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What Has Jesus Ever Done For Us?

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Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53, NKJV

Book Review: “And It Was Beautiful” by Kara Tippett

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In normal circumstances if I knew the ending of a book before I began reading it, I might never begin. What would be the point? Nobody likes spoilers do they?

If I’d followed my usual line of reasoning in the case of And It Was Beautiful then I would have missed out on a precious, thought-provoking and life-affirming read. And I would have missed the point entirely. Kara Tippett died of cancer in March 2015, and that is where this book ends, but this book isn’t about that ending.

Because first, the book radiates Kara’s faith that death is not the end. Her faith and hope lift her out of, and far above, her inevitable moments of despondency. It also prevents her story from becoming overly sentimental.

Second, the book is a story about life, not death. It is the ordinary life of a pastor’s wife, a mother of four who finds herself in a battle with a deadly foe. But in the midst of that battle she finds joy in her relationships – with her husband, children, friends and relatives. She finds kindness everywhere, and strength in God through her trust in Jesus. She has difficult conversations with her children, and she faces brutal physical pain and emotional turmoil as her cancer refuses to be stopped. But she faces it all with a courage she doesn’t even seem to see in herself, with occasional humour, and with an overriding sense of peace.

And It Was Beautiful is composed of various writings, mostly from Kara’s blog posts at http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/ and in it she takes us with her on a journey through the last two or three years of her life. The tone is conversational. It is an easy read in that respect, although it had me struggling to hold back tears at some points. Perhaps I can sum up the book in Kara’s own words:

Some have called me heroic, for the fight, for the journey. I’m no hero. I’m just one broken woman looking for grace. I’m one needy heart in need of forgiveness. I’m just like everyone else, fighting to see grace, to live gently, to walk in integrity. It’s a daily battle, and some days it’s a war. And many days I blow it, bad. But there is always forgiveness.

anditwasbeautiful

This book was provided to me courtesy of David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible

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A powerful and controversial article. The ideas articulated here are ones that all thinking Christians should consider seriously and respectfully, even if they ultimately choose to disagree.

john pavlovitz

Young man reading the Bible with bright green backgroundWhenever Christians talk about their faith with other Christians or with non-Christians the Bible is there, either as an overt discussion topic or as part of the background noise in the room. Many followers of Jesus assume that everyone believes everything about the Bible that they believe about the Bible, which makes for some very messy miscommunication and far too many disastrous conversations.

More and more Christians are gradually coming to new conclusions about the Scriptures, or they are finally putting words to things that they believed for years but felt they couldn’t express in the past in their faith communities.

If you’re a Christian, these words may not speak for you entirely (or at all) but they are things that at this stage in my own spiritual journey, I do not believe about the Bible—and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect…

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A Distraction

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I feel the tension rise when I’m told this or that is a ‘satanic symbol’. There’s a part of me that appreciates the warning, remembers 1 Peter 5:8, and wants to avoid being devoured by the roaring lion.

But another part of me knows that symbols are nothing in themselves, that they are given meaning only in a particular context, and in the minds of those both using and viewing the symbol.

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An ‘x’ next to a schoolchild’s algebra solution means the answer is wrong. At the end of a message inside a greetings card it symbolises love. In front of the letters ‘mas’ it either means Christ, or that the perpetrator is trying to secularise the festive season.

Famously the swastika was an auspicious symbol in many Eastern religions, especially Jainism, for thousands of years before Hitler chose it as an emblem of Nazism and Aryan supremacy.

So I’m ambivalent about symbols, and this is how I rationalise my response:

Jesus is The Way. I can picture my Christian journey as a road I’m driving along, and I pray that I’m travelling in the right direction – along The Way.

There are signs along the road that are helpful to me. Sometimes the signs tell me I’m still on course. These signs might be answered prayers, small miracles or inner peace and other fruit of the Spirit.

There are more signs that warn me that I’ve taken a wrong turn, when the Spirit convicts me, or when a brother or sister corrects me.

And then there are signs that divert me. The temptations. The signs that promise me a short cut, an easier route, or the chance to take a break from the journey.

These are all signs that I need to be aware of and understand so that I don’t become lost.

And then there are the distractions. Satanic symbols are in this category. So are many church ceremonies and traditions, and denominations. In this world there are a lot of distractions.

The distractions are like advertising hoardings. They say something that may or may not be interesting or useful, but if you keep your eye on them for too long you will naturally find yourself driving towards them. That might lead to a crash, or just an uncomfortable ride, but it won’t lead to anything good. So although I might give them a glance and a thought, I want to keep my eyes on the road and The Way.

