Category Archives: Scripture

Alan from behind looking into the distance

Finding Myself Again

(A two minute read)

I have people in my life who will say that I ‘found Jesus.’ Others will say that I ‘came to faith.’ They misunderstand. The opposite is true. God came to me. I wasn’t looking for Him. But He was looking for me. Endlessly. And when my time came, I couldn’t ignore Him.

He approached me first, then I found Him. Then I came to find faith in Him. Only then could I hear Him say ‘Follow Me’. Only then could I follow Him.

In that faith that I found, I now know that there are great things in store for me. I’m God’s masterpiece, ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that (I) should walk in them.’ *

Here’s the deal: I was His masterpiece before I followed Him in faith. I was His masterpiece when I was still His enemy and hated Him. I was His masterpiece when I was broken. That’s why He came after me, because I was broken and had thrown myself in the trash. I was like Forky in Toy Story 4. Because I lived in the trash, I thought I was trash.

God disagreed, and tracked me down. What artist paints a masterpiece and throws it in the trash? Or, in my case, if the masterwork is thrown in the trash, doesn’t the artist go to retrieve it? To redeem it?

It’s by God’s grace that I was pulled from the scrap heap, saved from my own destruction. Now, I may finally ‘walk out those good works that God prepared beforehand.’

I do this successfully only through complete surrender. Surrender is difficult sometimes, but it renders the Christian life very simple. The simple answer to every question is to turn to Jesus, who tracks me down no matter how far I wander. And when He reaches me again, He says ‘Follow Me’. And I do, because He’s the one worth following, and I find myself again.

* Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

Photo by Rachel Richards

Skeleton With Candy

Giving In

(A five minute read – part of a year-long series on the Ministry of Reconciliation

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/: The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree.

Original Sin has been debated, discussed, dissected and derided as much as any Biblical concept. I find less difficulty wrestling with the problem than with the solution.

The Bible reports that original sin was the catalyst for God’s plan of redemption, for people and the world. This plan began its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It continues through the work of the Church in the present age and Christ’s eventual return to judge creation.

You can lose yourself down endless hermeneutical rabbit holes here. Or have some pretty spicy arguments around the holiday dinner table (Been there. Done both. Don’t recommend either.)

What if?

But what if creation didn’t get off track with Adam and Eve’s sin? What if the trouble came because they didn’t repent and reconcile themselves to God?

Hold it. Relax. Call off the Twitter mob. Put away the paintball guns and re-pack the label of heretic so many are quickly adorned with nowadays. This is merely a thought experiment. Rest assured that I believe sin was the problem, is the problem and will continue to be the problem until Christ’s return. But it’s not unsolvable.

Jesus’ work on earth is the answer to sin that Adam and Eve couldn’t quite grasp.

We all know the story, but to recap: Adam and Eve are created to be in relationship with God, tending the garden of Eden. The devil cons Eve into thinking God’s holding out on her and she’s missing something. She agrees to munch on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam follows suit. In creation’s first face-palm moment, the two of them have their eyes opened to the reality that they’re in Really Big Trouble.

An ‘oh crap’ situation of cosmic proportions has developed. Decision time then. Come clean? Or live in shame?

You know the rest. They selected Door Number Two and decided to become tailors. They sewed garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness. God dramatically asks a Very Large Rhetorical Question, as He often does: ‘Hey Adam – where you at?’

There is a second decision point and Adam does a bit better this time. He comes half-clean, admitting that he was afraid due to being caught out of his knickers. But he didn’t go far enough to admit outright all they had done.

So, God bears down: ‘Who told you you were naked? Did you eat the fruit?’

Is it Really All Downhill From Here?

Decision time again. The third time pays for all. Adam blows it completely. He blames his wife (husbands take note: this never works). Eve blames the devil (wives take note: not a good idea; better to blame the husband). I imagine Satan standing there with a ‘Who, Me?’ look on his face thinking ‘Curses, foiled again.’ Indeed then, curses are the order of the day.1

But wait a minute.

What if Adam and Eve had made a full confession at that first question and thrown themselves on the mercy of the court? What if they had repented?

There’s nothing in the Genesis story hinting that God would have forgiven them and let everything rewind and start over. But it’s not beyond my imagination to think that He would not have or could not have. Funny things happen in a universe that allows for free will.

We know how things turned out for the ancients. But thanks to Jesus Christ, they can turn out differently for you and me.

Much of Scripture is interpreted to shove sin down our throat: sin is the world’s only problem! Well yes, but let’s not condemn ourselves for sinning just yet. Because there’s a way out. There is forgiveness for sin, because there is grace – again, thanks to Christ. Even if you aren’t a Christian and want to relabel sin as ‘crappy behavior’ it’s all about the same. We screw up and need to make amends to one another and create reconciliation.

