I’m a failure at blogging…

(Less than 1900 words – excluding Bible Verses)

I am a failure at this blogging thing. When I bought the domain, attempted to design the website, and started writing my first post I had every intention of blogging once a week. What a spectacular fail! I am a year in and this is my twelfth blog. But, you know what? I’m ok with that. It’s been a terrible twelve months for everyone and I believe we should allow ourselves some grace. If we didn’t, despondency and regret may be long lasting symptoms of the virus.

To combat my own regret and embarrassment, I’m deciding to view my failure and unreached goals as the starting point for the next season. I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do but I absolutely learned from the attempts I made.

The original aim for this blog is to research and consider what Christ has done for those people who choose to believe in a spiritual sense and what he has done for the greater world in an historical sense. Some of my posts have touched upon this but mostly, I’ve written about what I was studying in the Bible.

As clunky or too-lengthy as my posts may be, they were richly rewarding to study and compile. Every word I wrote served to build upon my foundation of faith. Every thought I had urged me on to another and every post I wrote helped me to clarify my understanding and belief in the Word of God. I may be time-poor and have incorrectly prioritized my daily activities but I have given as much as I could to each post.

To say that I want to post more in my second year is obvious. If I do succeed in that wish or not, that is yet to be written. I’m not the first person to fail at something and, I’m sure you will agree, I won’t be the last. Life is a series of failures and achievements and, as my daughter often reminds me, we are able to learn from our mistakes. Thankfully Christ, who experienced human emotion, grief, pain, and temptation in fullness, is able to make use of all of our failures if we choose to let him. He is after all, our redeemer

“He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down…” Isaiah 53:3-4a

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines redeemer as a person who ‘redeems’.
The word redeem means: to buy back, to get or win back, to free from what distresses or harms such as: to free from captivity by payment of ransom, to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental, to release from blame or debt. It is also to change for the better, repair, restore and to free from a lien (financial charge) by payment. Redeem also means to atone for.

If you are familiar with the character and witness of Christ, you won’t be surprised to know that Merriam-Webster specifically uses Jesus as the example for Redeemer.

“Then they remembered that God was thier rock, that God most high was their redeemer” Psalm 78:35

Easter is upon us. It is a time when the Christian church recognizes and celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is significant because the world would not have Christianity if the world did not have the resurrection. If there was no resurrection there would be no hope in life eternal life – that God would redeem us to himself. Christians believe by intellect and experience that Christ’s redeeming powers have transformed their lives, thus the reason they believe.

Put like that the Christian theology seems simple, yet convolute at the same time: so many questions! Even the statement that ‘God would redeem us to himself’ sparks off many questions such as: why do we need redeeming, and does God even care?

I don’t plan on addressing such questions in this post, instead I’d like to draw your attention to one recorded encounter a woman had with Jesus in the New Testament for here we see Christ’s ability to love beyond human expectation, prejudice, fear and worry as he transforms a person from ‘failure’ to life.

In this, the longest recorded conversation Christ has with a person, Jesus turns personal failures into fuel for joy. It is a wonderful example of the personal change and experience that Christ offers to those who choose to believe. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the water well. John 4:1-42

The basic story is this: Jesus happens upon a woman drawing water at a famous well and asks her to provide him with a drink. She wonders why he would ask her and Jesus’ response “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”, sparks off a conversation that moves from practicality through to theology, confession, faith and eternal life. During the conversation Jesus tells the woman ‘everything she ever did’. When confronted by her own failure, Jesus’ offer of ‘living water and hope’ is the reverse to the condemnation and judgement she was living under. So moved by his love and respect towards her and by his own admission of his status of messiah she rushes back to the village overflowing with joy to rouse her neighbors to come and meet him. When the villagers see her, they agree to go with her to meet Jesus. Upon meeting him they too are convinced and choose to receive Jesus’ offer of the ‘gift of living water’.

It’s a remarkable story where many people’s lives are changed but none so much as the woman.

Up until this point this woman’s life had been marked by failure. In a time when it was important to be married and monogamous she was living with her fifth and unmarried partner. Such lifestyle choices would have negatively affected her social life and status in the village. I’m sure she was the source of much town gossip and rumor; could this be the reason she was alone at the well when Jesus met her? Respectable women would have gone in a group and at a cooler time of day to draw water. Outcasts and victims of gossip, often prefer to avoid and work by themselves. (The story makes no mention of other people at the well, rather it reads like a private conversation between she and Jesus, which is why the assumption can be made that she was alone.)

If she was indeed an outcast, the woman’s return to the village with the intention of bringing people back to meet Jesus shows a remarkable inner change: she was overflowing with love and forgiveness desiring nothing more than to share the joy and hope that she herself had received. She did this in faith and without fear, embarrassment, shame or rebuke from the villagers. Jesus had redeemed her failures and she no longer had to hide in the shadows. The woman believed she was valued, respected, and honored by God. Her failures no longer ‘held her back’ and she could enter into a new identity and calling, which is why she felt confident to share her experience with the villagers. For them to listen to her and respond in such a way, the change within her must have been obviously apparent…and desirable. To them, she appeared a new and different person and they had to see the person who could do such a thing for themselves.

But this seems like such a big change in a person, can such change come simply from a conversation?

Any faith-filled person would say that yes it can however on closer observation it becomes evident that it wasn’t just what Jesus said to her, it was also what he did. In speaking to her, Jesus broke two unwritten, yet serious, social customs and law.

