The Four Words Spoken By Jesus You Need To Hear

What The Bible Says

When Jesus was arrested and killed his disciples, (who he had hung out with, taught and invested in for about 3 years) deserted him. After Jesus had died and rose to life again, you’d think he would be angry. You’d think he would say how disappointed he was. But the words he said to them instead when he saw them again, were truly amazing.

Many of us have been reflecting on and celebrating Easter this weekend. It always stirs up passion, humility, guilt, excitement, sadness and joy. It does in me anyway. A bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

Often, when we think about Jesus and the cross, we can place it into a very legal framework. We think something along the lines of: Sin happens when we break God’s law, God forgave our sins, so now we don’t need to face punishment. We are now legally declared ‘Not Guilty’.

This is true and important, but forgiveness means so much more. Resurrection life leads to more than simply ‘Not Guilty’

Wiping The Slate Clean

Forgiveness is about wiping the slate clean, and this includes being allowed to move forward. It’s not just about looking back to what we have done. Put it like this,  when a friend truly forgives us, it doesn’t just mean they no longer hold a grudge, it means we can be friends again. Move forwards knowing the past won’t taint the future.

The resurrected Jesus embodied this truth in a powerful way

The resurrected Jesus embodied this truth in a powerful way. It should affect our friendships and all of our relationships. (Read I Want To Trust Them, But I’ve Been Hurt Before)

Deserted By His Disciples 

What I’m saying is that the way the resurrected Jesus related to his disciples was mind-blowing for many reasons. But one point I am often drawn too, especially over Easter is about how Jesus related to his disciples who had, a few days earlier, left him to die.

When Jesus was arrested, he was deserted by his disciples, his friends. The people he had been teaching and spending so much time with and investing in, left him when he needed them. (Matthew 26:47-56).

Imagine being one of those disciples. Jesus, who you looked up to, who had done all of these miracles and let you be part of them, who had been so close to you, gets taken away and killed, and you ran off.

You would probably be feeling sad, guilty, scared, ashamed.

I’d be thinking ‘I can’t face him, not after what I did’

Then you hear he has come back to life. Unbelievable right? Not something you would believe easily. Then you start to hear rumours and start to realise it’s true.

You probably start to feel excited, then you remember, you deserted him. You left him to die. I’d be thinking ‘I can’t face him, not after what I did, I can’t see him again. Jesus must be angry with me, he must be disappointed.’

More Than Awkward 

I’m always struck by this dilemma. Here is Jesus, their teacher and friend, who they let down, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is seeing him again! Realising he is the Messiah, he is back, and you need to see him and talk about what happened.

Awkward does not seem to describe the situation well enough.

But Jesus, when he had the right to be angry, he had the right to tell them off, wipes the slate clean. In John 20:19-21 it says:

‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

‘Peace Be With You’

Those four words ‘Peace be with you’. Not angry, not a telling off. Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’ twice.  More than that, he still says he wants them to be involved in his mission. He is still sending them.

This word translated as ‘peace’ is so powerful. The English word doesn’t do it justice. It’s used when someone wants your life to be amazing in every area; in family life, in your job, in your relationship with God, in your friendships, everything.

Jesus is wishing them a life that is full, free from harm and damage, and full of love and joy.

Resurrection life leads to more than ‘Not Guilty’

Resurrection life leads to more than ‘Not Guilty’. It leads to the slate being wiped clean and moving forwards in an amazing way, The disciples are forgiven, and Jesus also wishes them the best, blesses them, and asks them to still be part of his mission in the world.

They are found not guilty, and Jesus draws them back into a close friendship and relationship.

Four amazing words. Words we need to hear when we feel ashamed, when we feel like we have let God down (again), when we feel distant from him, when we feel like life has lost focus, when we question if God is really there, if he really loves us. ‘Peace be with you’ – words you need to hear.

Imagine If…

Imagine if this week and beyond we remembered that resurrection life leads to more than simply ‘Not Guilty’. Jesus not only saves us from punishment but for friendship, for a relationship. He is rebuilding relationships and sending followers into the world to spread the Good News.

Try to Read John 20 and 21, and think and reflect on how Jesus reaches out to people he had every right to be angry at. And how important it is to realise his grace is offered to us, and how this should affect our friendships and relationships. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Forgiveness, Right?)

Do you think we forget that Jesus saves us for something, and not just from punishment? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 17/4/2017

Who Asks ‘Have You Spent Time With The Poor?’

What The Bible Says

When it comes to our relationship with God, we often get told to read our Bible, to pray, and to worship in private. These are all good and very important. But never/rarely has a preacher or accountability partner said to me, ‘How much time have you spent serving the poor this week?’ Doing this is part of relating to God himself.  

I’ve always been someone who’s struggled to keep a constant prayer life. I often go through times when it’s frequent and comes naturally. Then there are other times when it’s more hard work.

