Dinner, a Sinner and a Saviour

 

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise – Psalm 51:17

There are two stories in the New Testament which so wonderfully portray the dynamic power of forgiveness. Interestingly, they both share the same three elements: Dinner, a sinner and a Saviour.

Story number one takes place when a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus round for a meal.  It’s not clear whether Simon is being genuinely hospitable, or whether he has an ulterior motive, but what we do discover later on, is that Simon fails to show Jesus the customary Jewish welcome of a kiss and a bowl of water for the washing of feet. As they are reclining at the table, things take an interesting turn. A woman with a jar of perfume and a bad reputation, gate-crashes the party.  She breaks open the alabaster jar of fragrance and starts to anoint Jesus’s feet. Weeping and crying, she dries His tear-stained feet with her hair, and kisses them again and again.  Talk about awkward moment!

Suddenly Simon gets all fidgety in his seat. Ha! If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have been able to discern what kind of woman this was. If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have this woman thrown out into the street.

But Jesus with x-ray-like vision, sees right into the depths of Simon’s soul.  And He begins to tell a story about two debtors.  One who owes a little, one who owes a lot.  Both of them receive good news- their debts have been cancelled by their Creditor.

“Now which of these two will love the most?”

“I suppose the one who has been forgiven the most,” Simon rightly answers.

Which leads us nicely onto story number two- the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector in the Jericho region and let’s just say ‘popular’ is not his middle name. He takes what people owe…plus a little bit extra besides.

But he’s heard a rumour. Jesus is coming to town.  “I’ve gotta’ see him”, thinks Zacchaeus.  “I’ll do anything to see Him”.

But Zacchaeus is a little on the…err, little side.  As Jesus passes through Jericho, vast crowds press in around Him.  And try as he might, Zacchaeus cannot see above the crowds.

So what does he do?  Give up and go back to his mansion?  No!  He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up into a Sycamore Tree!  Now this man was rich.  He probably had swag!  But nothing was going to stop him!

And Jesus stops right underneath that Sycamore Tree and peers up into the branches, right into the face of a man who is outwardly rich, but inwardly profoundly empty and says:

“Zacchaeus!”

Jesus knows his name. He knows all of our names.  “You’d better climb down because  I’m coming to your house today!”.  This time Jesus invites himself round for dinner!

And they talk.  And Jesus explains that He came to this earth to cancel the huge debt of sin that people like Zacchaeus, and the woman with the alabaster jar – people like me, and you- simply couldn’t pay.

And once again forgiveness has its transformative effect. Zacchaeus is a changed man.  Repentance flows from his heart just like the perfume that flowed from that alabaster jar.  Because the point of the story was not so much the broken jar, but rather a broken, sin-weary soul, kneeling at the feet of a merciful Saviour. And Zacchaeus promises to pay back anybody he’s ripped off four times over!

You see it’s true.  He who is forgiven much, loves much.

 

 

Giant Slayer!

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David was a shepherd, he was Jesse’s youngest son,

And although he was the smallest, he was God’s anointed one.

He had seven older brothers who were big and strong and smart

But the outer things don’t matter when God’s looking at your heart.

 

Now three of David’s brothers – the eldest of them all,

Were camped outside the city with the Armies of King Saul.

But David wasn’t old enough to join in with the battle,

He stayed at home in Bethlehem, attending to the cattle.

 

One day his father handed him a bag of grain and bread,

Take these to your brothers, bring back news of them he said.

So just as day was dawning, young David rose and went,

He ran to meet his brothers, with the food his father sent.

 

The Israelites came marching out with shouts and battle cries,

But as David followed after them, he got a HUGE surprise.

For marching round the valley, a giant of a man

Was challenging the Israelites “Come fight me – if you can!”

 

This Philistine was massive, he was over nine feet tall!

And the Israelites would tremble, every time they heard him call.

His spear was like a weaver’s beam, his armor weighed a ton!

