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David got things wrong. Badly wrong.
The debacle with Bathsheba springs to mind.
Then there was his lack of judgement with his rebellious, bitter son, Absalom.
And the ill-fated decision to take a census of Jerusalem’s men that cost 70,000 people their lives in a three day pestilence, visited on Judah by God, as punishment for this transgression.
But where David excelled – intentionally at least, if not consistently - was in an area difficult to define but vital to explore, if we are to increase our understanding of God’s heart: David was essentially loyal to God.
Saul made terrible mistakes, too.
His persecution of David comes top of the list. Jealous of God’s preferential anointing of David, Saul tried obsessively to kill David – for years.
But David’s anointing as replacement future King of Israel came about because Saul was disloyal to God.
In 1 Samuel, Saul ignores Samuel’s (and so, God’s) instruction to wait until the prophet had arrived in Gilgal to make sacrifice, in honour of God, before Saul’s going up against the Philistines in battle. When Samuel didn’t show up quickly enough for Saul’s liking, Saul’s lack of faith and obedience saw him deciding to ignore God and make the sacrifice himself. This loses him his kingdom, just a couple of years after he acquired it:
“And Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
Saul doesn’t learn – perhaps because he thinks he has nothing to lose? He does not choose repentance, as David does when he errs against God. Had Saul exhibited the abject contrition that David did when he transgressed against God, even to the point where he “utterly scorned Yahweh” (2 Samuel 12:13), it is possible God might have been moved to reinstate him.
Instead, Saul continues to disobey God.
In 1 Samuel 15:11, Saul spares the life of Agag, King of the Amalekites and instead of destroying all the Amalekite sheep and cattle, saves the best animals for himself and his men, against God’s express command. It is left to Samuel to complete God’s work and execute Agag.
In 1 Samuel 15:10, God speaks to Samuel:
11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”
The dialogue between Samuel and Saul relating to the Amalekite incident, in 1 Samuel 15:17-23, is worth reproducing in full:
The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”
20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
22 But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
The message is very clear: Obey, heed and do not be arrogant and rebellious.
When Saul says that God is more interested in obedience than sacrifice, it is clear that Samuel’s arriving 'later than billed' to complete the pre-battle sacrifice was a test of Saul’s faith. The sacrifice was, in itself, of no importance whatsoever.
God does not need a few burning bulls to ‘activate’ His power to deliver us from our enemies, any more than Jesus needed fishes and loaves to activate His ability to multiply food. The important stuff was in the hearts of the anointed King who should have trusted his God and the little boy who trusted Jesus enough to hand over his lunch when it was required of him.
Obedience, not sacrifice, commands a blessing.
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Image used with kind permission of Peter & Renate Nahum Agency(The Leicester Galleries)5 Bloomsbury Square (On Bloomsbury Way)London WC1A 2TA
“So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” Mark 15:29-30
That there was a significant seismic event that occurred at the time Jesus died, is reported in the Gospel of Matthew:
“The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open.” (Matthew 27:51-2)
and has been verified by geologists:
“Annual layers of deposition in the sediments near the Red Sea reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36. “The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision,” said geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical. .. When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday, April 3, 33, being the best match, according to the researchers.” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/earthquake-evidence-may-reveal-exact-date-of-jesus-crucifixion/)
There was also, suddenly, a terrible darkness that descended on Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, around 12.00 noon until he died at 3.00 pm:
“At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o'clock.” (Mark 15:33)
And there is extra-Biblical evidence for this, too:
"Circa AD 52, Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. This work itself has been lost and only fragments of it exist in the citations of others. One such scholar who knew and spoke of it was Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221. In speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event, Africanus found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. Africanus asserts: 'On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. “ (CARM, Matt Slick, 2008)
This darkness couldn’t have been an eclipse. Even if cosmological events and alignments were favourable for a total eclipse at this time, in this region (they weren’t) the darkness caused by a total solar eclipse could only last a few moments. Not three hours. Dust storms are also proving hard to blame for the phenomenon – though the earthquake would certainly have shaken things up a little. Science cannot explain the darkness that fell on that place for the duration of the last 3 of the 6 hours during which Jesus hung in agony from the cross. According to Mark, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” (15:25)
For Christians, though, this inability to find logical and scientific reasons for a supernatural darkness is corroboration of its source; God’s judgement of mankind and the reaction of the world as its creator turned His face away from it and all who inhabited it – including His own son, the scapegoat and ultimate perfect sacrifice in atonement for our sins. If one believes Jesus is the son of God and He assumed the sins of the world that we might be saved, then it is entirely credible that darkness should mark the occasion.