Firstly, he spoke to a woman. Social custom was that men did not speak to a woman they did not know. To do so was an act considered dishonorable and inappropriate. This explains why when Jesus’ disciples return from buying food in the village “they were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, ‘what do you want with her?’”

Secondly, he spoke to a Samaritan. Common Jewish thought and law was that the Samaritans were a people to be avoided and any encounter with one would make the Jewish person ‘unclean’.

The Jews and Samaritans had a very long and complicated history between them. They were very distantly related: the Samaritans were descended from the northern tribes of Israel and Judah remained as the southern tribes. However, over centuries the Samaritans had become their own nation and warred with the descendants of the southern tribes of Israel. They had also intermarried and assimilated with foreign nations and foreign idols. As a result, those Samaritans that clung to their Hebrew faith and long history had different customs, traditions and views about the scriptures than their ‘southern’ neighbors. Such differences, and the history between them, created feelings of prejudice and contempt, thus why the Jews treated the Samaritans as ‘unclean’. (Unclean in the Biblical sense meaning dirty, evil, and causing impurity which required ceremonial cleansing at the the temple.)

Understanding this, can you imagine the surprise the Samaritan woman at the well would have felt when Jesus spoke to her?

How much more surprised would she have been when this stranger spoke to her in such a respectful and intelligent manner? They even discussed theology at the highest degree and it profoundly affected her.

A major difference between the shared faith of the Jews and Samaritans is their understanding as to where the Lord’s Temple should be. The Jews believed God chose the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Samaritans believed it to be Mount Gerizem in Samaria.

The woman questions Jesus, desiring to know which belief is correct. His answer is clear and it changes her perceptions of the two belief systems. It also reveals to her God’s ultimate plan for equality and acceptance for all peoples. It is a startling revelation to her, filled with promise and hope. For within it, the woman recognizes Jesus’ call for her to walk free from her failings and come to God as she is, for her future and the future of those around her can belong to God.

Jesus said, “Believe me dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…But the time is coming – indeed it is here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship that way.”

Notice how Jesus doesn’t say that the Father is looking for those with perfect lives to worship him? Instead, Jesus found a person so affected by failure, he asked if that person would like to receive the gift of life that would allow that person to worship God in humility and fullness. That gift is the gift of grace.

In grace, God can redeem all our failures and mold us into the person he created us to be…if we let him.

Onwards, to new beginnings.

Thank you for reading.
May you have a happy and restoring Easter.

Why all the fuss about Christmas? Why all the gift giving? Is it really because of someone’s birthday?

Christmas is days away. In western nations, shoppers are clicking through website after website trying to find that perfect gift, churches are busy preparing and recording their Christmas message, and children are growing in excitement. Even in this Covid-19 pandemic, Christmas is still infectious (pun intended). There’s something about the Christmas tree with its glittering baubles and flashing lights, the catching Christmas carols, and the fun holiday drinks and delicious food. And for the children, the idea that a jolly and generous man travels the entire world bearing gifts is simply irresistible. Santa Claus is coming to town! With such glitz and glamour it’s easy to gloss over the significant religious aspect of Christmas.

A quick internet search suggests that a Roman historian known for his chronicling of Bible dates reasoned that Jesus was born on December 25th. Though not proven, the date eventually came to be accepted and thousands of years later we still treat the day as being significant to Christianity. We honor it as the day that Christ, God’s son, was born into the human race as the greatest gift ever given. It was not enough for God to give us life and creation, He sent His son as a witness and sacrifice so that we could be reconciled with God – His gift was, and remains to be, the gift of truth, love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and eternity. Santa, for all his marvelous toys, couldn’t possibly deliver something even remotely similar. In fact, Santa himself is free to accept the gift of God if he wants it – and that’s the catch, you have to want it. Sadly, many don’t.

But who is this Jesus anyway? Why the big deal?

A person can have a lifetime of perfect Christmases and still miss the reason and purpose behind the holiday. A person can even live a lifetime as a Christian Believer and still know very little about Jesus and what He has done for the world. I am such a person! In fact, it wasn’t until early 2017 and after my 39th Christmas that I came to realize that I knew very little about Jesus, the person I believed to be the son of God and the light of our salvation. Sure I knew the general stories, having learnt them as a young girl, but as to being able to explain my faith other than by the summation of a few experiences and my ‘gut feeling’ that God is real, I was at a loss. Could I have continued in this manner and still been assured of God’s love for me? Yes, absolutely. Could I have never learned anymore about Jesus and still be confident that He would grant me eternal life with Him just because I believe? Yes, absolutely. But could I be the person God desires me to be and could I carry out his purposes in my life without learning anymore about him? No, absolutely not.

Has the Christmas spirit (the spirit of giving) been wasted on me then? Since I had not bothered to study the instruction manual of the greatest gift I have been given, am I making the best use of this gift?

I once heard it said that ‘Time equals relationship’ – the more time you invest in someone the better the relationship, therefore the less time you invest, the worse the relationship. If faith can be described as more than just believing in God’s existence but as one’s relationship with God, then the quote implies the more time spent with God, the stronger the faith. But perhaps speaking of faith as strength is somewhat misleading? Let’s think then of faith as the solid foundation in one’s life that continues to be built and restored by prayer, time spent reading God’s word the Holy Bible, and by unique godly experiences.