“Is there no-one that would challenge me?” he boomed at everyone.

  

For forty days he taunted them, but no-one volunteered,

“You call yourselves an army, huh?” Goliath loudly jeered.

But David wasn’t frightened, as you’d probably suppose,

In fact this mouthy Philistine got right up David’s nose!

 

“Who is this heathen Philistine?” young David boldly called,

“He dares defy the armies of the true and living Lord?

What’s the prize for killing him?” He went and asked the others,

“Just go back home and feed the sheep” warned David’s older brothers.

 

King Saul heard the commotion, so he summoned David in,

“You’re just a lad, for goodness sakes, you’ll never EVER win!”

But David was determined, he was totally persuaded,

“The Lord will keep me safe”, he said, “I do not fight unaided”.

 

King Saul was flabbergasted but this kid was on a mission,

“Very well, young David, you may fight on one condition –

You must wear my finest armour from your head down to your toe.

And may the Lord watch over you, and bless you as you go!”

 

But David wasn’t used to wearing bronze from head to toe,

He could hardly move a muscle and he wasn’t good to go!

A shepherd’s stick, a pouch and sling were all that David took,

And five flat stones he gathered from the peaceful, babbling brook.

 

And when he neared the battle line, Goliath roared with laughter,

“I’ll eat you up for breakfast and I’ll still be hungry after!

Goliath was no gentleman, he didn’t mince his words,

“I’ll tear off all your flesh and then I’ll feed it to the birds!”

 

But David stood his ground, his faith was bigger than his foe,

“Listen up Goliath, ‘cos there’s something you should know!

You come at me with sword and spear and javelin, it’s true,

But in the name of God alone, I’m coming after you!”

 

Goliath moved in closer, he was ready to attack,

David ran to meet him; he let nothing hold him back.

He reached into his bag and popped a pebble in his sling!

And suddenly with lightning speed, he hurled it with a fling!

 

It smacked the mighty giant man, right between the eyes,

The stone sank in, the armies gasped in terror and surprise.

You could have heard a pin drop – as no one made a sound!

Then like a fallen tree, Goliath thundered to the ground!

 

The Philistines were terrified, they panicked and they fled!

They couldn’t quite believe it, their champion was dead!

A shepherd boy, had conquered, with a stone and with a prayer,

And with faith that moves a mountain, he became a giant slayer!

 

A Study On Kindness

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This week, the Lord has been repeatedly drawing my attention to a very beautiful quality: kindness.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but kindness seems to be pretty ‘in’ right now!  Perhaps you’ve heard about people carrying out these ‘Random acts of Kindness, in which kind deeds are bestowed on unsuspecting recipients, with absolutely no strings attached – apart from perhaps inspiring them to ‘Pay it Forward’ by doing something kind to someone else. An example would be paying someone’s bill in a café, or  leaving some coins selo-taped to a vending machine for whoever should next come along, with a post-it-note saying: “Treat yourself to something nice!

I love these kind of stories…they warm the cockles of the heart, don’t they?!

“But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword.” – Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

But what exactly is kindness?  What does it look like?  Is it giving someone your last Rolo?  Or baking a cake for a new neighbour? Is it a natural quality that some people are just born with? Or is it a choice?  Well…I decided to delve into the scriptures to find out.  I didn’t get very far!  It seems kindness is an ocean, and I’ve only paddled in the shallows.  But here’s what I learned from just four verses:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you – Ephesians 4:32

Kindness is tender-hearted.  It’s warm.  It receives others with openness and understanding.  Kindness is having a heart that is soft and malleable, not hard and unyielding.

Kindness forgives…The more a person ‘gets’ how gracious God has been to them, the more they are able to extend kindness and forgiveness to others.  The kindness of God is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  Now I’m no expert, but if studies were conducted, my guess would be that some of the kindest people on earth would also turn out to be the most thankful to God.

