More questions than answers

This blog will be a bit different to others I have written. In previous posts I have sought to bring a new perspective on some spiritual truth or a reminder of one that perhaps seems to have been forgotten at the time of writing. 

In this one, I fear that I will be posting far more unanswered questions that providing answers. The questions are a result of me currently struggling with seemingly diametric truths about what I believe to be true.

The struggle isn’t new. As a family we have been walking a journey which has seemed unfair, difficult, frustrating and, as a parent heart-breaking. From the passing of both parents so close together, to the chronic illness of a daughter who has now been unable to attend school, or do anything that young teenagers enjoy for over a year, I think it is fair to say that this is not the path we would have chosen. When the doctors say that there really isn’t anything that can be done to help, or don’t really seem to ‘get it’, it should be comforting to know that our faith gives us assurance that we are connected to the Great Physician and therefore He will sort it out.

And we are comforted by that, and we do believe that He will.

But the waiting is hard. There have been, there are, and there will be tears along the way. 

I was recently inspired by the following lyrics from a song by Jason Upton.

‘what’s amazing to me about a man like you

Is that you raised the dead

But had to suffer too

Jesus’

You see, I believed that God can and does heal today. You can try and convince me otherwise but won’t be able to. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I firmly believe that Jesus meant it when He said that we that believe would do the things He did, and greater things that that too. I believe that He raised the dead, healed all that came to Him, confounded the religious rulers of the day with His interpretation of the scriptures. He had access to the full storehouses of heaven, what is more He knew it. He was God, here on earth in flesh. 

And yet He suffered. He had nowhere to lay His head. During His ministry years He was pursued by men who wanted Him dead. When He was finally arrested, He was subjected to the cruellest torture and death known at the time or since. 

It is easy to see Jesus as someone who came to earth to show us the way, yet not grasp the fact that He understands that we are struggling along the way. That He couldn’t understand because He had it easy, because He was God. 

That isn’t the example that we read about in the Gospels. Here we see a man who was despised and rejected. One that was ‘acquainted’ with suffering. If we are looking for the ultimate example of one who knows what a difficult life is like, we need look no further.

As humans we have a template of what is good and what isn’t. We are pretty much universally agreed that sickness, illness and death are bad. Good health, joy and long life are good. We know that God is good, and therefore the bad things don’t sit well with what we know of His character. If God loves the world as much as the bible says He does (and to demonstrate this love, sent His only Son to die in order that we might have life) it seems inconsistent that He would allow illness in those who love Him and ask for that illness to go. Yet we still see sickness and death. Hospitals are full. Pandemics are sweeping across the globe. Where is God in all this. 

Eminent theologians have sought to comment on this over the years. Opinion ranges from a cessationist viewpoint (God set it all in motion then stepped back and let us get on with it) to sickness is God’s judgement on the world who do not follow in His ways. My issue with that particular one is that why do those who do follow His ways still suffer? For those for whom anything not bowing to the name of Jesus when commanded to is simply not contemplated, there is little or no comment.

There are variations of these extremes across the board and denominational spectrum, but when it all comes down to it I think it is fair to say that our best guess is that suffering and pain breaks the heart of the Father even more than it breaks ours. There will be justice for what is suffered here on earth, but we may have to wait until eternity to see it. (I suspect that once there we won’t be quite as concerned with it as we are now.) 

The bible says that ‘He works all things together for good’. The best thing we can do is look for the good in all that we experience. To do that, it is very likely that we will have to put aside our preconceptions of how things ‘should’ be and accept how they are. 

Then ask Him – how is He making this beautiful? Especially if it doesn’t feel beautiful. 

There are countless podcasts, videos and books available that will tell us ‘what to do to get our healing’. Each will tell some sort of formula – pray more, fast more, worship more, and then you will receive your breakthrough. 

I believe that breakthrough is possible for all situations we find ourselves in but I also believe that formula is no replacement for relationship. Jesus healed all that came to Him not because He knew which prayer to pray, or when to lay hands or simply command, but because He lived His life in constant connection with His Father. 

Without offering that as simply another formula to be tried, I wonder if concentrating on our relationship with Him rather than trying to solve our problems is the answer that we have been missing for so long. 

