Jesus And The Criminal: What This Teaches Us About Relationships

What The Bible Says

The Easter story, the death and resurrection of Jesus, reveals many important and wonderful things about God and our relationship with him. One thing I was struck by this Easter period was Jesus’ willingness to suffer and his willingness to step into our mess, which stresses the importance of his desire for an authentic relationship with us.

Easter really is a time which is exciting as well as saddening, a celebration as well as sobering. Remembering the bittersweetness of Jesus’ suffering and coming back to life brings with it a full rollercoaster of emotions. 

As I was thinking about some of the ways that this can and should affect our relationships, I was drawn to the account in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus and the two criminals.

The Penitent Criminal 

In the Gospel of Luke, he records an interaction which happens as Jesus is dying on the cross. On either side of him, there were two criminals, and they were all dying and suffering the fate of crucifixion. Luke 23:39-43 says: 

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There are so many things going on here that it would be foolish to think one short blog could do it justice, but I want to pick up on one thing that stood out to me. Namely: Jesus is making the promise as someone who’s suffering the same fate. Jesus is dying alongside the criminal. 

Innocence Forfeited

What’s amazing about this passage is that this criminal is saying he is guilty. He realises he’s only got himself to blame for being in the position he’s in and he’s saying that Jesus is innocent; Jesus by contrast ‘has done nothing wrong’. 

This passage sums up and makes tangible one of the key points of Easter: That the innocent Jesus dies for humanity who have gone astray. But that is not all this verse teaches us.

This makes the whole thing very relational

Remarkably, the innocent saviour chose to suffer alongside those who have messed up. He gave up his divine comfort and his right not to suffer and instead dies alongside the criminal to overcome the problems the criminal and the rest of humanity face. 

This makes the whole thing very relational, which is often overlooked. 

Relational vs An Exchange

The cross is nearly always understood and preached about in terms of a legal ‘exchange’. Jesus exchanges his innocence for our guilt to overcome the problem of sin and pay our debt. While this is true and I don’t want to diminish that, this isn’t the only thing going on. 

Relationally, Jesus is standing alongside us in the mess. He is connecting to us on our level. He is not outside of our suffering, or standing above our mess yelling helpful advice, he’s standing with us as a friend.

He is experiencing the full force of the problems we experience, he’s in the suffering, speaking to us as someone who can understand. He lived a human life and suffered a human death. 

‘Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’
Hebrews 4:14-16

This isn’t just about dealing with a problem but is also about creating an authentic relationship by standing with us on our level, even though he didn’t need to.

This should impact the way we relate to God and others

He didn’t deserve to be killed alongside the criminal, but by doing so it demonstrates that he came to earth to build an authentic relationship with humanity, experiencing the mess we caused, taking on our problems and guiding us through as someone who is alongside us. (Read ‘Family’ Is Redefined In Light Of The Cross)

Imagine If…

This Easter Monday and beyond, I hope you are able to (re)discover the wonder of the cross. I hope it reminds us that the joys and sadness of life are seen and transformed by Jesus in the moment of his death and resurrection. 

I hope we (re)discover that our relationship with him is one that is built on a friendship, with someone who chose to stand with us and change our lives. This should impact the way we relate to God and others.

[Jesus said] Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Imagine if we realised this talk with the criminal wasn’t just representing the transaction, but a profoundly relational moment. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality)

What stood out to you this Easter? Comments welcomed below

Originally posted 22/4/2019


Christmas Is About: The Family Jesus’ Birth Begins To Create

Friendships, What The Bible Says

Many people say that the real meaning of Christmas has been lost. Who can blame them? The commercialism and the money involved is too much now. Many people just want it to be about spending time with family, drawing people together and enjoying time with one another. But I actually think that creating a family is indeed one of the things Jesus started to do at his birth. 

I really love Christmas. 

Now I realise Christmas is a hard time for lots of people. There are many who can’t enjoy it because of past situations or current difficulties. I realise that it isn’t a happy time for everyone. 

But we do all hope that it would be good for everyone. It’s one of the times of year where everyone is wishing the best for everyone else. There is a hope that people will be able to come together and be blessed at Christmas.  

I think this was one of the original intentions behind the first Christmas when Jesus was born. Jesus’ intention to bring people together, and bring them into a relationship with himself and others, is not remembered enough.  