But love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35

Kindness is giving to others who may never repay you or even seem to appreciate your kindness.  So hooray for all those times when you’ve washed up, cleared up, picked up, hoovered up, put up and shut up- and nobody seemed to appreciated it!  Sometimes the arena where our kindness is most acutely tested is in our own homes with our nearest and dearest!    And how about loving our enemies?  It’s easy to be kind to the kind.  Genuine kindness is demonstrated by our Heavenly Father who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself” – Proverbs 11:17

The great thing about kindness is it’s a bit like a boomerang.  You throw it out and somewhere down the line it’s going to come back and bop you on the head!  (It’s worth noting at this point that cruelty works in the same way too – ouch!)  And even if people do not repay you, God most certainly will!  In fact, the reward for kindness is the highest of all honours:  You will be sons of the Most High.  Wow!

Put on then, as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience – Colossians 3:12

Kindness is fitting apparel for the people of God.  Kindness belongs in the same closet as compassion, humility, meekness and patience.  By the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to ‘put on’ kindness along with the other qualities listed- to clothe ourselves in these most beautiful of garments.  Why?  Because they show the world, a world in which kindness can be sadly scarce, the heart of our wonderful, heavenly Father who is overwhelmingly gracious and infinitely kind.

 

 

 

When God Spoke

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“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears” – Psalm 34:4

When I was thirteen I went to a youth event where a passionate speaker challenged us to be radical for Jesus! I was stirred and full of amen’s…until, suddenly this well-meaning speaker pointed out that practically every single one of Jesus’ disciples was martyred for the sake of the gospel. Now I don’t want to freak you out, but let’s just say, that some of them didn’t exactly die pleasant deaths.

And there was me – thirteen years of age – and sooo not ready to die!  One minute I was flying high on the wings of faith: “Yes Jesus! I’m going to live for you! I will follow you wherever you lead me! I will serve you no matter what the cost!” And the next minute it was like I’d hit a whopping great tree!

Thwack!

Suddenly I was back down to earth with a thud! I don’t think I realized at the time how profoundly this incident affected me. But right there in that meeting, it was like a menacing shadow of fear snuck in through the back door and ripped that faith right out of my thirteen-year-old fingers.

Something in me deflated. I came to Christ as a six year old.  All I knew about Jesus was that He was good and kind and full of peace and love.  Nobody had ever really laid out the cost to me before. I desperately loved Jesus and I wanted to live for Him – but preferably without the slightest hint of persecution or suffering, thank you very much.

I felt paralyzed.  I kept trying to move forward, but I could still feel those shackles of fear holding me fast. In the back of my mind there were whispers of doubt: “You’d better not get too close to God! There’s no need to be radical!  That’s for fanatics – it’s not for the likes of you.  Stay within your comfort zone and be safe. The devil isn’t interested in luke-warm Christians.” Oh that crafty serpent! There’s always a tinge of truth in his sugar-coated lies.

Some years later, in my late teens, I was at another meeting. The Holy Spirit was moving and there was a call to step forward if you wanted to go deeper with God. I wanted to step forward with all my heart. I had a choice. Despite an inner struggle, I found myself responding. In fear and trepidation I found my feet moving. “Now hang on a minute!” I argued with myself “What on earth are you doing? You don’t really want to be doing this now, do you?”

As I stood there, eyes closed, hands raised, waiting for someone to come and pray for me, I silently poured out my heart to God,

“Lord I want to follow you,” I gushed, “I really do want to give my whole self to you – But I’m scared!  I’m being really honest here – I don’t want to die!” Tears began to spill from my eyes as I confessed to God my deepest, darkest fears.  Fears that I’d tried to bury.  Fears that He already knew about anyway.

Suddenly, almost instantaneously, came a still small voice. It wasn’t audible, but it was clear as crystal. In the tender tones of a father, do you know what He said to me?

“Oh Angie, (isn’t it lovely when He calls us by name?) I’m not asking you to die for Me. I want you to live for Me!”

