“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost

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It’s been quite the while since I’ve written something. Partly because I’ve taken on a few new roles but also because I’ve encountered new struggles and dilemmas to ponder and overcome.  At times I thought I’d come to a conclusion or solved some of them, then I’d start writing and realise I hadn’t. But in time I’m sure I’ll come to understand these things better, if not completely.

I’ve just returned from a month gallivanting around the United States with my family. It was an amazing trip but it also presented massive challenges. Being with your family and only your family for an entire month is tough. I have to admit that for the most part we were waking up early and busy doing things all day. I found it hard to stop, sit down and dwell on God’s word and pray. It taught me the value of putting God’s word to memory. Many times bringing a verse to mind and meditating on it was all I felt I had the energy and time to do, and I found it most helpful.

I was also blessed with a letter a week from my boyfriend, who wrote me a devotion in each one. Each brought me to pray and pointed me back to Christ. One in particular helped. We were at the point in our trip where we were all at each others throats and patience and kindness was sorely needed on my behalf in the least. It was Luke 20:19-26. The chief priests, who are constantly following Jesus around looking for a fault, question him about whether or not to pay taxes. Jesus asks them whose image the coin bears. And they said, “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus said:

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (v25)

But what bears the image of God? The answer is that you do. I do. We all do! So we should give ourselves to God. This reminded me that my family are also made in the image of God. They are precious, loved and saved by Him. Bought with the blood of his own son. So I need to treat them like that, giving myself to God and serving others selflessly.

I was also reading Little Women at the time. It might sound silly, but I’ve come to learn from their lessons. I was struck by how their mother lead them towards their Creator when they struggled with their faults. When Jo struggled with her temper she prayed for help to hold her tongue. When Meg struggled with a love of material wealth, she drew comfort knowing that she has a Heavenly Father that provides and loves her. When you’re around your family in close quarters for long periods of time, your flaws tend to come out. Sometimes you feel helpless to change yourself. But I drew comfort in the knowledge that I’m not on my own, Christ is working to transform me, to make me more like him. And it is through his word that we are changed. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). I also dwelt on the knowledge that:

“He who began a good work in you [believers] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Phil 1:6.

Finally, I saw so many wondrous things and some brought me to stand in utter awe at the glory, wonder, enormity and power of my God. As I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and flew over the Napali Coast in Kauai, I was blown away by what God had created with his very words. As I stood next to the roaring Niagara falls, I trembled at the power, it’s expanse and strength in the knowledge that my God is greater and just, but also compassionate and merciful.

There were also things that made me inherently sad. The people enslaved to their addictions in Vegas, sitting for hours in casinos fed on a false hope that grows their lust of money but never satisfies. A city plagued by prostitution and the cultivation of pleasure. Though it’s easy to blame the place, the issue is really the human heart, seeking to satisfy itself.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Romans 1:24

It pervades the whole earth, not just Vegas. I prayed that in their dissatisfaction they’d realise they are using the wrong things in an attempt to quench their need and that they’d find satisfaction and pleasure in God. I was really encouraged by how many street preachers and evangelists were there. Proclaiming hope to those that parade around proud of their sin. But we need this in every city.

This leads me to one of my dilemmas. I’ve struggled to understand exactly what tolerance is. Our world proclaims it as the highest of virtues and it does on the surface seem to bring peace and harmony. But does God call us to it? In Vegas, I found it so hard to be ok with people buying others for their own gratification, throwing their money away and revelling in such ‘pleasure’. But tolerance says that we’re to just leave them to their ways. I can’t just stand by and see people buy into a lie that will never satisfy, that will provide temporary pleasure but eternal pain.

It saddens me that the world preaches this as it’s highest virtue: to let people do what they want regardless of your knowledge of the consequence. I think tolerance is selfish. BUT, that doesn’t mean to disrespect, look down upon or abuse others. By all means, respect others. They are all made in the image of God, his precious creation. Love them. But is it loving to leave them to fumble around blindly looking for God? To renounce your calling as a believer?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:18-20.