Faith equals relationship with God. But also, relationship with God equals faith.

To live a faith-filled life is to spend time with God. Spending time with God is to spend time getting to know His son. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God (Colossians 2:6). It might be a little tricky to understand if you’re not familiar with Christianity but the concept is that God and Jesus are different in personhood but are one in nature and essence, co-equal and interdependent. To know God, is to love his son. To love the son, is to love the father.

But what does it mean to ‘spend time with God?’ How does someone do this?

The straightforward answer is: reading the Bible, praying, mediating on Him and his word, and meeting with like-minded people to discuss and think upon the things He has done. The complicated answer is in one’ s personal discovery of how to ‘let the message about Christ, in all it’s richness, fill your lives” so that one can “work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord than for people” (Colossians 3:16, 23).

My realization that I did not know much about Jesus coincided with the recognition that my faith and my relationship with God could be described as being as solid as clay, easily muddied with the right amount of rain or turned to dust in a drought. Not the best soil to build anything upon! A feeling, for that really is what it was, can’t be explained to others and it can’t be trusted to remain the same under pressure. The only certainty that I had was that I wanted to have faith, I wanted to trust in God, and I wanted to believe His Word as truth. And if ever asked, I wanted to be able to lovingly discuss my belief and feel confident in my reply. I wanted to know what all the fuss over Christmas was really about! Acknowledging this, I decided, as one way to spend time with God, to ‘Consider Christ’ by reading and learning as much about Him as I could.

So what have I discovered so far? Who is this Christ and what did He do?

Much of my reading and study has coincided with an exploratory reading of the Bible. My aim has been to read the Bible in historical context as well as theological. I’ve sought, and continue to do so, for both the historical Jesus and the Son of God.

Some years later and many books finished, I feel like I’ve only opened the door to Jesus Christ and the spiritual truths and certainties God has offered and promised. Already it’s enough to have changed my thinking and deepened my relationship with God! As a result, God has been repairing and building a solid foundation of faith in my life, slowing replacing the clay with stone and forming me into a new person.

This is what is promised for the person who comes to trust in Jesus: “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new persons. The old life is gone; a new life has began” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The promise unfolds in the believer’s heart as God states: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). With this new person and new heart God promises: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33b).

What this all means is that a relationship with Christ has the power to transform your thinking and who you are as God renews and transforms you. It is a two-way relationship for as you “put on your new nature”, Jesus will help you to “know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10)

To be a christian, to know Christ, is to embrace tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience just as Christ did before us and to put to death those sinful awful thoughts and intentions that lurk within us such as anger, rage, malicious behavior, greed, and evil desires (Colossians 3: 5, 8-9,12) The Christian should be a changed person, free from our past and those things that trap us and stop us from becoming what God intends us to be: people filled with love, peace, and generosity.

I am very much a work in progress when it comes to employing such sentiment on a daily progress however, one remarkable and unexpected way God is changing my thinking and building my faith is by acquainting me with God’s Big Picture: God’s story of redemption and unfailing love towards humanity as depicted across the entirety of the Holy Bible.

The Bible, I am stunned to have learnt, is a collection of 66 books written by different authors over thousands of years that tie together with one ultimate narrative. In it there are various prophecies describing God’s intentions, many of them having already played out in world history, and many more describing the coming Messiah and what his arrival on earth actually means. Jesus, Christians believe, is that messiah. The Jewish faith shares many of the sacred texts with Christianity (what Christians call the Old Testament) however they deny that Jesus is the Messiah.

Though the life of Christ answers many of the prophecies about the coming messiah, just not in the way Judaism may have expected it to, I wonder if refusing Jesus as the messiah has a lot to do about the rejection of Jewish religious custom and less to do with Jesus himself. People are not very good at adapting to change and Christ’s teachings, his claims to be the son of God, and his death and resurrection, challenges and offers a very different way to be in relationship with God.

For the Jewish people a different way to know God meant a different way to live life – gone were the necessary sacrifices to receive atonement for sin for in its place Christ offered himself as the sacrifice for sins. Basically, Christ supplanted the need for Jewish law and religious tradition, offering instead a relationship with God based primarily in grace, repentance, forgiveness of sins, and love.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:16). Whether you believe Jesus is the promised messiah and the son of God or not, it is impossible to argue that Jesus’ life did not change the world. 2000 years later, Christmas continues.

If you’re familiar with the Christmas story, you will know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and placed into a manger to sleep. There are Bible passages about a bright star in the night announcing his birth, angels speaking to shepherds, and wise men gifting Jesus with expensive and meaningful gifts but aside from that, Jesus arrival was humble and quiet. In fact, the first thirty years of his life was quiet. It was not until he commenced his public ministry, healing, speaking, performing miracles, and challenging the religious leaders at the time that the record of his life truly begins. And all the records we have appear to cover a very brief three years of his life; the three years traveling through the regions of Israel and leading up to this death and resurrection.

Though he was a noted healer and knew the scriptures like no other, it was Jesus’ execution at the hand of the Romans and his resurrection from the grave by God that give meaning and importance to his teachings and example. If this did not happen, it is quite possible that Jesus could have been lost and forgotten in history. Instead, we have a person who claimed to be the son of God and to be the way, the truth, and the life for all humanity, who not only lived a sincere life but conquered death so that we could rest confidently in this new hope that God provides.