Oh the power of that one simple phrase! Do you know that when God speaks to you, it can change everything? Suddenly His perfect love flooded my being and I wanted to shout for joy! The shackles of fear were instantly smashed off – and all fear was gone!

Forget-Me-Not

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There are so many things to remember these days!

“Have you got your key?”

“Mum, did you remember to pay for my school trip?”

“Did you remember there’s a meeting this evening?”

“Don’t forget your P.E. Kit!”

“I must remember to take those library books back on Tuesday.”

“Don’t forget your packed lunch bag!”

Sound familiar?

Just last week, I fell prey to absent-mindedness on a number of occasions!  On Monday I filled in some important forms for my daughter’s new school.  I put them by the front door so that I wouldn’t forget them the next day…and then on Tuesday, I managed to leave the house without them! On Wednesday, I popped into the shop and bought a few groceries…but came home without the milk.  On Friday, I took my car into the garage, walked all the way back home, only to discover that I’d forgotten to take my door key off the car key-ring.

You know that old saying:  “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on”…well, that pretty much sums me up!

And here we are again, heading towards November – the month of remembrance.  Soon we’ll be buying red poppies and taking part in two minute silences.  Lest we forget…

A few days ago, I stumbled across an interesting verse in the book of Judges:

The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of God, and forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” (Judges 3: 7)

Hang on a minute…back up the truck….I thought doing evil in the sight of God would entail murder or betrayal or deepest, darkest deception.  What did the sons of Israel do that was so offensive to God?  They forgot Him.

God has always wanted a people who will love Him and serve Him with wholehearted devotion.  And the truth is, He’s worthy of nothing less.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind…”

But the Sons of Israel ‘forgot’ Him.  They forgot the God who had brought them up out of Egypt.  Split open the Red Sea so they could walk though on dry land.  Provided Manna from heaven and water from a rock.  Who knows what distractions may have lured their affections away?  But I would hazard a guess that it was a gradual slide.  Perhaps they gradually stopped talking about Him quite so often – stopped remembering the miracles.  Perhaps they stopped being thankful.  Perhaps they got too busy trying to pay the bills.  But somehow, their hearts drifted away from their first love.  And it wasn’t long before they were serving Baal and Asheroth – worshipping idols.  How tragic.

The word ‘remember’ comes from the Latin root ‘mem’, which means ‘call to mind’ or ‘be mindful of’. So many words that we use in our everyday language stem from this root:  Memento, memoir, memorandum, memorabilia.  All of these things are designed to prompt our memory.  They remind us of important things, or preserve special memories.  But what can we do to remind ourselves of the One who is more important than any other treasure?

David had the right idea – In Psalm 103, we see an example of him “calling to mind” the goodness of the Lord:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And  forget none of His benefits,

Who pardons all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases,

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion,

Who satisfies your years with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”

It seems to me that remembering the Lord is not some hit and miss thing, like it so often is with things like milk and car keys.  We must choose to remember.  We need to keep calling to mind the goodness of our God.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of His past mercies and all of His faithfulness.  It’s a deliberate thing.

Jesus made this clear to us on the night before he died.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying: “this is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19).

If there’s only one truth that we choose to remember in this lifetime, surely it should be this one:  That Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God, laid down His life, so that we might live.  Let’s never forget.

What The Stars Say

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge.” Psalm 19v1-2

We don’t get the best views of the night sky in South London.  But I remember camping out in the countryside as a child…It was a completely different story!  All I wanted to do was fling my head back and marvel! These days, satellite images allow us to get a glimpse of galaxies far, far away.  They bring us back evidence of things unseen! Weird and wonderful nebulas that look like gigantic eyes in the sky. Pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which looks as though someone just opened a pot of glitter whilst waltzing through the universe!  We learn about stars which are bigger than the sun. We are told mind-bending facts about how many trillions of light years away these spinning orbs hang out. I mean, just getting my head around the idea that a trillion is equal to a million millions is baffling enough!

