Easy Way Out?

Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Get up and walk’? Luke 5:23

 

Jesus had already decided what the greater need was, and had said this because of the great faith shown, and so the sick man’s sins were forgiven, but the Pharisees didn’t like that response. This wasn’t the first time Jesus was set up in a trap of words. If you can, put yourself in the Pharisees shoes. If you say something that is hard to prove, you have won the argument and come out on top. But if you back your claims up with something real and tangible, you will silence your critics, and that’s exactly what Jesus did. He stepped up to meet the needs of the sick man, both body AND soul.

 

Have you found yourself saying something that sounds nice, but there is no substance to it? How about “I hope you feel better soon”, or “I’ll pray for you”, or “Don’t worry, it will all work out, you’ll see”? In all truth and fairness, we are all guilty. Jesus, the great example, shows us the way. Don’t speak platitudes that don’t help. Do something to help the person. It may not be a big thing, but small gestures can go a long way to encourage someone who is hurting.

 

Why would we say something we don’t mean to carry through especially when it would mean so much to the other person? I think it would be to make ourselves look and feel better, and all the more so when we won’t be found out. Who knows if we don’t visit, or do a kindness, or even pray? Maybe not the person who needs that comforting word or action, but in all things, God knows. Is that not a good enough reason to follow your words through with action? James, the brother of Jesus says it clearly, and we would do well to heed his words.

 

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:15-17

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Simple and Easy

During our time in North Carolina in the 1980’s we enjoyed the good folks we were privileged to meet, the fellowship of the church which was important to us as a family, and more so because we had (and still have) two lovely daughters who mean so much, and as I became more immersed in my work it was good to have that faith family away from home. We could count on them for fellowship, friendship, and good Bible teaching and preaching. These were good days, and have made for equally good memories.

 

One of our neighbours was a fine Christian lady, but because of her own circumstances she had decided not to attend or be associated with a ‘formal church’ group. Her church was a TV channel televangelist, and she got all the spiritual feeding she needed from that program. She tithed to her ‘TV Pastor’ and for the time we were neighbours this didn’t change. Let’s not be hasty to sit in judgement on her choices, because we didn’t know her circumstances. Keep in mind that this was in the 1980s before the internet came on the scene and changed all of our lives.

 

We like things made simple and easy, or at least I do. I would think that our neighbour would have logged into an internet church of her choice if available, and perhaps used that medium for her worship instead of TV. For a while it would have worked, but crucially for how long? In her own case she didn’t seem to be actively looking for fellowship.

 

There is good reason for being a part of a church body of believers. There is fellowship, working with others, spiritual growth, responsibility, Kingdom activity, praise and worship in word and song, and the teaching ministry which helps us grow. Another small point. Who will visit when you are sick? Encourage you when you feel down, and when you are promoted to Glory, who will be right there for your grieving family? Certainly not the TV or internet preacher. But we must remember above all else, it is the will of God that we gather together.
We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer. Hebrews 10:25

Common Sense?

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure no immoral, impure or greedy person… has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Ephesians 5:4,5

 

These are powerful verses if we take them seriously, and I hope we do. I don’t like it when it happens, and I know I have been guilty of speaking out of turn in no small measure in the past, but when it comes from a trusted and senior source within the body of the general church of Christ, it seems worse. Maybe I am using a harsh measuring stick in judgement, or maybe I am taking these verses too literally. Is that possible?

 

It’s Facebook again. Or to be more accurate, it’s the use of Facebook by the person on the typewriter, tablet, or phone. It’s not Facebook, or the device, it’s the individual and I think it may be an insight into their heart. It’s not easy to hold on to our common sense on social media sometimes, but if we are going to be true to Jesus Christ, the person we believe in, and call ourselves by His name, we must guard our talk.
People are watching us, and we should remember that we can offend. Instead of being an influence for good, we could be unfollowed, blocked, or unfriended and then where is our witness? I’ll tell you. It’s in the place where it has no benefit. Let’s take more care of our talk (and Facebook posts). It’s important because we can do more harm than good.

Oh No!

To say I don’t like shopping is an understatement, so when I am pushing that shopping trolley round the supermarket, I am looking and hoping for a quick exit. Sometimes I will bump into someone and have a short chat, and that’s ok. Until last week, that is.