The Birth Of Christ 

I really think that in church, we can unintentionally under emphasise how important the meaning of Christmas is in regards to our salvation. Yes the cross is the moment in history that changed everything, but without Jesus’ authentic human birth, his sacrifice would not have been able to fully save us (Read The Cross Needs To Be Forgotten At Christmas)  

His birth also did something that was vital, and it revealed part of his mission on earth: It began to draw people from different parts of society to himself, and by consequence to each other as well, because we are all welcome and equal before him.  

Wise Men And The Shepards

When Jesus was born, the Bible says that angels told some shepherds, who were working at night, about the good news. They then went to find Jesus. 

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them… “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”…So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed…’
Luke 2:8-18

It also says that the Magi, also known as wise men, came to visit Jesus too.  

These visitors represent so much

‘After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him…’
Matthew 2:1-11

These visitors represent so much and remind us that Jesus was always in the business of drawing anyone and everyone to himself. This was the case from the very beginning of his life.

Rich & Poor 

Now shepherding did not pay well at all. Night shepherding was particularly low paying. Yet these people, who were not that well respected or well-off in their culture, were told about Jesus and invited into the story. 

This is also true at the other end of the spectrum because the wise men would have had lots of money, proven by the fact that they brought Jesus some very expensive gifts. They were also invited in.

Educated & Uneducated 

The job of a shepherd would also have signalled someone who was uneducated and not regarded as being very intelligent. Whereas the wise men were able to work out when and where Jesus was born. 

Again, they represent people from different parts of society, from very different backgrounds who probably didn’t mix often. Nevertheless, Jesus draws them all to himself, and all are welcomed. 

Foreign & Native 

The other main difference they represent is that the shepherds were local and natives, while the wise men had to travel from a foreign land to meet with Jesus. 

Two very different groups of people, but Jesus’ birth brings them together because he wants to draw all people to God and each other. He is creating a new family from the very start. (Read I Wouldn’t Have Survived Without My Church Family)

Men & Women 

The final thing to emphasise is the fact that these characters were men. However, in the lead up to Jesus’ birth Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, hold very prominent roles and parts in the story (Luke 1-2)

In a culture where women were often marginalised, the Bible makes sure that they are given prominence and recognition. 

Everyone is welcomed in

Imagine If…

I was speaking to a priest the other day and she said she is always struck at how communion brings everyone to an equal level. Young and old, people from different ethnicities, with different education, means, and stories, come to Jesus and meet with him in the same way. 

Remembering Jesus death during communion, the act which brings together people from all different parts of society, is reflected at his birth as well. All come together in the story to relate to God because everyone is welcomed in. And by extension become part of the same family. 

Imagine if this Christmas, in our own families, communities and friendships, we made sure we tried to bring people into the family, remember that Jesus welcomes everyone, and we are all equally loved and accepted by him. (Read 2 Things You Should Always Do To Build Strong Communities)

This way, everyone can see some of the true meaning of Christmas.

What else is important about the true meaning of Christmas? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 24/12/2018

‘Family’ Is Redefined In Light Of The Cross

Friendships, What The Bible Says

As we celebrate and reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s so important to meditate on the profound impact it has on our relationships. It may sound obvious to some of us, but we can often take this for granted or overlook how it should affect our definition of ‘family’. I am always reminded of how important this is when I read John 19:25-27. 

Happy Easter everyone!

I hope the last few days have been both sobering and a celebration. I’m always mesmerised by Jesus and his cross, and taking the time to reflect on it this time of year is such an amazing privilege.

As I think about Easter, I’m always drawn to how deep and rich the story is. All of the things Jesus achieved through his sacrifice are exciting, humbling, and awe-inspiring. And I just wanted to share one point, that you may very well be aware of, but I always think is worth saying.

New Family 

Naturally, doing the work I do around building healthy relationships, I’m always drawn to the relational impact our faith has. And I was reminded of a passage in John 19, which records some of the words Jesus spoke when he was dying on the cross:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, [John] took her into his home.
John 19:25-27

This is one of those verses which I can easily read over and not pay too much attention to. But like always, when we dig a little bit deeper, it teaches us so much.

Jesus, while he is hanging on the cross, while he is dying, is redefining what it means to be family. He says ‘this is your mother’, and ‘this is your son’, to two people that are only linked because of him.

