In the interests of variety, I am not going to start this post, “In the beginning.” I was tempted though, because both the Old Testament and the Gospel of John start with the words, “in the beginning.”
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. 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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)
In other words, Jesus is the centre of it all. He is the originator, the reason, the very light of life. Any world view that makes Man the centre of it all, is not Christianity. Yet we, born in sin, are wont to see everything with ourselves at the centre of the universe. When I was a little girl, I sometimes wondered if I was the only real person in the world and everybody else was a figment of my imagination only there to serve my interests.
When I became a Christian, I had to take my focus off myself as the centre of my life and put Jesus there, on the throne. They make it sound easy, those evangelists. It is not. My daily struggle is to remember who is king of my life. My sinful self has a habit of sneaking into the throne room and climbing back onto the throne.
Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13 NIV)
Life, like the Bible, begins with God and ends with God.
Lord Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, as I journey each day with You, may my life become less of me and more of You. Amen
Our neighbours are doing alterations – breaking down walls and eventually building new ones.
Anybody who has ever been involved in any kind of renovation or building will know that the dust collects everywhere. We can see it creeping over the wall.
Sin is like dust. Sometimes it’s easy to spot and we can avoid the area. At other times it is subtle and hardly noticeable until a shaft of sunlight reveals the dust that has collected on a surface. If we ask Jesus to shine the light of His Holy Spirt on our lives, we will see things that we hadn’t noticed, not blatant actions but tiny attitudes of mind, a grumbling spirt, a covetous thought or regarding our time/money/life as our own.
When Jesus washed the disciples feet, Peter objected. When Jesus explained that unless Peter allowed Jesus to wash him, he had no part of his Lord, Peter replied, “Not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” (John13:9-10a NIV)
The roads in those days were dirt roads. Nobody could walk along them in sandaled feet without collecting a lot of dust on their feet – even if they had bathed and put on clean clothes for a special celebration like Passover.
We come to Jesus once in repentance and He forgives our sin, based on His atoning death. That is like the bath; but every day we collect the dust of sin on our souls and it is necessary to ask for forgiveness. That is like having our feet washed.
I am certainly not going to dust my house every day just because the neighbours are building but I will try to get my soul dusted every day.
Lord Jesus, as You did to the disciples, please wash my feet and show me those little dust sins that collect in my heart. Amen.
John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”
He also said, “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)
In other words, even coming to Christ is not at our initiation, but God’s.
Charles Wesley had a term for this action of the Father when He draws us to Christ. He called it “prevenient grace.”
Looking back in my past to identify signs of prevenient grace in my life, I remember an incident in my childhood which I count as my earliest possible memory of this grace.
I must have been quite young, but already at school, so possibly five or six years old. Somebody at school told me that if you stripped a feather of all but a top tuft of vanes and planted it in the ground, you could make a wish and the wish would come true. At that age I already felt inferior to others. I wasn’t as pretty, as comfortable socially, as interesting as other kids. I felt I was not good enough. My wish was that I could be good enough. In the back of my mind I had a sort of fairy story. I was actually a princess and had been swopped at birth and one day people would find out who I really was.
Peering back through sixty years, I can see that this was my first inkling that I was a sinner. At university I heard another variation on this theme from an Assembles of God pastor. “Wherever I go, I go too and spoil everything.”
I have now been a Christian for over forty years. I know that I have the righteousness of Christ since on the cross He exchanged my sin for His righteousness. Nobody can say that’s not good enough. Moreover, I know myself to be a daughter of the King of the Universe. In anybody’s book, that makes me a princess.
So it might have taken a while but my wish on a feather came true.
I’m not much of a gardener. If there was an opposite to green fingers, maybe brown thumbs, I have them. Pot plants come into my house at their own peril and they can count themselves lucky if they last three months.
A tomato plant grew itself in an old tin bath that had been used by the previous owners of the house as a sort of compost area. I was so excited to see tomatoes grow and ripen. Unfortunately the plant died before all the green tomatoes could ripen and we cut it off at the ground. Lo and behold , it sprouted again. Before we went to the South Coast last month, it had four green tomatoes. Inspired by this miracle of nature, I started putting suspect tomatoes in the bath and watched little seedlings sprout after a while.
