What Has Jesus Ever Done For Us?

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

4 Articles To Make You Think About Your Faith

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.

Thinking
http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/brainloc-32259

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.

Much Dreaming and Many Words

I can’t say that I have a favourite Bible verse. There are many that I return to time and again, according to my mood and the season of my life. One of those is Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” It means a lot to me, particularly in my current season. But I didn’t want to talk about that today because it’s too well known and too obvious – I like to not be obvious! But the word “fear” struck me. I know the Bible has a lot to say about fear, so I looked for more examples and this verse leapt out:

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
(Ecclesiastes 5:7)

This is a verse I want to keep in my heart, for several reasons.

It comes at the end of a passage in which the writer is warning about making hasty vows to God. It’s very easy to make promises in the heat of the moment, at a time of desperation. But God knows whether you are able to keep that promise, and He won’t be impressed if you make one that you can’t follow through with. Why would you try to impress God anyway? Maybe you say something unwise in a public situation not to impress God, but (consciously or not) to impress other people. That’s just as foolish, or maybe more so.

Out of context there are other subtle variations of the message that appeal to me: why keep dreaming impossible, and meaningless, dreams? Make your aspirations realistic, so you can achieve them and actually do some good instead of just talking about doing something great.

I like to play with the phrase “many words are meaningless” as a warning not to babble on about things, just to keep to the point, and keep it short and simple. I’ve certainly sat through some sermons where this would apply! And I know I’m sometimes guilty of using six words where one will do!

But I can’t help smiling most at the blunt conclusion “Therefore fear God.” At the end of the day, whatever we think, whatever we say, and indeed whatever we do, it’s not about us, it’s about God, and that’s where our focus should be throughout the good, the bad and the ugly days.

So in very simple terms, the verse is telling us: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, keep your feet on the ground, and put God first.” That’s wisdom to hold on to every day.

Selah

Selah — a term of uncertain meaning found in the Hebrew text of the Psalms and Habakkuk carried over untranslated into some English versions (Merriam-Webster)

Uncertain meaning, but scholars have studied the word and come to some conclusions. The most commonly accepted definitions are to measure or weigh (from ‘calah’) or to pause (from ‘salah’). I like the way the Amplified Bible puts these meanings together, and comments after each rendition of Selah

“Pause, and calmly think about that.”

What I’ve done below is to gather the 74 verses which contain the word, and presented them in isolation for you to read, and then to pause, and calmly think about them.

I do not recommend that you try to do this with all the verses in one session! You might want to take one or two at a time, either sequentially from 1 to 74, or perhaps just picking a random number and focusing on that verse.

I want to make a few more observations.

First, while most of the verses are uplifting in the way they describe God’s wonderful attributes, some have a more melancholy feel. For example, the fourth, Psalm 4:2 – How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? We don’t always like to dwell on verses like these, but we should do so anyway, because they help us recognise our weaknesses, or our challenges, or our enemies.

Second, I’ve done something here that I really don’t like doing, and which I will criticise others for doing, and that is to present these verses completely out of context. I’m not even using them to support an argument or opinion. They are simply there, in black and white, and I pray that God will speak to you through them. But if they don’t seem complete in themselves, I urge you to click the link and then expand the passage to view the whole psalm or chapter.

Finally, you may notice occasional repetition. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I tend to think if God repeats Himself, He probably has a very good reason for doing so. Pause, and calmly think about that!