And what of the rending in two of the Jewish Temple Curtain, as reported in 3 out of the 4 Gospels? Well, the following is interesting:
Possibly the most significant corroborating sources for unusual phenomena in the temple around the time of Christ’s crucifixion are the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud. These sources are important because they explicitly indicate a time reference that corresponds to the date of Jesus’ crucifixion. Also, as sources preserved by rabbinic Judaism, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud do not face the charge of being tainted by later Christian interpolations. We will look first at the Jerusalem Talmud. In Tractate Yoma 6:3 we read: “It has been taught: Forty years before the destruction of the Temple the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said [to the Temple] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “O Temple, why do you frighten us?”… (SOMETHING AWRY IN THE TEMPLE? THE RENDING OF THE TEMPLE VEIL AND EARLY JEWISH SOURCES THAT REPORT UNUSUAL PHENOMENA IN THE TEMPLE AROUND AD 30: Robert l. Plummer; Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky)
The supernatural phenomena reported by the Talmud include accounts that the Temple doors – always locked at night – “opened at night on their own in an inexplicable manner” (Plummer, ibid). The Western Light, a menorah flame that remained lit for supernaturally long periods, refused to be re-lit and when it was, extinguished itself; the red cord that miraculously turned white each Atonement Day, remained red. All signs occurred 40 years before the destruction of the Temple:
“…The Babylonian Talmud provides additional evidence for supernatural phenomena in the temple around ad 30. In Tractate Yoma 4:1 of the Babylonian Talmud, we find this report: “Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority: Forty years before the destruction of the sanctuary, the lot did not come up in the right hand, and the thread of crimson never turned white, and the westernmost light never shone, and the doors of the courtyard would open by themselves.” (Plummer ibid)
But if practising Jews 2000 years ago and today have closed their eyes to the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was their Messiah, is it any wonder that atheists do? Even Thomas, Jesus’ Disciple, did not believe in the Resurrection – in spite of Mary Magdalene’s eye witness testimony – until Christ appeared to him and invited Thomas to insert his fingers into his wounds:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
This Easter, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will cause scales to fall from our eyes, and the shields of cynicism or indifference from our hearts; that the pride that makes our necks stiff will fall away like armour, and we will surrender to the truth that saves us. Once we do, the evidence that Jesus really was - and is - the son of God will be overwhelming. We will marvel at our previous obtuseness and cry out like the Centurion at the foot of the cross,
"Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:53)
and fall to our knees like Thomas, in abject penitence, to affirm:
“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
and on the instant, no matter how lost we were, we will be saved.
"Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42)
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Wordsworth, the great nature poet, also wrote this line, in 1802 – the same year he wrote ‘The World is too much with us’:
“My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky” (‘My Heart Leaps Up’, 1802)
Just goes to show that depression – whatever its cause – can come suddenly and without warning. As can injury and tragedy. In a short period, Wordsworth’s mood had shifted seismically from childlike joy in nature’s beauty to a season when even the sea seems “a sordid boon” and:
“… we are out of tune;
It moves us not.” ('The world is too much with us', 1802)
In ‘The world is too much with us’ Wordsworth longs for a lifting of his depression and cries
“Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”
Great God, let those of us who know you – in spite of how we feel- be obedient to you in faith:
“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Paganism is a lie. Astrology is nonsense. Little gods and idols are no more than wood or stone. The closest Proteus or Triton ever got to being gods was in people’s imaginations or possibly, as demonic fallen angels.
In Isaiah, God, through the Prophet, warns us about turning to idols when we despair or seek answers to life’s apparent purposelessness or fate’s caprice. The Book is evidence that 500 years before Christ’s birth, God knew precisely how Wordsworth would feel in 1802, and anticipated what he might wish for, in compensation or remedy:
22 “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come,
23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear." (Isaiah 41: 22-23)
But, of course, nothing - apart from God, our Creator, and His son, our Deliverer from evil, knows our future. And nothing can inspire awe supernaturally or in nature’s beauty, like God, the Creator:
“For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
Even when these words seem trite or their truth is incomprehensible, we Christians need to read them, repeat them and trust that the power of the words and the God who spoke them is working for our good in ways we cannot comprehend.
I will confess that when a dear friend of mine said “he is in God’s hands, now”, referring to a builder in our church, who sawed off a finger and almost lost three others, just over a week ago, I could not prevent the thought, ‘surely, he was in God’s hands before the accident? Why did God’s hands allow this man’s hand to be so mutilated – especially when he relies on it to work?’
It is an honest, very human thought and we should share our natural doubts. To suppress them is to allow them to fester in our souls, like splinters. We know that suffering and illness are not derived from God. We do not always know why He does not prevent them. But He surely heals and He surely consoles. This I believe. There is as much proof of this as there is that pain and suffering are to be expected; Jesus warned us that "In this world you will have trouble." (John 16:33). After all, He had His fair share of it.
Days ago, a woman in my Church Life Group, who was diagnosed with aggressive myeloid leukaemia five years ago, and given six weeks to live; a woman who underwent gruelling and unsuccessful chemotherapy and was so sick, that she refused the bone marrow transplant that was offered as the only thing that could save her life; this same woman was discharged from hospital care as completely healthy. There has not been so much as a sniff of that cancer in four years.
God follows His derision, in Isaiah, of dumb idols and those who rely on them, with:
“But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.” (Isaiah 41:24)
In Deuteronomy 4:28, we read how people will fall away from God, in many strange lands:
“There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.”
If I derive anything ‘worthwhile’ from watching ‘Fear of the Walking Dead’ (a guilty pleasure), it is a message the series probably did not intend; without God, I am a zombie - soulless, purposeless flesh, driven to survive by fleshly consummation. The outcome is meaningless carnage.
Next time I’m tempted to 'lose myself' in a zombie box set, I may be better advised to read Deuteronomy 4:29-31:
“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.”
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“The World Is Too Much With Us”. William Wordsworth wrote this line circa 1802. It is the opening to a short poem in which he laments how ‘unspiritual’ and lacking in awe and wonder life can become when “We have given our hearts away”to – or, perhaps, allowed them to be 'filched' by - the world’s cares, and the decaying dullness that is mundanity. It is not something from which we can assume immunity, even if we are ‘born again’ Christians. We, too, are composed of what Shakespeare called this “too, too solid flesh” and all the “natural shocks” that “flesh is heir to” (Hamlet), even if we are in-filled by the Holy Spirit.