Well, those have been my thoughts the past few months. I’ve learnt so much this year even though I didn’t come to any dramatic conclusions. If you’re a believer, I would like to encourage you to continue to live differently in this world spurred on by the word of God. And if you’re not a believer, to have a read of God’s word and see what he’s offering you. It’s well worth it.

Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

Understanding the Times

Jacek Yerka

Writing about time leaves open a huge realm of surrealist art, which is something that I personally love. If you like that kind of stuff as well, I recommend Jacek Yerka, who created the beautiful image above. Anyway, on with the post….

Understanding the times seems to be a common quest amongst us, who strive to become a meaningful and acknowledged part of the world. We constantly want to be able to predict things, to understand things and to do that seeing the patterns and coming to conclusions is the way to go, yes?

Tonight I was reminded of where my own answers to such desires comes from. As Jesus addressed a crowd of the curious and uncommitted he said,

“Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Luke 12:56

Jesus came as the fulfilment of centuries of promises from God. These people have been waiting for this King. Here he stands before them speaking with powerful words that he supports with powerful actions. Before this passage Luke had recorded a huge array of these phenomenal acts. Jesus had cast out demons (Luke 4:33-37), healed a leper (Luke 5:12-16), forgave sins ( Luke 5:20), healed the paralytic (Luke 5:22-26) and raised the dead ( Luke 7:11-17; 8:47-56), just to name a few.

His works were so mind-blowing that even his enemies would not deny them, but instead sought to question by what authority he did them. You can imagine that that would be why so many curious people are drawn to him.

Why did he come? Jesus came bearing a message. One that holds profound significance for us today.

Jesus came to inform humanity that they are in debt. God has turned up on our doorstep to inform us that we’ve committed an offence for which our fine is still outstanding. He’s created us, made this world, gave us life and we’ve ignored him. Often, we’re not even thankful for what we have. I definitely know I’m guilty of this.

So what do you do? Jesus says:

“While you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Luke 12: 58-59

The only way to get out of your debt, is to accept the deal Jesus has offered you. To our trust in the payment his death is on your behalf. The next bit of the passage may be a bit perplexing but let’s try and unpack it. Some people tell Jesus of some tragedies that have occurred: some people who were killed. He responds:

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish”

Luke 13:3

That comes across as a little insensitive, right? It seems like these people did nothing to deserve their sudden deaths. But what Jesus is getting at is that these people, and everyone else, don’t really deserve anything. Everything we receive is a merciful gift from God. Every moment a gift given in the hope that we will take him up on his offer.

So God is patient and merciful. I need to learn to remember that all that I have, I don’t deserve. This is something you should seriously think about too. Have you understood the times?

The Moon Is Round

A 14 year old girl who was slowly decaying from cancer was asked by her family to keep a journal. When she died, they found a note that said: “The moon is round.” As they read your journal they learnt that she meant that even when you can only see a sliver of the moon, you still know it is round. In the same way, she knew that even though she couldn’t fully understand what was going on, that God was sovereign.

That was an illustration in a talk over KEC 2012 that I was really encouraged by. I went back this year to yet again serve the senior high kids and they in turn were such an encouragement to me. One of them said one day, that in our busy city lives, when we look up at the stars we can’t see them. But when you strip away the busyness, head out into the country and lie in the middle of a field, all the glory of God’s creation is stretched out before you and you can’t help but marvel. I was so encouraged to not let my earthly life cloud my vision of God’s immense holiness and wonder.

As we sat together under the word of God we were blown away by the infinite becoming intimate as God transfers his holiness to us as we are made right by God and for God. (Isaiah 6:1-9). And how perceiving truly his holiness we should be driven to our deeds as we see the horror of our sin. We learnt how unfair the truth is. That Christ would lovingly save his enemies from what they deserved, so that we can have no punishment, no penalty but peace (Romans 5:1-11). So that even in suffering, we can have tears of joy, knowing we are united in Christ and that even our sin and shame can’t prevent him from loving us.