  1. Psalm 3:2
    Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah
  2. Psalm 3:4
    I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah
  3. Psalm 3:8
    Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
  4. Psalm 4:2
    How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness And seek falsehood? Selah
  5. Psalm 4:4
    Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
  6. Psalm 7:5
    Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; Yes, let him trample my life to the earth, And lay my honor in the dust. Selah
  7. Psalm 9:16
    The Lord is known by the judgment He executes; The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Meditation. Selah
  8. Psalm 9:20
    Put them in fear, O Lord, That the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah
  9. Psalm 20:3
    May He remember all your offerings, And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah
  10. Psalm 21:2
    You have given him his heart’s desire, And have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
  11. Psalm 24:6
    This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face. Selah
  12. Psalm 24:10
    Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah
  13. Psalm 32:4
    For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
  14. Psalm 32:5
    I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
  15. Psalm 32:7
    You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
  16. Psalm 39:5
    Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah
  17. Psalm 39:11
    When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity, You make his beauty melt away like a moth; Surely every man is vapor. Selah
  18. Psalm 44:8
    In God we boast all day long, And praise Your name forever. Selah
  19. Psalm 46:3
    Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
  20. Psalm 46:7
    The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
  21. Psalm 46:11
    The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
  22. Psalm 47:4
    He will choose our inheritance for us, The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah
  23. Psalm 48:8
    As we have heard, So we have seen In the city of the Lord of hosts, In the city of our God: God will establish it forever. Selah
  24. Psalm 49:13
    This is the way of those who are foolish, And of their posterity who approve their sayings. Selah
  25. Psalm 49:15
    But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me. Selah
  26. Psalm 50:6
    Let the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is Judge. Selah
  27. Psalm 52:3
    You love evil more than good, Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah
  28. Psalm 52:5
    God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
  29. Psalm 54:3
    For strangers have risen up against me, And oppressors have sought after my life; They have not set God before them. Selah
  30. Psalm 55:7
    Indeed, I would wander far off, And remain in the wilderness. Selah
  31. Psalm 55:19
    God will hear, and afflict them, Even He who abides from of old. Selah Because they do not change, Therefore they do not fear God.
  32. Psalm 57:3
    He shall send from heaven and save me; He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
  33. Psalm 57:6
    They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down; They have dug a pit before me; Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah
  34. Psalm 59:5
    You therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, Awake to punish all the nations; Do not be merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah
  35. Psalm 59:13
    Consume them in wrath, consume them, That they may not be; And let them know that God rules in Jacob To the ends of the earth. Selah
  36. Psalm 60:4
    You have given a banner to those who fear You, That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah
  37. Psalm 61:4
    I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah
  38. Psalm 62:4
    They only consult to cast him down from his high position; They delight in lies; They bless with their mouth, But they curse inwardly. Selah
  39. Psalm 62:8
    Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
  40. Psalm 66:4
    All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name. Selah
  41. Psalm 66:7
    He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
  42. Psalm 66:15
    I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, With the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Selah
  43. Psalm 67:1
    God be merciful to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us, Selah
  44. Psalm 67:4
    Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth. Selah
  45. Psalm 68:7
    O God, when You went out before Your people, When You marched through the wilderness, Selah
  46. Psalm 68:19
    Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation! Selah
  47. Psalm 68:32
    Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; Oh, sing praises to the Lord, Selah
  48. Psalm 75:3
    The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved; I set up its pillars firmly. Selah
  49. Psalm 76:3
    There He broke the arrows of the bow, The shield and sword of battle. Selah
  50. Psalm 76:9
    When God arose to judgment, To deliver all the oppressed of the earth. Selah
  51. Psalm 77:3
    I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah
  52. Psalm 77:9
    Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah
  53. Psalm 77:15
    You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
  54. Psalm 81:7
    You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
  55. Psalm 82:2
    How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
  56. Psalm 83:8
    Assyria also has joined with them; They have helped the children of Lot. Selah
  57. Psalm 84:4
    Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah
  58. Psalm 84:8
    O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
  59. Psalm 85:2
    You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Selah
  60. Psalm 87:3
    Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God! Selah
  61. Psalm 87:6
    The Lord will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.” Selah
  62. Psalm 88:7
    Your wrath lies heavy upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah
  63. Psalm 88:10
    Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You? Selah
  64. Psalm 89:4
    ‘Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations.’ Selah
  65. Psalm 89:37
    It shall be established forever like the moon, Even like the faithful witness in the sky. Selah
  66. Psalm 89:45
    The days of his youth You have shortened; You have covered him with shame. Selah
  67. Psalm 89:48
    What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah
  68. Psalm 140:3
    They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips. Selah
  69. Psalm 140:5
    The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords; They have spread a net by the wayside; They have set traps for me. Selah
  70. Psalm 140:8
    Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked; Do not further his wicked scheme, Lest they be exalted. Selah
  71. Psalm 143:6
    I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah
  72. Habakkuk 3:3
    God came from Teman, The Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His glory covered the heavens, And the earth was full of His praise.
  73. Habakkuk 3:9
    Your bow was made quite ready; Oaths were sworn over Your arrows. Selah You divided the earth with rivers.
  74. Habakkuk 3:13
    You went forth for the salvation of Your people, For salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, By laying bare from foundation to neck. Selah

Of the Wicked and the Godly

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper — it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land. Soon the wicked will disappear. Though you look for them, they will be gone. The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity.

The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming. The wicked draw their swords and string their bows to kill the poor and the oppressed, to slaughter those who do right. But their swords will stab their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich. For the strength of the wicked will be shattered, but the Lord takes care of the godly. Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough. But the wicked will die.

The Lord’s enemies are like flowers in a field — they will disappear like smoke. The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers. Those the Lord blesses will possess the land, but those he curses will die.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread. The godly always give generous loans to others, and their children are a blessing.