So, what were these great literary figures – Wordsworth and Shakespeare – alluding to when they described a state of mind depressed by temporal ordinariness and disillusion with ‘life’?
Stuff happens. People have accidents, get ill, experience disappointment and tragedy. Presently, I have a friend who has just undergone surgery to try and correct the catastrophic repercussions to her body and life of a suddenly ruptured bowel. Another, a builder and maintenance man, accidentally severed a forefinger and almost cut off three other fingers with an electric saw, a few days ago. Six hours in surgery have probably saved the injured three fingers. The left forefinger could not be re-attached. Both are Christian. A woman in my church was laid low, several months ago, by a nasty, rare virus that has attacked her inner ear and makes her almost constantly nauseous and dizzy. She still cannot contemplate a computer screen without being overcome by these symptoms – which is a problem as she is a senior Auditor and cannot work unless she accesses a computer for most of each day.
Then there are the more subtle but potentially catastrophic assaults of the mind. It has always been a battleground for Christians, as the marvellous Joyce Meyer has often testified. (Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle of Your Mind – Joyce Meyer, Hodder &Stoughton 2008) I know of a fourth person, also a Christian, who had what we call ‘a breakdown’ less than a year ago. Her recovery has been slow and very painful.
And, sometimes, we just find ourselves wondering through life in a state that is hard to describe. It is as if someone has dimmed the colours and dampened the sound. God is hard to hear and we feel like we left Him at a wrong turn; just can’t pick Him up on the radar. We play worship music but it doesn’t rush to the heart or prompt the raised arm response. We look at our Bibles and know we need to open them in obedience if nothing else, for the Word is the surest way to twiddle the receiver and restore the frequency on which we can receive God, but it’s too much effort. Netflix works quicker to banish self-focussed, negative thoughts.
Problem is, though, it also tunes us in to worldly – or other-worldly (I have a guilty secret ‘Fear The/Walking Dead’ fascination) wavelengths on which the Holy Spirit is not even a guest.
But even when we feel God is not there – He is there. We know He’s there. He made it absolutely clear that He would never leave us nor forsake us. Never. It is not conditional on how we feel or whether we are able, in any one season, to believe those words.
6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
(Hebrews 13:5)
We need to have as much faith in the truth of these words as in the proof that there is evil in the world.
More next time ...
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Psalm 91 talks of a "secret place" where those who have made the Lord their refuge can dwell, in confidence that they are inaccessible to 'pestilence', sudden death, slander, evil plots and snares. I want to live there.
But access to the secret place is not automatic. It is achieved by discipline and a thirsting after God that is a continuous necessity. Only when a believer has what the Amplified Bible calls "a personal knowledge of [His] mercy love and kindness, trusts and relies on [Him], knowing [He] will never forsake him, no, never" (Psalm 91:14) can he or she "dwell" in this secret place of peace and confidence. The secret place belongs to God, so we can stay there if we are well known to Him and love to be in His company.
Sometimes, Christians get complacent. We lapse into a sort of tepid, twilight existence where our awareness of our identity in Christ becomes dim, instead of the burning light it ought to be. We maybe watch too much secular TV, share in too many non-Christian conversations or get complacent about the sort of films and books we consume (Garbage in Garbage out - GIGO - or, a more recent expansion of this phrase, Garbage in, Gospel Out, to describe the perils of trusting too much in computer processing, is applicable literally, here) and surprise, surprise, we find ourselves reacting to life's tribulations and petty upsets in ways that are not Godly; the 'old man' has moved back in. And then, we get depressed, disillusioned and start to wonder what life's all about ...
I'm certainly talking from experience. I have recently gone through a season in which Bible reading, daily prayer and even church attendance were less attractive or compelling. It seemed as though God was taking time away from me; I could not sense His presence as I usually can and He wasn't communicating with me in the myriad ways I have come to understand are how He makes contact. I wondered if I was being tested in some way but I wondered without appropriate concern. I was spiritually numb, suddenly, but not inclined to fight vigorously for revival.
In this season, I was shocked at a few things I did. I told a risqué joke that made my soul curl in shame. I realised that such remarks or comments used to be commonplace and unremarkable parts of my daily communication. I reacted with aggression when an encounter with some strangers became critical of something I did and I swore fulsomely while defending myself. I lost my peace and became exasperated and insulting when someone let me down. Again, things the 'old' me would have done without batting an eyelid. The world seemed generally less interesting. My sleep pattern deteriorated and I began to have thoughts and dreams of things long ago and 'laid down' when I was baptised and saved.
Eleven years into a walk with God, these things were grievous to me. My shame was the start of my recovery. I realised that penitence was necessary and that what I was feeling was nothing less than Holy Spirit conviction - a warning from within - that if I did not wake up soon, I might start defending myself against conviction and then, I would be in serious trouble.
When I had listened at last, God was clearly audible again. Of course, He had gone nowhere; I had left "the secret place".
