Learning from Past Mistakes

You would hope that if there is one lesson in life we learn it is learning from past mistakes.

Many years ago I had a car accident when I was driving in some bad weather. It had been snowing and some of the roads were icy. I was driving to a friend’s house and took a short cut down a side road. Next thing I knew I had crashed into a tree.

The big mistake I made was to go down the side road, which unfortunately was icy. I should have kept on the main roads which were fine.

I learnt two important lessons that day which I have never forgotten. Firstly, that I should drive carefully when the road conditions are treacherous. Also secondly, I should keep to the main roads in icy conditions even if it makes the journey longer.

I have never forgotten those two lessons and have certainly learnt from my past mistake in this area.

Sadly there are other areas of my life in which I have not learnt from my past mistakes. One of which is thinking before I open my mouth.

If I could write a letter back to my younger self I would stress the importance of watching what I say. There have been a number of difficult situations I have got myself into over the years due to my mouth.

You might hope that eventually I will grasp this lesson: “Think before you speak!”

Today I was reading Ezekiel 23 in which God gave a word to the prophet about Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem).

After watching Oholah prostitute herself to the Egyptians and Assyrians and seeing her humiliated we are told in v11

“Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet in her lust and prostitution she was more depraved than her sister.”

We are told in the remainder of the chapter about the full extent of Oholibah’s sin and the subsequent judgement that both sisters would encounter.

You might have thought that Oholibah would have learnt from the sin of Oholah. Surely she would not copy the bad example of her sister? Sadly though she did not learn and exceeded her sister’s wickedness.

There is a lesson for us here. It’s quite simple. Learn from past mistakes, both your own and others, and adjust your life accordingly.

 

Come and See

The following sermon entitled “Come and See” is from John1:43-51 where Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael.

As I read today’s passage the words in the second part of v46 “come and see” caught my attention. Philip said these words in response to Nathanael saying “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

There are five things I think we can learn from the phrase “come and see” and what happened as a result of Nathanael following that advice.

It was Nathanael’s responsibility to respond to Philip’s invitation to come and see Jesus.

Philip faithfully opened his mouth to speak about Jesus. He didn’t force a response from Nathaniel but rather pointed him to Jesus. Philip gave the invitation, “come and see”. It was though Nathanael’s responsibility to respond to it.

Likewise the same applies to us. We share and point others to Jesus and leave the outcome in His hands. The outcome of our invitation for people to respond to Christ is not our responsibility.

It is not our fault if they do not respond. We may be understandably disappointed or upset but it’s not our fault. If we realise that the outcome is not in our hands then that takes the pressure of us!

Philip pointed the way to Jesus

We see in v45 that Philip tells Nathaniel that ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’

Then when Nathaniel responds “can anything good come out of Nazareth”, Philip responds by again pointing him to Jesus by saying “Come and See”.

In our reading Philip points to a person i.e. Jesus and not to an institution i.e. the synagogue.

During advent in a sermon about John the Baptist, we were reminded that we should point people to Jesus and not to church.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying don’t invite people along to church. If there is someone you are thinking of inviting to church then that is obviously a good thing to do.

I would say though that the reason we invite people should not be just to get extra people at our church but rather because we want people to experience the saving power of Christ.

The challenging question we need to ask ourselves is like Philip, do we point others to Christ?

Without Philip being the link in the chain would Nathanael have ever met Jesus?

Could we be that vital link in the chain for someone to meet Christ?

Of course God can speak to people through dreams and visions. There are stories of people in countries where the church is persecuted where Jesus has appeared in a dream and revealed Himself to a person.

However the general rule of thumb is that God uses ordinary people like us to share His word and point others to Christ. If we don’t do this then how will they hear?

There is a story of the angels looking down from heaven and seeing that God had given man the responsibility to spread the gospel became worried. They asked Him what the back-up plan was and God said, “There is no plan B!”

When you think of a well known Christian then don’t forget that someone during their life has pointed them to Jesus.

Someone led Billy Graham to Christ. If they had not done this millions of people would not have known God.

You never know how much God might do through that person who you share Christ with!

Philip was not put off by a difficult question from Nathaniel.

Philip was asked a difficult question: “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It doesn’t actually say this in so many words in the passage but I expect that Philip was quite excited about having met with Jesus. So he went and found his friend Nathaniel to tell him the exciting news that he had found the one that the scriptures had said would come. I wonder what he thought when Nathaniel said “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

However rather than allowing himself to be side-tracked or tied up in a theological conversation about the place of the town of Nazareth in God’s plan he simply invited Nathaniel to “come and see”.

