Every Believer’s Hydration Pack

active activity adventure backpack
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Ten essential items

If you are crazy enough to enter a trail run, you will know that a fully equipped hydration pack is an absolute essential. Being a novice, I was shocked to read the list of compulsory equipment I have to put in my hydration pack before merrily setting off to “Run-the-Berg” in October. The kit list includes a waterproof jacket, space blanket, whistle, fully charged cellphone, beanie, thermal vest, fleece, compass, sunscreen and first aid kit! That’s ten essential items, excluding the 1.5 litres of water we’re somehow supposed to squeeze in our nifty hydration packs strapped to our backs! I was suspecting overkill until I glanced at a picture of the mountains I will traverse, described as “notoriously unpredictable and unforgiving for the ill-prepared.” It was patently obvious that I was a member of the ‘ill-prepared’ club as I read on about the hazardous terrain and weather conditions of the trail I’d signed up for. It slowly dawned on me that my overpriced hydration pack and its contents was no joke! I would be a fool to wing it on my own without knowledge and preparation. Romantic visions of myself clad in simple shorts, T-shirt, and a pair of Bata takkies, free as a mountain goat under sunny African skies,  were embarrassingly inappropriate for the realities of this particular adventure! They were nothing but naive illusions. At best, they would leave me disgruntled and defeated. At worst, my fantasies would lead me to abandon the race altogether, or steer me to a sticky end.

It is the same with the God Walk.

Counting the cost

When Jesus calls us to be his disciples, he tells us to count the cost (Matt 16:24-26) and prepare for a long  journey ahead. He doesn’t paint a rosy picture when he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. The God Walk is not a journey of super spiritual meditation, signs and wonders. Nor is it a direct route to health, wealth, inner peace and self actualisation as the world understands it. Jesus calls Himself the way to the Father (John 14:6), but doesn’t entice us with a comfortable, straight, smooth path. Instead, He candidly tells us that the world will hate and persecute us because of his name (John 15:18-25) and that we will face the same troubles he faced along the road.  Jesus is unequivocal: “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” He pulls no punches as he describes himself as the narrow way– not the mainstream, trendy, attractive path that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14).

We dare not forget that Jesus led the way up a steep hill called Golgotha, with a cross strapped to his back. It wasn’t exactly a nifty hydration pack.

It doesn’t always happen the day of our conversion, but sometime thereafter if we are walking as a Christian, we suddenly realise we are aliens in enemy territory, opposed, ridiculed and pressured to conform even by those we call our friends. We find we are in the world, but not of it (John 17:16) and the sting of that realisation surprises or hurts us. The Apostle Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the way of discipleship but calls us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, active participants in a lifetime transformation programme through the renewal of our minds, capturing one thought at a time. (Rom 12:1-2) Paul describes keeping the faith as “fighting the fight” and “running the race” to receive the reward the righteous Judge has for us when He returns as King. (2 Tim 4:7-8)

This is no fun run!

From Genesis to Revelation, we are warned that the Enemy will try to deceive us and make us doubt and deny who we are and who God is. We may even believe the lie that we walk alone. Satan will entice us to do things our own way or to give up entirely on the God Walk before the finish because he is the ultimate liar, thief and murderer of our souls. (John 8:44)

But Jesus promises that the reward is well worth the cost of giving up everything to follow him.  He makes it clear that the only way you and I will save our life, is by losing it for Him. (Mark 8:34-38) The other side of the coin is death. The cost of rejecting Jesus’ call is that we will forfeit everything of value  and remain alienated from God, ourselves and those around us. The Bible is unequivocal. God’s way leads to life. Every other way ultimately leads to alienation, loss and death. God’s way leads to peace and joy. God’s way is in fact a person: the God-man Jesus Christ. “The Word became a human and lived among us” (John 1:14).  I am utterly convinced that the reward of walking with Jesus is infinitely greater than the cost of being his disciple. I am also convinced that it is the truth, even if we live in a post truth generation.

Jesus’ way may be hard, but it is truly blessed. He is the way to human flourishing on earth and eternal life spent with the God who made us in his own image.

The Bible has a lot to say about the preparation, route and destination of those who walk with God, as well as the prize Christians can look forward to beyond the finish line.

Ten essential truths for every Christian

There are no short cuts to the God Walk. It is not a sprint but more like an ultra-marathon or a mega-hike that lasts a lifetime. But God has graciously given us a “hydration pack” fully equipped with truths to get us through every section of the route. Without this pack of doctrines, we will quickly become thirsty and hungry, tired, injured, bewildered, disoriented and discouraged.

People often think of doctrines as boring theories that theologians think up to get us off the scent of true spirituality. Our generation is more concerned with experience and spectacular events. It values personal feelings and preferences above truth. But Biblical doctrines are living descriptions of God’s amazing dealings with human beings like us. Doctrines give us wisdom about true spirituality and the totality of human experience, including our bodies, minds and souls. Biblical doctrines give us God’s perspective on our place in the universe, which is far more accurate than subjective naval gazing. Moreover, doctrines have significant practical use for our lives, apart from giving us insight into God’s character and our human nature. The Apostles thought sound doctrine was vital and urged Christians in every age to teach what agrees with sound doctrine, to be trained in good doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to read Scripture carefully, keeping a close watch on our teaching, so that we do not forget what it means to be a Christian or lead others astray, or be deceived by false Shepherds (1 Tim 4:16). Teaching, training and reading is the essence of The God Walk devotion.

Doctrines of the faith are much like items in a hydration pack. They are essential for flourishing and survival along the trail of real life.

In the upcoming weeks of devotions, we will be unpacking our Christian hydration pack, looking at Biblical texts that show us what it means to be a Christian. I have chosen ten items for our hydration pack. Of course none of  these texts on their own tell the whole picture of what it means to be a Christian, but are just samples of the vast storehouse of God’s truth and promises that God has given us in his word. This is what it means to “hold fast to the word of life” until the day of Christ (Phil 2:15-16).

There are of course many more doctrines of faith than the ten I’ve chosen. But, if you are new to the Scriptures, hopefully these appetisers will whet your appetite to dig deeper into the Bible for yourself. As Paul put it to the Greeks of his day: God, who made the universe, gives life and breath to each of us only for a short time on this earth. He created you and me to know and be known by Him– “to seek Him and perhaps feel your way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-28)

I pray that these ten truths will become the rudder of your mind, the anchor of your soul and the furnace of your heart as we run side by side the race God has set out for us. I pray that we will be fuelled with faith, hope and love that comes from walking with God.

Ten essential items for every believer’s hydration pack.

Here is our “kit list” for the next few weeks on The God Walk:

1. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “BLESSED” BY GOD… (AND WHY IT’S THE ONLY PRIVILEGE WORTH HAVING )

2. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “CHOSEN”BY GOD… (AND WHY WE CAN TRUST HIM)

3. WHAT “GOSPEL” REALLY MEANS…(AND HOW IT IS THE POWER OF GOD TO SAVE)

4.HOW A CHRISTIAN IS “BORN AGAIN…”(AND WHY SELF IMPROVEMENT IS FUTILE)

5. WHAT IT MEANS TO “BELIEVE” AND “REPENT…”(AND WHY YOU MUST STEP ACROSS THE LINE)

6. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN “ADOPTED” CHILD OF GOD…(AND HOW YOU CAN SAY NO TO FEAR)

7. WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “SANCTIFIED”…(AND WHY HOLINESS IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH)

8. WHAT IT MEANS TO “PERSEVERE” IN THE FAITH…(AND WHY WILLPOWER WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH)

9. WHAT “DEATH” MEANS TO A CHRISTIAN …(AND WHY YOU DON’T NEED TO FEAR IT)

10. WHAT “GLORY” MEANS TO A CHRISTIAN…(AND HOW TO LIVE WITH THE END IN MIND)

Disappointment- The Gift No One Wants

gift no one wantsBy Rosie Moore

Disappointment: Synonyms: sadness, regret, dismay; sorrow. Definition: sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

Disappointment stops us in our tracks. Past disappointments can literally hold us in their grip and throttle today’s joys. Fear of future disappointments can be so paralysing that we cannot mobilise our courage to try new things or take risks. “Once bitten, twice shy,” we say, as we settle for mediocrity and procrastination. One of the worst pains of a parent is watching or anticipating our children’s disappointments. We dread their spirits being crushed. The Proverb is true:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:1).

Social humiliation is one of our most primal human fears which goes hand in hand with disappointment. Perhaps that’s because fear of man has always been such a powerful idol. David prayed often that he would not be put to shame.

“O my God, in you I trust;
    let me not be put to shame;
    let not my enemies exult over me.”  (Psalm 25:2).

We’ve been made in the image of God to thrive in a creation that is perfectly good.

We long for a good life with no disappointments, doubts, discouragements, depression, despair and death. We long for Eden before the thorns and thistles. No wonder my kids and I love listening to this song of Jason Mraz on the way home from school.

“May you know the meaning of the word happiness
May you always lead from the beating in your chest
May you be treated like an esteemed guest
May you get to rest, may you catch your breath…”

Having it all.

No matter how much we long after utopia, life has shown me that the “charmed life” doesn’t exist this side of heaven even for the most privileged and gifted people. We can only dream of “having it all!” If we dig a little deeper into people’s lives and wait a little longer for things to unravel, we almost always find a back story of anxiety, fear and struggle that is hidden from public view. There is no vaccine against the brokenness of this world, although there is plenty of beauty, happiness and love mixed in. Gratitude is the best antidote to everyday troubles. But, if we are honest, we are prone to discouragement even when life is exceptionally good. Perhaps it’s better to accept the reality that there is no such thing as equal opportunities or equal outcomes. Comparisons are useless. We just need to make the best choices with what we’ve got.

Disappointment is not a futile diversion.

But for a Christian– a true Christ follower– disappointment is not a pointless diversion or blight, but a meaningful gift that can mould our character to look more like Jesus. It detaches us from the things we place our hope in and reconnects us to the only person who can bear our hopes eternally–God Himself. It tethers us to what matters. Disappointment is the gift no one wants and only a masochist would seek it out. But if we reluctantly find the gift of disappointment in our hands, we can either jump up and down in horror or make the choice to open the wrapping and dig a deeper mine of faith in God.

Treasures in the vacuum.

We will discover treasures in the vacuum of “deferred hope.” If we process the disappointment rather than avoid it, it will slowly dawn on us that we are not master of our own fate. We will come to love what is written on the card that accompanies the gift:

My beloved child. You have My Word that I will make all things in your life (that includes things that are good and bad; easy and hard; joyful and desperate) work together for your good, so that you will become more like my Son, Jesus. Let your older Brother show you the good way. Your loving Father.  P.S. Be assured that my love for you is the ultimate trump card. Keep Romans 8:28-29 and 31-39 handy at all times.)

Conformity to the likeness of Jesus: That’s the point and purpose of disappointment for all those who love God and are called to be His. And it includes the greatest humiliations and injustices, pain and suffering.

In Romans 5:5, Paul says,  “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Most translations render the word “disappoint” as “put to shame…”

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom 5:1-5 NIV).

Peace with God is not a feeling that comes and goes with the circumstances of life. It is a status secured only by putting our trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Peace with God is a state of being right with God, acquiring the permanent status of a child of God with direct access to Him through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Jesus there can be no peace with God. There is no disappointment or humiliation on earth that can mess with this peace with God. It means that I can pray to God any time without fear. What a contrast this is to the pitiful state of Adam and Eve as they covered their nakedness with fig leaves and tried to hide their shame from God in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:7-10)

Hope does not disappoint.