I find it easier to read my Bible and do a personal study, but this goes through the same highs and lows as well.

Finding God In Prayer and In People

In lots of talks, through Christian friends, in various groups, and in various ways, I’m constantly challenged to pray more. To read my Bible more. I often feel a mixture of guilt and inspiration at these points, but it’s important to hear and strive towards. (Read Guilt Is Individual, Shame Is Relational).

Why is knowing God reduced to reading and gaining more information?

It’s important because we need to spend time with God and get to know him better. He’s a God who wants to relate to us. He brings us into his family and calls us friend. However,  something that isn’t said enough is that this isn’t the only way to relate to God.

Jesus seems to very clearly teach that spending time with the poor, the outsiders, and those who need help, is part of meeting with God and relating to him. So why don’t I seem to get challenged to do that more? Why is knowing God reduced to reading and gaining more information?

The Sheep And The Goats

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks about the sheep and goats. In this story the sheep are ultimately welcomed into his kingdom (v33-34). They know God and are known to him. This is rooted in the fact that they looked after the poor, the needy, and those who needed help  (v35-36).

The goats, however, are ultimately turned away and rejected because they didn’t do these things. (v42-43).

This always scares me because both groups say they knew God and they both call him Lord (V37, 44). In other words, both groups are believers. But the goats are turned away because they did not help the poor.

We Need Both

I sometimes feel like, if I told a group of Christian that I haven’t prayed, sung worship songs or touched my Bible (app) all week, but I helped serve in a soup kitchen all day every day and visited people in prison, they would feel slightly uneasy.

In Matthew 25, meeting with God happens as we meet the poor

Yet if it was the other way round, and I said I was praying for ten hours every day, reading my Bible and singing God’s praises, but walked past a homeless person each day, then there would be less of a problem.

Now, I’m not saying we should only serve the poor and not open up our Bible (apps). But Jesus, in his actions and in his words, challenges, inspires and commands us to serve the poor. This isn’t an added extra, it’s part of knowing and meeting with God.

Meeting God

Our relationship with God must also involve serving and helping those who need help

In Matthew 25, meeting with God happens as we meet the poor.

Our relationship with God must involve prayer and reading our Bible. Yet our relationship with God must also involve serving and helping those who need help. It’s not an added extra thing we do between prayer times.

It’s worth remembering as we think about relationships and how we improve our vertical relationship with God, when we feel we’re just going through the motions, feel like something is missing, maybe we are missing an important element. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we put lots of time into reading our Bible, worshipping God, and going out of our way to serving the poor and people who need help.

This week, what is the one thing you can do to help those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, lacking clothes, ill, in prison, or needing help?

Do you hear enough emphasis on serving the poor in your context? Comments welcome below. 

Originally posted 13/3/2017

Guilt Is Individual, Shame is Relational

Friendships, What The Bible Says

Guilt and shame are often linked, but they aren’t the same. We often treat them like they are and this can weaken our relationships. It’s helpful to see that guilt is linked to what we have done or said, while shame is about how we think others see us. Shame is feeling unaccepted and like we don’t belong. Without overcoming shame we will always feel like we don’t deserve good relationships.

When I became a Christian I was told about the cross. Or should I say, the main interpretation of the cross for many denominations (in the west), namely that Jesus took the punishment we should receive because we have broken God’s law. Jesus became sin for us and has taken away our guilt.

Despite what I thought about myself, despite the insecurities, despite the self loathing, God would be there and never leave

This is true and important and biblical. This is something we all need to hear. But for me, looking back, the thing that really made an impact on me personally was hearing about a God who loved me. There was a God who wouldn’t leave me no matter what happens.

Despite what I thought about myself, despite the insecurities, despite the self-loathing, God would be there and never leave. He knew me better than I knew myself and said: you’re part of the family.

This truth reverses the shame, which is different from dealing with the guilt.

Forgiveness Counters Guilt

Guilt is about doing, saying or thinking something wrong. It’s about breaking a rule or law. If we steal someone’s phone, whether we feel guilty or not, we are guilty. We have committed a crime. Guilt and feeling guilty are about the individual. ‘I’ have done something wrong.

A great thing about the Christian faith is that God says we are forgiven

A great thing about the Christian faith is that God says we are forgiven, we don’t need to be bound by punishment because we have a saviour who died for us. It’s an amazing truth.

Shame, however, is better understood in relational terms.

Relationship Counters Shame

Shame is to do with feeling unwanted by others, feeling like we don’t belong. This may be because we have broken laws and feel guilty, or because we have insecurities and low self-esteem. But shame happens when we experience unworthiness and rejection in relationships, or think people will treat us in this way.

Shame is about believing we don’t deserve good relationships because we think that when people see us, they see all of the bad things, and we don’t deserve to be accepted.