It took Christ three years to build his ministry and provide a reference as to what character we should aspire to but it took God three days to change the world by giving us a new covenant (something akin to a legal agreement) and a new way to live.

This new covenant is a new way of relationship with and promise by God that was poured out through the sacrificial blood of Christ. It was given to all humanity so that through him we can be made anew, receive eternal life and restoration with God but also that we may live joyful, hopeful, loving, compassionate and generous lives. Christ’s promise of eternal life is not fulfilled in our lives until we depart earth but his offer to lighten our daily burdens, change our way of thinking and give us a new thoughts and a new way of life is made new every day.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning” Lamentations 3:22-23
“For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30

The Christmas story, the humble birth of the person who was to bring about so much change in the heavens, on the earth, and in our personal lives, echoes throughout time for all eternity. It is a story that is worthy of our consideration. Regardless of your choice to believe the story or not, Christ’s life demands our attention for he remains the greatest teacher of morality and integrity humanity has ever seen.

If God so loved the world that he gave us his son, then Jesus so loved the world that he gave us love. Jesus radicalized the notion of love and challenged the very heart of humanity; it was no longer enough to love God and love your neighbor, love is now to love your enemies.

When Jesus said this, he was speaking to Jews who were living under violent Roman occupation and oppression and who considered only their close Jewish counterparts as friends. Imagine their shock! Or perhaps it is just as shocking to hear in 2020 when we don’t even like the person with opposing political views to ourselves.
Loving the enemy just seems so counter-intuitive yet it is a cornerstone to Jesus’ teaching and life. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only did Jesus say that we should love our enemy, he said that we should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Luke 6:31). Love your enemy and treat them well. And in treating them well, forgive them for the wrong they have done against you. “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

Is it just me, or would you agree that the whole world could do with a lot more love right now? Even before Covid-19 there was much pain, much hurt, much sadness and despair on our planet. Now, everything feels maximized and quite frankly, it’s exhausting and frightening to contemplate. Thankfully, we have a very clear picture of what love is because God used his son to teach us by example. If we did not have Jesus’ love, what would we have? If we had not forgiveness what would we have?

On earth Jesus taught a new way of forgiveness and redemption, speaking of God as the father who cares, and himself as the shepherd who guides and finds his lost sheep. And when Jesus left earth as his resurrected self, conquering death and offering eternity to all those who followed him, his self-sacrifice epitomized love. We call this self-sacrifice because Jesus was wrongly executed. The charges against him were insubstantial to warrant a trial, let alone an execution. He was innocent. Many times in his unjust trial he could have defended himself, however he chose to give up his own life as an act of love.

The ancient world, and God’s law given to the Jewish people, meant that a blood sacrifice was needed for the atonement of sins. When the Jewish people failed at keeping the law, God determined that the only way possible for human redemption was a blood sacrifice so significant that it would alter his relationship and purposes with his people forever. It would be the act to reveal just how much he loves us. As Christ died on that cross he took upon himself our sins so that God would be able to restore us to himself. For sin is like a disease that can rot the person, and humanity, to the core. God no longer wanted to see people like that, He wanted to see His people transformed and made whole (“holy and without blame”) by His own son. (Colossians 1:22)

Jesus loved us so much that he lay down his life. And this is how we know what love really is: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16(NIV)

Lay down our lives for others? It’s the ultimate act of love that only a handful of us might be forced to experience but the concept is worthy of thought. Love is sacrifice.

But what is sin? Does it even exist anymore? And why do people need saving?

I’ve heard it said that sin can be described as anything that gets in the way of your relationship with God. Without providing a solid definition the statement assumes a person has a general moral code and is therefore able to modify his or her response according to the present culture. For example, in recent history it would have been a grave sin for a couple to live together before marriage, now many unmarried christians co-habit. One hundred years from now, marriage may not even exist and the idea that co-habiting was once a sin, might just be reduced to a common joke. Society and culture changes but the word of God does not. In it, we have something called the Ten commandments and I am certain that any deviation of those laws is what God did, does, and will define as sin. One good look at those commandments and it is easy to see why they are important. If we break them, ultimately we hurt ourselves…and the lives of those closest to us. Remember, God is love…and we should love others.

What about those things that muddy the waters of our relationship with God that are not the result of our own sins but rather those done to us? How can a person consider God as a heavenly father when their own father has been of the worst kind? How can a person embrace the freedom Christ offers when they are locked in an abusive relationship? Life is complicated. Our emotions, fears and hurts are complicated. But we need to be able to differentiate between the guilt and shame our own sins bring us and the guilt and shame that others make us feel. Both can soil our relationship with God but the first requires us to seek forgiveness from God and the latter needs us to forgive others.

In western culture there is much hype about pursuing what makes us feel good and happy but often listening to our inner self and abandoning God’s commands makes us miserable and confused. Our culture urges us towards individualism but often it is at the cost of our own integrity and of those we are in relationship with. Sometimes doing what we feel like, something that satisfies our deepest desires, can hurt another person. Even though it feels good to us, if it hurts someone else it should be considered a sin. Sadly, many people live with the deep scars that others have given them and often such pain (and resentment) can hinder a persons life and keep them from trusting in God. We live in a broken world, with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken relationships and broken promises. Many of us have been abused and devalued. Many live with crippling shame, fear, anger, resentment, and hatred. Lives are debilitated by what others have done to them. We live in an unjust and unfair world it is our own broken selves that cry out for justice and vengeance.