Turn from evil and do good, and you will live in the land forever. For the Lord loves justice, and he will never abandon the godly. He will keep them safe forever, but the children of the wicked will die. The godly will possess the land and will live there forever.

The godly offer good counsel; they teach right from wrong. They have made God’s law their own, so they will never slip from his path. The wicked wait in ambush for the godly, looking for an excuse to kill them. But the Lord will not let the wicked succeed or let the godly be condemned when they are put on trial.

Put your hope in the Lord. Travel steadily along his path. He will honor you by giving you the land. You will see the wicked destroyed. I have seen wicked and ruthless people flourishing like a tree in its native soil. But when I looked again, they were gone! Though I searched for them, I could not find them!

Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace. But the rebellious will be destroyed; they have no future. The Lord rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble. The Lord helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him.

King David, Psalm 37, New Living Translation

Careless Words

I lost a Facebook friend today. I hope it’s temporary. I lost her because I challenged her about a status she wrote. It sounded like she was saying a news item was evidence of prophecy from the Book of Revelation being fulfilled.

I asked “what verses are you referring to?” And then I commented again about how careful we need to be as Christians making those kind of statements without backing them up. I compared such statements to those of Harold Camping, who instead of being very unspecific was actually very specific, and made himself – and to an extent Christians as a whole – something of a laughing stock.

I should have been more careful myself about how I expressed my opinion, because it probably came over as an attack when I was actually trying to provide loving guidance. And I certainly would have done better to offer that second comment in a private message instead of on my friend’s wall. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re passionate about something, and ironically we both made mistakes because we’re passionate about the same thing – leading people to Christ.

I’m making my apology to my friend privately, and whether she chooses to accept it is her decision. Here I want to explain a bit more clearly, and more fully, a mistake I think many Christians make.

I’ve been thinking recently about how frustrating it can be, that the Bible starts and ends with the two books that can lead to the most arguments, misconceptions and ridicule, both between Christians and non-believers, and also between fellow Christians! Please let us never forget that the core message we need to declare is in the heart of God’s word – in the Gospels. It’s the message of salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not saying the rest of the Bible is insignificant, but it has to always be read with reference to Christ’s love, His promise of forgiveness, and our commission to spread that news to the world.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind – 2 Timothy 1:7. For this reason, I don’t believe in scaremongering. There are plenty of things for the faithless to be scared about in this world, plenty of worries and concerns. As Christians we have the reassurance of God’s promises that He will provide for us (Matthew 6:33), that He won’t leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that He has a place prepared for us in eternity (John 14:3). It is these reassurances that will move people’s hearts, rather than the equally true promise of weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are not saved (Luke 13:28). Yes, there is a place for that teaching, but it needs to be considered very carefully, because few will hear it.

Revelation is a very difficult book to understand clearly. It’s so full of symbolism, imagery and metaphor, and it was originally written for an audience who understood its language very differently to the way we do today. So it’s dangerous to quote it at any time with reference to current world events. There are those who believe dearly in the literal truth of every word of the Bible. I respect those people, but I’m not one of them, and I’ll tackle that particular topic in more detail another day, but for now it’s sufficient to say that I believe in the truth of the lessons conveyed in God’s word. So in Revelation, for example, there are lessons about the corruption of the secular world, about Christ’s ultimate victory over evil, and about the final judgement we will all face.

When news stories are quoted in parallel with Revelation’s prophecies, it’s almost like quoting them with reference to Nostradamus – there’s enough vagueness – and symbolism – in the language that the prophecy can be retro-fitted to all manner of events. We have to remember that Christ’s imminent return has been expected by every generation since He ascended to Heaven. He may return tomorrow, but really, why is it any more likely that it will be our generation that sees Him come, rather than any that went before, or any who will follow? Every disaster, natural or man-made, for hundreds of years, has been seen as an apocalyptic omen by some. How many presidents of the United States have been rumoured to be the anti-christ? None of this helps the Christian mission. None of it glorifies God. However sincere you are in your beliefs about the end times, you have to also humbly acknowledge that God’s timetable is not available to us, and it is presumptuous to suggest otherwise.

As I said earlier, the promise of God’s salvation, freely available to all through faith in Christ, is the message we need to get out there. When someone turns to Christ, and becomes a new creation in Him, then the Holy Spirit can really get to work on cleaning up the sin in that person’s life.

The end times are important, and are something the faithful can look forward to with a glad heart, but whenever we speak about them, the words of Christ in Matthew 24 should be clear in our minds. Read the whole chapter, and note in particular these verses:

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.