I am certain that if we do that, while our situation may not change, our outlook on it most definitely will. 

link to song that inspired the post – Jason Upton ‘Hammer and an awkward nail’ https://youtu.be/KxyAes7XDqY

Get on your knees

King David had messed up pretty royally. From adultery to murder, with a pregnant mistress thrown in, I think it’s fair to say that he was in a place that he wished he wasn’t. As the king he probably thought he could keep things hidden, or at the very least stop people talking about it.

I reckon that deep down his heart was in a mess. He knew that God had given him all that he had. He knew the law. He knew what pleased God, and yet here he was in turmoil. How to fix what he had done? How to forgive the unforgivable?

I was listening to a song today whilst driving. The lyric “you’ve given ground you can’t retrieve’ reminded me of David. He found himself in a situation where there was no way out. He had allowed sin to infiltrate little by little until there seemed no way back to the days when he had the ear of Yahweh.

I wonder if you have found yourself in the same situation. What started out a lack of concentration slowly became a habit. You managed to keep it hidden for a while, but now it’s becoming much more difficult. 

Maybe in a moment of weakness you chose fleeting pleasure instead of resisting. That might not have been so bad, but the next time the opportunity presented itself it was harder to say no than you thought it would be. 

Whatever caused it, I’m pretty sure that all of us have found ourselves in a place at one time or another when we wished we could click our fingers and go back in time.

The song I referenced above goes on to say, ‘get on your knees, and fight like a man.’ The truth is that there is something that can be done. There is a way out. It involves talking to the one who is able to wipe slates clean. David knew this. In Psalm 51 he confesses that he has done wrong and admits that even if others don’t know about them, they are laid bare in front of God’s eyes. He doesn’t try and dodge the issues any longer but admits that he has done wrong. 

Fast forward to the New Testament, we read this in 1 John 1:9.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (emphasis mine)

All we need to do is admit we have messed up, say we are sorry and God takes care of the rest. I love the fact that He doesn’t just make us a little bit cleaner. It is the full Persil white processes. It doesn’t matter what dirt you ask Him to sort, we are made completely righteous. Every time.

The reality is that God can and does cleanse us. That doesn’t mean that the mess that has been created by our sin will just go away though. David found that out the hard way. The son that was borne out of his sin died. Uriah was still dead. 

When we confess our sins, our account with God is cleared – but there may still be people that we need to repair relationships with.  There may be consequences that we need to live with. The peace that is found knowing that we are right with God is worth all that though. 

I think we are often fearful of dealing with the consequences of sin, so we buy into the lie that if we ignore it, it will go away. It won’t, so better to allow the love of the Father to flow into the situation and begin to heal the wounds.

So wherever you find yourself right now, whatever ground you have given, know that with God there is nothing that can’t be retrieved.  God is a God of restoration and forgiveness. 

Get on your knees and talk to Him today.

Following instructions

Today there will be parts of England that will be waking up with a hangover. It will be a couple of weeks before we know whether the enjoyment has been worth it.

Further lockdown restrictions have been lifted and for the first time in months it has been possible to go to a pub for a drink.

Strict social distancing rules are allegedly in place, but if the photographs are to be believed, they have not been adhered to. 

The danger is that as the country opens up and gets back to ‘normal’, the virus which has been on retreat will find a way to re-emerge causing the feared second wave. 

I have to say that as someone that works in the NHS, not on the front line as such as I don’t look after patients directly, but carrying out the testing for Coronavirus, a second wave would be devastating. We are already stretched and have been for months. To ask us to ‘go again’ would be incredibly difficult, but we will, because we always do.

Although the rules are in place to keep people safe, it is evident that many struggle to follow them, (especially if they have been drinking.) If I’m honest, I haven’t been great at following instructions in the past.

If told to stand, my natural reaction is to want to sit. If I am told to dress a certain way, I will resist for several years before conforming to fashion rules. I think there is something in all of us that wants to push back against boundaries. One just needs to look at a child growing up, gradually trying to see how far their parents can be challenged before they break to appreciate that.

My question is – if we struggle to follow the instructions given by the highest authority in the land, how do we perform when challenged with instructions from the highest authority there is? 

Jesus said, ‘this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (john 15:2)

He said ‘heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons’ (Matthew 10:8)

‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ (Matthew 5:39)

‘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 to obey all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19)

These are just four of the things that Jesus asks us to do. 