It’s just that we need to do that on the spiritual level first, if we are to get out from under the eternal burden of it. But God understands. The Psalmist reminds us that ‘He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.’ 2

We Are In Trouble, And Yet…

As theologian Karl Barth pointed out, this grace comes from God assuming we are ‘in distress and that God’s intention is to…grant (us) assistance in (our) extremity.’ 3

Isn’t that remarkable? What a relief. God knows we are in trouble. We are constantly and always in trouble. Even Christians who have turned away from a sin lifestyle suffer from thoughts, actions and lack of actions that miss the mark. We are always in some sort of trouble, even if we don’t talk about it.

As I wrote elsewhere, we must learn to breathe underwater because life is always over our heads. The smart Christian admits this, and asks always and constantly for Help.

So, sin dogs me, as it dogs us all, believer and unbeliever alike. That’s unavoidable with us being born into a spiritual war zone and all. But I’ll argue that my ultimate problem is not sin. It’s hard-heartedness, leading to a lack of repentance.

My solution must be a quick about-face to acknowledge the mistake and offer a meaningful apology. Otherwise I’ll fall into a pattern of sin, which will only increase. The better alternative is to step into a pattern of repentance, which will only increase.

That’s the key. Oswald Chambers said ‘the foundation of Christianity is repentance.’ 4 He’s right, because sin doesn’t make us bad. It makes us dead.

(based on an idea from Melanie Searle)

1. See Genesis 3:1-19
2. Psalm 103:14
3. Karl Barth, Unspoken Sermons, First Series
4. My Utmost For His Highest Devotional Journal, Oswald Chambers, (© 1992 Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd. Used with permission). He was commenting on 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says: ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but the sorrow of the world produces death.’

Image by Cottonbro via Pexels

burger and fries

Eat Hearty, Christian. Lent is Coming!

A four-minute read

“Each year, around the latter part of winter, Lent arrives. It nearly always surprises me. Here it is, once again, summoning me to change how I typically live.” — W. David O. Taylor

Why should I bother changing the way I live? Isn’t life hard enough? I’m just trying to get along after all. Coping with lockdown and separation. Wondering when the sun will return, and the air will warm, and I can hug you again.

The good news in all this madness is that Lent is coming.

Lent is yet another reminder that what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas but what happens on earth doesn’t stay on earth. We get to take it with us on judgment day.

It’s difficult to have an eternal perspective when death, dead-ends, poverty, moral failure and other evils seem to trump every card I play. My theology gives out on me sometimes when Perceived Life (what you probably think of as ‘Real Life’) seems to have the advantage.

What is actually Real Life is something much more than this Perceived Life in which I’m trapped. What I see in front of me is temporary, but the things I don’t see, the things I have faith in, are eternal.1

That’s why I need Lent. It’s a reset, where I turn my attention back to those few things that are truly important. The journey is simple and traditional. Traditional Lenten observance means prayer and repentance, fasting and almsgiving. These three things reconnect me with God’s heart.2

Lent is a journey. And, when I take a journey, I need to pack, and check the map to see what might be in my way.

That’s easy to see. It’s the same old rubbish: Pride, self-sufficiency, dishonorable thoughts, judgmentalism, greed, among others.3

‘Wait a minute’, you might say, ‘I thought your Christian faith says “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.” 4 Don’t you have this thing licked?

You are correct about the first part, but not about the second part. The Bible also refreshingly points out that I’ll face temptation. And, I’ll suffer. I’ll feel like falling down. I’ll feel like giving up. It’s a giant Free Will Problem. Whether I stand or fall is up to me. Fortunately, I have supernatural help.

Jesus said ‘In the world (Perceived Life) you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.’ 5 There’s that Real Life I mentioned earlier. The one I can’t see, but which bears me up when I stumble. It’s His life.

How do connect with it? That’s where prayer, fasting and almsgiving come in. I’ll be engaged in all three between Ash Wednesday (17 February) and Easter (4 April), and that will guide my writing journey the next 7 ½ weeks. You are welcome to come along.

I’m not telling you these things to boast, rather to set a backdrop against which you can view an unfolding story. After all, even a superficial study of Matthew 6 shows that Jesus says we should do all these things in secret.6

And I will. It’s just that, since Jesus expects it, and I follow Him, it’s probably not so secret then that I might choose to do these things.

Just to be clear. Lenten practices are not about earning some sort of favor or to make up for whatever rotten stuff I’ve done. Only Jesus’ sacrifice pays for any of that. Jesus alone.7

Lent is not about punishment. It’s not about self-denial either. It’s about emptying myself out so I can be filled afresh. So I can stuff myself with His goodness.

It’s about sharpening my senses. It’s about building a better relationship with God.

Here’s a metaphor. Because the church is described by some as the bride of Christ and the Lord as the bridegroom,8 think of Lent as a marriage retreat.

Or perhaps, a honeymoon.

1. 2 Corinthians 4:18
2. See Isaiah 58-60 for a discussion of this concept
3. Galatians 6:19-21
4. Galatians 6:24
5. John 16:33
6. Matthew 6:3-6, 17
7. Matthew 8:17, Romans 4:25
8. There’s an excellent discussion of this at the Berean Bible Society. I use the metaphor here just as a literary device. It’s a secondary issue and I won’t argue with anyone about it.

Photo by Jonathan Borba via Pexels