 

As I turned at the end of an aisle, I saw him but fortunately he didn’t notice me, so I backtracked up the aisle I had just come down for no other reason than to avoid this person I didn’t like or get on with. By way of explanation, we had a conversation a couple of weeks before, and it quickly turned into a debate, and then an argument. I don’t know who won, but I didn’t want to go through all that again, hence the evasive action. I must have looked suspicious as I peered round the end of each aisle in an effort to avoid this troublesome man.

 

I wasn’t the only person he had crossed. It had happened before, and now I was the latest casualty of his contrary opinions. If you said something was white, he would say it was black. You get the picture? I hadn’t seen him for a while, so let my guard down thinking he had finished shopping, and had left the shop and the car park. How wrong I was!

 

As I turned the last aisle I needed to get some shopping in, there he was facing me, and there was no way I could avoid him. My heart sank. I took a deep breath, and thought ‘Oh No, here we go’. The same determined look was there again. I could see it in his eyes. In a matter of a few microseconds, I felt my day was ruined. And then it happened. He reached out and touched my arm, and said softly, “I’m really sorry about the last time we met and how we left each other after that awkward conversation. I am so very sorry”. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had spent over an hour avoiding this man, and could have missed hearing the benefit and blessing of his heart felt apology. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts, I had forgotten that he had thoughts and feelings too, and rather than wait for me, he had decided to take the step and apologise first. I ask you, who showed the most grace? Sadly, not me because while I held the grudge, my friend (because that is what we suddenly became) took the step of being vulnerable and taking the risk of me either ignoring his words, or even worse, giving him a piece of my mind.

 

We are firm friends now, and our conversations have been agreeable and cordial. What happened? While I bottled up my feelings, my friend prayed about his, and God showed the way of forgiveness, which is always better than holding the grudge. Always! I was the loser and my heart and actions showed this failing. It is no mistake that we are told by the authority of Jesus Himself:

 

“Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.” Matthew 6:14,15

 

“I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other just as I loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.” John 13:34,35

The Good Path

When we started out on our Cairngorm trek we had favourable conditions. It had stopped snowing and walking was good in the crisp snow, the sky was blue, a light zephyr breeze, although cold. We didn’t really feel the temperature, because we were prepared with the right clothing in layers right to our outer jackets. This was not a new experience because we had walked in these conditions, and on this mountain before, although not on this particular route. The higher we climbed, the colder and icier it became, but we didn’t notice.

 

We were also prepared with the essential provisions. Good boots, backpacks which contained a thermos of our hot drinks, nourishing, health bars, chocolate, a compass, a whistle each to attract attention should it be necessary, a small but insulated blanket, and a protected waterproof route map which swung on a cord from the lower backpack buckle. The folks where we stayed knew when we had set off, and that we would return that evening. We left nothing to chance, which was normal for us. The weather conditions can change in the Cairngorm mountains in minutes. This was one of those times, and as we watched the sky we knew we had to come down off the mountain fast. Time had passed so quickly, but we knew we had been out for a few hours and had made good progress up the hill, so we had some distance to cover on the descent..

 

Coming down would not be so easy. It’s no good trying to rush because a slip or fall is dangerous. We knew the rules of the mountain, and these conditions took no prisoners. As the snow flurries changed to almost horizontal heavy blizzard-like driving snow, we buried our heads and faces into the warm fleecy jacket hoods and made a determined effort to get to safety. We knew the way at least, so we felt we had made good time as we stopped the idle chat and concentrated on the job in hand.

 

I was in front, and my wife close behind me. Then I lifted my head for a moment and realised we were walking along a little snow and ice path, just inches from a steep drop into a deep gully. We didn’t come this way on the way up, so we had made a wrong turning and taken the wrong path some way back, and now there was no returning. We had to keep going. On one side, a steep embankment of ice covered rock, and on the other just inches away, a drop of some sixty feet. Danger was obvious, and we knew it, so the pace slowed and we stayed closer together with my wife holding onto the straps of my backpack as we walked in close step. Her steps in mine. We were in too much trouble to feel afraid.

 

We were experienced hill walkers, had good provisions, and all the right equipment, so what went wrong? In essence, we didn’t keep looking at the map. Yes, we did check the route, but we didn’t diligently check often enough. We, or to be more accurate I, made the mistake of thinking I knew what the route map said. In fact the path we should have been on ran parallel to this one, but was a much safer choice. That’s where we should have been, but we took the liberty of presuming we knew the way. After all, we both had checked the map together before we set off. We did know the way.