I started to read my Bible again and apt verses jumped out at me; Psalm 145 urged to me to reflect anew on God's mercy and to praise Him, reminding me that "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him sincerely and in truth" (verse 18) and:
"He will fulfill the desires of those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them" (19)
A book I read years ago, that had a major impact on my life, called "23 Minutes in Hell" by Bill Wiese, came strongly into my mind and I revisited Wiese's warnings about the devil's agenda to snare, kill, steal and destroy, and the very grim reality of Hell. I watched Wiesedescribe his experience of being taken to Hell, in an 'out of body experience', on November 23rd, 1998, as expounded in a youtube video of a 'preach' he did in February 2018 . I highly recommend it.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKniy8CCKgs)
I also 'stumbled across' a great interview between Sid Roth - evangelical Messianic Jew, broadcaster, journalist - and a woman called Laurie Ditto. Although a Christian and happily married, Ditto, years ago, became so depressed that she became suicidal. She was miraculously delivered from her illness - from her medication and a 60 cigarette-a-day addiction - and given the gift of tongues and more astoundingly, she was taken to Heaven and met with Jesus. She also went to Hell, in a vision, and was made aware of a rather perfidious belief held by many Christians - the 'Once Saved Always Saved' lie.
We cannot afford to become lukewarm. If we are not vigilant with our souls, we slip from the secret place in which we commune with God, our Father and Jesus our closest friend and Advocate. We slip from protection and the arrow that flies by day and the pestilence that stalks by darkness may find their target.
Ditto saw a number of her Christian relatives in Hell, for the sin of unforgiveness. Terrifying. I realised that I had had a timely reminder of the absurdly abundant grace of God that has delivered me from damnation. "No one is Good" said Jesus (Mark 10:18) and Paul warns that we may "by no means" continue to sin, after we have been saved by His Grace (Romans 6:15).
We can lose our salvation. Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) is nothing less than a satanic deception, according to Ditto. And I wholly concur; my spirit discerns it is so.
Now, Ditto ends each day by asking God to reveal to her any transgressions she has committed in the previous 24 hours and, under God's direction, she sorts them according to whether they are mere 'immaturities' or sins of rebellion. In the first instance, God convicts her of 'conduct unbecoming' of a Christ-follower and she resolves to try and avoid repeating those errors. Where she has sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit - perhaps with unforgiveness - she is required and compelled to put things right, as well as repent. She says she has "made a salt covenant with [her] tongue", for "every sin is recorded" and we can do such terrible spiritual damage with our tongues.
Applying discipline and vigilance to her life, Laurie Ditto ensures she "dwells" in the secret place. By so doing, she preserves her miraculous healing (is safe from pestilence) and, in travelling the world to bring her message, that OSAS is a demonic deception, she is ensuring that we Christians may be on guard against the lion that prowls outside "the secret place" as described in Psalm 91, waiting to devour us, should we leave it.
"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers[a] all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are."
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)
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In Joshua 24: 15, we find these words:
"But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The message is very clear. God intended us to be free (Galatians 5:13) to choose faith in Him, in something else, or no faith at all. And, it is undeniably hard to justify a faith in something you cannot see or prove empirically. Hence thousands of years of philosophical and apologetic wrangling about the existence of God. According to a 2017 poll:
“More than half of the British public (53 per cent) say they are not at all religious – a figure that has increased by five percentage points since 2015 and by 19 percentage points since 1983, when just three in 10 people deemed themselves non-religious.” (National Centre for Social Research 2017)
There is a good deal of cynicism about and even aggression towards the notion of a Christian God in the UK today. Admissions of Christian faith or offers of prayer might incur ridicule, censure or even disciplinary action. Yet, practising Christians must, legally, respect and tolerate all public declarations and exhibitions of faiths other than Christianity, as well as of atheism or 'New Age' and clairvoyant practices. And this is Biblical, so we should be content to do so, with love.
However, is with shrewdness at least and fear of derision at most, that we declare our faith in Christ, in the course of everyday life. Derision at most, by the way, is significantly less worrisome than incarceration for life, or murder – the price many pay in the world for admitting or professing they are Christians.
I was hugely encouraged on reading an article by Peter Tatchell (human rights campaigner, best known for his work with LGBT social movements - selected as the Labour Party's parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981), published in ‘The Guardian’ in February 2016. The piece is entitled : ‘I’ve changed my mind on the gay cake row. Here’s why.’ In it, Tatchell explains why he considers the initial guilty verdict found against the Ashers, unsound. (The Ashers went on to win an appeal against the verdict in Supreme Court, in 2018).
The Belfast- based, married couple who run Ashers’ bakery, are practising Christians, and refused to make a cake to order because the customers wanted them to inscribe the icing with the words ‘ Support Gay Marriage’ , which ideological imperative was to be enforced with, in Tatchell’s words, “the logo of the equality group Queer Space…” As Peter Tatchell eloquently conveys in the course of his article, the Judge’s ruling that anyone should be obliged, legally, to produce any product that endorses a legally expressed view, raises more questions and opens more opportunities for targeted prejudice, than it closes down:
“This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs?”
Finally, someone who is willing to look past the ‘emotiveness’ to the foundational tenet underpinning the notion of personal freedom and equal rights. Everyone is entitled to personal freedom and the right to express his or her beliefs. Including Christians.
We don’t have to agree with each other but we do have to respect and tolerate difference, in love.
It is not persecution of another to refuse to endorse their beliefs against one’s own conscience. It is tyranny to make them do it.