The enormity of the universe is completely staggering!  Our planet is but a miniscule blue dot in the vastness. But in one little sentence, Genesis tells us how God created the sun and the moon – and then adds, (as though it’s just an afterthought), “He also made the stars!”  Countless billions of them!

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147v4).

He knows each one by name? Wow!

“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth”! (Psalm 33v6).  It’s like He just breathed them out!  It leaves me speechless!  What kind of God is this?!

Just think for a a moment about a solar eclipse…a total solar eclipse takes place in the somewhat rare occurrence that the moon travels directly in the path of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Momentarily, the moon appears to completely cover the sun, blotting out its light, as though it were night time! A few days ago me and the kids watched a video clip of a solar eclipse.  It was breath-taking. In four or five minutes, the sun was slowly but surely obscured. Then came a few moments of complete blackness, and then seconds later, an ethereal corona appeared like a milky mist around the sun – at which point, my daughter’s nine year old friend cried out: “Wow – I think that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!” A fitting response, I thought!  You could hear people on the video clip whooping with delight and amazement, yet many of them probably completely missing the point that SOMEBODY MADE THAT HAPPEN!

In Psalm 8 David says, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained…” One of the meanings of the word ordained is “set in place!” Think about that for a moment. God placed the sun and the moon in their place. It was not some random accident! When you think of it like this, a solar eclipse is nothing short of miraculous! The sun and the moon lining up like that in such a precise way is jaw-droppingly awesome, and really ought to bring us to our knees, like David. Creation is a living, talking testimony of the sheer power and wisdom of our God. The heavens do indeed preach us a sermon about the brilliance of their Creator. Every night the stars are saying something – can you hear them -shouting out loud to all who will listen?  They are crying out: “Isn’t He Majestic?  Isn’t He glorious?!  Isn’t He magnificent? If you ever need reminding of the power and breathtaking wisdom of God, then why not take a leaf out of David’s Psalm Book, and just look up!  The heavens are creation’s great signposts – they point us towards the One who put them there!  How majestic is His name!

For more amazing images and information about our universe, I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch two incredible presentations by Louis Giglio, entitled ‘Indescribable” and ‘How Great Is Our God’ -they are available on DVD and are well worth investing in!

The Potter

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“Yet You O Lord are our Father.  We are the clay and You are our Potter, we are all the work of Your hands.”  

Isaiah 64 v 8

I was a transfixed ten year old girl, watching a Potter at work.  A lump of clay, grey-brown and formless, growing, expanding, springing up here, being stretched out there.  Rounded to perfection.  A rim added with a pinch of fingers. Holes cut out here.  A spout added there.   A long clay sausage curved into an elegant loopy handle – a teapot!  So perfect, appearing like magic at the touch of the potter’s skillful hands.

This week, at our lady’s group, a friend asked for prayer.  She is going through a storm.  Life is hard.  Times are tough.  As we prayed for her, suddenly I found myself picturing a Potter and some clay.

And then I realised something.   A Potter knows exactly how much pressure to apply to the clay in order to create a desired shape.

Sometimes God allows situations to press against us.  Sometimes His hand seems firm upon our hearts.  Sometimes it seems that the pressure is too much and we’re going to crack.  But know this:  When God’s touch seems firm and heavy upon us, when the pressures of life crowd in, that’s when He’s shaping us the most.  The more pressure He applies, the more we are being moulded and transformed into His likeness and into all that He plans for us to be.  He knows what He is making.  He sees the end result.  He has something great in mind.  It may not be finished yet.  What He is making may remain a bit of a mystery to us.  But one thing’s for sure – He is the Potter, and He is in complete control. He has not taken His hand off us.  He’s a Master Craftsman.   If you’re feeling the pressure today, if you’re feeling like your life is spinning out of control, take heart and trust Him!  You’re probably being shaped into something beautiful.