I bask in the warmth of God’s grace, 
I stand secure, at peace with God.
I trust only in Christ my Saviour– the perfect Lamb
Who takes away the sin of the world.
I trust in the Lord Jesus–the sinless mediator
Whose innocent death split the temple curtain,
Giving me access to a holy God.
I boast in the sure hope that on the day I die, I will be in His presence
To enjoy His beautiful face for all eternity.
I hope in a new heaven and new earth
Where He will wipe away every tear,
And death shall be no more, 
Neither mourning, nor crying,
Nor pain anymore, ever. 
I glory in my sufferings today, because they have a purpose.
They sever the cord attaching me to all the things I boast in.
I glory in growing a deeper faith in my God;
a persevering, faithful spirit;
a strong, buoyant character;
an irrepressible hope that refuses to give in to despair.
I feel the warmth of God’s love pulsing through His Spirit.
For hope does not put me to shame.
Hope does not disappoint.

God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

In disappointment, I resonate with what David wrote a millenium ago in the closing verses of Psalm 73:

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running the Marathon of Motherhood

running imagewoman-exercising-runner-athlete-training-on-road-fit-female-sport-fitness-model-training-jogging-outdoors-living-healthy-lifestyle-in-beautiful-mountain-nature-iceland-slow-

“Your kids will grow up in the blink of an eye.”

“Don’t worry, this season will end and things will get easier.”

“Just love them unconditionally! That’s all you need to know.”

I’ve heard these clichés often over the last 21 years of being a mom. A few weeks ago I sat beside my husband in Jameson Hall, UCT, at the graduation of our eldest daughter, Jessie. It was a blast from the past, with memories of my own graduation in the same hall 27 years beforehand. It felt like yesterday that I was a carefree student posing for photos in my cap and gown, brimming with excitement for the future– A future in which only three people featured– Me, Myself and I. Three years later I got married and admitted as an attorney. Life continued as usual, with perhaps a slight modification to my expectations of the future– now featuring Me, Myself, I, and My Husband as the main characters.

jess grad

But four years after tying the knot, on the coldest day of 1996, I brought home my adorable, but screaming, insatiable, colicky baby girl from the hospital, and this was the event that turned my life upside down. Motherhood changed my narrative irrevocably. By 2003 I was the mom of three daughters and a son, lost in the thick forest of nappies, naps, feeding, taxi driving and daily routines that were determined by my four children. My vision for the future was impaired by sleep deprivation and mom-brain, which remained unabated for at least a decade. The actors in my life narrative did not feature Me, Myself or I. In fact, these characters were nowhere to be seen in the cast. I wondered if the old Me would ever return to the set.

The truth is that it is hard to keep perspective when you are a mom in the trenches of raising small children. But through the lens of my own daughters (now aged 21, 16 and 14) and my son (aged 19), I look back at the last two decades and have clarity about two things:

First, I trusted in God too little as a mother, and second, I underestimated the power of small but important things done day after day, year after year over a long period of time. 

Here are some insights from hindsight to share with a younger Christian woman in the turbulent ocean of motherhood. I hope that they will anchor you, so that you do not become a prisoner of the tide.

You are raising your children for eternity, not just for bedtime or an “easier” season when they are older.

Keep looking into the eyes of your children and know that God loves these little people deeply and has entrusted them specifically to you to lead them to Himself. He has not made a mistake in making you the mother of your children, and Jesus invited all children to come to him. They are your ‘homegroup’, your mission field and your closest community. They are the lambs you feed first, as you have been appointed as their shepherd. They are the first targets of Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, (starting at home) “teaching them to observe all that I have taught you”.  If we are Christ-followers and believe the truth of the Gospel, this is one job we have to do diligently. I have learned over the years that I cannot force my children to love the Lord, but I know that to be winsome and credible, we need to have a living, intimate relationship with Jesus ourselves. Children smell hypocrisy a mile off, and the Gospel is primarily caught, not taught. Early on in my mothering, I read God’s command to the people of Israel and felt its weight as a mother:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

I have plastered sticky notes with verses and reminders all over my house, but over the long haul this passage has been my rudder more than any other. Think of it like this: Loving the Lord our God with our heart, soul and might is intricately connected with the act of taking God’s words into our own hearts and passing them down to our children, day in and day out, like a baton in a relay.

Loving God and obeying his design for parenting cannot be separated.  

As God’s covenant people, Christian moms have more to talk of with our children than the Israelites, because we live after Jesus and the New Testament. We not only have God’s precepts and wisdom for living from the Old Testament, but also the Gospel which gives flesh and bone to these principles of truth. If you have ever objected to being your child’s teacher, God’s Word takes issue with that! Every mom is a teacher and we cannot leave this task to school or any other person, no matter how much we have on our plate. Your work as a mom is done line upon line, precept upon precept, over a long period of time– it is never instant or once off.  It is strange how, at the time, I thought none of my children were listening to me reading Leading Little Ones to God or The Child’s Story Bible or Little Pilgrim’s Progress— sometimes we nodded off before the end of our devotion! But today they all remember the time we spent reading books, memorising Scriptures, praying together and going to Bible Tots. The Holy Spirit did not allow his Word to come back empty and by God’s grace all of our children have soft hearts towards the Lord, although this was not always so. Small family habits, rituals and casual conversations over many years do not have the power to save our children, but they are like the careful laying down of paper, twigs and firelighters in a hearth, ready for the Holy Spirit to light the match and breathe life and warmth into cold hearts.

You are in this for the long haul!

I was under the false impression that mom’s work would be done in a decade but nothing could be further from the truth. Talking about God to your children really hots up when they become teenagers and young adults! High school and university are breeding grounds for postmodern thinking which says that truth is what we feel, and only unintelligent, unscientific people have faith in a supernatural creator. Moms need to be around to talk to their older kids about how God’s purposes relate to evolution, science, transgenderism, marriage, sex, relationships, pornography, work, philosophy and psychology. Our children need to become thinkers, as opposed to robots who process information and accept ideas without thinking through their implications for all of life. Our four children are always being challenged by fellow students and teachers at school and university, by movies, TV and social media. Moms need to be on our toes, so that our teenage children can respectfully give a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).  Here are some resources I have found helpful in equipping my children to answer the Questions Christians hope no one will ask. Apologetics videos and debates, you tube and podcasts are powerful tools to use with teenagers. Make sure your older children get to RZIM events on South African campuses and churches. Like us, our children need a firm rudder so they are not prisoners of the tide. Extended family, the Church, home group and Christian friends are great allies in leading our children to the Lord, so stay connected to the body of Christ.

The monumental task of mothering is God’s work.

Every day as a mother is a never-to-be-repeated moment in time– a trust from God our Father. Mothering is God’s work as much as any other career or vocation. In Genesis 1 and 2 we are told that God made men and women in his own image, to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule and reign over his Creation. This is not just about giving birth! As image bearers, we are called to create order from chaos like God did at Creation; to be fruitful in our work and to govern and bring order to our sphere of influence, which is our homes for much of our lives. If you are a mom who feels your work is futile, endless, meaningless and insignificant; if you are seeking God’s purpose for your life and His design for your work; if you are looking for a way to serve in ministry, this perspective on motherhood is radical: Motherhood is your primary work and ministry for many years.

It is easy to get bogged down in the moment instead of living with the end in mind. There is a subtle message in our culture whispering that moms are supposed to tolerate their children until they are more civilised and that school will teach them to behave. Since the roots of a child’s moral and character development are established between 18 months and 11 years old, this is a dangerous lie. Put another way, a mother’s work will have by far the greatest impact on the character of her adult children than any other influence. The worst advice I ever received as a mom was to ignore my child’s bad behaviour, and the best advice was from an author called Kevin Leman who has written a number of excellent books on parenting and marriage, including the sensible Parenting your Powerful Child. The bottom line is: character flaws in your child will be entrenched rather than diminished as they grow older, unless you step in with loving correction and training.

There is nothing futile or meaningless about endless cycles of wiping up messes, feeding and cleaning children, comforting them when they are sick or hurting, helping them with homework, speaking kindly, correcting and discipling, talking to them about how to deal with temptation and welcoming strangers in your home. God sees this unseen work and it is good in his eyes. Whether you are a working or stay-at-home mom, a widow or single mom, a mom in children’s ministry or a woman who looks after other people’s children, be assured that your contribution is not related to  financial rewards or approval.

Paid or unpaid, recognised or unappreciated, your undercover boss is always Jesus.

You are Jesus’ image-bearer, his hands, feet and mouthpiece, and Jesus says your work is good. Your mothering matters. It is service to the King of Kings. It is a contribution to your family and society. When you feel distracted or FOMO, or when you want to throw in the towel, remember Nehemiah’s reply when Sanballat tried to divert him, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down!” (Nehemiah 6:3)

Harness the strength of surrender!

Moms need to learn to raise the white flag of surrender instead of believing the myth that we are in control. There is strength in surrender. We tend to overthink, overanalyse, worry too much and fret about things we can’t control. Peace will only come through the surrender of these things to the Father who loves us and cares for the details and uncertainties of life this side of heaven. Mary, Jesus’s mother, is our greatest example of surrender. She exchanged her vision of the future as a devout Jewish wife and mother for crazy obedience to God’s plan. She embraced all the weaknesses, struggles and anguish of raising the Messiah and watching him die on a cross. She agreed to be all that God intended her to be even at great cost to her own expectations, and God honoured and favoured her. (Luke 1:30)

Surrender to rest and restoration.

We sometimes confuse busyness with fruitfulness, refusing to take care of our own needs until we hit the wall. That isn’t smart because the whole pack of cards goes down when mom goes down. Find what you love doing– what restores your energy– and do it often. For me, being in the sun and running in nature fills up my cup so that I can live with joy and contentment. Without the soul food of prayer, God’s Word and connection with the people I love and trust, I quickly get depleted. Take time to prepare and eat nutritious food and allow yourself to lie down for a long deep sleep when you feel weary. Neglect the warning signals of your body at your peril! This is not a sprint. A long marathon always includes walking and resting along the route.

Surrender to repentance.

My children have been a test of my faith because being a mom has often brought me to my knees in desperation! They have extracted fears and insecurities I never knew I had, including some dark and difficult things– a temper, need for approval, self pity, self indulgence, self righteousness– to mention just the tip of the iceberg. Be sure of this, moms: You will sin and your children will sin, over and over again. I am convinced that we have been put in our homes to show, in a personal and sometimes painful way, what it means to live in a humble state of confession, repentance and forgiveness.  The hardest script to learn is: “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me!” Yet, these nine words are potent and necessary for our children to hear and learn to say often for the sake of their own relationships.

Surrender to prayer.

You will never convert your children or control their free will. But the Holy Spirit can draw your children to himself, awaken their hearts to God’s love, and open their eyes to understand the Gospel. He alone can win them over. This is why we need to to surrender in prayer every day. I have seen the miraculous fruit of nagging God on my children’s behalf over and over again and I am convinced that the earnest prayers of a believing mom are powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Surrender to dependence.

You will never find the strength, wisdom, joy and patience required for the mom-journey in yourself or your gifts, but God promises to supply all your needs, day by day, like manna in the desert. You will never be given a week’s supply, only a day. Self sufficiency is a useless crutch for a mom, so surrender it once and for all.

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.” Elisabeth Elliot.

Surrender to the Saviour.

You will never find ultimate satisfaction in your children or a human relationship. Do trust in Jesus and rest in him alone, in every season of motherhood, from crib to empty nest and beyond. Model to your children what trust means in practical everyday life. Otherwise, the world will lead them to believe that friends, a partner, blessings, wealth, achievements or popularity will satisfy them.

Surrender your expectations.

You will never be the ideal mom and will never raise the perfect child. You risk losing your child’s heart when you disapprove of him/her as a human being or act like you’ve got it all together.

Teach your children to make the best of whatever crumbs they find in their hands, instead of always searching for a feast of false expectations.

May all of us respond to God’s vision for our lives with the surrender of Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Surrender your hurts.

