Around the Web May 2021

This week I am sharing some articles written by other Christians during May 2021, which I hope you might find helpful. I have included an extract from the article beneath each link to give an indication of the content of each one.

I’ve sinned again. Will God forgive me?

Jonathan Landry Cruse writes “If you’re struggling with that one sin that never seems to go away, the one that has a perfect record when facing off against you in the ring, that’s when you need the good news of the inexhaustible grace and love of Jesus more than ever. Why? Because when we’re low we’re more likely to believe that devilish lie that God’s love is contingent on our performance. We may think that his forgiveness can be depleted. We sin again—for the umpteenth time—and then think, “Will God really forgive me this time?” For those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, here’s your answer: Yes! To remember that, take to heart these three truths.”

How to Hear a Sermon Well

Scott Hubbard starts this article by saying “No preacher, upon looking up from his pulpit, hopes to see what I saw mid-sermon one Sunday morning: a man in the last row, head tilted against the back wall, sleeping like Rip Van Winkle.

A humbling moment for a young preacher, to be sure. Yet as I remember that drooping face several years later, a question comes to mind that brings a humbling of a different kind: How many church gatherings have I attended where, as far as spiritual attentiveness goes, I might as well have been sleeping?”

In Praise of Deep, Slow Study

Glenna Marshall shares some thoughts about her Bible study group, as they studied the book of Joshua, “In January, my Bible study group began reading the book of Joshua. We finished this week. That’s nearly five full months in one book of the Bible. Week after week, we read a portion of the text and answered the same questions about each passage. We discussed faithfulness, obedience, idolatry, worship, war, apostasy, promises, covenants, and the gospel…….. For these five months, we have laboured to understand, have come with our questions and our struggles, and have been encouraged by the hours of study each person brings to the table.”

Think before you speak. God loves the person you’re disagreeing with

Tim Farrow addresses the important issue of modelling what it means to disagree well. “As Christians we should seek to model a better way. We can – and should – be angry at injustice, but we must see those who take a different view to us as people of immense dignity created in God’s own image. As such, we are to treat them with kindness, gentleness and respect. We see today’s political issues as important to the welfare of our neighbour… but at the same time we also consider those issues to be temporary. Just as every ideology and every government is temporary, so we need not panic or explode in fury if we find ourselves on the losing side, nor gloat and denigrate our opponent if we are winning.”

Moses’ Guide to Postpandemic Parties

Michael J Rhodes says “When I walked up to my church’s outdoor Easter service, my first thought was a joyful one: “I have missed this so much.” But my second thought was much more unsettling: “I forgot how much I missed this.”

The pain of the pandemic has extended to every part of our lives. Some have lost loved ones. Some have lost jobs. Once-in-a-lifetime celebrations have gone uncelebrated. And many churches have made excruciating changes to our worshiping life. For some congregations, that has meant moving most of what we do away from in-person gatherings and on to the Zoom meetings, livestreams, and conference calls that have dominated our waking, working, and worshiping hours.

Prince Harry masked his pain with drink and drugs – so did I but God saved me

Emma Heath speaks about the how Jesus filled her soul with hope. “It amazes me that life was once so dark and hopeless and now, because of what God has done – and is still doing – it’s a life beyond my wildest dreams. Through God, I see how my battles have become blessings, helping people as I journey forwards.

Dealing with pain properly, rather than turning to substances, unhealthy habits or coping strategies is not for the faint hearted. Recovery – and developing new, healthy ways to deal with pain, as well as dealing with the root causes of trauma – takes commitment and dedication. Yet it is so worth it. The more effort you put in, the more you see the changes in yourself. I’ve stopped blaming the world and my past, and instead, through Christ, have learnt to forgive myself and others. The world is a mess and it’s so easy to blame everyone and everything for bad behaviour, yet having faith has helped me to do what I couldn’t do for myself. Change is possible.

Image by Lukas Bieri from Pixabay

Two Types of Exercise

I have recently been away for a few days on holiday down to the coast. During this time, I was able to do several walks ranging from between 5 miles to 12 miles in length. Most of these walks were along sandy beaches. I especially appreciate the beauty of the beach and the sea, never tiring of them. I really enjoy returning from a walk knowing that although I may feel tired, that the walk has benefited me.

It was great just to get away and enjoy the experience of fresh air and sunny weather (well some sunshine at least!). I returned from my holiday feeling fit, refreshed, and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Often when I am away, I think to myself how nice it would be to be able to do this every day. I make plans in my mind about how when I return, I will try to do several hours of exercise more each week. Unfortunately, though this is not possible as 5 days a week I am at work, and therefore cannot fit time in my schedule for this amount of exercise each week.