Just Pray

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And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:5-14 (NIV)

Confessions of a Hypocrite

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“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Romans 3:23

How true! There are a number of sins that I would guess every one of us is guilty of on a regular basis. Pride for example, which is probably at the root of so many others.

But one that I am particularly aware of in my own life is hypocrisy. I don’t like it. In fact I hate it, and when I see it in myself I berate myself immediately and forcefully and pray that I won’t fail that way again.

But I do. It’s too easy. There are too many opportunities. As soon as get myself right in one respect I find myself failing in another.

And the one place where I find myself failing on a daily basis is on the road.

I’m sure that I am far from unique in this respect. When I’m driving I become the worst of all hypocrites. I condemn fellow road users in my mind or out loud for driving too fast or too slow, for aggressively overtaking, for tailgating, for poor lane discipline, dangerous parking, unnecessary horn-blowing, queue-jumping and any other bad driving habit you can name.

And every time I do so, I immediately remember that I have been guilty of every one of those transgressions myself. Some I have managed to put behind me, some I only succumb to every now and then, but one or two seem to be ingrained. I can train them out of myself, but sooner or later they creep back in.

I know I need to improve. I recognise that I’m worse when my mood is low. I see that I’m better when I have a passenger, or worse when I’m in a hurry. And when I drive badly I don’t hide it from myself. I acknowledge it and tell myself to try harder next time.

I want to be a better driver, and if I really put my mind to it I’m sure I could keep improving for as long as I’m fit to sit behind a steering wheel. But what I want even more is to show grace in my response to others who are just like me – who may be having a bad day, or who are unfamiliar with a particular road layout, or who just made an honest mistake, or who have any number of other reasons why they did what I myself did yesterday or will do tomorrow.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

4 Articles To Make You Think About Your Faith

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It’s rarely a day goes by that I don’t find a link in my inbox to an article expounding a dramatic list that I need to be gravely concerned about if I have any interest in the future of the Christian faith in general, or my own in particular. Whether it’s “24 Reasons to Believe Hell Is a Reality,” “10 Counterfeit Christ Figures We Should Stop Worshiping,” or “5 Ways to Porn-Proof Your Mind and Marriage” you can be sure that someone has delved deeply into almost any subject you can imagine and summarised our proper response neatly into a reasoned list. If one of these subjects is a hot topic for you, then you may find such an article helpful, or validating. More often than not these days I will skim over them or ignore them completely – I don’t have time to devour all the information being fed to me every day.

But here are four articles that have cropped up recently that I thought were worth sharing because of the common theme they express – one that is very important to me – that we shouldn’t take everything we see, hear or read unthinkingly. We are all capable of misinterpreting God’s word, and so are the people who we turn to for teaching. I don’t agree with every word in the following articles, and if you read the comments at the bottom of the pages you’ll find individuals who vehemently disagree. Sometimes these critics are missing the author’s point and/or unwittingly proving it. The point, in each case, is basically that God has given you a mind and you should use it rather than blindly accepting things that on the surface may seem right and obvious, but underneath are not so clear-cut.

7 Quirky ‘Doctrines’ That Should Be Debunked (J. Lee Grady)

This article has the least resonance with the issues I’ve come across on my journey, but it’s a good introduction to the subject, nicely pointing out that the doctrines described are not really about faith but rather superstition.

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About The Bible (John Pavlovitz)

A very thoughtful piece, perhaps best summed up by these lines:

The Bible is not God, the Bible is a library filled with words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can gain wisdom, and grow in faith through it. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ, and the path we’re to walk in its pages.

We can even love the Bible, (I certainly do), but we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.

4 of the Most Misquoted Verses in the Bible (Brian Orme)

This should really have been titled “most misinterpreted” rather than “most misquoted.” You can quote the verse, full or partial, correctly from any translation of the Bible, and if you take it out of its proper context completely lose its true meaning. This is a particular bugbear of mine. I feel the tension rise inside me when I hear certain verses mis-used even by people for whom I have the most love and respect.

9 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe (Shane Pruitt)

This article helpfully brings us full circle. It shows how not only do we misinterpret Bible verses, but we can even start believing unbiblical statements and turning them into the kind of doctrines that J. Lee Grady wrote about.

I hope these articles give you food for thought. I expect that if you’re anything like me you’ll find it quite easy to recognise some of the flaws they describe in writers and speakers you are familiar with. The real challenge is to recognise those same flaws in yourself (myself) and not be too proud admit them.

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