Surrender your anxiety and failures, fears, regrets, doubts, pain and sickness to Jesus, and practice this as a family, so that your children witness Christ’s redemptive power and comfort in this messy business of life. You will never escape hardships in your family and sometimes will be hit by wave after wave of disappointment or anguish. But there is hope: Disappointments are God-appointments for the Christian family. My own experience is that in suffering we either run towards Jesus or away from Him. We either experience firsthand that nothing can separate us from the love of God, or we stagger in our own strength under the unbearable weight of pain. The choice is ours, and we bring our children along with us.

Finally, bless your family!

Family rituals are powerful and moms can make these happen.

Get your family together regularly to thank God for his provision and bless each member verbally, including your husband. It may feel unnatural at first, but soon your children will bask in the sense of identity and unity they gain from being part of a family that serves the Lord, stands together and depends on His grace. It is so easy for us to criticise and shame our children or dishonour our husbands as we rush to meet the demands of school and work, but blessing family members aloud is a lifetime gift that costs us nothing. Simple words like “I’m proud of your perseverance,” “You handled that setback incredibly well this week,” “Thank you for being an amazing husband” are soothing for the soul.

We have a formal ‘blessing’ dinner on Saturday evenings to remind ourselves of God’s  provision and to honour and encourage our children. It is modelled on Shabbat which Jewish families celebrate on Friday evenings to prepare for the Sabbath. Pete leads the service, in which each family member participates, and then we enjoy a special dinner together. The explicit blessing of this dinner has enriched us all greatly.

Happy Mother’s day!

Moms, my prayer is that you will know that every day is Mother’s Day! Each new morning is a unique opportunity to bless and bring life to your home. You have been given an epic marathon to run, which morphs and meanders over the years, but never  gets less challenging or less significant. Don’t waste a single day on needless fretting, nor underestimate the longterm power of small habits, repeated day after day, in love.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead. Fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet. And take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or left.” (Proverbs 4:25-27)

P.S. As for “Me, Myself and I“, the characters that got lost in motherhood– don’t worry about surrendering them! They may leave the cast for a while, but you will find your true self again and it will be a better version of the “me” you left behind. Jesus himself promised that if we want to save our life we will lose it, “but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus’s Resurrection Is No April Fool

empty_tomb11By Rosie Moore.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It may fall on April Fool’s Day this year, but I am convinced that Jesus really is alive today and this is no joke. If the physical resurrection of Jesus was a hoax, it is a sick joke and the whole of the Christian faith collapses. My prayers are worthless, the faith on which I build my life is just wishful thinking. If Jesus is just another a dead martyr, it follows that I am a naive, deluded, gullible fool.

I cannot put my faith and life in the hands of a dead Saviour. The Apostle Paul agrees in first Corinthians 15:

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have  hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

What Paul is saying is logical: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, faith in the Gospel is meaningless. Death is the end for Christians and nothing follows. We should not entertain false delusions. Our purposeless lives will be snuffed out like a candle and there is no hope of our bodies being raised to life or going to heaven. It’s dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Our religion is false. Martyrs of the faith who suffered horrible deaths died in vain. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the Christian faith is a mass deception and a sick joke.

Evidence is critical

Check out the following evidence for yourself and reach your own verdict:

  1. Jesus was killed by crucifixion. There is no dispute about that among secular and Christian historians. Muslims, who claim that Jesus did not die, have no historical basis for this claim. No one has ever survived a Roman crucifixion.
  2. The tomb was empty on Sunday morning after the crucifixion. Even the enemies of Jesus admitted that. 
  3. The tomb was secured by a stone weighing 1-2 tons and guarded by Roman soldiers who faced death if they allowed the body to be stolen. They were bribed to lie about the disciples stealing the body, as it was common cause that the tomb was empty. 
  4. The authorities and Jews had every reason to produce the body when stories of  resurrection began to circulate, but no body was produced. The body could not be produced because the body was missing!
  5. Jesus was repeatedly seen alive on at least eleven separate occasions. It is impossible for five hundred people to hallucinate about the same encounter with the risen Jesus all at the same time. Many eye witnesses were still alive when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church and could have contradicted his claims as well as the clear accounts in all four Gospels.
  6. Jesus’s disciples genuinely believed Jesus was alive…and they were willing to die for this belief rather than deny it. This radical change from cowards to martyrs can only be explained if they actually saw Jesus alive. Why would they die for something they knew to be a lie?
  7. Paul, an enemy of Christianity, and James,  Jesus’ skeptical brother, were converted after they saw Jesus alive. What else could possibly account for this radical change?

This Resurrection Sunday I am struck with fresh wonder at John’s eye witness account in John 20: 1-18:

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Last at the cross, first at the grave

It’s amazing that the first person to see Jesus alive is Mary Magdalene, a woman who had no legal or social standing in Jewish culture. Jesus had freed her from seven demons (Luke 8:2) and restored her sanity. She was so devoted to Jesus that she left her home in Magdala to follow Him and gave her life to support his ministry. She owed Jesus everything. But she wasn’t just a fan of Jesus. She never left his side on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Even when His close friends deserted Jesus, Mary stayed, listening to his trial and sentencing by Pilate. She watched her Saviour die and helped prepare his body for burial. On the first Easter Sunday morning, it was Mary Magdalene who was at the tomb earliest in the morning to witness the greatest event in world history. Imagine her grief as she stood outside the tomb crying (v 11). Imagine her confusion as she saw the ‘gardener’ and asked where he had put the body. Imagine her excitement as she finally recognised Jesus as “Rabboni” and heard his voice calling her to be the first messenger of the good news!

The first missionary

Jesus chose Mary Magdalene to be the first Christian missionary, an unthinkable thing to do in their patriarchal society. After her personal encounter, Mary knew without a doubt that Jesus was alive, and she was bubbling over with joy on her way to spread the good news. Women counted for nothing in this culture, especially a woman who had been crazy and possessed by demons. She wasn’t a leader of Jesus’ followers, just a supporter. Yet, Jesus chose this woman to be the first ambassador of the Gospel, a woman with a mission!

This encounter reminds me that Jesus doesn’t choose us because of our talent, background, strength, goodness, achievements or intelligence. He calls the weak and messed up among us, saving us entirely by his own work, not ours. Mary had personally  experienced redemption and that’s why she loved Jesus so much. That’s why she was the last at the cross and first at the tomb.  I look at my own heart this Easter morning and hope that I experience the same love and devotion for Jesus that I see in Mary. I never want to forget how Jesus has redeemed me and called me by name to be his own. 

Jesus called her name

At first Mary is confused and mistaken about who Jesus is. “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus’s questions are full of  tenderness. That is exactly how Jesus deals with us when we stumble with honest doubts and questions. He doesn’t get angry or impatient with us as we grapple with the truth.

Mary has been running around in a panic trying to find Jesus in the wrong places. I think she may have worried that without Jesus she would become the old demon-possessed Mary again. But then Jesus does a remarkable thing. 

He comes to her and calls her name, “Mary”. His call is personal and intimate.  Jesus tenderly calls her name and Mary instantly recognises Jesus. Her doubt and confusion  vanishes. As Jesus had predicted earlier, “his sheep follow Him because they know His voice.” (John 10:3-4.) 

Is that your experience this Easter? Do you know Jesus personally as Mary did? Do you know his voice? Do you know him as the Saviour who comes to you, clears your mind and comforts your heart? There will be many April fool’s jokes today but this isn’t one of them. Jesus is alive today and very close to us. He wants to be known by us in the same way he knew Mary, Peter, John and his other followers. Read John 14 if you would like to know Jesus in this intimate way. He made extraordinary claims about himself like: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He proved that he was not just a moral teacher when he physically rose from the dead. Do not let this season pass by without grasping hold of the person at the centre of Easter–Jesus Christ, the risen Lamb of God, the scapegoat of heaven, the Saviour of the world, the Lord and King of all, the one who calls you by name.

Download and meditate on the incredibly beautiful songs of Andrew Patterson in the Prologue and Volume 1 and 2 of The Resurrection Letters, especially his song “Is He worthy?“. The lyrics will fill you with awe.

 

 

 

 

Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat

By Rosie Moorescapegoat

Jesus’s arrest, trials, suffering and crucifixion were the definitive miscarriage of justice imposed on the only innocent man that walked this earth. He was the definitive scapegoat, the truly blameless one who bore others’ guilt, the object of irrational hatred.

The innocent scapegoat

Pontius Pilate knew it and said, “I find no guilt in this man.”  “After examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” (Luke 23:15-16) Yet Pilate let the savage crowd choose to release Barabbas, a violent rebel and murderer, instead of the Jewish rabbi who epitomised virtue and moral spotlessness. Jesus’s death meant the possibility of life for Barabbas, a detestable sinner who deserved death.

Even the criminal on the cross next to Jesus is a character witness, insisting “this man has done nothing wrong”, and the Roman centurion who watched Jesus die declared “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) What led both men to put their trust in Jesus, even though it was obvious He was dying or already dead? What power could Jesus exert as a corpse? Both these witnesses of the crucifixion recognised that Jesus was not a mere man but the Son of God and that his death was not the last word.

In the tomb.

On Easter Saturday we look back at the Passover in 33BC when Jesus’ dead body lay in a tomb belonging to a rich man called Joseph, sealed by a stone weighing between 1-2 tons, and guarded by at least four Roman soldiers. To his followers, Jesus’s death must have seemed like a tragic failure, but God the Father used the threads of monstrous injustice against His Son to weave a magnificent tapestry of victory over death and sin.

When I was growing up, I was always confused by statements thrown around by Christians like, “Jesus died for us. He died for our sins.  Jesus saves us from our sin.” That explained nothing to me.  A million questions remained, “What did he have to die for? What’s the point of an innocent man dying? How can he save me from my sin when he didn’t do my sins?” The prepositions “for” and “from” made no sense in my mind.

That is until I read about the Jewish ritual of the scapegoat laid out in Leviticus 16 and the mystery started to take shape that Jesus is the “scapegoat” of heaven. He is the one who diedinstead of me. He died as my substitute. The innocent takes the punishment of the guilty. From the time of the Exodus, Jews celebrated the Day of Atonement, when the High priest took two goats, chosen by lot, and presented them at the door of the tabernacle. One was to be offered to God (YHWH) as a blood sacrifice and the other was chosen to be the scapegoat to be sent away into the wilderness. The blood of the slain goat was taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies behind the sacred veil of the tabernacle (later the temple) and sprinkled on the Mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant which housed the two stone tablets of the Ten commandments. Later the High Priest would confess the sins of the Israelites to God, placing the sins figuratively on the head of the scapegoat, who would symbolically take them away into the desert, never to be seen again. This is a shadow of what Jesus would do when he died on the cross.

The scapegoat.

History illustrates that it’s human nature to create scapegoats out of an individual or people group, to shift blame for all that goes wrong in a society regardless of who is truly guilty. In the first century, Emperor Nero targeted the early Christians by accusing them of starting the fire in Rome. His scapegoating led to the torture and execution of thousands in the new faith who were killed for sport, eaten by animals, even lit up and burned alive as torches. In the 1930’s, Stalin scapegoated the Kulak peasant class for all the woes of Russia, (even though they were the most productive farmers) causing the deaths of 7 million Russians from the ensuing famine. Likewise, Hitler scapegoated Jews for all the problems Germany was facing and murdered at least six million innocent men, women and children. In Rwanda, the Hutu majority government scapegoated the Tutsi minority, resulting in a mass slaughter of almost a million Rwandans during a 100-day period from April to July 1994. The 21st century is no different. The blame game is still the preferred modus operandi of those who wish to deflect blame and dodge accountability for their own guilty actions. After all, it is much easier to scapegoat an individual or group  rather than own up to one’s own wrongdoing and fix the problem in constructive ways. Scapegoating may be effective for those who hold power, but it is unfair and cruel, and can lead to death or great harm to the scapegoat.