Shame is reversed when other people continue to allow us to belong and relate in community

We wonder: will my friends, family, church family, see me with all of my flaws, mistakes, imperfections, and still say I can still belong? Am I still accepted no matter what? We may need to apologise for mistakes, we may disappoint them, we may feel like we don’t deserve to belong. Nevertheless, are still able to build relationships with them?

Shame is reversed when other people continue to allow us to belong and relate in community. (Read What I Wish I Had Been Taught About Love.)

We all struggle with shame to some extent. We believe we don’t look as good as our friends or the people we see in adverts. We aren’t as funny or clever as the person we work with. We clearly don’t love God as much as those other ‘super’ Christians. So we feel ashamed and undeserving.

Jesus Counters Shame and Guilt

So many people, even Christians in church, struggle to believe that there is no need for shame with Jesus. Yes there is a need for repentance, for learning to grow and do things differently, for learning from mistakes and loving God and others more. Yet shame, separation, and total rejection isn’t part of the Gospel.

When Jesus met Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), an outsider, who stole money from his own people, Jesus still befriended him. Jesus ate with him and said a relationship can happen despite the mess.

Relationships become weak when we let shame have the last say

When the woman was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus reminded everyone that they are all guilty and no one is perfect. By doing this, they realised they were all outsiders. We all need to remember we shouldn’t belong, but God says we can anyway.

Relationships become weak when we let shame have the last say. When we believe we don’t deserve love or acceptance. When our insecurities and shortcomings have the last say. (Read After Your Arguments, You Don’t Walk Out).

Imagine If…

Guilt needs to be dealt with. We do need to say sorry and ask God to help change us and change the way we relate to others. His cross deals with our mistakes and it also brings us into a family where we always belong despite our mistakes (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

Imagine if we didn’t let shame win, and reminded our friends, family, church family, spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends, that they belong, are accepted and wanted. The next time someone does something, or comes into our church and looks isolated and/or unconfident, we need to talk to them and let them know they can belong.

What do you think the link between guilt and shame is? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 30/1/2017

The Cross Needs To Be Forgotten At Christmas

What The Bible Says

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The king of the universe, the all-powerful God, who chose to become human and connect with us on our level. It’s amazing. So often we think Jesus just became human to get to the cross. But the truth is, his birth was the beginning of a life-changing relationship.

As it’s Christmas, I thought I should at least attempt to write a post that’s linked to the festive season. Christmas, relationships, and God, I thought, as I stared blankly at the screen.

Then I remembered, I made one earlier!

Last year, on my old website which is now no more, I wrote a post about Christmas. About how important it is to remember the birth of Jesus is about God becoming human to start a relationship.

He didn’t become human to just get to the cross, even though the cross is vital and extremely important. He became human for many reasons, but it was partly so that we could know him closely, and call him friend and father.

 The birth of Jesus is about God becoming human to start a relationship

So often we can forget how important and transformative the Biblical truth of God being born and becoming human is. So here is the post, re-written and re-edited a bit, for all those who read it last year or missed it last year. Because it’s still true today, last year, and for 2000 plus years.

An Easter Preach at Christmas

So there I was, visiting friends for the weekend and going along to their church Sunday service. It happened to be their festive outreach Sunday, and they put a lot of effort into using the Christmas season to introduce the local community to Jesus.

The Christmas message is about the birth of Jesus, not his death

They did a very good job. It felt very festive with an engaging message which was sensitive to non-Christians and to those who only go to church in December. But they skipped over the wonderful beginning and rushed to the end. By which I mean:

They preached an Easter Friday message.

The vicar said something like: ‘Jesus was born at Christmas, and he told this story when he was older, and later he died on the cross to pay for your sins’. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?)

Missing The Start Of The Story

Perhaps you’re wondering what’s the problem? You might say it’s actually a good thing to preach this message when we get the chance, and you do have a point. Jesus died on the cross and that’s a crucial truth.

Yet the Christmas message is about the birth of Jesus, not his death on the cross!

The cross is so important, but the Gospel story is about so much more. It’s just as important to hear about Jesus’ ministry, teaching, resurrection, ascension, and his birth.

If you want to hear about the cross at Christmas, great. But please let us remember to reflect on why his birth is so wonderful and life changing too.

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

The Importance of Jesus’ Birth 

Jesus didn’t ‘teleport’ down to earth as a 30 ish-year-old man and start preaching and/or go straight to the cross to die. He was born like every other human in history (but conceived differently) and grew up like every other human, and this is foundational to our faith.