Peter Tatchell is right, in the same article, to point out that Jesus does not condemn homosexuality. There is no mention of homosexuality in the Gospels. Neither is there an indication in the Bible that homosexual sex is any more sinful than any kind of pre or extra marital sex, or that it is more sinful than lying or having no faith in God or murdering people:
"But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars--their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." Revelation 21:8
It is, emphatically not my place to judge another or graduate sin according to my opinion. It is my opinion that pronouncing on moral issues closes doors. When it comes to persecution, we look to Jesus. He condemned no one, delighted in the company of Samaritans, Romans, Canaanites, tax collectors and prostitutes but was executed as a heretic, because His all-embracing message of love, and His declarations that He was our Saviour, upset religious idolaters and bigots.
Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). But Paul also said that anyone who relies and calls on Jesus' name is saved (Romans 10:13). Anyone. Any time. Regardless of anything in their past. Just before this declaration, Paul makes explicit that there is no distinction between people, according to Christ:
"For there is no difference between Jew and Greek: The same Lord is Lord of all, and gives richly to all who call on Him," (Romans 10:12)
But everyone is free to accept or reject this. It has to be a choice people are free to make. History, and many present day examples of tyranny, prove that forcing people to accept or reject ideology or faith of any kind is ultimately pyrrhic; making people say stuff at gun or knife point, or in fear of their livelihoods, does not change their hearts.
With regard to all moral issues and all people affected by any aspect of them, I would rather point to Isaiah 49:15:
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!"
God loves indiscriminately. In spite of ‘the rules’ and how often we reject or transgress them, we need only look to The Prodigal Son, The Adulteress, David and Bathsheba and countless others in the Bible who were lavishly forgiven the moment they expressed sorrow for what they had done. In my opinion, that’s a God worth believing in. Without Him, I'm at the mercy of my conscience - and the judgement of other people. I consider that a horrifying, nullifying prospect.
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The Amplified Bible's rendering of Acts 2:32, the NIV translation of which informs the title of this blog, reads:
"Let the whole house of Israel recognise beyond all doubt and acknowledge assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ (the Messiah) – this Jesus you crucified."
These words were written by Luke around 62 years after Jesus had been crucified. Luke did not meet Jesus personally, on Earth, but there is good evidence that he was a travelling companion and friend of Paul. In his letter to the Colossians, 4:14, Paul sends greetings to the Christian community of Colossae, Phrygia (Asia Minor), from Luke:
"Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings."
Luke's Gospel is synoptic, meaning it 'sees the same' (optic - see, syn - same) as Matthew's and Mark's. He certainly was familiar with Mark's Gospel but the extent to which he had read or relied on Matthew's - or, whether Luke ever read Matthew's Gospel - is a point for debate.
But what is not debatable is Luke's faith. Or that he was a medical doctor and so, a man of high intelligence, great literacy and used to exercising deductive reasoning in order to problem solve - much as the great theologian and erstwhile 'Pharisee of Pharisees', Paul, was a fierce intellect and 'rationalist' by nature and training. According to R.C Sproul, Pastor, Theologian and Writer:
"Paul was a man who had the equivalent of two PhDs in theology by the time he was 21 years of age."
We can only imagine the quality and rigour of the discussions these two men had about Jesus, the significance of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the nature of Salvation, that contributed to their transformational Books in the New Testament (NT). Paul is the author of 13 books - around 30% - of the NT. But Luke's Gospel as well as The Book of Acts makes him, by volume, the author of a greater proportion of the NT than that authored by Paul. Between them, then, these two men are responsible for most of what we know about the dissemination of Christ's Word to the gentile and the strategies to effect the Great Commission, following Jesus' resurrection. And, of course, Paul did meet Jesus, in person, very pointedly and dramatically, on the Damascene Road (Acts 9, 22 and 26).
In addition to his credibility as an eye witness to Jesus' resurrection, Paul was also the contemporary of a great many people - Apostles - who actually saw and associated with Jesus, post crucifixion, so he had no trouble writing:
"He was seen by over five hundred people at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present" (1 Corinthians 15:6). (my bold)
And, when Paul writes:
"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for ours sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). (my bold)
there is no reason to doubt his word.
Luke would have relied on Paul's testimony as well as many of those who were also his contemporaries, and were repeatedly relating their experiences of Jesus, 'post-death'.
Paul's very life is a testament to the veracity of his writings, of course. There is no other rational explanation for why he transformed - instantly - from extremist, zealous, Christian-persecuting Pharisee, entitled to the privileges of status and wealth his station bestowed, to itinerant tent-maker and evangelist, certain to pay with his life for his love of Jesus:
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
Luke was with Paul, in Rome, at the time leading up to Paul's execution. This, Paul confirms when writing his second letter to Timothy:
"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11)
And how intense, yet anointed, must have been their exchanges, then! How very clear and precise must Paul's rendering of his faith have been to Luke - how absolutely credible - as Paul's execution loomed.
That Paul's faith strengthened and did not wane, as he experienced the brutality of his final Roman prison sentence and awaited death, is very clear, in his encouragement to the disheartened Timothy, whom Paul loved as a son. In 2 Timothy, Paul's very last writing of any kind, he urges:
"So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:8)
Luke lived to be about 84 years old and is widely believed to have died in a region of Greece called Boeotia. He is thought to have written Acts between 80-90 AD, around 13 years after Paul's death. He chose to begin his account with the words:
"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1: 1-3)
And there follows a most precise and often first-hand, witnessed account, of the miracles, hardships and unfailing conviction that characterised the life of Paul and other early evangelists, in the first few decades following Jesus' death and resurrection.