We do not need to know the answers to all theological questions before we can point someone to Jesus.

This does not mean that we should not attempt to answer people’s questions. Peter encourages us to “always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15)

However there are some questions that are difficult to answer. For example: there is no easy answer to the question of suffering. Sometimes it is better to point to Jesus rather than get stuck down with certain questions, especially those of the red herring type.

Sadly even if we provide satisfactory answers to all the questions we are asked not everyone will respond. Some people like asking questions but don’t really want to know the answers.

Nathaniel had to humble himself to “come and see”

Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” You could tell that he was not impressed with Nazareth. In The Message translation this expression is translated as “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”

We’ve not told why in this passage but Nathaniel decided to take up Philip’s offer to “come and see.” This would have required him to humble himself and to be prepared to admit that there was the possibility that he could be wrong.

However as Nathaniel did this and encountered Jesus he was amazed and blown away by Jesus. If he had not been willing to humble himself then he would never had met with Christ.

Humbling yourself is not something that is popular in today’s society. So often these days it about “me” and telling everybody how great we are.

However unless we are prepared to humble ourselves and admit our need of God then we will never know God.

James 4: 6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:10 “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Nathaniel had a firsthand experience of Jesus.

We see in v43 that Philip had responded to the invitation from Jesus to follow Him. This invitation required a personal response from Philip, to which he did respond. Philip then went and found his friend Nathaniel and told him what had happened to him.

Nathaniel though could not just rely on Philip’s word or experience. He had to experience Jesus for himself. When Nathaniel met Christ he truly believed for himself. His eyes were opened. He knew it was real. He personalised his faith.

Christian faith always requires a personal response. A genuine Biblical Christian faith is not something that we can inherit from our parents or family.

Sadly it is possible to attend church each week and not have ever personally met Christ. I would say to anyone who may not have ever met Christ to “come and see.”

I could tell you how wonderful it is to experience forgiveness of sins, God’s peace in difficult times and to know hope in this world. You might say to me:  “that is fine for you”. All of us though, no matter who we are need to experience this firsthand. Don’t just take my word for it, but “come and see” for yourself.

Don’t rely on a secondhand experience of Christian faith.

Don’t rely on the faith of another person but instead “come and see” for yourself.

Today may we all be like Nathaniel who responded to the invitation to “come and see” Jesus and truly met Him and encountered the wonder of God’s Son, Jesus.

 

 

 

Intimate With Jesus

The following devotional “Intimate with Jesus” is taken from the Oswald Chambers book My Utmost for His Highest.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?” —John 14:9

These words were not spoken as a rebuke, nor even with surprise; Jesus was encouraging Philip to draw closer. Yet the last person we get intimate with is Jesus. Before Pentecost the disciples knew Jesus as the One who gave them power to conquer demons and to bring about a revival (see Luke 10:18-20). It was a wonderful intimacy, but there was a much closer intimacy to come: “…I have called you friends…” (John 15:15). True friendship is rare on earth. It means identifying with someone in thought, heart, and spirit. The whole experience of life is designed to enable us to enter into this closest relationship with Jesus Christ. We receive His blessings and know His Word, but do we really know Him?

Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away…” (John 16:7). He left that relationship to lead them even closer. It is a joy to Jesus when a disciple takes time to walk more intimately with Him. The bearing of fruit is always shown in Scripture to be the visible result of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ (see John 15:1-4).

Once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely and we never lack for understanding or compassion. We can continually pour out our hearts to Him without being perceived as overly emotional or pitiful. The Christian who is truly intimate with Jesus will never draw attention to himself but will only show the evidence of a life where Jesus is completely in control. This is the outcome of allowing Jesus to satisfy every area of life to its depth. The picture resulting from such a life is that of the strong, calm balance that our Lord gives to those who are intimate with Him.

The devotional can be found here.

Using My Time Wisely in 2015

As this year comes to a close and a new one arrives many people will be making their New Year resolutions. I have not made any resolutions myself however one thing I would like to address is that I might understand the importance of using my time wisely in 2015.

There will be 8,760 hours in 2015 (365 days x 24 hours). That might seem a lot but it soon goes quickly as you get older.

I recently came across the tweet below from the MP Ian Austin after he had watched a recent edition of Question Time.

How often do we feel like that? We might watch some rubbish on TV or spend time browsing the net aimlessly and before we realise it an hour or two has passed. We know that this time has been wasted and the time can never be recovered. It’s so easy just to waste time. So very easy!

Some people pack their life full of activities and leave themselves shattered. Others spend too much time working. You may have heard this before but how many people on their death bed say: “I wish I had spent more time at the office!”