Whilst I would not describe myself as someone who is obsessed with keeping fit, I do think it is important. I am not a person who visits the gym, my sole form of exercise is walking. Most weeks, I will aim to walk between 20 to 30 minutes per day between Monday to Friday. At the weekends I normally walk between 1 to 2 hours each day. 

However, although I enjoy walking and firmly believe that physical exercise is good for you, I know that we are not put on earth simply for this reason. Why you might ask?

My answer is based on what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:8). I like the way that the Amplified Bible translates that verse:

For physical training is of some value (useful for a little), but godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life which is to come.

For someone like myself, who has always enjoyed sport and exercise, this is an interesting and challenging verse! Paul is not saying that physical exercise is bad. In fact, he fully acknowledges it does have some value for us. However spiritual training / exercise is significantly more beneficial to us. It benefits us both in this life and prepares us for the life to come. Whereas physical exercise is just for now.

Therefore, we need to remember the importance of spiritual exercise, for example: prayer, bible reading, worshipping God, putting sin to death, and living a Godly life for Him.

Keep yourself fit physically but more importantly make sure you keep yourself spiritually fit too.

The FA Cup Final showed why we need fans at football

During the last 14 months we have seen many changes to life as we normally know it. One of those changes has been watching sporting events taking place in empty stadiums.  Instead of hearing the roar of the crowd there has been silence. It just does not seem right. Although the TV companies have given viewers the option of listening to artificial crowd noises. Personally, I am not a big fan of them.

Whilst I like football, I have found myself getting increasingly bored with watching it being played in empty stadiums. In fact, I sometimes find it takes me a while to work out whether a goal has been scored due to the silence in the grounds. Under normal circumstances there would be a roar from the crowd. But now there is nothing. It is just not the same game without the crowd. Football needs the fans. Even a dull game can appear exciting with a lively crowd at the match.

With the lack of crowds and matches devoid of any atmosphere I decided initially not to watch the FA Cup Final last Saturday. My plan was probably to switch on in the last 15 minutes just to see the result. I had no intention of watching 90 minutes of fake crowd noises. However, on the news on Saturday morning they mentioned that there were in fact going to be about 20,000 fans let in for this match. Although that is less than 25% of the capacity of Wembley stadium, it certainly better than zero fans! Additionally, both Chelsea and Leicester City fans are quite noisy, so I changed my mind and decided to watch the game.

I am glad I made that decision because it was great to see football fans back in a stadium for a match. It did look a bit strange though seeing many of them wearing facemasks. That aside I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the game too. It was just like the old days: fans singing for their team, booing certain opposite players, and singing songs directed at the opposition fans. This was football as I remember it. The atmosphere was so different to the 2020 FA Cup Final which was played in front of an empty stadium.

Obviously playing a game at Wembley with 20,000 fans present means that it was over 75% empty. But this is a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully one day soon it will be possible to have stadiums 100% full again and no facemasks on view.

The above image is by David Mark from Pixabay

Your Endurance Inspired by Hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

If you watch a runner competing in the London Marathon, one of the important qualities that they require to finish the race is endurance. They will need to overcome physical hardships and keep on going even when their body would want to give up. What is it that keeps them going when the easiest thing to do would be to quit? There can be any number of personal reasons which motivate them to keep on running and not give up. Deep down inside them they refuse to quit and are determined to finish the race no matter the cost. This is what drives them on to the end.

When Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, he remembered their endurance before God. However, the endurance of the Thessalonians was not one that was based on their own determination but instead it was inspired by their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we use the word hope it is often in the context of optimistically wishing something might happen which may be unlikely e.g. “I hope that it is dry tomorrow” or “I hope my team win the Champions League!” However, this is not the way that the word hope is used in the bible. The Greek word here is taken from one that means “to anticipate, usually with pleasure.” It signifies an expectation or confidence. This of course is not in ourselves but in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul reminds us.

Many years ago, we used to sing a worship song that contained the line “we have a hope that is steadfast and certain.” The Christian hope is indeed one that is certain and unwavering. It is a trust in the One whom God raised from the dead and who is currently interceding on our behalf at the Father’s right hand. Our hope is not dependent on either our feelings or circumstances but instead it is based in the eternal God.

Today in many countries around the world Christians are persecuted for their faith in Christ. In North Korea just being known as a Christian is enough for an individual to be sent to one of the horrific labour camps in that country. Yet despite this Christians are prepared to suffer and die for Christ. What gives them the strength to continue in these circumstances? One of the answers to this is contained in Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians “your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Do you have this hope that Paul describes?

