Asking for the Wrong Thing Wednesday, Oct 6 2010 

I was reading Acts 3:1-10 this morning – it’s the story of Peter and John healing the crippled beggar outside the temple courts.

When I have read this story in the past, I have usually focused in on the man’s reaction to his healing. He goes away walking and praising God (rightfully so).

But this morning I was struck by another aspect of the story.

This man has spent his whole life begging – the passage says he was born a cripple and placed outside the temple every day to beg for money. This is how he survived; he couldn’t do any other kind of work, so he relied on the generosity of others.

When Peter and John come along, not only do they give him their full attention (instead of just ignoring him), they give him something far greater than the money he is begging for. They give him full and complete healing from his crippled condition, in the name of Jesus Christ.

And what strikes me is that perhaps this cripple had been asking for the wrong thing all along. He thought he needed the money just to survive, just to get by and keep living. But what he really needed was healing from his condition. I wonder – he spent his days outside a temple – why did he never think to ask for healing? Perhaps he didn’t realise he needed it. Perhaps he didn’t think it was possible. Perhaps he didn’t think he had a right to ask for it. Or (this one really rings true for me) perhaps it was just too easy to keep going in survival mode.

Reflecting on my own life, I wonder how many times I am asking God for the wrong thing. I am asking him for handouts just to get by and survive – whether that be in my marriage, my work or my daily life. When what God really wants (and what I need) is to have my whole life transformed by the healing only he can bring.

Where am I asking for the wrong thing?

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Jesus and Leviticus Sunday, Jun 15 2008 

I’ve recently started reading through Leviticus, the third book in the Old Testament. I’m hoping to read through the whole OT this year, but I’m not going very well so far.

When I started reading Leviticus, I kinda thought, “Great, now I have to read through lists and lists of boring rules. Can’t wait til this is over with!”

But I half-heartedly prayed that God would use it to reveal more of himself to me. So I just wanted to let you know what God has been showing me so far.

I’m only up to about chapter 7. It’s been all about offerings (animal sacrifices) so far: the Sin Offering, the Guilt Offering, the Fellowship Offering, etc. It gives descriptions of which offerings should be made and how the priests are to make them.

Whenever it describes the right type of animal to offer, it will say “a young bull without defect” or “an animal without defect”. That was a point I kind of skimmed over as I read, but last week in church, we sung the song “Consider Christ”. Part of the song goes:

Consider Christ, the source of our salvation

that he should take the penalty for me.

Though he was pure, a lamb without a blemish,

he took my sins and nailed them to the tree.

It’s that part about Jesus being a “lamb without a blemish” that really jumped out at me after reading through Leviticus.

Jesus is the sacrifice that atones for our sins: he had to be “without defect” for the sacrifice to be acceptable to God.

The second thing that God has shown me through Leviticus is about His amazing mercy.

In Leviticus, God tells the people that they need to make sacrifices to pay the price for their sins, because they are his people.

One thing that surprised me is that the people could sin even if they weren’t aware. A common phrase I have come across is:

If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. -Leviticus 5:17

That sounds a bit harsh at first, but consider that it is God who chose the Isrealites, and he certainly had the right to set down rules for them if they were to be his people.

Anyway, tonight in church, someone mentioned the following verse:

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” -Luke 23:33-34

In Jesus asking God to forgive the soldiers for a sin (killing God) that they did not know they were committing, he is revealing amazing, unprecedented mercy.

God had every right to judge them, even if they didn’t know it was wrong at the time. But Jesus, the very one whom they are killing, speaks up on their behalf to God. He is the sacrifice for the sins they are committing unintentionally.

Those are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about in Leviticus. Hopefully God will continue to teach me, even if I am a reluctant student at times.

Reflections on Job Saturday, Jan 26 2008 

I’ve just finished reading the book of Job in the Bible during my personal times of study.

I guess you could say it’s a book with a happy ending…

During the course of the story, Job has everything taken away from him: his wealth, his children and even his health. His friends spend a long time lecturing him on how bad he must have been to warrant such punishment. He starts to think that maybe God got it wrong, and has some answering to do.

Well, God shows up eventually, but he doesn’t respond the way Job would have liked. He poetically and powerfully points out that He is, in fact, the one who is in charge and holds the very earth together. Job repents of his doubt in God.

And (here’s the happy ending) God gives him even more than he had to begin with.

But I don’t like Job for it’s happy ending. And even though the poetry and dialogue is great, that’s not what stikes a chord in my heart.

I like the way Job gives us such a perfect picture of God’s sovereignty. You simply cannot come away from reading Job and still doubt that God is in control of your life.