Now I see my inspirational tomato plant is dying and it doesn’t look like we will ever get to eat the four tomatoes. The leaves have all withered and turned yellow or brown.
I googled it. Seems like my plant might be suffering from a fungal disease. I found some bright blue fungicide and sprayed not only the dying plant, which I don’t think I can save, but also the newer ones. Here’s hoping I might yet see some fruit.
Psalm 1 refers to a person whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1:3 NIV)
Sin is like a fungus which is easily spread and in the end is deadly. I would much rather live a fruitful life than a life characterised by withering leaves. According to Psalm 1, the secret is to delight in God’s Word, to meditate on it day and night. That is the fungicide.
Fortunately, God is a much better gardener than I am and I can trust Him to take any action He deems necessary to ensure that I live a fruitful life. However, I am neither a tomato plant nor a tree and the Father respects my God-given free will. I would need to submit to His care and love if I want to live the life described in Psalm 1.
Father God, you know I can’t live the kind of life you ordained for me on my own. Please forgive me for my inherent sin and human tendencies. Please continue to be involved in my life and take charge. Create in me a love for Your Word. May I delight in it and meditate on it constantly. Thank You. Amen.
What kept Jesus on the cross? As He said, He could have summoned a thousand angel armies to release Him. What kept Him there? Was it the nails?
Yes, it was the nails, but not physical nails. It was the nails of my sin. I heard it brilliantly described recently by Tod Burpo as “attitude.” We all recognise it in our teenagers, the attitude that says to a parent, “You are stupid; you don’t know what you are talking about; I know how things should be done; I can make my own decisions; I don’t need you to tell me what to do!”
That’s how we treat God. We regard His values as old-fashioned and outdated. We think we can run our own lives and that’s what we do. The Bible calls it sin. We might call it human nature. Whatever it is named, it constituted the nails that kept Jesus on the cross.
I read an interesting piece on our church’s website this morning called the Plague of Plagues by Michael Philips. It is quite long but thought provoking and very biblical and it turned my thoughts once more in the direction of viruses and sin.
I am a microbiologist by training and I learned a bit of virology, as well as a bit of bacteriology, mycology, immunology, biochemistry and assorted other -ologies. I have often linked in my mind sin to some kind of infection so let’s play and pretend sin is a virus. Unlike earthly viruses, this one infects the soul as well as the body.
Patients zero were Adam and Eve. The virus quickly spread through mother to child transmission as well as contact with other infected people and now everybody has got it.
The symptoms are obvious. Paul gives a list in 1 Cor 6:9-10. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? He then goes on to list some of the symptoms:- sexual immorality, idolatory, adultery, theft, greed, slander. There are other symptoms and they all fall into the category of ignoring God, His commands, His gifts, His love. Instead people want to do things their own way making themselves into gods.
Society down the ages has done their best to treat the symptoms, just like we might take decongestants for our cold. It will not cure us, only take away the symptoms. The Ten Commandments were a set of laws designed to treat the symptoms in society and model what cured people might look like. Other societies have laws and customs that do the same. With varying degrees of success they try to limit murder, theft, and antisocial behaviour with punishments which deter many from giving in to the tendencies which are symptomatic of the infection.
There is a cure. Think of it as a blood transfusion. …and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7b NIV)
If we get a blood transfusion with blood that contains antibodies to the virus, we will slowly get better as the virus is neutralised. It doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly we get better. This is a once off treatment. However, to be totally clear of the virus and to prevent re-infection, we need our bodies to make more antibodies. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to enable this process. We become sanctified. Again, it is a slow process and some of the symptoms take a long time to disappear because of damage that they have caused to our bodies and spirits.
John goes on to say in verses 8 and 9, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Imagine if, at the time of your blood transfusion, the doctor gave you a certificate saying you were no longer infectious, even though you might still have a symptom or two. This certificate could give you access to places you could not normally enter as an infected person. You could go through the screening processes with impunity. You could even have access to the Kingdom of Heaven which has a very strict anti-infection policy.
I’m sure trained ministers and pastors would pick holes in my analogy, but I had fun. Hope you did too.