 

In our Christian faith walk, we oftentimes read the Bible, perhaps even daily or more than once a day, and we think we have it off pat. We know what it says, so we make assumptions, especially when the bad stuff hits us, and we tuck our head into our hood to avoid the tests, trials, and temptations. After all, we already know what the Bible says. Don’t we? That’s exactly when we get caught out. In this true story, had I studied the map more often and more carefully when the bad weather hit us, we would not have literally walked into danger. So, when you think you have read your Bible enough for the day, read some more, and maybe even some more again! Only by knowing the ‘way, the truth and the life’ surely and clearly can we navigate our way through the pitfalls of this world. Remember the Bible IS the Word of God, and can be trusted fully. Commit as much as you can to heart, so that when those narrow, dangerous, slippery paths need to be walked, you are certain of your guide.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:10,11

Not Yet

I hadn’t seen my brother and sister for some time. It has been years since we had fallen out, and even now the reasons are hazy. They were real at the time I am sure because there was a real bust up. In fact more than a few of them which left indelible marks on our hearts, but I wish I could remember what it was all about. It all seems so long ago, and for a long time I had reached a point where it didn’t bother me any more. Especially after trying to make amends and hitting that brick wall. Truth is, I was part of the cause, and now I was isolated and paying the price for my actions. I always taught my own children that actions have consequences, so to be sure that our words and deeds always had good motives, because ‘family is everything’.

 

I was a Christian and felt that I had lived a good life. That is until the family split some years ago. I did try to apologise, but maybe not with enough feeling or conviction. In fact my family members who felt wronged, were Christians too. What a mess.

 

As I took the time to lift my head from my hands, I saw it again. The coffin. A dark wood to match the dark mood in the room. I was sitting on one side of the room on my own, and I could make out through the tears, the faces of my siblings just over the top of the closed casket. They were weeping too. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We should have had more time. Time to eventually put things right, but it never quite worked out. Mum and Dad were always there for us all, and they hurt for our differences over the years. They prayed for us all, and now my dad wasn’t ever going to see any end to his children’s childish squabbling. It hurt and pained him deeply, and now there was no way to make things right for him.

 

Mum sat over to the side of the room, partway between her children, all grown up adults, still behaving like the children they are. We were all wrapped up in our own griefs, and regrets. Regrets which were so avoidable. We claimed to be a Christian family but we couldn’t do the basic act of forgiveness. It was too hard we convinced ourselves, and anyway, God would understand we believed. That was easier than taking the step to be vulnerable and to ask for, and receive forgiveness. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray near the start of His ministry, and it is no accident that He included the selfless act of forgiveness. In fact He said if we don’t forgive, He would not forgive us. What a sobering thought. He said It is that important!

 

The organ started to play dad’s favourite hymn, and we all rose to our feet in respect, reverence, and awe. Dad was gone, mum was in a flood of tears, and as I looked around I realised that we were all out of time. As I found the haunting words ‘not yet’ on my lips and heart, I suddenly awoke with a throbbing heartache and in a real body sweat. It was a horrible dream, but oh so true. How much time do I really have I wondered? Was God giving me a message? Was the much needed and overdue heart change and spirit of forgiveness supposed to start in me? Why does it have to be me I muttered, and then I stopped dead. Dead. The thought was true, the dream was real. My plea, my tearful prayer to God was, and remains ‘not yet’. Please God give me the time I need, take the heart of stone from me and replace it with a heart of flesh. My parents were aging, but please Lord, they were ready to meet You, but NOT YET for mum!!! There are some important things I need to do first before night falls and we are cut off!
We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. John 9:4 NLT  

How Much?

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. So we constantly experience the death of Jesus in our own bodies, but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

How much can you take? The best of us have a tipping point where we buckle, and can’t handle things like we normally would. Even well trained soldiers have a physical limit of endurance, and reach the point that changes their strength. Paul makes a good point here when he acknowledges that he and we, have real troubles, but are not defeated, so don’t give up, God doesn’t leave, and is not destroyed. Paul had many reasons to think he and we are not up to the task. He reminds us that in everything we suffer “Jesus can also be seen in our bodies”.

Take heart because God will not allow you to suffer temptation more than you can bear. We are talking about our Christian faith life now. There is no temptation, none, that He will not get us through and help us to escape and endure. I don’t know about you, but I find it a great comfort that God puts a limit on the devil’s schemes and temptations in my life. It’s as He said to Job about the waves (of temptation too), ‘this far and no farther’ satan. Amen to that thought.  

The only temptations that you have are the same temptations that all people have. But you can trust God. He will not let you be tempted more than you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also give you a way to escape that temptation. Then you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13