You see, although God doesn’t make the bad things happen to Job, he allows Satan to do them. In the very beginning of the book, we get an insight into the conversation between God and Satan. God is telling Satan how loyal and righteous Job is. Satan says that Job is only loyal because God has blessed him. A hint of trouble, he says, and Job will curse God. So God lets Satan go and strip everything away from Job.

Just think about this…

The more devoted we are to God, the more loyal, the more secure in his arms…. the more the devil is going to try and tempt us away.

Certainly in my life, when things are going well… temptation strikes. When I’m praising God, the temptation to doubt or even curse him is closely following.

Days after I thanked God for being able to see my grandfather, he died.

And so the pattern is: God is good. I am tempted to believe otherwise.

Back to Job…

Well, he doesn’t curse God. Do you know what he says?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

-Job 1:21

It just amazes me how he can still be so thankful. I mean, I complain when I get a few leaves stuck on my car windscreen! And here we have Job who has lost his livestock, most of his servants and all his children…. and all he says is praise to God!

I think we all have a lot to learn from Job about thankfulness. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful witness to our friends and family to praise God’s name, no matter what the circumstances. And I’m not suggesting we should be ‘happy all the time’, ‘just wear a smile a bear it’ sort of people. What I’m talking about is crying out to God in our times of hardship for thankful hearts. Thankfulness needs to come from the inside. You may never shed a tear, but God will know if you are inwardly resentful.

So let’s embrace whatever comes with thankful hearts, as we recognise that it was God who gave us everything in the first place!

But the story isn’t over. Satan comes back to God, with more evil in his heart. Very well, he says, Job hasn’t cursed you. But wait and see what happens if you lay a finger on his  body.

So God allows Satan to go back to Job, this time harming him. But God says that Satan must not kill Job.

Notice that Satan needs God’s permission to do anything to Job. He even needed permission in the first place to take all his things away. God is always in control.

And if the suffering in our lives has God’s stamp of approval on it, then it will not be more than can be beared in his strength. God sets the limits. Never does he give Satan free reign.

So, following this rendevous with God, Satan goes off and covers Job, from head to toe, in “painful sores”. The Bible says they were literally covering him “from the soles of his feet to the top of his head”.

Even at this stage, Job still does not sin against God by cursing him.

By now, Job’s friends wander over, and when they see the state he is in, they conclude that he must have been a very naughty boy. Which is what they spend the majority of the book telling him.

It is good, however, that they realise the supernatural nature of what has happened to Job. I’d imagine if something like all that happened to someone today in our society, people would label him as “bad luck”, but I don’t think anyone would say that he had done something wrong before God. Let alone that Satan was tempting him.

Despite the fact that his friends think they’re so clever, God tells them off at the end of the book for speaking wrongly of him. The whole time, they were trying to pin all the bad stuff on God, when it was actually the devil doing it.

That’s what makes the book so interesting for me. Right at the start, you get a heavenly perspective, then all the dialogue between the people, and then God comes back onto the scene right at the end. Thinking back to highschool English, this is a bit of dramatic irony. It’s where we, the audience, know exactly what’s going on, but the characters in the story are oblivious.

Which is why I found myself shaking my head as Job’s friends take their turn to speak. When they try to say that God is punishing Job (something which sounds quite reasonable, given the circumstances) it is just pure nonsense in light of the conversation between God and Satan.

But how often do I speak on God’s behalf, whilst not really knowing his divine purpose? I’m not going to pretend that we can ever really know why he does certain things, but we can know his character from the Bible. And we can know that he is always good.

When God comes to talk to Job at the end of the book, it is really amazing. If you ever need any reminders about God’s power, read chapters 38-41 of Job, and meditate on it.

Job certainly comforts me to know that 1. God is good – he does not allow bad things to happen to people for no reason, but rather to strengthen their grasp on him or tell them to reach out for him, 2. God is sovereign – he is completely in control, even when Satan is tempting us to doubt that, 3. As a Christian, I should expect to suffer – James says we should welcome trials as “pure joy” (it’s amazing how many times I’ve referred to that passage in the past week).

I daresay, at this stage in my life, I am a stranger to real suffering.

I wonder how it will affect the way I encounter trials and temptations in my life if, instead of seeing them as times to question his goodness, I see them as opportunities to cling even more tightly to the hand of my heavenly Father and praise his name…

>thinking out loud>>> Tuesday, Jun 12 2007 

I guess an appropriate way to start blogging would be to explain my blog title.

It refers to Isaiah 40, my most dearly loved passage in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Isaiah was a prophet, and this passage is the part where God tells his people that he is going to save them.

It begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

God is fulfilling his promise to his people. I love the imagery used to show the enduring power of God’s word, compared to humans and our power.

“All men are like grass,
       and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
       because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
       Surely the people are grass.

 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
       but the word of our God stands forever.”

 I am but a flower of the field, here for a short time. I want to use that time to show those around me the love of God.