Six Articles to Read

This week I am sharing some articles written by other Christians which I hope you might find helpful. I have included an extract from the article beneath each link to give an indication of the content of each one.

9 Practical Tips for Bible Reading

George Sinclair starts this article off by saying “You will never have enough time to read the Bible. If you wait until you have enough time to read the Bible, you will rarely read the Bible. The world, the flesh and the devil will help fill your day. This means that you have to choose to take time. You will have to sacrifice doing something else so you have time to read God’s word and pray to Him. You need to pray that the Lord will help you set time aside so you can spend time with Him. Here are some pointers.”

Why churches must never require Covid passports

Jesus did not put requirements on coming into his presence, and neither should we, argues Rev Dr Matthew Roberts, one of over 1,000 church leaders to have signed an open letter to parliament in opposition to vaccine passports 

Our Lord Jesus, for obvious reasons, never met anyone with Covid. But he did meet numerous people with another infectious disease, and one that was arguably much worse. Leprosy was, with good reason, feared by the people of Jesus’ day. It attacked the skin and living flesh, causing hideous wounds and often death, though not without years of suffering first. It also brought social isolation of the most miserable sort. To be a leper was to be cut off from society; God’s law required it.

Why should I read John Stott?

Chris Wright asks the question and supplies the answer: “Why should anyone in the 21st century read books by someone whose prime years of global evangelical leadership were fifty years ago in the 20th?  The answer could be summarized in three words that we use in Langham Preaching to identify what is required in good biblical preaching: Faithfulness, Relevance, and Clarity.”

A Royal Funeral with a message for everyone

Murray Campbell shares some thoughts on the recent funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.

“As we viewed the royal funeral from our sofa, absorbing the sight of the ceremonial and the personal, the figure of a Queen in mourning and the sound of stunningly beautiful music, the common face death struck a note.”

It’s Far Too Easy To Buy A Tiger

Tim Challies says “We do hear about people who welcome big cats into their homes and we all have a pretty good idea of how such stories are likely to end. While we would be surprised to hear of a man being killed by his pet hamster or pet budgie, we are not at all surprised to hear of a man being mauled by his pet tiger. Why are we not surprised? Precisely because it’s a tiger!”

The Sweet Grief of Repentance

Greg Moore recalls “I can still see the moment clearly in my mind. At a Christian conference, a friend whom I had been studying the Bible with that semester shared with our group that he was ready to follow Jesus. He broke down in tears. We were football players. We didn’t cry. I honestly couldn’t believe it. He not only accepted my invitation to attend the conference, but he even repented of sin and believed upon Christ for the forgiveness of sins. I sat watching it unfold in absolute awe.”

Praying for the Persecuted Church part 2

Whilst speaking about the destruction of the Temple and signs of the end times, Jesus warns his disciples that they will face persecution as followers of Him from within their own family.

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” (Mark 13)

In the latest Open Doors prayer diary for March and April there are some examples of this:

  • In India, a wife was so badly beaten by her husband when he found her praying that she had to have five stitches in her head.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, a wife is being beaten by her husband and he is threatening to divorce her because of her faith in Jesus.
  • In the Arabian Peninsula a sister is facing severe abuse from her family-in-law since accepting Christ.
  • In Tanzania, a young lady who is 18 years old, secretly converted to Christianity after graduating from high school. She was selected to attend a college, but when her family learnt of her conversion, they rejected her and stopped paying her college fees.

In the West we might complain about Christianity being marginalised and be concerned about what could happen in the future. However, in many counties in this world the price of following Christ is very high as we can see in the examples above. They already right now are facing some incredibly tough situations. There are also other countries where it is just too dangerous for people to be open about their faith and they must keep it secret.

If you wish to pray for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the countries where it is most dangerous to follow Him, then the following resource will be helpful to you.

World Watch list 2021

In January, each year Open Doors publish their World Watch list which lists the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. The top 10 countries are currently:

  1. North Korea
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Somalia
  4. Libya
  5. Pakistan
  6. Eritrea
  7. Sudan
  8. Yemen
  9. Iran
  10. India

For many years Open Doors have been doing a very good job in supporting the worldwide persecuted church and if this is something that interests you, I would highly recommend that you explore their website.

Praying for the Persecuted Church

There are many countries in the world today where life can be difficult for Christians. In these countries both individual believers and the church face persecution for their faith.  For those Christians who live in Muslim countries Ramadan can be especially tough and challenging for them.

We may at times feel helpless to know how we can assist and support our fellow Christians in their struggles. One thing we can do though is to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But what should we pray?