Our restless souls and grieving hearts can lead us further down the path that leads to sorrow, or we can choose the path that provides hope, light and peace – the path that Christ has paved for us so that he can “comfort us in all our troubles’ and provide the restitution we long for. The person who finds God is the person who recognizes their own transgressions and desires something more, something beyond themselves, something heavenly. A relationship with God is able to make such hurts and worries bearable as he ‘lightens our load’, ‘heals our hurts’, ‘renews our minds’, and provides all that we need.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

At the heart of Christianity is a person’s desire to be made right with God. Once a person dares to believe in the goodness and possibilities with God, our iniquities make it impossible for God to be in relationship with us for who is equal to God? What person can claim to be perfect, loving and fair? What person can create by command? What person can be accepted by God without Christ’s representing him or her? The theology is clear: Jesus was sent to ‘make us right’ in the face of God, to forgive us our sins and offer a relationship with the Most High.

To have relationship with Christ is to humbly acknowledge that we have done many wrong things, to understand that our hearts are full of evil desire and intent, and to seek forgiveness turning away from those things (sins) that cause harm to God, to others, and to ourselves as we invite Christ to be a part of our lives.

Many churches encourage a simple prayer: ‘God forgive me for all I’ve done wrong and please come into my life and make me a new person.’
This prayer paves the way to the healing, positive changes, and blessings that God promises to those that believe in him. And, as we grow closer to Christ by spending time with Him we become more like Him in character. In doing so we, in spirit and by choice are able to move further away from the emotional confines and trappings of the world we live in. As our old selves and our past history are cast off in God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with us, we can be confident that we are made new and given a new identity and purpose.

Appointed as the salvation and judge for all people, and sent to earth in the form of a human subjected to grief and suffering like no other, Christ’s life stands as testimony and example of a God who loves his people and creation deeply. He is a God who aches for the relationship and trust of his own created mankind. God decided that Jesus is the way to God, the truth of God’s love and purposes, and the life God wants us to imitate.

When Christ died and was resurrected God’s love proved to be unfathomable and unfailing, able to reach all mankind and in all it’s darkest places. It is this example, the radical notion to ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘love your enemies’, that became the basis, the foundation and the hope of a new movement that would eventually spread across the globe. If Jesus were just some guy, we would not know about him. Instead, we have civilizations forged from the moral reasoning that is the fabric of the Christian ideology and institutions that were created to be witness to God’s love in service to others.

As christianity grew, God’s group of believers known as the church took the idea of love and service literally and created the first ever hospitals, schools and universities; the very institutions that make up the fabric of our societies. The church also promoted the christian philosophy that ‘all people’ are created equally and should therefore be treated equally. (Albeit, we still get this very wrong – good intention should not be forsaken for money and power but it always is. )

In the beginning when God created man and woman, he created them in his image, equally valued and equally loved. When Jesus came to earth his mercies, love, blessings, forgiveness, peace and joy flowed out to men and women equally, signifying there is no longer male or female but rather we are all made one in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ unifying vision has not played out so well in humanity but the theme is central to its theology – in christ there is forgiveness and acceptance for all persons who chose to follow him. There is love and blessings for all persons. There is hope and a future for all persons. There is peace and joy for all persons. There is a relationship on offer with the Most High for all persons. For God so loved the world…

Such a radical concept, and only just one of Jesus’ many statements, makes for a character so ingrained with world history that a time will come in your life when you will need to consider what he means to you and what he means to the world. We can not escape his presence nor his teachings for his word continues to pervade societies, cultures, and nations as the concepts of ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘love your enemy’ shake even the hardest of hearts

Is there any other character in the history of the world who has changed the world like Jesus?

In a world that no longer understands or values truth, the Christian belief and it’s exclusive claim to the way, the truth, and the life can either be a guiding light or a threatening flame to an unbeliever. In conversation, sometimes that opinion is pre-determined by the unbeliever and other times the outcome can be determined by the words and actions of the christian. Either way, our faith in God should not be kept hidden; for we believe that faith in Christ is a positive transformation to both the individual and for the world. In Him, peace and joy are made possible. In Him we find our hearts softened and changed as we learn to be and to give the same kind of love, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness that he bestows unto us.

We continue to celebrate Christmas for we know that Christ, in this life, offers us a new life: a new way of thinking and a new way of living, and in the next: eternity in a perfect heaven.
There is no other being or relationship on earth that can provide either, or both. You yourself can not change your life for the better like He can. And you yourself can not add even a second to this life you have been given. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So, this Christmas as you unwrap presents or as you watch your children delight in the gifts from Santa, take a moment to consider why we give gifts in the first place: for the greatest gift we can receive has first been given.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope that it encourages you.

May you have a wonderful joy-filled Christmas.

I could never have imagined I would do something so silly in front of my new (non-believing) friends…

In February 2019 my family and I moved to the Illawarra region in NSW, Australia. It was meant to be a very temporary stay as we prepared to move where my husband’s work was to take him next.  However, due to the virus, we are still here. I could never have imagined I would live here for so long! I suppose, around the world as we navigate this Coronavirus, millions of people are experiencing similar sentiment: “I could never have imagined…!” 