I once saw a picture with the caption “Simon says pat your head, and we pat our head. Jesus said make disciples and we hand out gospel tracts.” 

As humans we struggle with instructions, but with us as Christian’s it should be easier to follow Christs instructions. Why do we struggle so much? As I have noted in an earlier blog, it is our mind that needs to be renewed, our soul is battling against the new creations that is our spirit man. It is time to speak to our soul, command our mind and tell it that obedience is far better than sacrifice. 

How are you getting on with loving others? Even those that upset or annoy you? Have you decided that it is just too hard at the moment? 

In a world that is shouting about its rights are you prepared to be the one who stands and allows others to realise theirs at the expense of yours? Are you prepared to suffer for the things that you hold to be true?  Are you confident in the one who has saved you? Does the verse “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me?’  Are you convinced or simply hopeful?

Have we become guilty of handing out gospel tracts (in reality or figuratively) rather than making disciples? A disciple is one that follows in the footsteps of the one who has taught them. We are to make people disciples of Jesus. In order to do that effectively, we too need to be disciples. We need to be so immersed in the life of Jesus, his teachings and his instruction that it becomes second nature to us. That is the only way that we will be able to help people become accurate reproductions of the Master.

I hope and pray that we as a nation become better at following instructions. That we realise that they are there for our safety and our good. That we will stop trying to rebel against them simply as a way to make our voices heard. 

And that we will follow instructions of the one who makes it all worthwhile, who made us, holds us together and knows what is best for us.

Awake my soul

I don’t know about you, but I’ve realised more and more during lockdown that I’ve had to give myself a good talking to. I’ve found that my mind is easily gets distracted and I find that I get so focused on little things that actually ‘real life’ becomes challenging.

The trick is to try and ensure that you catch yourself before it becomes a real issue, preventing normal functions.

At times, I wonder why I am the way I am. Many of you, like me will have been taught that when you become a Christian everything becomes ‘rosy’ and all you have to do is get on with life. The reality tends to be a bit different though doesn’t it. 

The more I think about it though, the more I realise that it shouldn’t surprise me. As a human I am ‘made’ up of three parts – body, soul and spirit. 

My body (greek = soma) continues to get older, creaks more each day, and will eventually cease to allow me to continue to experience that which we refer to as life.

When this happens, my spirit (greek = pneuma), which is the part of me that because of my relationship with Jesus is acceptable to the Father will continue to exist. My spirit is where I find my conscience, and it is the part of me that communes with God.

My soul (greek = psyché), or mind is a part of me that needs continual work. Romans 12:2 tells us that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I think that we forget that our minds need to be transformed. We assume that becoming a Christian means that we will automatically think the right way. We can find ourselves getting more and more frustrated as we realise that our minds are not in line with our spirit. 

As a church we are spending some time looking at the life of David and some of the Psalms that he wrote.David spent a lot of time telling his soul to come back into line and to start thinking the right way.

I believe that it is important to feed our ‘spirit man’ We need to spend time with the Father, communing with Him, stretching our faith, enjoying His presence. It has already been make perfect by the cross, but He loves it when we spend time with Him.

But we need to be disciplined with our body too – too much junk and not enough exercise will reap its own reward.

Our soul can be talked into a place of destruction or one of promise and hope. 

Consider these verses. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:1-2)

‘Why are you downcast O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” (Psalm 45:2)

In each example, David tells himself to remember things, to consider things, and questions why he feels the way he does. I dare say, if it is ok for David to do this, it is safe to assume that we can too.

There is an old story about an even older Cherokee and his conversation with his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

There will be some who read this for whom simply talking to yourself is not the answer. Some will have very real medical issues that need to be dealt with by a professional. Please seek help as appropriate. If you are already receiving help, can I encourage you to speak positively to your soul as an addition to anything that has been provided, whether that be medication or something else. God is absolutely able to transform any situation around in an instant, but sometimes He uses medical professionals to effect His perfect plan for your life. 

Speaking truth to your soul is a good thing. I pray that as you do, your experience of lockdown will change for the better, and you will begin to see clear paths and opportunities where there may only have been mountains before.

Stay safe.