In a website article called ' The Eyewitness Testimony That’ll Make You Never Doubt the Resurrection Again' published by CBN News.com, 4.1.18, by Paul Strand, Strand quotes and refers to the work of an Apologist called Josh McDowell, author of 'New Evidence That Demands a Verdict' (pub Jan 18):
"McDowell explained, "They [the apostles] said after He was crucified and buried, He was raised from the dead and for 40 days — not 40 hours, not four days — for 40 days, they lived with Him and walked with Him, with overwhelming proof that He'd been raised from the dead."
McDowell concluded, "If the Resurrection was a lie, they had to know it. And if they knew it, then you'd have to say here were these men who not only died for a lie, but they knew it was a lie. I challenge you to find others in history who that's true of. It's not."
It seems fitting that, as we approach Easter 2019, Christians reflect anew on the seminal, crucial truth at the heart of our faith. That Jesus is alive and very well. He is the Messiah. Luke's words, quoted at the top of this blog are not lies. I, for one, pray for a Damascene-like, heart-jolting, permanently convicting revelation of this fact - beyond head-knowledge and unquestioning belief.
The "whole house of Israel" is exhorted to reflect with us, on the assertion that caused a Pharisee of the highest order - who could have recited the Torah, and was intimately familiar with the Book of Isaiah (see Romans (9:20-33) - to declare:
"What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:8)
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(Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum)
There are at least twenty years between the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and Joshua, and perhaps, as many as sixty. Which is worth bearing in mind when we consider the following verses:
Exodus 23:28: And I will send hornets before you which will drive out the Hivite, Cannaanite, and Hittite before you
Deuteronomy 7:20: Moreover the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed.
Joshua 24:12:I sent the hornet before you which drove the two kings of the Amorites out before you
We see how the tense alters, from God's own promise to use nasty stinging insects as weapons against the Hebrews' enemies, and Moses' confirmation of this promise, and, finally, Joshua's affirmation that it was fulfilled , decades later.
I had never really considered these verses carefully before now; how God marshalled clouds of hornets to expel whole people from their land, in order that the Israelites might enter into His promise for their establishment after Egyptian slavery.
The reason for deployment of this deadly weapon of mass destruction was, in all likelihood, because at the time, the Israelites did not have enough men to rout the mighty Amorites and other tribes, themselves. Which brings me on to the next fascinating point regarding this story. God's immaculate timing - again.
In my last post, I wrote about how God is faithful and what He promises comes to pass, provided we, too are faithful to Him and do not lose His blessing. Here, in these three early Books of the Bible, we witness how this was always so.
When God promised hornets in Exodus, to enable a speedy acquisition of the Promised Land, the Israelites were probably relieved - that they would not have to fight for possession of their inheritance. After all, this was only a few months after their liberation from the Egyptians and they were tired and hardly warrior types.
It was also before the sorry incident involving their idolatry of the golden calf.
The infidelity of God's people, in spite of all He had done for them, and so soon after their miraculous deliverance from slavery, delayed their blessing by forty years.
In Exodus 32, we read of how the people betray their God and "...have corrupted themselves"(7) and "...turned aside quickly out of the way [which I] commanded them." (8) Because Moses was gone for a few weeks, discoursing with God on Mount Sinai, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf and dance around it idolatrously. Sometimes, we do really daft things that are hard to explain afterwards ...
None the less, though it took about thirty-nine years and nine months longer than necessary, God honours His promise to establish the Israelites in their own land and Joshua, Moses' posthumous replacement as their leader, relates the many astounding ways in which God remained faithful to this "stiff necked" people:
Joshua 23:14 "…not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one thing of them has failed."
And indeed, in God's own words, via Joshua, this deliverance and favour were always part of His plan for His people:
Joshua 24:5 I sent Moses and Aaron
And, the hornets, though obliged to 'wait in the wings' for decades more than originally planned, played their part at last, in assisting the Israelites to assume their birth- right, as God reminds the people, through Joshua :
Joshua 24:12: "I sent the hornet before you which drove the two kings of the Amorites out before you"
Though fulfilment of God's plan for His people was delayed, it was always going to be in His timing. We read in Exodus that the deployment of hornets would be a 'wave' strategy:
29: "I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you
30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and are numerous enough to take possession of the land."
Because the tribes that occupy the territory promised to the Israelites are multitudinous and mighty (the Amorites remain redoubtable foes to Israel for hundreds of years), and so that the Hebrews appreciate and take responsibility for the land, God will plague the present occupants with hornets in a series of perfectly timed assaults. "Little by little" He intended to drive out the tribes , so that the Israelites had time to reproduce, to the point where there are enough of them to tend the land, protect themselves from beasts and people and maintain possession.
It is an excellent plan; it allows for the natural growth and establishment of a population, while, all the time, the Hebrews are protected. In Joshua 23:10, we read the astounding promise of God to His wayward people:
Joshua 23:10 One man of you shall put to flight a thousand. For it is the Lord your God Who fights for you, as He promised you.
So,while the population grows and strengthens, it will have supernatural strength - as well as swarms of hornets - to sustain it against enemies.
And, God's original promise comes to pass - because God is faithful and not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19) - even when we stumble and err spectacularly in our fidelity to Him:
Joshua 24:13: I have given you a land for which you did not labour and cities you did not build.