I must confess: I did not like this town before living here.  As a child I spent many Sundays here visiting my grandparents in their small apartment across the road from the beach. The weather was always a bother. It was either awfully windy, the kind of wind that causes the sand to ‘bite’ your legs, or it was pouring with rain. In summer the tidal surf, made worse by the wind, was  dangerous, so swimming even on a very hot day was unpleasant. I did not romanticize the area at all so the idea of staying here long-term didn’t excite me. But, as it turns out, God knew better. I can see that God brought us here with intention and purpose and it has been one of the most rewarding (and confronting) times of my life. It’s the friendliest town I’ve ever lived in and as a result I’ve made more new friends than I ever thought possible. And once I came to accept the wind as it’s own character, I have come to see the certain charm and true beauty to the place. 

Regrettably, If I had known that I was to be here for over a year, maybe even two, I would have put more effort into making friends during those first weeks and months but then I don’t really think it would have mattered: people here are so nice!  Also, with the town being a little over one hour train ride from Sydney, there’s a steady flow of new families into the area eager to make new friends. I now have a local circle of friends and acquaintances far greater than I ever could have imagined. It’s going to make it tough to leave!  Eighteen months ago I did not realize that God would reveal his promise in Romans 8:28 to me so succinctly:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” 

The more I read the Bible the more I learn that God is all-caring and loving. He knows what we need (even when we don’t) and he plans how to meet that need.  (Some examples of God doing this can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Esther, Mary, Peter and Paul.) Before moving here I was not aware that I lacked connection with people and that I needed to make new friends and work on my social skills. I had forgotten that I used to be more of a people person (Having four children close together in a foreign country (USA) can be isolating). But God knew! Psalm 138:8 says: ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life’. As God makes his plan work out in our lives, He often reveals ideas, beliefs, pain, fear, or worry that may be hindering our character from becoming more Christ-like. For me, God has cleverly used my new friendships to reveal the fear and discomfort I have about revealing and discussing my faith in the most embarrassing way. 

“That’s my son. His name is Isaiah. But we’re not religious at all. In fact we’re atheists”, is what Isaiah’s father said to me when our children happened to play together at the beach. His atheist beliefs didn’t surprise or shock me but the manner in which he made his statement did. It was said in such a matter-of-fact way I wasn’t sure what my reaction should be. Mostly, there’s either a hesitance or confrontational sound in people’s voices when they mention religion but Isaiah’s Dad said it in the exact same way he discusses the weather (and I know this, for my family has now spent much time with his).  I was taken aback because he had no emotional connection to what he said. I however, felt so thrown about his unexpected admission, I was rendered silent. I said not a word.

Recently, I have come to think what a strange statement it was to make for unless a person knows there is an Isaiah in the Bible, the name wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Either this man had some association with Christianity in his earlier life or he has met with braver christians than I whom have questioned his faith connection when they hear his child’s name? I’m going to guess it is the latter. I’m also going to guess that Isaiah’s Dad does not want to be associated with religion and that he has made this simple matter-of-fact statement many times before because he has not yet come across a Christian who questions him on it. He is trusting, and assuming, that most people around his age are faithless. 

Isaiah’s Dad is not the only person in this town to have woven into generalized, and unrelated, playground chit-chat their atheist and agnostic beliefs. Every time it is brought up, I note my reaction: their confession makes me nervous! I find myself nodding along, smiling politely, and doing everything I can to disarm myself from any potential conflict and conversation. I don’t want them to talk about their lack of faith because I don’t want to talk about my growing faith! I feel myself become anxious because I am very aware that I don’t want to say or do anything that might offend them. Yet, here they are, brazen in their speech with the assumption that I must agree with them, because in their mind there’s no way that I could be one of those ‘silly brainwashed people’ who could believe in such a thing as God, particularly the Christian God.  In such circumstances, I do the one thing I want to do: I change the subject. 

Would it surprise you to know that these ready-to-confess atheists and agnostics make up the majority of my new friends? If this is a trend or just the way the western world is going, I’m not sure. However, Jesus does wonder if he will find the faith at all on earth when he returns (Luke 18:8).  

Are you familiar with the verse in Mark 8:38 that says:  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man (Jesus) will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”? I am. I’ve known the verse for quite some time and still, I hide my faith. 

You might be very kind and wish to come to my defense in thinking that changing the subject is not a shameful act! Surely, you might say, isn’t it better and wiser NOT to challenge the atheist beliefs of those people we spend occasional time with THAN appear like a bully Bible basher -someone who forces the beliefs of the Bible on someone else?  Don’t Bible bashers only confirm the suspicions and prejudices non-believers have about us, thereby making the salvation of the unbeliever more difficult? Isn’t it better to show our faith by the way we live than what we say? Jesus did say that ‘it is by their fruits that you shall know them” (Matt 7:20) and if that’s true, why not stay silent when someone brings up the subject of faith, particularly when my the answer might make me look bad…or dare I say it, dumb?

It is absolutely true that we should act out our faith and that our lives should reflect the very character of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as example to our non-believing neighbour. God created us to be set apart from the world (LEV 20:24) so that we live as witnesses to God’s truth and goodness.  But what about those times it feels inconvenient or embarrassing to live set apart What about when it’s just easier and less controversial to just go with the crowd? What if keeping silent, or ‘hiding our light’ (Luke 11:33) means that people will like me more, that I will fit in? Surely that’s ok? God doesn’t want me to be lonely, right? What if I just fit in now and then pray about it later? It’s too hard, too awkward, too embarrassing to talk about God in front of my friends! None of them agree with me anyway, and what if they don’t like me as a Christian? 