He acted on what Jesus said and what he did

What’s amazing, is that John didn’t just think Jesus’ words were a nice idea or a nice phrase. We often hear people in church refer to each other as brother and sister, and it can lose meaning. But this new command and new understanding from Jesus caused John to actually bring Mary into his home and treat her like family. He acted on what Jesus said and what he did.

Mary had Blood Relatives

It’s quite clear from other passages in the Bible that Jesus had younger siblings. There was family that Mary could have stayed with and been looked after by. Which, especially in a culture which had a big emphasis on family and looking after your elders, they would have undoubtedly been prepared to do.

Yet Jesus seems to be suggesting that it’s no longer about blood relations anymore. It’s about knowing him, believing in what he did in that moment. He is the link. (Read Saved By Faith Vs Saved By Belief: The Crucial Difference). The cross means we love and look after other believers and treat them like family.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ Matthew 12:46-50.

New Perspective

Much more could be said, and much more could be added to this point, but for me, this verse stresses the importance of creating a new family based around faith in Jesus. Yes salvation is individual and Jesus meets each person individually, but it doesn’t end there.

We are saved into a family

We are saved into a family, a family that isn’t defined by status, or blood ties, or ability, but on what Jesus did at Easter. This should cause us to love and treat fellow believers as brothers and sisters.

We know loving people can be hard work. And we may have come from families where it wasn’t modelled that well or at all. Thankfully, we have a God who is ready to help us, is patient, and ready to forgive when we make mistakes (Read The Four Words Spoken By Jesus You Need To Hear)

Imagine If…

This idea of family may have been something you’ve heard before, or it may be a new idea for you. But in a world that tells us to look after number one, and to only help people who act and think like we do, Jesus asks for us to see our fellow Christians as family, and to act like they are in very practical ways.

So what’s the one thing you could go out of your way to do this week, to help someone who needs help from the family?

What do you make of this idea? Comments welcomed below 

Originally posted 2/4/2018

Saved By Faith Vs Saved By Belief: The Crucial Difference

What The Bible Says

In Jesus we are offered an unconditional loving relationship with God. An actual relationship. Yet we can unknowingly trade it in and settle for a ‘tick sheet of beliefs’. Being saved by faith is so different, yet we can forget this. But it’s so relational, so incredible, we can’t let ourselves think it’s the same thing. 

I remember going to an evangelism day at my old church. It was all about how to share the Gospel more with people around us, friends, family, colleagues, etc.

I’m always keen to learn more. This sort of thing never came naturally to me, but I love God and I want people to know him. So I went along ready to hear about how to share my faith better.

On the day though, it didn’t feel right. My issue was that all the teaching came down to telling people to come along to church. It was about inviting people along on a Sunday. This idea never sat well with me.

The goal is surely to connect people with Jesus

Now, I’m all for church and inviting people along, but the goal is surely to connect people with Jesus. If they find God and go to a different church, that’s great. I’m not trying to sell my brand of Christianity/church, it should be about introducing people to the living God.

Without going into all the details, it felt like we were being told to sell ‘our church’ first and foremost. When they came to our church, signed up to our style and our set of beliefs, then they were sorted. So sell your church and your ‘list of beliefs’.

Selling Something Different

As I’ve reflected on this over the years I’ve been more convinced that this is missing the mark. Mainly because we aren’t saved by belief, but we are saved by faith. Faith is what saves us, faith in Jesus.

Jesus is a person, a living being who is God. His death and resurrection is what restores and transforms. It’s a relationship with him that saves.

This is where an important distinction needs to be made. A set of beliefs cannot save us. Ticking the ‘agree box’ for a specific style of worship, leadership, Biblical interpretation, creation v evolution, etc., won’t save us. It’s only through a relationship with God.

My theology and my beliefs aren’t able to save me or anyone

Even though I love theology and wrestling with big questions, teaching others, learning more, and working out how it all impacts our lives, my theology and my beliefs aren’t able to save me or anyone else. (Read The Four Words Spoken By Jesus You Need To Hear.)

Faith Is Different 

Being saved by faith is different.

It’s about relating to God and knowing him and the sacrifice he made. But, there are Christians who have different beliefs to us in some areas. They wouldn’t agree with how we understand bits of the Bible and Christianity. Yet they’re just as saved as we are.

A relationship with God is what saves, not a relationship with a list of beliefs

I’m not saying what we believe doesn’t matter. I’m not saying thinking about what we believe isn’t important. But a relationship with God is what saves, not a relationship with a list of beliefs.