Jesus was the ultimate scapegoat and the only truly innocent one. He died so that Barabbas could go free. As Jesus took his last breath on the cross, he said, “It is finished!” What was finished? His mission to redeem sinners was complete. It was the exchange of our sin for his righteousness; of our guilt for his innocence; of our life for his death. He paid for our sin with his unjust death. There is no human being beyond his redemption, not even someone like Barabbas. Just like the scapegoat of the Old Testament, “for our sake he (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The most wonderful thing about Jesus’s mission is that is is borne out of love…pure unadulterated love! The kind of love that we are unable to fathom. This is how Paul describes the sheer love that motivated Jesus’s sacrifice:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:5-9)

Jesus is the only one who can absorb the wrath of God, who can make us right with God and remove the burden of sin from us forever, because He is the only sinless one and because He is God. He is the only effective scapegoat who can cleanse us and give us a new heart and a new start. We may try to appease our consciences, forgive and excuse ourselves, but our sin is against a holy God who detests any form of sin and wrongdoing. We cannot forgive our own sin or compensate with good deeds.  But all our blame and guilt can be placed onto Jesus, like that Old Testament scapegoat who was sent out to die in the wilderness, weighed down symbolically by the sins of the people. Just as God provided a ram in the thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his precious son Isaac, God the Father watched his own son Jesus walk up a hill called Calvary and die willingly as our substitute.

The amazing exchange.

The only condition for this exchange is that we face up to our guilt and own it. We accept Jesus as our scapegoat. The amazing exchange was taken up by all the disciples except Judas. It was taken up by the three Mary’s and millions of other followers of Christ through the centuries. It was taken up by the thief on the cross in his dying moments, the centurion at the foot of the cross and Joseph of Arimathea. But it was not taken up by those who were blind to their own guilt– the religious leaders, Herod, Pilate and many others who saw Jesus face to face and hated him in spite of his goodness.  Neutrality is not an option if you understand who Jesus saw himself to be. He is either your scapegoat or your judge. Jesus leaves us no third option.

Why Jesus is the Lamb of God

jesus-christ-crucified-on-wednesday-not-roman-catholic-good-friday-nteb-933x445Easter is the heartbeat of Christianity. Without it we have mere religion and ritual, a moral system to help us earn the approval of God, whoever we conceive God to be. But the Easter story of the God-man who died to save the world, is no myth. It is a scandalous story of redemption which is rooted in real time, space and history and the central figure of this story is a Jewish man called Yeshua, whom we call Jesus. He was no ordinary man and was killed by crucifixion on the day the Jews celebrated Passover in about 33AD. There is no doubt about this among secular and religious historians, and Easter Friday is the day we remember this event which splits history into B.C and A.D.

As I woke up this morning, I was thinking about what Jesus went through on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the night he washed his disciples’ feet and ate the Last Supper in the upper room, using wine and bread as symbols of his literal body and blood which were about to be torn apart and spilled on the cross. His disciples had no idea of the barbarism of the next 24 hours. This was the night Jews started to prepare for the Passover. Imagine being awake all night after his agonising prayers and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, being dragged though three bogus hearings before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Herod and Pontius Pilate, all before the world woke up on the Friday of Passover. Mocked, flogged, abandoned, disowned by his friends, the target of people who detested him and bayed for his blood like vicious animals. That is how Jesus’ “Good” Friday started.

Stripped, spat on, given a thorny crown to pierce his head, made to look like a mock “King”. That is how Jesus spent the early hours of Friday morning. The King of the universe went silently, like a lamb to the slaughter, carrying his mammoth cross up a hill until he collapsed. He was crucified around 9am, the time most of us are eating breakfast on Good Friday. There was great hurry to finish the messy business of crucifixion and burial before the start of Passover, sunset on Friday evening.

Jesus hung on the cross between two rebels, one of whom heaped more insults on him and one who put his trust in The Son of God. “Excruciating” is the English word derived from the unique pain of a Roman crucifixion. From noon until 3pm, darkness literally came over all the land, while Jesus died slowly, an excruciating death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Eli, Eli, Lena sabachtini” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was God-forsaken for the first time in all eternity, surely the most excruciating element of his immense suffering.
Then he cried out again in a loud voice and gave up his spirit.

Imagine the shock on the faces of the religious leaders with blood on their hands as they watched the curtain of the temple torn in two from top to bottom. Imagine the terror of eye witnesses as the earth shook, tombs broke open and bodies of holy dead people were raised to life and appeared to many people in Jerusalem. A hardened soldier, a centurion guarding the dying Jesus who experienced the darkness, the earthquake, the resurrections at close quarters, exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Does this sound like a myth? Truth is stranger than fiction. All this happened by 3pm on the Friday of Passover. By evening, two ‘privileged’ Jewish men came forward to take care of Jesus’ Jewish burial rites before sunset. Jesus’s dead body was tenderly anointed with a mixture of 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes and wrapped in a clean linen cloth by a rich man called Joseph (from the town of Arimathea) and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. We don’t know much about these privileged men other than that Joseph had become a follower of Jesus and Nicodemus had visited Jesus in secret to ask him the secret to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3). Both men went against the “politically correct” views of their culture and religion to support Jesus and must have been shunned for that. Joseph gave up his personal, brand new tomb for the Son of God. A massive stone was rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb as the two Marys watched on. All done and dusted in time for sunset and the beginning of the Passover meal. It is difficult to grasp their profound sadness, shattered dreams and disappointment as they witnessed their precious Jesus being placed in this new tomb in a garden, protected by a massive stone.

This all happened on the first Easter Friday, the beginning of Passover when a one-year old, unblemished, male lamb was sacrificed, roasted and eaten with bread and no yeast. At Passover Jewish people celebrate their miraculous redemption from slavery in Egypt, the day the angel of death ‘passed over’ the homes of the Israelites  protected by the blood of the lamb. Today it has struck me with new clarity how Jesus is the Lamb of God and his death fulfills in minute detail what was promised in the Jewish Scriptures.

As he promised his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) In fact, there are 354 Old Testament verses that are directly fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Here are just a few of them relating to Easter Friday: 

 

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by his blood spilled on the cross. The Old Testament books of the law, the Torah, foreshadowed the Lamb of God, the once-for-all sacrifice for sin. (Exodus 12) Even the bones of the Passover lamb were not to be broken (Exodus 12: 46; Numbers 9:12) and neither was one bone of Jesus broken on the cross (John 19:31-36). Jesus is the sinless Passover Lamb, without blemish (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). He is also the faithful High Priest who stands between sinful people and a holy God (1 Samuel 2:35; Hebrews 2:17; 3:1-3; 6 and 7:24-25.)

Psalm 22, written a thousand years before Jesus’ birth,  is an almost a perfect shadow of Easter Friday as told in the Gospels. Just look at these verses from Psalm 22, which begin with the exact words said by Jesus as he hung on the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Matthew 27:46)
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest. (Matthew 27:45)

All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; (Matthew 27:39-44).
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Matthew 27:43)

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Luke 2:7)
12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion. (John 19:6)

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint; (John 19:34)
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death. (Mark 15:34-37)

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet— (John 19:34, 37; 20:27)
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots. (Luke 23:34;35; John 19:23,24)

20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog! (Luke 23:46)
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: (John 20:17)
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it. (“It is finished”..John 19:30; Hebrews 10:10, 12, 14, 18)

The Jewish prophets foretold the Lamb of God, the suffering servant. Allow some verses from Isaiah 53, written seven hundred years before Christ, wash over you:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (John 12:37-38)
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Luke 4:28-29; Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:50-52) 

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted. (Matthew 26:66; 27:41-43)
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:9; Colossians 1:20)
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (1 John 2:2; 4:10; Galatians 1:4)

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. (Matthew 27:12-14; 27-31)
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people? (John 18:13-22)
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death, (Matthew 27:57)
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief; (John 18:11)
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Romans 6:9)
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities. (John 12:27; John 17:1-5)
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Hebrews 9:28)

John the Baptist heralded the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world when he baptised Jesus in the Jordan river. Today is the day we worship and thank Jesus, the Lamb of God, who gave his life so that anyone who believes in him may be made right with God and have eternal life. Today is the day we remember the new Passover, Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself to pay the penalty for our sins, to die in our place.

You and I, without exception, are the “transgressors” of Isaiah 53:12. And Jesus truly is the Lamb of God, the one, all-sufficient atonement to pay for the sins of whoever puts their trust in Him as their Saviour and King.

Thank you Yeshua, thank you Jesus.

Part 2. Wholefood Christianity in an Age of Processed Snacks: ROOTS AND FRUITS

rooted-in-the-word-kevin-ca

THE HABIT WORTH HAVING

It’s time to get practical about how to get proper nourishment from God’s Word in our busy lives.  If you are a believer, you know this habit of grace promises great rewards over a lifetime. It’s like the compound interest you will earn over a lifetime from saving a small amount of money every month over many decades. The investment is small compared to the longterm rewards, but we need to be intentional about practising this habit of grace. Here are useful tips that I’d like to share with you:

  1. EXPLORE BIBLE DEVOTION APP: This is by far the best tool I’ve found in recent years for the purpose of personal study of every book of the Bible. It’s an Application for cellphones and ipads developed by the Good book company,  endorsed by The Gospel Coalition. You will recognise familiar names like Timothy Keller, Kevin de Young and John Piper as contributors.  Each study is practical and user friendly, but not dumbed down, and that’s why I love it. You download it free on the App store or Google Play, then buy individual studies for a small cost which take you on a day- by -day journey through entire books of the Bible, doing a chunk at a time. Each one takes 15-20 minutes at the most and there are questions and concise commentaries to guide you through the text. It’s perfect for using in the car (as long as the driver isn’t reading!) and it doubles up as a family devotion and a useful tool for preparing Bible studies if you’re a Bible teacher. The beauty of this app is that you don’t need to carry a heavy Bible with you, as the daily text is on the device, and you don’t use data once it’s downloaded. Questions always relate back to the text, and the writer does not ask you stupid questions or ask you to guess anything! It does not explicitly follow ROMA (Read, Observe, Meditate and Apply), but you’ll find all the steps there: Read, dig deeper, think, apply, pray. The commentator allows you to answer his questions before he tells you what to think, allowing you to discover Scripture by yourself. All the commentators are Gospel centred and respect the text. I love that you can see up front how long it will take you to read through a particular book of the Bible and then decide which one works for you. The daily portions are the perfect length- not too long, not too short- for use by ordinary 21st century Christians. I use the Explore app myself, alongside a journal where I jot down my thoughts and discoveries. In the 15 minute car trip to school in the mornings, my daughters and I are able to complete a study together. This app is perfect for using in the office at lunch time, on holiday or wherever you find yourself. We need flexibility in practicing habits of grace and the Explore app gives flexibility without compromising depth.explore app logo
  2. JOURNALLING: Journaling has been shown by research to reduce scatter in our lives, increase focus, create greater emotional stability, hold thoughts still so they can be integrated into our lives, enable us to detach and let go of the past, to forgive, to increase gratitude…the list of benefits goes on! This comes from secular  sources. Christian journaling has deeper benefits for our soul as well. In your journals, you are reasoning and preaching to yourself, reminding yourself of truths that are easily forgotten in the mayhem of life. Through our ink scrawls on paper, we are pouring concrete into our heart to reinforce the truth, especially when we are surrounded by wobbly sinking sand. We are capturing in our own words what we truly think and want to hold onto, as well as what the Lord has uniquely shown us. A Bible Journal is the faithful record keeper and guard dog of our walk with God. I keep my journaling simple:
  • Bullet points instead of full sentences.
  • If I miss a day, I don’t try catch up, just move on the next day.
  • I try to give a date and title to each day’s message after I’ve finished.
  • My entries are honest and full of questions, some unanswered. My writing is a scrawl, just between me and God and not designed to be a masterpiece.
  • I keep an authentic record of my prayers, my desperate pleas and those moments of clarity where the lights have suddenly been turned on in my heart. I’m amazed to look back and see how God has worked for good the many desperate experiences I’ve recorded in my journals.
  • I try to keep the purpose of Journaling in my mind: to train, practice and immerse myself in the things of God so that my thinking is renewed. I see it as soul gym!
  • I prefer using an unlined sketchbook so I can scrawl, paste and draw freely.
  • Caroline Leaf (author of Switch On Your Brain) says this: “Frame your world with your words.” That’s what you’re doing when you journal.
  1. READ FOR BREADTH AND DEPTH.