I confessed at the beginning of this blog that I didn’t like the town I was to live in, so let me confess something really embarrassing now: I cringe at the thought of my new friends seeing evidence of my faith. It’s one thing to say I’m a christian, it’s another thing to have evidence of how seriously I take my belief. The simple acts I’ve done speak deeply about who I am:  I’ve hidden my Bible and other books about Christianity when non-believers have come to the house, I’m always embarrassed by the cross hanging on the wall that is visible from the front door, and I’ve shut the door so that anyone passing by the house won’t hear the Hillsong worship songs I’m playing.  It’s a real effort I have made to hide evidence from my new non-reliving friends? Is this an act that ultimately shows I am ashamed of Christ? Yes. Absolutely. He knows my heart. He knows exactly what it is. The reality is, and what God has shown me, is that I’ve been keeping my faith secret my entire adult life.  Thankfully Mark 8:38 serves as a warning to me. 

There is irony here too, it’s not all bad and embarrassing. Though I make effort to hide the little light I have and cower at the prospect of entering into a faith discussion with my friends, this has also been a time of such growth of faith and knowledge. I could never have imagined that I would read and love God’s word so voraciously. I could never have imagined that the scriptures would begin to make so much sense.  I could never have imagined that with my Christian friends I now speak about God, His Holy Spirit and His Son so openly with passion and conviction. I could never have imagined the swelling of my spirit within. And, I could never have imagined that I would dare to blog about any of this before either! So, what’s up? How can someone be such a contradiction? 

This week I read John chapter 7 and  God in his eternal wisdom, opened my eyes to verses 12-13:  “There was a lot of grumbling about him (Jesus) among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble…

There’s nothing new about the controversy of faith! Jesus is as controversial now as he was then! There’s always been people who openly dis-believe and there’s always been people who hide their belief in fear! Jesus said himself that he did not come to bring peace, he came to cause division, to ‘render judgement – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ (John 9:36) Must admit, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one but it is also terrifying to think of how many people stay silent when they know the truth. 

Another example of being to afraid to show faith is in John 9. Verses 20 -24 describe the actions of parents who are brought into the synagogue to confirm that their son whom Jesus had miraculously given sight to, was actually born blind.  They are able to confirm this but when asked how his eyesight was suddenly made possible, they defer the answer to their son because they are too afraid to say what they know and believe. “Ask him” they say “He is old enough to answer to speak for himself.” The Bible is very clear in the explanation as to why they do this in verse 22: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue” 

It’s apparent then, that since the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth right up to now people have been afraid to speak their faith…for fear of consequences. 

This I now know to be very true of myself. Though I am delighting myself in the scriptures, relishing reading His Word, and honored to feel His presence in my life, I am deeply afraid of being ‘the christian’ to my new friends. What Christian means to my friends is another discussion but for the purposes of today’s blog, let’s just take it as it is; a person who believes in Christ.

To clarify my fear a little more: I’m not ashamed of my faith and I’m certainly not ashamed of Jesus, his message, miracles, life and resurrection, I’m embarrassed to be known as Christian first because I am in fact, afraid of the questions my new friends may have. I’m afraid of how I am going to act, what I am going to say. I’m afraid of the conversation because deep down, I am afraid of what God is going to say through me. I don’t mean that I will get all preachy or rain down fire on them, not at all;  God always wants us to responds to people in love.  But I think that in his strength and light and, as my weaknesses and failings are made known to me, I am more aware of the importance and relevance of his message.

There’s another thing I think I might be afraid of: to speak is to become the person God wants me to be and I’m not sure I’m ready yet! There’s so much I don’t know. Surely, it’s better for me to be well prepared and equipped with knowledge and experience before I tackle the topic of God and faith with anyone, right? Wrong! Absolutely wrong. 

I am ready now. You are ready now. For the Word of God in Luke 21:15 says not to worry: “I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” 

That’s the NLT translation. Here it is in other interpretations just so there is no misunderstanding:  The NIV: “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”.  Now the ESV: “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my confession, embarrassing as it is. I know that what I have to do is simple: stop hiding!  Leave my Bible out to be seen,  keep the doors open when I play Hillsong Worship and then pray without ceasing when, if ever, one of my new friends asks me about what I’m reading (currently Knowing God by J.I Packer). For most certainly, God will answer their questions through me, without fear and with much love.  Jesus did say in Matt 9:37 that “the harvest is great but the workers are few.”

My prayer for you, for me, is that when the time comes, we are counted among the workers.  

If you have something similar to share, please do so at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Thank you!

Sometimes I think the God in the Old Testament can’t be the God in the New Testament. Who is he? What is his character? Did he change?

I recently began reading J.I Packer’s book Knowing God. I didn’t get far into it before I was confronted with the statement ‘Those who know God show great boldness for God’. Summing up my existence and ‘slow burn’ christian faith, I realized that I don’t know God at all. Yes, I know stories of Jesus and the Old Testament (OT) but I really don’t know who God is. I suppose a reason for this is that I have always felt more akin and comfortable with the God whom Jesus reflects and speaks of; ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). But the other God, or the other version of God in the OT, him I’m not so sure about. Verses like Joshua 7:15, ‘(the sinner)…will be burned with fire, along with everything he has (meaning his entire family), for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel’, cause me distress. How could this ‘all loving, all caring God’, do this? Surely, this is not the ‘father’ that Jesus reflects and prays to? 