The incarnation reminds us that Jesus became human so that God could relate to us authentically. If he just stepped out of heaven as a grown man, He wouldn’t be a real human. If He wasn’t on our level, experiencing what we do, then our relationship with Him couldn’t be genuine.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise 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 4:15-16 

By becoming like us, through being born and becoming human, He could also reveal to us the true nature of God. Only God can reveal who God is, only God knows the mind of God. And God became like us to reveal who He truly was to begin a relationship, a friendship.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:15

He’s Like Us, So Now We’re Like Him

It’s amazing to think that the Almighty God chose to become a vulnerable baby, grew up like everyone else so that He could relate. ‘Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him’.

In other words, He became human so that we could become children of God.

Christmas isn’t about the cross, that comes later. It’s about another crucial building block of the Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling 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. John 1:1-14

God wanted an authentic relationship with us. So God became fully human and came down to our level and was born like us so that He could experience what it’s like to be human and truly connect with us. He also wanted to reveal himself intimately to us, which only He can do, so that we could truly connect with him.

We have a God of relationships, who took the first step

Christmas is ultimately about God taking the first step toward building a transformative and mind-blowing loving relationship with us. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality)

We can talk about the cross and resurrection, that’s all part of the Gospel and is very important. But the story begins with a God stepping out of heaven and comfort, becoming human, to make a connection with us.

Imagine If…

Imagine if, this Christmas, we paused to remember that Jesus became human. He did it because he wanted to connect with us on our level, as a real human, live the life we do so that we can call him friend, father, and saviour.

We have a God of relationship, who took the first step.

How important do you think it is to remember about the birth of Jesus? Comments welcome below 

Originally posted 26/12/2016

The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?

What The Bible Says

Most Christians know that God wants to have a relationship with them. However, if you ask what the cross achieved and what the Gospel is, they usually talk about ‘legal forgiveness’. How Jesus was punished instead of us and we’re now free from the condemnation of the law. But on the cross, Jesus established a family relationship as well. It’s part of the Gospel and not an added extra.

I delivered a talk last month on the cross of Jesus to some students who were part of a Christian gap year course. I told them, and I firmly believe, that the cross brings us ‘legal forgiveness’. In other words, at the cross and resurrection, Jesus paid the punishment that the law demands when sinners break it. I believe this is true and is an important part of the Gospel.

But then I said to them that ‘forgiveness of sins’ on the cross also brings us into a deeply intimate and close relationship with God, and the family of fellow believers. They all nodded, as you may be, because they know that is true. But I said again and emphasised that this happened because of the cross itself. Not afterwards or as an add on to the Gospel. Then they weren’t so sure.

Jesus’ death allowed us to become part of God’s family

Most Christians know that God wants a relationship with them, that he is our father and we are saved into a community of believers. However, the point I was making is that this isn’t just an optional consequence of the Gospel. It’s not an optional extra we can choose to believe or not.

This isn’t a new idea

It’s part of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s part of what he achieved on the cross, it’s part of forgiveness, and is central to how we understand his death. We can’t reduce forgiveness to just ‘legal forgiveness’.

This isn’t a new idea though. It’s commonly called the Adoption Model of Atonement, which basically means that on the cross Jesus’ death allowed us to become part of God’s family as beloved sons and daughters. And is important as it stresses our new relationship with God.

Friends Not Servants

God the son has been revealing who God is, and there is a relationship being built and established

Throughout the Gospel’s we see Jesus call God father, and he encourages us to do the same (Matthew 6:9). In John’s Gospel we see Jesus emphasising the closeness of his followers and future followers when he calls them friends. There is an intimacy and a closeness with God the Son.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:12-15

God the Son has been revealing who God is, and there is a relationship being built and established through his work and ministry. He wants his followers to see themselves as close friends and not distant servants.

Children of God

Galatians 3:23-4:7 hammers home the truth that we can become children of God and become part of the family.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir
Galatians 4:4-7

This is profound. Jesus has redeemed those under the law, and importantly, this was done when he went to the cross and was hung on a tree and suffered death.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
Galatians 3:13

Deeper Understanding

When I delivered this teaching on the cross, relationships, and faith, I wanted to say I believe that on the cross Christ paid for our sins. It’s an amazing truth. And his life and death allowed us to know God and become part of his family.

The cross itself gives us belonging and close relationships

The relationship that Jesus offers is more than one where we are legally OK from now on, but one where we become beloved sons and daughters too. We don’t just exist as people free from the condemnation of the law, but as people who belong to the family of the king who is a good father.

Imagine If…

We all want to belong and have strong friendships, relationships, and romantic relationships. The cross itself gives us belonging and close relationships. The cross of Christ is amazing and transforming every area of lives. (Read What I Wish I Had Been Taught About Love). Including how we see ourselves and relate to others and God himself.

When we understand the cross achieved many many things, we can allow it to transform so many areas of our lives. (Read Reflecting God’s Image is Found In Plurality)

Why do you think Christians sometimes reduce the cross to just one thing?

Originally posted 30/11/2016