I have focussed on reading for depth, but it is also good to read for breadth so you know how the pieces of the Bible fit together and get a wide sweep of Scripture. The 66 books of the Bible, written over 1500 years by over forty authors who were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit, are bound together by threads of synergy and unity that become visible when digested as a whole. However, if you are anything like me, you may battle to read through the “Bible in One Year” programme. My attempts have always aborted because I run out of time; get stuck on a section, and my mind can’t jump from one book to another in a single sitting. I’ve opted instead for CD’s or apps where the Bible is read aloud to me while driving in the car or going about my everyday business.  At the moment I am loving a reading by Eugene Peterson, from The Message paraphrase of the Bible. The language is fresh and easy to understand. The You version Bible app on cellphones has the option of a read aloud version which is a wonderful way of listening to Scripture while on the treadmill of life (metaphorical or literal)!

  1. DON’T READ A SINGLE VERSE AT A TIME. ALWAYS A PARAGRAPH or PORTION AS PART OF A WHOLE BOOK.

It is good and right to treasure certain key verses of the Bible, meditating and memorising them. That’s part of hiding God’s word in our hearts. But, if we never get into a Bible reading plan and instead treat the Bible as a promise box to bolster our self esteem or give us the magic bullet we need to get us through the day, we will often veer towards our own hobbyhorses and cherry pick verses, instead of listening to the whole counsel of God.

It’s like grabbing a doughnut instead of eating breakfast.

This can lead us (even unintentionally) to twist Scripture and make it say what we want it to say. Context is vital to becoming a conjunctive thinker rather than a disjunctive thinker. Let me explain conjunctive thinking: The Bible is full of paradoxes—both… and—not either… or. Two sides of the same coin are equally true. For example, reading Romans 8:28 without verse 29 loses Paul’s true meaning in the text, which is that God works all things for good for those called according to his purpose. His purpose according to verse 29 is so that we may become more like Jesus. Both are true at the same time. Reading the two verses together counters the simplistic belief that our faith dictates whether we prosper or suffer in this life. It also resists the health and prosperity worldview which implies we can use Jesus to get what we want.

To extract a single verse or phrase out of its proper context will deprive us of the full nourishment of Biblical truth. It’s like serving yourself dessert but leaving out the main course of meat,  potatoes and vegetables.

It’s easy to distort the Gospel of Christ if we only read about the love and mercy of God without also reading about his holiness, anger against sin and judgment. Reading Proverbs alone may give us a worldview that life is a simple matter of cause and effect, ie, if you live wisely, you will always have a blessed, happy life and things will go well with you. But when you visit the theatre of Ecclesiastes and Job, the curtains will open to another, equally true scene– which is the reality of undeserved suffering, unfairness, randomness and futility in this world. Only when we read all three books of wisdom literature in the Bible, will we begin to fathom how wise it is to “fear the Lord and obey his commands” in a world which is largely uncontrollable. Since each chapter and book of the Bible shows us a different angle of truth, it is wise not to carve it up into such small pieces that we only ever see a single facet. That is why I recommend reading through whole books of the Bible with the Explore Bible Devotion app. Eventually you will get through every book of the Bible, but it will be in bitesize portions that an ordinary Christian can manage with the help of the Holy Spirit.

  1. BUILD A HABIT (SET A TIME, PLACE, PLAN) BUT BE FLEXIBLE TOO!

A habit takes around 60 days to build, but it’s worth it. Having a personal devotion is a habit of grace first and foremost, not a way to earn brownie points with God, but it is also a habit built out of discipline, perseverance and self control. This is a good example of conjunctive thinking, as God’s grace and our effort work together in unison.

Running the race of faith to the finish line requires tenacity.

Paul urged Timothy, a younger Christian to “train himself for godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) Listen to the words he uses in verse 15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

If you are a believer, you can be assured that the Holy Spirit is working on your behalf and God has plenty of grace available to you for your daily life. But you cannot turn on a switch and force this grace to flow through you. God has given us channels for his grace and one of them is reading his Word. When you position yourself in the flood of this grace, if you come to the living water, and let it wash over you day by day, month by month, year by year, you will experience certain benefits or byproducts over time that are worth more than anything this world can give you. But flexibility is key too. Life is unpredictable and takes some unusual twists and turns. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pressure cooker of life where we hardly come up for breath. God is with us wherever we are and we can meet with him in the car, on a run, in the bath, on holiday or anywhere else! The Explore Bible Devotion App gives you the flexibility to read God’s Word virtually anywhere. Take advantage of all media available to immerse yourself in the Bible, even if you’re unable to have your perfect “Quiet time” in your favourite spot.

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.” (A.W Tozer)

Our family has developed a “Blessing dinner” on a Saturday evening, where we take turns reading portions of Scripture around the dinner table and eat a meal that’s more special than usual. It’s nothing formal, but my husband, Pete, is the ‘leader’ and the passages are usually ones I’ve read during the week, which have spoken powerfully to me. I copy and paste them onto a sheet which each family member gets to keep. I suppose it’s just a symbolic way for us to invite Jesus to share our family meal and teach us in the common routine of our week. There may be many practical ways you can incorporate the Bible into your personal and family life if you think creatively and are flexible. With children, strike while the iron is hot!

Sometimes it is good to look ahead at the rewards, the “why” of something to encourage us to keep up a habit that requires some effort.

Strong roots produce fruits.

I’ve put them down as three S’s.

  1. Satisfies us.
  2. Solidifies us.
  3. Sanctifies us.

1. SATISFIES:

Isaiah 55 asks us: “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?” The truth is that we are made for a purpose. That purpose is to know God, to love God and be like God. The Westminster Confession says that the chief end of man is to love God and enjoy Him forever. One of my favourite chapters in the Bible is Revelation 21 where John sees a vision of the new heavens and new earth at the end of time. Savour the words in verse 3:

 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

That’s why nothing in this world will ultimately satisfy us. God has set eternity in our hearts. But how do we know God? Surely a finite mortal person cannot know the infinite God who made the universe? Yet, John’s Gospel begins like this:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. …Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of men…v14 The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… v18. No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1)

The “Word” here is Jesus. Jesus has made God known to us. He embodies grace and truth. We know we can’t meet with Jesus physically anymore as the disciples could, because He’s at the Father’s side in heaven. But through the written word of God we come to know the Living Word who is Jesus. Jesus did not come just to reveal what God is like– he came to reveal God himself. He is the exact representation of the Father.

To see Jesus is to see God. To hear Jesus is to hear God.

The remarkable thing about the Bible is that through its pages, we come to know who God is, who we are, why our world is as it is, and we get a glimpse into God’s great redemptive plan throughout human history to make us right with Him.

Throughout the pages of the Bible we meet Jesus. When we listen to the Word with an open heart, we get to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary did while her sister Martha was “distracted” by all her work in the kitchen. Martha tells Jesus to call her sister out for being lazy, but Jesus’ replies:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-41)

Jesus is not saying to Martha, “Become a nun and meditate all day in a cloister!” No, he is in effect saying, “Martha, don’t just focus on what you do! You will never do enough to gain eternal life. What matters for eternal life is not what you do, but who you know.” It’s a living relationship with Jesus which is “the one thing necessary.”

The one thing necessary” is the root that produces the fruit. Don’t be obsessed by the fruit, but get yourself rooted and built up in Jesus!

DOING IS THE BYPRODUCT OF KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN BY JESUS. THE RELATIONSHIP IS THE MAIN THING. ACTS OF SERVICE FLOW OUT OF IT. 

It’s our relationship with Jesus that will enable us to carry out what we need to do in this world and become the person God designed us to be. It struck me while I was reading the Gospel of Matthew that before Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to “go into all the earth and preach the Gospel, making disciples and teaching them all that I’ve commanded you,” he first instructed his disciples in chapter 11

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

I have experienced first hand that I cannot  go out to do anything worthwhile if I have not first come to sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. I don’t have anything useful to hand out if I’m not first filled up by the Bread of heaven.

When Jesus becomes our Lord and Master, he doesn’t give us a heavy load to carry—a bunch of rules and duties to perform for him. Jesus is not a slave driver like other masters. He wants us to learn from him, to be taught by him how to walk freely and lightly in this world, how not to be anxious and not try to carry more than today’s load.  I don’t mean our walk is going to be easy. I just mean that Jesus teaches us what’s important and what isn’t, what’s real and fake, he teaches us to see through the thick fog of our busy lives and put first things first. He teaches us not to worry about tomorrow. He teaches us to let go of things that hinder us, past regrets, things that rule us, unmet needs, approval we never got, an identity or label that whittles away our confidence. He teaches us to surrender control of the uncontrollables. He invites us to come to him with all those burdens and worries that wear us down. He “sets us at liberty” just like he said he would when he stood up in the temple and read from the prophet Isaiah:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed. (Luke 4:18)

Metaphorically, people eat breads of achievement, works, glory, approval, internet Likes and performance. We drink from the broken cisterns of work, family, education, leisure, pleasure and anxiety. But they leak, leaving our souls empty and thirsty– parched in fact. In contrast, Jesus himself is the Bread of life, which never runs out, like the 12 leftover baskets of bread. He is the Living water. He is the sustaining, cool stream that nourishes our roots and every branch of our lives if we are planted by the water. Only Jesus can quench the deep longings of our soul because we were made to find our joy in Him alone. The whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is about Jesus. Even David wrote in 1000BC:

“I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (Psalm 119:102-103).

If David could say this about the first 5 books of the Bible which is all he had, how much sweeter is our experience of the whole Bible, which includes the coming of the promised Messiah? God’s word satisfies us.

 2. SOLIDIFIES:

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

There is only one way I know how to describe how God’s  Word “solidifies” and that is through my personal story.

Last year I experienced what I call the ‘vapour’ state of life. Just as there are three states of water, I believe our lives can also metaphorically take on the form of solid, liquid or gas. When we are strong and bulletproof, we feel as solid as a rock. Nothing can stop us, nothing can shake our faith, nothing is beyond our reach. We are optimistic and hopeful about life. We laugh at the future.

Then there are times that we discover a wobble in our knees and feel more like liquid, not too constant and a bit turbulent. We waver between hope and doubt. Our faith is a bit shaky but still it flows freely through our veins. We wonder if we are bullet proof after all.

But then there are those moments (usually somewhere in the middle of life) when the penny finally drops and we realise we are not bulletproof at all. We know we are nothing more than vapour which is here now and gone tomorrow. It feels as if life is a smoke that you cannot grasp with your fingers. It is confusing, disorientating and uncontrollable. As the writer to the Hebrews says, your hands droop, your knees are weak and you feel lame.