Open Doors is an organisation that works to supports the persecuted church throughout the world. There are many resources available on their website to help us in praying for our fellow Christians.

They also have a prayer diary and the following five prayers are taken from this month’s issue in which some of the prayers focus on Christians in Muslim countries during Ramadan.

  • Ramadan is a lonely time for many believers from Muslim backgrounds, especially those who must keep their faith secret. Many feel intimated because they are not fasting. Pray that isolated believers will know the Lord’s comfort and be strengthened in their faith.
  • There is an urgent need for Christians who can stand by  believers from Muslim backgrounds, to model the Christian life to them. Pray that churches will be places where  believers from Muslim backgrounds are warmly welcomed and receive the love and care they need – especially during Ramadan.
  • Believers from Muslim backgrounds often visit their families during Ramadan in Malaysia, but these visits can be incredibly difficult, as not every family member supports their decision to follow  Christ. Pray for wisdom for these believers and ask God to use them to open the hearts of their families to the love of Jesus.
  • Pray for wisdom and boldness for Christians in Muslim majority areas looking for ways to share the love of Christ with their Muslim neighbours during Ramadan. Pray that many Muslims will begin their journey towards Jesus as a result of their witness.
  • A Christian in Indonesia was rejected by his family when he became a believer, but he still plans to visit them this Ramadan because he wants them to know about Jesus. Pray for courage and protection as he shares the good news and ask the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of his children and relatives to receive the seed of the gospel.

Open Doors do a very good job in supporting the persecuted church and if this is something that interests you I would highly recommend that you explore their website

The Road to Emmaus

Devastated! That is how I felt. I had hoped that he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. But our dreams were cruelly shattered. It was over.

Last Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem it seemed like my dream was shortly going to be fulfilled. Israel would at last be redeemed and set free. The crowds had cheered him into the city. Yet by Friday the crowd were crying for his crucifixion. He died later that day. All my hopes and aspirations were shattered.

I decided to remain in Jerusalem until Sunday before returning home. Just before leaving, some women from our group of his followers, came back from visiting his tomb and said his body was missing. They reported that they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive. A few of our men ran out to the tomb and confirmed on their return that the body was indeed missing.

Hearing this news left me perplexed. I did not know what to do. I eventually decided to head back home and set out with Cleopas to walk to the village of Emmaus. It was time to rebuild my life again.

As we walked along the road discussing everything that had happened, we both felt sad and confused about the events of the last week. Shortly after our journey began, we noticed a man walking alongside us. He asked us what we were talking about and we told him about our hopes that Jesus was the Messiah and how he had been crucified. We also told him too about what the women and men had seen when visiting the tomb.

The stranger then started explaining the scriptures to us showing how they had predicted the Messiah would suffer before entering his glory. He went through the writings of Moses and all the prophets explaining from the scriptures the things concerning himself. As he spoke, I could feel my heart burning within me. Hope was being renewed in my heart.

We had almost reached Emmaus and the end of our journey. The stranger though appeared to be going on. Cleopas and I asked him to stay the night with us as it was now getting late. He agreed and we sat down to eat. And then it happened! The stranger broke bread and blessed it, suddenly we recognised who he was. At that same moment he disappeared.

Looking at each other we both knew that we had been with Jesus, walking and talking with him along the road to Emmaus. Jesus who had been crucified three days ago was alive. He had risen from the dead. The joy that flooded our souls was incredible. No more were our dreams shattered. Our hope had been restored. There was a purpose for living.

Very soon we were on the way back to Jerusalem to report this wonderful news to Jesus’ other followers. I would never forget that day. It totally changed my life. Our Lord has risen from the dead and this changes everything.

Find the Body!

Today has been the worst day of my life. I, Caiaphas the High Priest, presumed all our problems had been solved when they crucified Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. We watched him die on that cross and saw the Roman soldier pierce his side with a spear, witnessing the blood and water flowing out of his dead body. Jesus had died on the cross and we stayed to the end of the crucifixion to make sure that was so. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. He died.

After his death we followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they carried the dead body to the tomb in which he was to be buried. We saw they rolled a large stone across the tomb. I doubt that even Samson could have rolled that stone away!

However, we were still sightly nervous. Jesus had told the crowds that after three days he would rise from the dead. Some of us feared that his disciples might steal the body and tell everyone that he was raised from the dead. We could not risk that happening. Therefore, we asked Pilate to seal the tomb and put some guards by the entrance until the third day. All our bases were covered now, and we could soon get back to normal life.

