity of true freedom to look forward to. Hated by his fellow Jews because of apparently turning his back on the law? Who cares what men may think of him, when the creator of the entire universe loves him? Poor and destitute and whipped and beaten and shipwrecked and generally looking like a failure by the world’s standards? Hardly worth batting an eyelid over, given the heavenly riches he has to look forward to in the New Creation.

You see, when you recognise the immense value of the one thing you DO have, you start to care a little less about all those other things you lack. When Jesus becomes supremely precious to us, we find ourselves enabled to rejoice in the midst of all kinds of difficult circumstances. So long as our saviour is with us, our first love, we can accept a little temporary suffering and hardship – especially knowing that He is ultimately in charge and will not permit anything that isn’t for our eternal good.

I really hope and pray that you will find grace to rejoice and thank God for the gospel in the midst of whatever you’re going through right now. God is a good and loving Father to those who trust in him through Jesus Christ. I don’t know what you’re struggling with right now, but I do know that he’s promised to bring us to be with him if we’re Christians, and live with him in a world free from the sin and suffering that so mars this world.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Now that’s something to rejoice in!

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.

Thoughts of a Christian Software Developer