Generally in my life, I have been a solid person. I think an objective assessment would say I’m  organised, efficient, emotionally stable and positive about life. But in June 2017, after six months of health issues and chronic fatigue, a feather could have knocked me over and I was reduced to vapour. At the same time every afternoon a thick blanket of darkness would envelope me and threatened to suffocate me with despair and inexplicable weepiness. I could do nothing but close my curtains and lie in bed begging God to show me the light. I felt I did not want to live another day if this is what the rest of my life would be like. It took every ounce of my energy to get up in the evening and try to get supper together for my family. After a month of these horrendous afternoons, while I was begging the Lord once again to show me the light, Ephesians 6 came to my mind, a passage I had memorised as a child.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 

I suddenly realised I needed to fight this darkness, whatever it was, and take the offensive rather than just lie down like a victim. I knew I needed to wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and pray in the Spirit, whatever that meant. I had never really practised spiritual warfare before but I knew my life depended upon it. I got out my Bible and literally scoured it for everything I had ever read about taking courage in the face of fear, trusting the Lord with joy, waiting for his salvation, standing strong in the hope of deliverance, taking refuge in God, resisting the devil. I wrote verses and whole Psalms on recipe cards for the next few hours until I had an envelope full of them. I felt armed at last! The next day when I could feel the darkness sneaking up on me, I hauled out my cards, stood up and started reading them out aloud, praying them back to God, reminding him of his promises and holding Him to them. I was wrestling with God for his blessing as I believe Jacob did when his hip was dislocated as he slept next to the Jabbok river. It felt good to be fighting against the lies that were strangling me, using God’s Word to push back the darkness and resisting Satan’s accusations. An amazing thing happened after an hour of this struggle. Peace washed over me like a cool waterfall and it felt like the vapour transformed into a solid state again. I was literally solidified by the Word of God. It took less than a week of wielding the Sword of the Spirit in this way before the darkness finally left me and that blanket of despair has not returned.

“Keep yourselves in the love of Godwaiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (Jude 21)

We must fight to “keep ourselves” living in the paths of God’s blessing and “wait for his mercy.” The word of God, the Sword of the Spirit is our best weapon and tool to enable us to do this.

SANCTIFIES:

The truth is that we are all recovering addicts— addicts of sin. We are only in recovery because we have been born again and are now new creatures with a soft heart of flesh instead of stone.

But no one drifts towards holiness.

There is nothing passive about the Christian journey. Peter tells us to “make every effort to add to our faith “virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.” (2 Peter 1:5-9) Paul tells the Philippians to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling knowing that: “it is God who works in you both to will and work his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). We are in a constant battle to resist our flesh, Satan and the world, the three great enemies of our soul.

The Bible is a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path”. It is God’s unchanging standard of what He loves and what He hates. If we come to the Word every day, in childlike dependence, you can be sure that it will hold up a mirror to our soul, showing us exactly what we are like. The Spirit of God searches our hearts as we read the God-breathed words of Scripture. Other people may easily be deceived by our outward show or giftedness, and we may be admired in the Church and committed to ministry. But the Bible exposes us and shatters our masks of wisdom, false humility, secret sins and fantasies, false worship, idols and pretence.

“So if you think you are standing firm, be careful lest you fall.” (1 Cor 10:1-12). Complacency is our greatest enemy.

Just like the Israelites, we have enormous blessings from God. Yet sexual sin, grumbling, ingratitude, bitterness, anger, resentment, vanity, disappointment, despair, our ego’s…are only a small step away. We need an attitude of constant childlike dependence on what God shows us in his Word, craving its pure spiritual milk, so that we may grow up in our faith.

Like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-4).

In his last intimate time with his disciples before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus prayed for them:

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:15-17).

It is not an easy kind of life that we’ve been called to if we are followers of Christ. We are not citizens here and are living in hostile territory. My friends, without the truth washing over us every day we cannot hope to run our race or finish strong. We are going to get tangled up in snares unless we are sanctified by the truth daily. God’s Word is truth.

CONNECTING WITH GOD

You may be reading this blog today and thinking,  “I’m a Christian but I don’t know Jesus in this intimate way. I read the Bible but I’m not moved or inspired by it anymore. In fact, I feel disengaged and distant from God.”

Or you may be thinking, “I’m not even sure God exists. I don’t know him and have no clue about the Bible.” If you identify with either of these, I’m so glad you’ve kept reading to the end. I have no power to speak into your heart. Only God can do that and I hope you kept reading because your heart was stirred by one of the Scriptures I quoted today, not by my inadequate words. God’s Word is powerful and doesn’t come back empty. I’m going to make one last appeal to you.

Use the Explore Bible Devotion app as a tool or just read through one of the four Gospels from beginning to end on your own. With the Explore App, you will be able to complete Matthew’s Gospel in 98 days if you follow the daily readings. That’s just over three months out of your entire life to discover who Jesus is and whether it’s worth building your life on Him! It’s hardly a big investment. Before you begin, pray truthfully to God in your own words and ask Him to show himself to you if He is real and speak to you in a way you cannot ignore if the Bible is truly his Word. Ask the real Jesus to meet you where you’re at and take the trouble to read each day’s passage without preconceived ideas. Take a small step of faith and approach this assignment with fresh eyes, reading the text and answering the questions in the Explore App. Pray to God even if it’s to express your doubts and questions. Commit to doing it every day (as far as possible) until the end. After you have completed one of the Gospels, I’d love you to email me on:

moorerosemary534@gmail.com

Let me know what you think of what you’v! Two men discipled me when I was a child. One was my father in the first decade of my life and the other was a guest preacher at my school when I was eleven years old. These two people literally led me to the greatest treasure I could ever have discovered– a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It was not just a gift for a lifetime but for all eternity. I would love to play some small role in doing the same for you if you have felt the Lord stirring your heart to reach out to Him.

 

 

 

 

Part 1. Wholefood Christianity in an Age of Processed Snacks: THE NOURISHING WORD

 

tree beside stream

(Adapted from a talk given by Rosie Moore at Christ Church Midrand Ladies’ breakfast on 24 February 2018)

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Lord, we know that just as our bodies need nourishing food to grow healthy and full of life, so do our souls. Jesus, we know that you are the bread of life and the living water. We can only satisfy the deep longings of our souls in you. Everything else will leave us empty and dissatisfied. So we come to you today and ask you to give us fresh encouragement, a new conviction of what a great source of blessing we have in the Bible, your very breath to us. Help us to prioritize this habit of grace, and so, to enjoy you more and more each day.

LIVING IN THE AGE OF THE MAD DIET

Let me start by explaining the title of my blog today: “Wholefood Christianity in an Age of Processed Snacks.” We live in the MAD era: No, we’re not exactly crazy, but we live on the Modern American Diet (MAD). Life is busy, so food manufacturers have obliged our hectic lifestyles by providing carb laden, highly processed foods, saturated with preservatives in convenient packaging, which can be popped in the microwave or eaten on the run. Our nutrition is cheap, fast and titillates our taste buds. Unfortunately, “Quick and easy” eating, while having obvious short term benefits, has led to obesity and expensive chronic diseases in the long term. My observation is that spiritual malnutrition is becoming just as rife amongst Christians because of the same “quick and easy” lifestyle. I’m calling us to go back to the chopping board with fresh vegetables and sharp knives, and eat real spiritual food! Whole food rather than processed snacks. I’m here to remind us that sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening to him in an attentive, undistracted way, is a sure way to be saturated with the authentic nourishment that Isaiah 55 talks about- “that your soul may live.” We will only be properly nourished and prepared for life as followers of Christ if we engage directly with the Word of God regularly, meeting with Jesus in an intimate relationship, instead of living off over simplified titbits that someone else has processed for us. It’s the one habit of grace we must build if we want to be fruitful and not just busy Christians. It’s the root that produces the fruit.

LOOKING BACK

But first I must tell you how I came to have this passion for the Word of God and that entails going back in history (quite a long way!) I was the last of 4 children, and grew up on a farm living in a caravan. My parents became Christians just before I was born. A lasting memory I have of the first decade of life was my dad reading the Bible to me every night, an illustrated colourful version, over and over again. We would read, chat about the passage, pray, lights off. That was my routine. Day after day, year after year. When I was 11, I went to boarding school in Pietermaritzburg, 7 hours from home, where I was a termly boarder. I went with Ellie (my fluffy elephant) under one arm and my own new Bible under the other, a Ryrie Study Bible.

 

Those of you who have been to boarding school will know that it’s a jungle out there! When I went in 1980, my dormitory had a real mixture of kids- from far afield like Zambia and Malawi, to local kids trying to escape unhappy homes. I slept next to a kleptomaniac for the first year as my initial baptism of fire! About a month into the first term, we had a guest speaker from Youth for Christ who led our chapel service. I was feeling homesick at the time. He started his talk by reading Psalm 1 to us, and I listened, riveted, as he read the Bible to us. I remembered the evening Bible readings with my dad, and felt a longing to have my soul nourished and restored again:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Psalm 1)

In his talk, the preacher explained the Psalm simply to us:

  • God’s Word, the Bible, is what David talked about as “the law of the Lord” (v2).
  • Meditating on and delighting in the Bible is the secret to knowing God, loving Him and living in relationship with Him.
  • He explained the metaphor of the tree planted next to the streams of water: “The tree is you,” he said. “If your soul is being nourished continuously by life-giving water, your life will be rooted and will flourish like that strong, healthy tree.
  • He went on to tell us the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, when Jesus told her He was the Living water, the well that never runs dry. He explained that Jesus is the one who satisfies the thirst of our soul.

I hadn’t opened my Bible since the day I got to school (I didn’t really know where to start), but that day in chapel I knew God himself was speaking to me through Psalm 1. I felt like a tree planted in a dry desert, far from any life-giving stream, far from a home that loved Jesus, in a busy, adapt-or-die wilderness. And I knew in my heart I was wilting fast!

Then the preacher did what no one else had done at school before. He asked if anyone wanted to talk about practical ways to be planted beside the stream and to “delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night.” He invited us to meet him afterwards to talk about these things. I assumed everyone had been moved by Psalm 1 as I had been, but found myself alone at the front of the chapel. I’m convinced that the next hour spent with the preacher helped me make the most important investment of my life, which is to carve out a special time every day to spend with the Lord. This is what I remember of our conversation 37 years ago.

  1. “First,” the preacher emphasized, “this is not a duty or a box to tick off. It’s not some law to follow to make God like you more or make you seem more holy.” He explained that meditating on the Bible is a free gift God has provided for his children to make sure that our souls are rooted in his truth and grow and bear fruit over a lifetime. It’s all about relationship, not rules.
  2. Second, he helped me devise a practical plan which involved setting a time and place, a Bible, a journal and pen. My plan was to get up fifteen minutes before the rising bell and spend half an hour with the Lord before breakfast.
  3. Third, he said I should read a whole book of the Bible at a time, from beginning to end, in daily bite size portions. His reasoning was 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  
  4. The preacher told me he would send me a letter  every week with portions to read every day. These weekly letters became a staple recipe that guided me through the Bible until I finished school 7 years later.
  5. Lastly, the preacher told me to start with a short prayer asking God to open my heart so that I would understand what I was reading and to speak to me personally. He explained that the same Holy Spirit who inspired human authors to write the Bible, would also help me to understand it and make it alive to me.