For the first time for a while, I was happy. Well at least I was until I heard about this morning’s events. The guards reported the news to us. There had been an earthquake at dawn and the guards saw an angel of the Lord roll aside the great stone. They were so scared they fainted. When they woke up the tomb was empty, and the body was gone.

We had an emergency meeting of the elders, gave a large bribe to the guards, and told them to say that while they were sleeping Jesus’ disciples came and stole the body during the night. Additionally, we told them that if the governor found out we would cover for them. Thankfully, the guards were happy to accept the bribe.

But as I lay here in bed, I am not convinced that the people will believe our version of events. The disciples all deserted Jesus when we arrested him. They ran away. I do not think anyone would seriously believe that they had the courage to attempt to take Jesus’ body from the tomb. Also, the strips of linen that had been covering his body and the cloth that had been wrapped round his head were still in the tomb. If they had stolen the body, why would they have removed those items?

The longer I think about what happened today the more I am convinced that the key thing is for us to find the body. We must find the body. Once we get hold of the body, we will display it publicly to squash any talk of Jesus being raised from the dead. Yet within me is a question that I am too frightened to contemplate. What happens if we cannot find the body? Logic says that if we cannot find it then the words of Jesus have been fulfilled. He has risen from the dead. I must find that body!

Image by Dozemode from Pixabay

The Crowd on Palm Sunday

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the day we remember as Palm Sunday, many people came out to greet him. Yet a few short days later instead of cheering Jesus, the crowd cried out for his crucifixion. It is an astonishing change in attitude from the crowd.

When I think about the crowd who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday, I observe three different groups of people amongst them.

FIRSTLY: Disciples and the other followers of Jesus.

I am not just referring to the twelve disciples but also to the others who followed Jesus around. (For example in Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy two people to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. There were also the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who supported Jesus financially e.g. Joanna, whose husband Chusa was Herod’s administrator; Susanna; and many other women).

Yes we all know that the disciples got things wrong and make mistakes. I guess that is because they are humans like us! However they were not naïve or stupid. They knew it was dangerous going up to Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 tells us that “that those who followed him were afraid.” Yet they still bravely followed Jesus.

I would imagine that when walking into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday they may well have felt nervous and worried about what might happen. However deep down they wanted to follow their master.

I wonder if we can identify with those disciples? We want to serve God but so often feel we are not adequate or feel scared. Or we just plain get it wrong on occasions!

SECONDLY: The crowd who spread their garments cheering Jesus

The Jewish people hated being ruled by the Romans. They wanted their freedom back. It was the week leading up to Passover, when they remembered God rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The religious and nationalistic expectations of the crowd would have been huge. The people had for years been longing for the Messiah to come and rescue them from the Romans. Could Jesus be their Messiah?

However the Messiah / King that the people were expecting was a military king, just like David. They were looking for the wrong type of king. Israel was looking for a king to defeat their enemies: the Romans. But Jesus did not regard the Romans as his enemies. Jesus’ enemies were the power of sin and death. These were the enemies that he came to fight and defeat.

His was a spiritual battle in which he would be going toe to toe with sin and death. They were the real enemies. These were the enemies that had brought misery to the human race and that Jesus would defeat.

We might ask the question: how could the crowd have turned against Jesus so quickly?

It is easy sometimes to worship God when He does what we think He should do; when God answers our prayers the right way (i.e. our way).

However what happens when our prayers are not answered in the way we think they should? What happens when Jesus does not “drive out our Romans?” Do we still praise Him then? Or do we allow ourselves to become either bitter or disappointed with God?

THIRDLY: The Pharisees and the religious rulers

If you study the life of Jesus in the four gospels, one thing that leaps out is that the Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus!

Whenever Jesus performed a miracle and they had a chance to criticise it they did.

If we remember the amazing healing of the blind man in John 9 and the way that the Pharisees would not accept this miracle. You would imagine that they would have been overjoyed but no they were not.

There was the occasion when Jesus healed a man with a withered arm and the religious leaders were unhappy with this as the healing happened on the Sabbath. This grieved Jesus. (Mark 3)

It is difficult at times to comprehend what was wrong with them!

They seemed to think the way to God was through obeying rules. And don’t you dare break their rules or you are in trouble! (woe betide you!)

Yet I wonder are there occasions when we are like the Pharisees? Do we allow religious traditions to stop us from meeting Jesus? Does the fact that “we’ve always worshipped like that” prevent us from truly meeting Jesus in a fresh way? Do we search the scriptures like the Pharisees but refuse to come to the one who gives life? (John 5:40)

In closing which one of these three groups of people do we think most reflects us today?