It really is amazing when you think about it. A God who is perfect and bigger than we could imagine wants us to draw close to him. Not take a test to earn his love, or fulfil a list of demands to gain his love, but to build a relationship with him. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?) 

We’re saved by faith in him. It’s incredible, and it should lead us to want to build a stronger relationship with him, and not just think through what we believe and then forget to relate to him.

Imagine If…

Imagine if we really did remember that Christianity is profoundly relational. That in God we find the ultimate loving relationship that can help guide and transform all of our other relationships.

What we believe is important, but having faith in Jesus is the starting point and the foundation.

Do you think Christians can unintentionally place their faith in a belief system rather than Jesus? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 6/11/2017

What’s The Church For? What’s Our Yes?

What The Bible Says

If you asked most people, Christian or Non-Christian, what the church is against, they could easily give you a list. They could tell you what they say no to and what’s not allowed. But listing what the church is ‘for’, what it’s big yeses are, is harder. We need to encourage people to pursue the better song. Good relationships should be a big yes we shout about. 

Naked Truth Relationships is part of the wider Naked Truth Project. The aim of the charity is to ‘Open Eyes and Free Lives’ from the damaging impact of pornography. We want to come alongside those who say they are struggling in this area and need help.

But we don’t just give them a list of don’ts and simply shout at them to stop

We enable people to stop habits and patterns of behaviour. But we don’t just give them a list of don’ts and simply shout at them to stop. We want to equip, inspire, and enable them to pursue the better song. To pursue the things that will bring true fulfillment and intimacy.

We often talk about the story of Jason and Ulysses.

The Legend Of Jason And Ulysses

In greek mythology, they believed in dangerous sea creatures called sirens. These creatures lived on the rocks. It was said that they used to sing and call out to the sailors as their ships went by. These sailors would then feel an overwhelming desire to sail towards the treacherous rocks and their ships would get destroyed.

However, the myth goes on to say that two heroes, Jason And Ulysses, came up with clever solutions to the siren problem.

Jason filled all of his sailors’ ears with beeswax. He blocked their ears so that they couldn’t hear the sirens singing and calling to them. The sailors, therefore, wouldn’t get tempted to sail over to the rocks. They stopped doing something.

Ulysses however, responded differently. He brought along the best musicians in Greece and got them to play when the sirens were singing. This meant, that even though the sailors could hear the sirens. They heard a better song.

Watch our video we made about this story

The Better Song 

Ulysses’ men heard a better song and it meant they were not tempted by the sirens. The sirens lost their appeal. The sailors survived and enjoyed the better call, and had a fantastic story to tell.

We’re not designed to just be avoiders who do nothing. God designed us for more

So what’s our better song? What do we need to pursue to get fulfilled? What’s our big yes?

Sometimes we need to avoid things which seem good but can harm us. Sometimes we need to fill our ears with beeswax. But we’re not designed to just be avoiders who do nothing. God designed us for more.  We’re designed to pursue the better song.

Jesus said ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10). We need to know what we are for.

Pursuing Good relationships 

I believe building healthy long-lasting relationships, romantic or otherwise, is part of that better song

The big yes is different for different people and different churches. It depends what God is calling us to, what we enjoy, where we’re meant to serve, etc. But I think building good relationships, loving God and our neighbour is part of it. (Read Reflecting God’s image Is Found In Plurality). Jesus said this in his greatest commandment.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

He wants us to build loving relationships with God and those around us. He says that we’re his friends and not just servants (John 15:13-15). He wants us to serve those around us and help them when we can ( Matthew 25:31-46).

I believe building healthy long lasting relationships, romantic or otherwise, is part of that better song. It can bring fulfillment, intimacy, and we can live the way God designed us to live.

Imagine If…

Imagine if whenever we interacted with people we stopped to say, how can I be a bit more loving?

The church is called to help people avoid the rocks and avoid damage, but we’re called to play the better song too. Our yes should involve loving God and loving people. To let people know they are loved and can have a loving relationship with God and those in his family.

Imagine if whenever we interacted with people we stopped to say, how can I be a bit more loving?

I think our relationships would get stronger, we would feel closer to people, it would be easier to avoid the rocks, and everyone could say that the church’s yes is to love people and build them up. We could be known for the better song. (Read What I Wish I Had Been Taught About Love).

What else do you think should be part of the better song? Comments welcomed below.

Originally posted 24/5/2017