That discussion in our school chapel transformed my relationship with God as I began to dive in to the Bible every day and digest the portion in front of me. I was desperate for the light it gave me. Mostly my devotion happened in a quiet spot in our school gardens  or, when the weather was cold or rainy, in a toilet cubicle, wherever I could be alone for half an hour. I came to the Bible expecting God to speak to me personally and I spoke to Him about what I was reading and whatever was on my mind. I never came away empty or disappointed. I experienced first hand the truth of Isaiah 55:1:

“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

 

I’ve often thought of those school years and realised that the preacher who came to our school was like an angelic investment guru. He guided me to make a spiritual investment from the age of 11 that is still accruing compound interest almost four decades later, and I trust will continue to multiply over whatever years the Lord gives me on this earth. I know without a doubt that this is the way God intends his children to grow spiritually, as Jesus taught in the parable of the sower. (Luke 8:4-15)

I’ve also realised that mine is not the experience of most Christians. In fact, it’s rare. After a believer receives the Gospel and becomes a Christ follower, there is often a vacuum of discipleship and little or no teaching on how to walk with the Lord in an everyday practical way. The ‘spiritual disciplines’ or habits of grace are assumed but hardly ever taught deliberately in a step-by-step way, spawning Christians who view independent Bible reading as an overwhelming task reserved only for those who have theological training. The following  4 steps have proved invaluable to me in reading and understanding the Bible for myself.  I’ve put them into the acronym R O M A- Read, Observe, Meditate and Apply. This is just a tool I have put together, not a formula to dictate how the Bible must be read, but it may help you approach Bible reading with more confidence and digest the Bible rather than ingest it.

USING R.O.M.A TO AID DIGESTION

-Read the passage through twice, slowly. My experience is that my mind is normally wandering first time round and I need to read the text twice to start making sense of it. After reading, I usually write down the text reference in my journal and today’s date. Then move on to the Observe step.

-Observe what the text is actually saying, taking notice of details like names, repetition or figures of speech, who the author and original readers are. Ask who, what, where, when and how. Notice what came before this passage and how it fits into the context of the whole book.  Think of the first two steps of ROMA, namely, Reading and Observing  as raking up the leaves in your garden and gathering them into neat piles before you get to digging and planting. It’s important not to skip this step to avoid the mistake we often make when we mould Scripture to say what we think it should be saying, rather than allowing it to speak. The Bible should challenge our worldview, not just be an echo chamber of what we already think. At this stage, a verse or phrase from the text usually jumps out at me and I write it down in my journal as a key verse to meditate on and perhaps memorise later. It’s amazing how different details strike you each time you read the same text, which is why you will never plumb the depths of Scripture. Next, move to the best part of a personal devotion– Meditation.

Meditate: Meditation is fashionable nowadays—to lower blood pressure, avert panic attacks, reduce stress and exercise your brain so you don’t get dementia. But Christian meditation has nothing to do with sitting with your legs crossed and clearing your mind of all thoughts. Its about digesting the words of God slowly (as opposed to just ingesting them) and savouring them as you would relish the meal. Christian meditation is a lost art today, mostly because fast-paced technology which has trained us to multitask, to scroll and skim over words without paying much attention and to work with many distractions. But, as people made in God’s image, we are made to meditate. Think about this: Humans are the only species on earth who intuitively reflect and ponder things, discuss and turn over ideas, debate and struggle with abstract concepts. Unlike the rest of creation, humans have the capacity to grapple with what is true and false and form worldviews even if we are not conscious of them or their basis. We were made to reason. God’s purpose for us is not just to hear him, to quickly skim through a text like we’re reading the “spark notes” or condensed version of a wonderful novel. God is not an abbreviated news clip or a quick snack.

The staggering truth about the incarnation is that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us, making the God of the universe known to us. (John 1:1-18). Jesus says that He, the Good Shepherd, knows his sheep and his sheep know him (John 10:14). The Greek word “know” in this context is ginosko which means “to come to know, recognise or perceive.” It is not the word eido which refers to head knowledge or facts. We can only ginosko God when we gain heart knowledge of Him and that cannot be done in a hurry! We need to pause and reflect and ponder and wonder about what God is saying to us through his Word, massaging it into our hearts, allowing the words to affect our feelings, as good poetry, music or art touches our whole being. That’s what Christian meditation is.

Meditation is where our mind meets our affections.

Let’s draw another parallel with eating: Imagine sitting at the dinner table to eat a three course, gourmet meal prepared from scratch and compare this whole food experience to a fast food snack taken on the run. Meditation was something Old Testament and early 1st century Christians thought was vital: In Genesis 24:63 we read,  “Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.” We know from the Gospels that Jesus often got up early in the morning to be on his own to pray and meditate. Meditation is really the high point of a personal devotion. This is the time to take out  your pen and journal and dig a little deeper, writing down insights the Holy Spirit gives you: Ask yourself, “What does this text actually mean? What is God telling me about Himself, the world, about me?” If it’s an Old Testament text, ask if you can see any shadow of Jesus and the Gospel. The Gospel is central to each of the 66 books of Scripture and digging deeper reveals layer upon layer of God’s redemptive plan. My two eldest kids have “The Jesus Bible” and have been amazed to discover that almost every page of the Bible, including the Old Testament, points towards Jesus as the Messiah. The Gospel is at the core of the Bible, and it’s the message that will lead us to see our sin and come to Jesus and receive his free gift of forgiveness and eternal life, so it makes sense to meditate on every passage we read in the light of this amazing grace. It’s what Jesus was doing when he spoke to his disciples in Luke 24:27:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Meditation involves interpretation to find the true meaning of a text.

Ask questions about the text, starting with what the original readers would have understood. Throughout my years of Bible reading at school, I used the notes at the bottom of my Study Bible as a launching pad for meditation. Study Bibles also give you cross references to help you interpret the text.

Meditation is like mining or digging

I’ve found that meditation is like detective work or mining to find nuggets of gold. Whereas, reading and observing is like using a rake to sweep the leaves into piles, meditation is taking out your spade and digging deep into the passage. Meditations can be recorded in your journal as bullet points, thoughts or questions. If there’s a verse or phrase that jumps out from the page, write it down in full to memorise it.

Memorisation is the mate of meditation

Memorisation is a part of meditation for me because it’s the best way to make the Bible stick. It’s why I have written verses on recipe cards all my life and stuck them everywhere in my house! I read the cards so often that eventually they find their way into my foggy brain. The only way I can memorise anything is if there is meaning attached to it. It’s not memorizing as a duty or to show off. Saving Scripture in your memory bank is like relishing and savouring something beautiful that you desperately want to hold onto and absorb into the core of your being for the rest of your days.

Consider the contrast between the knowledge and wisdom we gain from meditating on God’s Word, versus the shallow information we gain from technology, particularly social media.

 “Technology reveals who we are, but it also changes us: We carry these devices in our hands but sometimes we are the ones being shaped and moulded. If we are not careful, technology can overstimulate us, isolate us, enslave us and cause us to drift not only away from other people, but also away from God. Technology can crowd out silence in our lives. It can distract us from caring for the people right in front of us. It can dehumanize us and others. It can make us forget who God called us to do.” (Kevin de Young).

Making regular time to meditate on the Bible is the antidote to a weak, shallow Christian life.

“Remember, it’s not hasty reading, but serious meditation on holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.” (Thomas Brooks (Puritan) : in Precious Remedies against Satan’s devices)

Meditation melts anxiety.

Philippians 4:9 says: “Whatever is true, noble and right, pure, lovely and admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

Paul actually commands us to meditate on good things. There is a useful byproduct that comes from this kind of meditation: it melts anxiety. This passage follows directly after Philippians 4:8 which instructs us, “Do not be anxious about anything…” the verse that reminds us to pray rather than worry. The result of prayer is that we will be filled with the peace of God, which transcends understanding. But we cannot read verse 4-8 on its own, as it is intricately connected to verse 9. After we have prayed, we must choose to settle our minds on good things. It is in meditating on the list of good things in verse 9 that our hearts will remain in perfect peace so that we don’t fall back into the worry trap. Meditation on God’s Word guards our heart.

“Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether alone and reading their Bible, or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.” Don Carson.

Now we get to the final stage of ROMA– Apply.

Apply: Applying Scripture is really an extension of meditation. It’s asking: What is this passage saying to me? Someone once told me to always make Scripture reading personal, practical and possible. When I write my applications in my journal, I force myself to start with the words—”I need to….” That takes away the option of keeping it a theory or a vague idea in my head. If God wants me to make a genuine change, or do something concrete and specific, or change my attitude, I need to obey right away. It’s like writing down your goals. Writing down your application in your journal holds you accountable as you will be reminded of your commitment the next day. Jesus’ brother, James, describes application like this:

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-26).

Just notice a few things about this text:

James contrasts a hearer who forgets and a doer who acts. (So it’s quite possible to study and read the Bible diligently but to remain a hearer who forgets.) Jesus spoke harshly to religious Jews of his day who had memorized the whole Old Testament and were great scholars of the Scriptures, yet they refused to see its true application and fulfillment in Jesus.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40).

Could that also be true of us? We can search the Scriptures, reading the Bible diligently like a man staring at his face in the mirror. But if we are not coming to Jesus to hear from Him, if we don’t persevere in doing what He shows us, if we refuse to let the Scriptures change our thoughts, actions or words,  James tells us we are just kidding ourselves. May we never read the Bible intellectually but refuse to come to Jesus himself, “that we may have life!” If the Bible touches the neck up, (our mind and intellect,) but never sinks into practical everyday living, it will be a dead exercise. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the Bible to life in us; to transport the text from our head into our heart, where “the word of Christ will dwell in us richly.” (Colossians 3:16).

How do we become a doer who acts instead of a hearer who forgets? We need to first come to Jesus as our Saviour and enter into a personal relationship with him. We first need to become a Christian and a disciple of Jesus. After that we must do what all disciples do. We must sit day after day at the feet of our teacher to be taught by him and  “know” him in the ginosko sense. Jesus is not physically with us anymore, but he abides in us through the Holy Spirit and his Word is the way he continues to speak to us personally.

But more than just reading Scripture, we need to act upon what he’s teaching us in the Bible, day by day, month by month, year by year. That’s what James calls “persevering”, and the promise attached to this persevering is that “God will bless us in our doing.” Do you see the order? First look into the law of liberty (that means be diligent about meditating on the Scriptures), second, remember and apply what it says day in and day out….Then, third, God will bless your actions. It may seem like a very mundane habit, but it’s potent over a lifetime.

A medicine will do no good unless applied.

But application isn’t always something we can put on our to-do list. Most decisions we make in life are spontaneous or instinctive, not carefully thought out. We just act. Our actions naturally flow out from the kind of person we are, the way we think. The Bible doesn’t give us a simple to-do list for everyday, but wisdom to discern his will as we encounter millions of small choices over a lifetime. That’s why Paul prays in Romans 12:1,2:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Did you hear that last bit? One day at a time, over a lifetime of reading Scripture, we renew our minds. This is how God transforms us, because over time we will develop discernment  or wisdom, so we will instinctively know the will of God. But you may say to me: “Some passages of ancient history are just plain boring and irrelevant to me. How can I apply them to my life?”

For example, what if you are faced with a genealogy to read, like the lists of names in Numbers or the laws in Deuteronomy. What practical use can a list of dead guys be to you? There’s no “to do” step or even a lesson in passages like these. But this is what I wrote in my journal when I read the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew recently:

I need to stop thinking I am unimportant to God. That I can do nothing in his kingdom. I am part of his family, part of this line of promise, and if every name and generation is important to God, so am I and so is my family. I need to believe it today instead of thinking I am nothing!”

Application may just be a heartfelt exclamation of amazement or gratitude for something. It may be a stab of guilt that will lead to an action. It may be a sin I need to confess to God. First God awakens our feelings and changes our minds and desires. This leads to action. That’s what makes us become a doer, not just a hearer of the Word.

The crux of application is to understand that the Bible speaks to me personally. The Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson, put it like this:

“When we open the book, take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins”. When it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.”

In other words, stop thinking of how suitable this passage is to fix all your spouse’s issues! The Bible is for my own issues!

The Bookends of Prayer.

After completing ROMA, prayer follows naturally in response to what we have meditated on. Prayer is a habit of grace that I would like to write about in another blog, because there’s so much to say about this gift, but, from my own experience, authentic, deep, focused prayer flows naturally from meditation in the Word of God. Prayers are the two bookends to ROMA: Before we start reading, we pray. And after we have been nourished by the Word of God, we pray.