When we consider these scriptures, we see a pattern of love and fidelity that is constant throughout the Bible; a schematic that is immutable, of God's unchanging love for us. He cannot cease to love us, though we often do our best to prevent it. Though we damn ourselves by deserting Him, He will love us and it will break His heart.
Personally, I prefer to be watchful - to "fear the Lord and serve Him in truth" (Josh 24:14) and if I mess up (which I certainly will), I pray the Holy Spirit tips me off, before I stray too far from God's protection and the blessings that attend it.
I really need to be on the right side of those hornets ...
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According to Wikipedia, Ezekiel was:
"a priest living in exile in the city of Babylon between 593 and 571 BC"
Yet, it is in Ezekiel 17:22-24, that we find the awe inspiring prophecy:
22 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’”
It is no more awe-inspiring than Isaiah 53:2, of course, in which the advent of Jesus is foretold, about 800 years before He arrived in human form:
"He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground."
But what never ceases to amaze me, is the accuracy and consistency and faithfulness of God's Word. Isaiah's 'tender shoot out of dry ground' is the image used again by God, 300 years later, via Ezekiel, to denote Christ, in the "tender sprig...on a high and lofty mountain." And in every one of the Old Testament verses that prophesy Jesus, He is referred to as a root or branch or shoot - from the Tree of Life itself, of course.
In a sermon he delivered called 'Christ the Tree of Life', the notable CH Spurgeon (1834-92) talks of the Tree of Life that was plundered in the Garden of Eden:
"But here we translate the metaphor; we do not understand that tree to be literal. We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be none other than that tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We can scarcely conceive of any other interpretation, as this seems to us to be so full of meaning, and to afford us such unspeakable satisfaction."
Ezekiel 17:22-4 and Isaiah 53:2, as well as Isaiah 11:1-10, Jer 23:5 and Zech 3:8 were, of course, among those scriptural verses prophesying Christ, that terrified Herod 'the Great'. They are the reason why he ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents, when it was revealed to him that a child had been born in Bethlehem of Judea, who would be Israel's King. But Herod's heart was incapable of understanding the difference between the sovereignty of Heaven and that of Earth, and assumed himself to be in opposition to the will of Israel's God, who would "bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall." And, as Proverbs 23:7 states:
"For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."
Spirit-filled Christians are very familiar with the 'pictures' and metaphors and similes that inform the prophecies and words of knowledge brought to them by their brothers and sisters. It is true that we see through a glass darkly and perceive only dimly what is revealed to us, and our prophecies must be weighed. But when we convey what we believe is God's heart, in pictures and images, we are speaking in a long-established spiritual language. The sprig flourishing on mountainous terrain must have confused many who heard Ezekiel's words. (Let's be honest, a great deal of what Ezekiel did and said would have been puzzling) but, as always, those whose hearts were not hardened and who had 'ears to hear 'would have been most attentive to this exiled prophet's promise of redemption - and Israel's release from Babylonian fealty.
Which brings me to another well-explored point; God's promises will be fulfilled - there is no doubt about it - but the timing is His. In fact, King Cyrus ended the Jewish exile in 538 BC, when he commissioned the rebuilding of the Temple, a mere three decades or so after Ezekiel's chapter 17 prophecy, above. But the Messiah, to whom the prophecy applied, would not come for centuries - until Israel was re-established and the people flourishing again- albeit in thrall to yet another conqueror - Rome. But this time, the conqueror was also an occupier, who feared renewed Jewish potency. And this time, the Roman Empire reached from the southern borders of Scotland to North Africa - a ready conduit for the Gospel to begin its journey to the ends of the Earth.
And, when He did come, He was indeed tender. A tiny baby born in the usual way, to a teenager. And when He did come, He was certainly planted in rocky terrain. According to Wikipedia, "Bethlehem is situated on the southern portion in the Judean Mountains." and Nazareth, where Jesus grew up and began His ministry, "is located in the north of the country at the most southerly points of the Lebanon mountain range, about 25 km west from the Sea of Galilee" and Galilee, on whose shores and waters Jesus performed so many miracles, " is a region in northern Israel. The term Galilee traditionally refers to the mountainous part, divided into Upper Galilee ... and Lower Galilee."
And so we see that it certainly did come to pass that an almighty King - and tender shoot - was planted in rocky terrain but, in spite of the hostility of its environment, became more splendid than any other tree or king and remains, to this day, a refuge for "Birds of every kind" - all the peoples of the world, in perpetuity, who seek its shelter . As Spurgeon, said, "whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."
The allegorical prophetic, direct from God or from Jesus' own mouth, marries perfectly with the literal truth. Always. And the absolute reliability of God's Word is evidenced in His prophecies, though we may not always live to see them, or see them manifested as quickly as we would like.
Many of us have received prophetic words to which we cling, though time passes without apparent fulfilment of those promises. And of course, there is the ultimate promise, delivered to us by Jesus Himself, through John, in Revelation 3:5:
"The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels."
Oh, Lord, help us wait! Please help us trust that all Your promises, through Your Son, Jesus, are 'Yes and Amen' ,and that Your timing is so much better than ours. Help us to trust, also, that You always support us in the waiting, with encouragement and good things - if we will only be faithful to You.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.”
(Psalm 39:4-7)
And yet:
"He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?"