Various violent acts and absolute statements in the OT can leave many christians stumped. I know of people who no longer, or who have not read, the OT. I also know people who are lost for words when asked by unbelievers to explain the OT and why they would ever believe in a such God. I also know believers (and in this case I’m one of them) who are reluctant to show their faith at all in the presence of, what I would call, an evangelical atheist. I admit it, I am not bold in faith at all. But I’d like to be. So who is this God? Did he change or is the same? How do I reconcile these apparent two versions of God? And where, if at all, can I find the link in the Bible?

In a previous post, I briefly touch on how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed how we live and how we view each other. In him we learnt to love our neighbor as ourselves, to lay our life down for others, to turn the other cheek, and that we should behave peacefully and respectfully to all for God is love. So we then, should love one another. Christ and his teachings provided cohesion to the world. For from this point in time, civilization evolved in this framework and now we feel that sending armies to conquer a land and destroy it’s inhabitants is horrific (to say the least). Our thoughts, our ethics and morals have changed. Prior to the coming of Christ (and I’m still studying all of this so I won’t give an in-depth answer for now), the world was a very violent, waring place with no human rights or laws in place to protect the vulnerable. So to read the OT is to step back to a time that is difficult for us to comprehend or empathize with. The books and events wherein could not be more disturbing, alarming, baffling, different, and peculiar. Yet, the more I read of it, the more similarities I can see in God’s character as we know of him from the NT; the more I can recognize the God I am familiar with, and the more I agree with the statement in Malachi 3:6 ‘I am the Lord, and I do not change’.  It is a liberating and bold thing to know. 

Have you ever read the Psalms? It is a book of poetry and song written to worship God and it is written a long time before the birth of Jesus. In it, the authors use the most expressive and heartfelt emotion to describe their relationship with God, their sins, their longing, and their love towards a God they know to have ‘unfailing love’ for them, whom they call their ‘rock and salvation’, and who they describe as ‘trustworthy’, ‘gracious and merciful’ and as a ‘shelter’ worthy of all praise. Sounds a lot like Jesus and his father, right? The Psalmists also cry out to God for him to ‘Punish the wicked…(and) Break the arms of these wicked, evil people! Go after them until the last one is destroyed…The godless nations will vanish from the land.’ (Psalm 10: 13,15,16b)  Um…what the heck? Obviously, they live in a very different time to us!

Does it surprise you, as it did me, to know that the Psalmist, in this case King David, was referring to the God of the OT, the God pre-Jesus, and the God as described in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible? How did King David get this version of God? How did he see God as having unfailing love when God wiped a generation of Israelites off the planet for disobeying him? King David knew something of God that we can easily forget. He knew that God was just. He knew that God commanded obedience. He knew God to be compassionate and gracious. He knew that God demanded purity and reverence. Mostly, he knew that he himself was full of sin. And in those days, sin and disobedience were dealt almost immediately. In contrast, in our post-messiah-arrival world, we now wait for God to bring justice to the oppressed, to the wronged, and to the faithful – which he promises to do at the end of time. Until then God is giving the world time for the Kingdom of God to grow; for the full measure of those who will call Christ Lord.  

The prophetic description of judgment in New Testament is reminiscent of the violence and death we see in the OT. John 12:48 is blunt: ‘But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.’ Romans 2:5 is terrifying: ‘But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.’  

In the NT, for those people who do not love and follow Jesus, God’s son, Jesus wasn’t and isn’t always peace and love. In the OT, for those people who do not obey God and ‘brazenly violate the Lord’s will…have blasphemed the Lord and they must be cut off from the community. Since they ave treated the Lord’s word with contempt, they must…suffer the punishment for their guilt? (Numbers 15:30) Spot any similarity? Would God, if he was different say practically the same thing over 2000 years later? There is solidarity in the Word of God if you look for it. (There’s also a lot more blessing, love, goodness, and grace than God smiting the sinner if you’re taking a tally.)

Reading four consecutive chapters a day from a variety of books (today it was Deuteronomy, Joshua, Psalms and Matthew) I have been able to perceive the piecing together of one giant story.  From the beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation, God is recognizable as the same God.  He does not change. The world he operates in may change, but he does not. In being able to discern this, I am beginning to see his full character. He is, at once, loving and just; for to be loving and gracious is to be just. His unfailing love for his people is to be jealous for their affection. To demand obedience is to shelter and protect. To love is also to hate sin – the very thing that makes us unclean in God’s eyes. To send His very own son to bear the burden of sin is to provide grace – an undeserved grace. To kill then, can be to save.

God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ is available to everyone for God is love. And for you and I as we choose to trust and love Him, in our efforts to desire to know Him more we need to understand live out Christ’s directive: Love your neighbor for ‘anybody that does not love does not know God.’ (1 John 4:8)

This world we live in is crying out for love, for more of God’s presence and love. As we love and respect each other, we can be God’s light to each other and in turn, God will reveal more of himself, his heart, to us and to those that we serve. 

(Please note that I am not a theologian or an historian, just an average person trying to make sense of all of this. I am however, trying to read as much as I can on the topic discussed. Thank you.)

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts

Isaiah 55:8-9