An encouraging verse to leave you with as we all think about viruses, infections, quarantines, lockdowns, prohibitions, economic collapse and the like.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV)
What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:4 NIV)
We have made amazing advances in technology, communication, medicine, astronomy and other fields of science. We have carried out successful organ transplants, put men on the moon, and have made information available to the man in the street with a click of a button.
Yet, at this time in history, our civil society and economic empires are crumbling because of a virus 125 billionths of a metre in diameter. One thing it has shown us, is that man is not invincible as he tends to think. We act as if we are God. We make the rules and mores. We decide what is fair and what is unfair. As history unfolds, morals and customs change according to the outward circumstances and who’s in power.
The nature of man has not changed, has not improved. Excellent systems are put in place. They all fail because of human nature. Give food parcels to the poor! We have seen how human nature has corroded that noble endeavour! We all think human nature is something other people have. Yet we are quick to confess, “I am only human. This is how I am. This is how my father was, I got it from him.” In this dysfunctional world, we tend to excuse bad behaviour by early experiences of brokenness.
We can do nothing to fix ourselves. All our technical advances can’t save us from ourselves.
However, amazingly, God has set His love upon us and for love of us Christ died to rescue us from sin.
I love the end of Psalm 91.
The Lord says, “If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe. 15 When you are in trouble, call out to me. I will answer and be there to protect and honor you. 16 You will live a long life and see my saving power.” (CEV)
Every Wednesday, my husband and I take part in a 10 pin bowling pensioners league. I am not particularly good but I have learned the rules, how to score and the etiquette. Or course, nowadays the bowling machine does everything for you – sets up the pins, counts which ones you knock down, gives advice on how to get the rest and scores for you. It even monitors the foul line, gives a loud beep if you overstep, and displays a big red F next to your score, discounting any points you might have otherwise earned in that frame.
Yesterday, for the first time since I’ve been bowling in the league, I set off the foul line alarm. Not once, but three times. The first time I would have got a strike. I thought I had got a strike until I saw the ugly red F next to my name. It’s not like I did it on purpose! There was something about my bowling style that was wrong. After the third time, I was almost in tears. When I heard the beep I froze and checked the position of my front foot. It was way behind the line. Someone suggested my ball was too low and setting off the alarm. I could barely bowl at all during that game getting my lowest score in a long time.
Some people think God is like a bowling machine, just waiting for you to break one of the rules. They think Christianity is following a set of commandments. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Christianity is about relationship. God longs to have a relationship with us but our sin- nature (wanting to do things our way and being gods of our own lives) causes a barrier between us. Jesus did away with that barrier by taking our sin-nature upon himself and giving us His righteousness, removing the barrier to relationship. That sets us free to have a relationship with Him.
Phil 2:13 reads, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
If God works within us making us want to and able to do things His way, we’ll probably find that we’ll end up keeping the commandments anyway, but that is a by-product. We already have His approval. We don’t need to earn it. It is a gift.
...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb 12:1)
Recently we attended a motor-home rally at Hartebeespoort Dam. There is a big ecological problem with water hyacinth which is threatening to overgrow the dam. The plants float about on the water clumped in little islands and depending on the wind we could see either clear water and free passage to boats or a mass of green carpet.
We watched as the islands clumped together
It reminded me of the sin that so easily entangles. The wind was not noticeable but gradually the area in front of us got covered. It seemed to take no effort.
Actually, the vista was quite attractive. It looked like a lush green meadow. There were even occasionally sprinklings of water hyacinth flowers.
Sin is like that too. It doesn’t necessarily look evil. Sometimes it can look rather nice. It just seems to accumulate naturally.
However, the water hyacinth is preventing the dam from serving its purpose as a dam. In the same way, entangled sin prevents us from becoming who God intended us to be.
Paul says we must throw off the sin that so easily entangles. Easier said than done.
We need the help of God. If we ask Him, He will show us what is hindering and entangling us and enable us to throw it off and run the race laid out for us. It might take some time but it is a process.
My Prayer: Father God, please show me what is clogging up my life and preventing me from fulfilling your true purpose for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.