(Romans 8:32)
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Even if we are incredibly blessed, with unfailingly marvellous marriages, wholesome, successful and rewarding careers; abundant, good friends and children who adore us unconditionally, there are going to be times when we feel alone and upset. And, when illness or tragedy strikes, it can send us in a dark spiral to 'life below the surface', deep in our hurting hearts and souls, that no one else can access. No one, that is, apart from God.
The Bible is full of people who, in spite of being anointed, appointed and vaunted by God, are subject to 'The heartache and the thousand natural shocks /That flesh is heir to" (Hamlet). Imagine how profoundly heart-breaking it must have been for David, when Absalom, his son, openly rebelled against him. For about five years, Absalom schemed and bided his time, keeping David 'sweet,' until he had amassed enough followers to stage an open rebellion against his father:
"Whenever anyone would come to Absalom and start bowing down, he would reach out and hug and kiss them. 6 That’s how he treated everyone from Israel who brought a complaint to the king. Soon everyone in Israel liked Absalom better than they liked David.
7 Four years later... He took two hundred men from Jerusalem with him, but they had no idea what he was going to do. ..More and more people were joining Absalom and supporting his plot. Meanwhile, Absalom had secretly sent some messengers to the northern tribes of Israel. The messengers told everyone, “When you hear the sound of the trumpets, you must shout, ‘Absalom now rules as king in Hebron!’” (2 Samuel 15:5-12)
Absalom's vengeance against his father was doubtless rooted in David's inability to forgive him, initially, for murdering Amnon, another of David's sons. Amnon had raped his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar was Absalom's full sister by Maacah, a wife of David.
But, after about 5 years, David did forgive Absalom; brought him back to Jerusalem from Geshur, his mother's country, where he had been living in exile, and reinstated him as his son and heir. Amnon's murder meant that Absalom was next in line to the throne, but … David had been told, prophetically, that Solomon, not Absalom, would succeed him as King, and Absalom was aware of this prophecy.
Unable or unwilling to see how he himself contributed to the fulfilling of this prophecy, Absalom proceeded to plan a coup. What takes a few words to write though, is a summary of what must have been the most abject sorrow, resentment, anger, jealousy, hatred and grief on the part of both Absalom and David, over several years. And what of the harrowing grief of the hapless and mightily abused Tamar?
Even Paul and Peter were not immune to quarrels and falling out with people on whom they had relied and with whom they had been close. Paul clearly learned what it was to be humbled; the 'Pharisee of Pharisees' became a tentmaker and was often beaten, hungry and imprisoned. But he seems to have retained the 'wiring' that made him a fearsome and brilliant theologian, not used to being gain-said. Here, he recounts, rather self-righteously, a dispute he had with Peter about circumcision:
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy."(Galatians 2:11-13)
And later, Paul fell out with Barnabas, as we read in Acts 15:36-40:
"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord."
There's a world of pain in the sentence, 'They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." Paul and Barnabas were very close and there is nothing in scripture to indicate that they ever met up again. Although, there does seem to have been some heartfelt reconciliation, at least, as in 2 Tim 4:11, Paul instructs Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering” and Paul warmly commends Barnabas' ministry as one deserving of financial support (1 Cor 9:6) In the heat of the moment, however, these two great friends reached a destructive impasse that cannot be said to be to Paul's credit. We, though, may learn and take encouragement from it; our mistakes, however costly, need not be the end of the story, and can be footnotes, rather than highlights.
We are just flesh and blood. Even when we are saved, we have to continue to wrestle with our souls and the temptation to fight our corners, defend our rights, seek justice before mercy and plain old lose our tempers. Families experience 'melt downs' all the time; marriages go through bad patches and even fail; friends fall out and people betray each other. And there is nothing we can do to make people forgive us, or love us or sympathise with us or see our point of view, if they don't want to.
Jesus knew what it was to be alone, deserted by friends, in His greatest hour of need, just before He was arrested and crucified. Unimaginable:
"Then everyone deserted him and fled." (Mark 14:50)
And He forgave totally and graciously. It is likely that it was not just the Romans, Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus had in mind, when he cried out, on the cross:
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
There is a beautiful old hymn called 'Cornerstone' , written by Edward Mote in 1834, and it has a verse that reads:
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name"
We may not trust even 'the sweetest frame'. If there is one thing certain in this life - as well as death and taxes - it is that, even those dearest to you will let you down now and again, and we will fail to live up to other people's expectations, if only occasionally. Occasionally, suffering will come and undermine our faith and well-being, perhaps even to the point that we lose all taste for life, or get angry when we read scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
But, in such times, as Christians, we can take solace in knowing that we serve a God who softens hearts and loves unity. What we cannot repair ourselves, He can address gently, with time, if our hearts are penitent and hopeful and fight to love, rather than resent.
And, sometimes, the best we can do is the opposite to that we are inclined to do! God will honour that, because He can work in the humility of a heart that is struggling to process anger, and wait for wisdom, rather than submitting to the tumult of righteous or vengeful clamour. Easier said than done - I know! But a quiet walk and faithful meditation on a scripture such as:
"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:14)
works wonders.
And sure, people may choose to pursue courses against or away from us and God will not interfere with their free will, if they are so determined. But, if we are faithful to God, and keep taking our hurt to Jesus, we can be sure that, one day, somehow, all will become clear and even the most obdurate or tragic divide will be healed. And, He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised that.
“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments."
(Deuteronomy 7:9 )

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