Even though God will continue to forgive us our sins, this grace is not a licence to sin. Instead, the old person that we were is crucified along with Christ so that we bear condemnation no more. We are made a new creation, born again, united with Christ in his resurrection. Our new selves are called to do things that are not to our earthly advantage, but these earthly risks are for eternal values. No longer does God dwell separate from us but instead with us, as the Holy Spirit, no longer slaves to sin, we are empowered to face and overcome sin. (Romans 6:1-14)

We have a God who is faithful to his promises, Merciful to his people and so we endure in the hope we have been given and are driven to share that hope.

As we were talking in our discussion group, someone said, “But we’re young and often I don’t feel equipped to tell people what I believe.” Someone pulled out Job 32:6-10:

“And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said,’Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that
makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what
is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’

Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness. The act of letting someone off the hook. In moderation, forgiveness feels right. It makes you feel like a great, kind and generous person. But when it reaches a threshold, it’s no longer an act of kindness but an ignorance towards injustice, is it not? So where is this threshold, if there is one? And why should we even bother forgiving, when really it isn’t just?

Jesus disciples had the same question:

“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22

Now, Jesus isn’t setting a threshold here, he’s not giving us a number to count up to before we seek revenge. It’s the equivalent of when you pull out the wildcard when you argued with your siblings when you were young: “I’m better that you times infinity.” Jesus says, there is no threshold, you should just keep forgiving without number.

Now, that just seems unreasonable. You can’t just keep forgiving, where’s the justice in that? To make his point Jesus uses a parable, which he often does:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”

Matthew 18:23

Just as the King wants to settle his debts with his servants, so does God want to fix our debt to him. Our rebellion has a cost, Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death.” Our actions bring us to owe God our life, he has more than the right to take it. However, the story continues:

“When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents [1 Talent = 20 years work; thus 10,000 Talents = 200,000 years work]. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and the payment had to be made.”

Matthew 18:24-5

Not a pretty picture. The servant obviously hasn’t got the years in him to work off this debt and the only thing that seems to solve the problem is the life of him and his family. Just as we are incapable of paying for our sin with all the good deeds and action we can muster, this servant can’t pay back this debt.

“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'”

Matt 18:26

As any sane person would do in this situation, they would try and save themselves. It almost seems like the instinctive response to this kind of debt is to promise the unfulfillable. I’ll pay you back, don’t worry, even though it is humanly impossible, I’ll make the promise because it gives a sense of false assurance. I’m in over my head.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with general forgiveness, it’s not like majority of issues are debt related. Just bear with me, I’m getting there. Jesus continues:

“And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

Matt 18:27

Obviously the servant’s promise was a cry for mercy that came out of a fear and understanding of the hopelessness of his situation. There was no way he could get himself out of it. The master sees this, has pity on him and just lets him off the hook. Just for a minute, close your eyes and imagine the emotions, the sensations that the servant must be feeling. Thankfulness isn’t a big enough concept to even encompass the experience.

This is the extent to which we are forgiven through Christ. That is why Christianity is such a different religion: it asks for nothing in return for salvation, for there is nothing that humanity can offer that can satisfy the debt. The verse from Romans that I mentioned earlier also has the same ending:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.

However, the parable continues:

“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [100 denarii = a days work], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe me’. ”

Matthew 18:28

So off skips this free servant and he stumbles upon someone he happened to lend money to. You have to notice, his methods are a little more violent than his masters.

“So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you’. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

Matt 18:29

Just as the servant pleaded with his master, so too does his friend plead with him. You’d think after having experienced such mercy that the servant would feel more inclined to give mercy himself but he doesn’t. This has consequence:

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I has mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:32-35

The servant has his master to answer to. His behaviour has cost him the mercy he received initially. It seems almost illogical that he didn’t see how little his act of mercy would have been in comparison to the mercy he received from his master and yet he could not forgive.

So this is how forgiveness should work, then. God offers us mercy and forgiveness in our sin because there is no way we could fix the problems we’ve created on our own. Thus, this forgiveness should spur us to forgive others their wrongs which are so much less in comparison to what we’ve received.

Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.