What we take in by the word, we digest by meditation and let out by prayer…meditation is a “bridge Discipline” between hearing from God in his word and responding to him in prayer.” (Habits of grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, David Mathis: p25).

THE FRUITS OF ROMA (READ, OBSERVE, MEDITATE AND APPLY)

Going back to when I was an 11 year old girl at boarding school, we didn’t have any of the wonderful online tools we have today– The Bible app, Youtube, sermon podcasts and google if all else fails. The internet wasn’t even on our radar. Yet, a preacher from Youth For Christ had no hesitation in teaching me a method of inductive Bible study because he fully expected me to be able to read the Bible on my own and believed that the Holy Spirit would be my personal aide. He trusted that God’s Word was clear enough to be understood and applied by a little girl even when I came upon portions that would be hard to understand. His trust was not unfounded. With help from my study Bible, I found most passages to be clear and relevant even if I didn’t grasp them fully. The Bible is simple enough for a child to understand but never simplistic. We are given a lifetime to mine its treasures. We should not be too reliant on teachers, preachers and ‘experts’ to do our digging for us or survive off the weekly sermon at Church, which is more like six day fasting. Nor should we get in the habit of snacking on dumbed down devotional books with a verse per day designed to make Bible reading quick and effortless for 21st century Christians. It is a recipe for spiritual malnutrition over the long term.

It is in the preparing, chewing and  digesting of the Word, especially the tough bits, that we get to know our God in a personal way and experience an intimate relationship with him.

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy when tempted by Satan:

“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).

The truth is that some passages are hard to understand (even Peter said that Paul’s letters were hard to understand), but one of the principles of the Reformation is Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This is why William Tyndale was prepared to be burnt at the stake for translating the Bible into English in 1536,

I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ‘ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do.”

You and I are the equivalent of the ploughboy. Most of us have never been to Bible College or got a PHD in theology. But, ordinary people should be reading and understanding the Bible for ourselves, and we are doing ourselves a great disservice if we don’t position ourselves in this great channel of grace that God has offered us freely, in our own language. Western Christians are more privileged than in any other age, but we must be careful not to reduce the Bible to a few clichés, wanting to drink “milk” forever like the Corinthians, rather than growing up to eat solids and meat. The irony is that with all the opportunities and privileges we have, we may remain spiritually undernourished because we are spoon fed.

My greatest hope is to inspire us all (myself included) to be self feeders, hungry to meet face to face with Jesus over the pages of His Word, hungry to be life long learners, hungry to dig deeper and to have an alive, active relationship with Jesus every day, to experience firsthand: 

“The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.

Does this sound unrealistic? See part 2 Wholefood Christianity: Roots and Fruits for practical tips and motivation to build this daily habit of grace into our busy lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treasure in Clay Jars (part 2)

qumran_cave4_fjenkins_040808_157t

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Treasure trove inside a dusty cave

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd tossed a rock into a cave at Qumram near the Dead Sea. He heard a cracking sound and investigated. To his amazement, he found ceramic pots filled with papyrus and leather scrolls that were almost 20 centuries old! Tens of thousands of scroll fragments were discovered in nearby caves, treasures that had been preserved from as far back as the 3rd century BC in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. A Jewish Ascetic sect called the Essenes, who devoted their lives to copying and preserving sacred texts, probably preserved these scrolls in clay jars and hid them in caves before the Romans destroyed their settlement in 68AD. These scrolls were still of excellent quality and contained most of the Old Testament books, including two full copies of the book of Isaiah. The Dead Sea scrolls were a great treasure that prove the reliability and accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts and the jars preserved them all those years. In ancient times, valuable treasures like sacred parchments, money and jewels were often placed inside clay jars and hidden to keep them safe. This is what Paul’s readers in Corinth understood when they read this metaphor in 2 Corinthians 4.

Paul takes this image and applies it to believers in Christ. If we are followers of Jesus, we are the jars of clay with treasure hidden inside us– the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Clay jars were common, cheap pots that cracked easily. Similarly, ordinary, broken human beings house the message of the Gospel and the “all- surpassing power” (verse 7) of the supernatural God! Doesn’t that just blow your mind?

We have the “light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ” entrusted to us, to preserve and pass on to those who don’t know and to future generations. (verse 4)

Paul’s metaphor is a treasure worth mining. 

Here are some ways that Christians are clay jars safeguarding the Gospel: 

  • Our ministry and service is not about us at all but about displaying God’s glory. It doesn’t make sense to praise the ordinary clay jar over the valuable treasure inside. We are just the “packaging”. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the treasure. 
  • God seems to intentionally choose weak, ordinary human beings, not highly talented superheroes to guard his treasure on earth. Like Paul, we will experience batterings of many kinds during our lifetimes.  “Hard pressed”; “perplexed”; “persecuted”; “struck down.” This is the reality of any true messenger of the Gospel who carries “around in our body the death of Jesus” and shares in his sufferings on earth. It is in the battering and breaking of the clay jar that we see the light of the treasure within us. 
  • But not crushed”;  “but not in despair”;  “but not abandoned”;  “but not destroyed.  I love those four “buts” because no matter what we face, we have the only antidote to despair– HOPE. God is our deliverer and the source of our hope. He may send a solution, or a particular verse from Scripture, a supernatural sign or a person with an apt word of encouragement when we’re on the verge of giving up. Even if we don’t feel God’s presence, we can be assured that He will never leave us or forsake us. When the clay pot is battered, when all natural means of self-help are gone, God’s all-surpassing power blasts through supernaturally.  It is his power, not our own, that displays “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.   
  • Clay jars are refined by fire. Trials are not the enemy but the means God uses to build character and perseverance in us, so that we may become mature bearers of the Gospel. Frailty reminds us of how badly we need a Saviour and makes us kinder to weaknesses in others. It helps us not to rely on our own abilities but to rest in Christ and know He’s all we need. Our frailty forces us to depend on the strength of God’s all surpassing power and not our own.

Grounded by Grace

I suppose you may be wondering about the ending to my own health saga. In September 2017, I finally found the help I needed from a Functional medicine doctor and since then I’ve been on a steady path to recovery, even if it’s entailed being deprived of almost every comfort and pleasure I used to know in the form of food and drink! It sometimes feels like I’m climbing a sand dune– two steps forward and one back, with plenty of sand in my shoes and mouth! (I empathise with Lawrence of Arabia.) But I wouldn’t exchange the experience of the last few months for anything.

Lessons I have learned by being grounded

God literally grounded me on purpose. It was against my will but definitely for my good. His grounding was a gift of grace to me. It may sound harsh, but Jesus is the Great Shepherd of our souls and sometimes He makes His busy little sheep lie down in green pastures and He leads us beside still waters to restore our restless little souls! (See Psalm 23:1-3). That’s what He has done with me over the past few months. I have been forced to stay at home, rest, read, enjoy simple tasks and cling to Jesus in my weakness. I have learned to gratefully accept help from my friends and family. I have been struck by the truth that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and am in awe of the body God has given me. I will never again be discontent with the way I look or take my health for granted, as I now see every good gift I enjoy as a privilege, not a right. I am in awe of my family and friends and their amazing love for me. My marriage is more intimate than ever before, because of the tender way in which my husband has protected and taken care of me. He has practised the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus showed the Church when He laid down His life for her and it has been humbling to receive such love. Relationships have sustained me and I am determined to never allow my to-do list take priority over people. It has dawned on me that busyness is not an indication of fruitfulness. In stillness, my purpose has come into sharp focus and I have seen more clearly than ever what God has put me on earth to do, day by day, slowly but faithfully. I am learning not to waste a moment wallowing in worry or self pity, but to run to my Saviour and cast my cares on Him over and over again, believing that He cares for me. The Lord has graciously led me to accept my temperament and to work with it to sustain healthy rhythms in my life and manage stress better. I have come to see that while we have no control over what happens to us, we can choose to feed hope or despair; faith or fear; trust or anxiety. The choice is always ours, no matter what our emotions may tell us. We may be crushed by life, but we are never abandoned by God. After being crushed by depression every afternoon for many months, God showed me that this was a spiritual battle I needed to fight and win. I actively used Scripture as the Sword of the Spirit, declaring the truth and defying my feelings. Friends also prayed with me, and in less than a week, those feelings of despondency left me and have not returned even though my physical health remained the same.

I have known all these things in my head but God’s gracious grounding translated them into my heart language. Now I truly know the truth of Peter’s declaration: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen. ” (1 Peter 5:10.) I’m grateful that the Lord Jesus put His treasure in me, a cracked jar of clay.

 

 

Treasure in Clay Jars (part 1)

treasure in clay jars

A glimpse of mortality

In March this year I hit a bump in the road. I had a sneak preview of my mortality. Since then I’ve barely had the energy to survive the day, let alone write a blog.

From being a healthy, optimistic, capable person, I was reduced to a wreck! It started with abdominal pains and severe indigestion, which didn’t respond to any medication. To give you an abridged version of a very long story, over the next few months every system in my body seemed to collapse like a pack of cards, resulting in non stop headaches, muscle pains, nausea, exhaustion, insomnia, a fuzzy mind, racing heart, swollen gums and a plethora of other strange symptoms. Everything I ate made me feel sick until I could only stomach the tiniest portions of the plainest foods. I gave up caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, dairy, all the usual culprits, but there was no improvement. Worst of all were the emotional and psychological effects of my “illness” which neither the army of specialists nor the dozens of blood tests, scans, scopes or x-rays could explain. I was in a perpetually alert state–wired but tired, despite taking no stimulants. Every afternoon I would be enveloped by the darkest cloud of melancholy and weepiness I’ve ever experienced. I would sleep for hours and still wake up feeling like my body was a lump of lead, incapable of doing normal tasks like stocking the fridge and cooking a meal for my family. Even planning a meal or driving my kids to school seemed insurmountable and my daily ‘to do’ list was limited to the bare basics of looking after my husband and children and surviving until dinner, at which point I could go back to bed and a fitful sleep. I felt like my life blood was being sucked out of me by some toxic, invisible force–an anonymous, cowardly enemy. It would have been easier to know its name. When I walked into doctors’ rooms, I felt like a fraud, a hypochondriac, a crazy woman with strange symptoms that didn’t tally with the test results and examinations. I reacted badly to every medication and it was embarrassing to tell people there was no positive diagnosis although I could hardly function. Without the tenderness, patience and encouragement of my husband, Pete, and the understanding of our four precious children and extended family, I may have easily teetered over the precipice of mental stability.

I was close enough to the edge to realise how easy it is to become unhinged, hopeless and desperate.

It was a profoundly humbling experience to feel so helpless, weak and out of control. But during all this time, I was able to continue to teach the Bible to women with whom I have fellowshipped for many years. They supported and prayed with me constantly. Even though I could do little else, God Himself empowered my ministry. I taught through the whole of Luke’s Gospel and 1 and 2 Peter during my weakest time and each day that I wrestled through the written word of God,  Jesus the Living Word, gave me exactly what I needed to grasp onto for my own sustenance and pass on to the women I love.  I finally understood first hand what Paul meant when he spoke of us as “jars of clay”– containers that hold a precious treasure –“to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” When we are most fragile and broken, His power is most powerfully displayed through us. Every believer is a clay jar made to display God’s glory. That is our purpose. Whatever trials we face, in sickness and in health, in wealth or poverty, we were made to shine the light of Christ in the darkness. This text is often read to comfort people who are grieving, but let each verse wash over you afresh:

Treasure in Clay jars

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It doesn’t take much to get a glimpse of our mortality. Read part 2 of “Treasures in Jars of Clay” to see how this vision can be a gift.