So what will we do with the 8,760 hours of 2015? How much time should we devote to work, resting and leisure?

If you are someone who struggles with using your time wisely perhaps you might like to join me in praying the pray below from Psalm 90:12:

“So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NKJ)

Or as a modern translation has it:

“Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.”(NLT)

So that is my aim for the New Year. I want to use my time wisely in 2015.

Good News that will cause great joy for all the people

We know the story well. Jesus has just been born and an angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds, who naturally are afraid, and says:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12 NIV).

Sometimes we can miss things when we read a passage of scripture that is very familiar to us. I love the phrase “for all the people” from the verses above. It’s easy to miss that short phrase and not grasp the wonder of it.

The angel of the Lord did not say that this is good news for just a select few but for all the people. Yes all of them!

As Jesus walked on this earth he mixed with the poor and the outcast. He ate with sinners and spoke with a Samaritan woman. He healed the sick, including a Roman centurion’s servant. Jesus showed God’s love and mercy to all.

The same still applies today. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor, black or white, old or young, Jew or Gentile the birth of Jesus is still good news for all.

This Christmas may we all truly know the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments

Excellent devotional from Spurgeon on Joel 2:13 “Rend your heart, and not your garment” from the heartlight website

GARMENT-RENDING and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common. Men will attend to the most multiplied and minute ceremonial regulations-for such things are pleasing to the flesh-but true religion is too humbling, too heart-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly. Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up: but they are ultimately delusive, for in the article of death, and at the day of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon. Apart from vital godliness all religion is utterly vain; offered without a sincere heart, every form of worship is a solemn sham and an impudent mockery of the majesty of heaven.

HEART-RENDING is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer. It is not a matter to be merely talked of and believed in, but keenly and sensitively felt in every living child of the living God. It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive; and it is distinctly discriminating, for it belongs to the elect of God, and to them alone.

The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.

Every Day with Jesus One Year Bible

If you are considering reading through the bible in 2015 then you may be interested in the “Every Day with Jesus One Year Bible” which takes the reader through the whole bible in 365 days.

In a similar way to many other reading plans each day includes an Old and New Testament passage, and some verses from the Psalms and Proverbs. The readings start on 1st January from Genesis 1, Matthew 1, Psalm1 and Proverbs 1 and then proceed forward throughout the year. In addition to the daily readings each day also has a devotional thought taken from Selwyn Hughes’ Every Day with Jesus writings.

The advantage of reading the bible in the method described above is that it gives variety to the readings each day. It’s not unusual for someone to pick up their bible and read straight through from Genesis and then start to struggle when they reach the later part of Exodus and the book of Leviticus. This reading plan should hopefully avoid that happening as the reader will be reading from four separate parts of the bible each day.

The readings generally do not last longer than 15 minutes and so what seems a tough target, reading the bible through in one year, is very manageable with this plan.

The version of the bible used for this reading plan is the New International Version.

Pointing to Jesus

John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. In his preaching and proclamations he was pointing to Jesus. Whenever we proclaim God’s word we should be doing the same as John.

We should not be pointing people to the church. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging someone to attend church. We hope as they see God’s people meeting together that they might encounter Christ there. However the church should not be where we point people.

Likewise we should not be pointing people to the bible. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging someone to read the bible. We hope that they encounter Christ whilst reading it. However the bible should not be where we point people.

First and foremost we point to Jesus. He is the one who we wish others to meet. The call is not “come to church” or “come to the bible“ but rather “come to Jesus”.

He must increase but I must decrease

I recently wrote a post about examining our motives. In that post I asked the question: Whose glory am I seeking God’s or mine?

I’ve been reminded of that post this week as I have read some advent devotions which focused on John the Baptist and his call to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3 ESV)

As John came to challenge his hearers to be ready for the appearing of the Lord his focus was on pointing to Christ and not himself. John did not want people to follow himself but to instead follow God’s chosen One.

When John’s disciples came to him concerned about everyone following Jesus instead of John he told them: “He must increase but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 ESV)

What incredible words! John was happy that people were deserting him and following Jesus instead.

John was truly seeking God’s glory and not his own in his ministry otherwise he would never have uttered those words. He knew that his role was to be a signpost pointing people to the one who was to come, the Lord Jesus.

What a challenge for us. So often we can seek our own glory rather than God’s. We want to have loads of people following us on Twitter. We want people to think we write great blog posts and hope that they get shared around the internet.

John the Baptist was not like this though. He was not interested in self-promotion. His desire and motive were simply “He must increase but I must decrease.”