‘Full speed astern’

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

July/August 2015 Issue – Pursued by Grace,  ‘I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love’  (Jonah 4:2)

The text set for today’s reading and meditation:

Jonah1:12 (NIVUK): ‘“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”’

Today’s study, starts as follows: “Yesterday we saw that though Jonah was not willing to go to Nineveh, he was willing to be thrown overboard. He was willing to do anything except the right thing – repent.

We pause here to look at what repentance really is. As frequent readers will recognise, the word ‘repent’ in Greek is metanoia, which means a ‘change of mind’ or ‘an about turn’.”

The key test for true repentance is, ‘has there been a change in behaviour?’ No change of mind and heart – means – no repentance has occurred.

I once went to a lecture given by a Rabbi, who was addressing a number of Christians on Jewish/Christian relationships. He said, that he had heard many people say that they were sorry for the Holocaust genocide. But, he added, their sorrow can only be demonstrated as genuine if such an event did not occur again. He was saying, in effect, there needed to be evidence that they had a change of heart and totally denounced anti-Semitism, in all it forms.

To trespass, is to cross over a line that we should not cross; we may express sorrow and regret over the transgression for a variety of reasons – a common one is the embarrassment of being found in the wrong place. Now, our apology to the offended party, can only be meaningful if we never cross that line again – that is, there has been a change of heart and the reasons for trespass no longer have any attraction for us.

In summary, there may be sorrow and apologies given because an action or word has caused harm and hurt; yet, repentance involves change, driven by our hatred of the sin and what it does to the heart of our loving God.

I’m of the view that many Christians do not fully understand the difference between regret, sorrow and repentance. The reason I say this is that I’ve seen many cases where a person has said, something like: “I’m very sorry that I’ve done something, which has upset you.” But, over time they keep repeating the same type of behaviour – there has been no repentance; and they seem blind to their on-going sinfulness.

Selwyn provides us with a concise conclusion: “Penance without repentance is mere self-punishment. Perhaps that is what Jonah wanted to do – he wanted to provide his own atonement. Penance has a place in the Christian life but it always comes after repentance – never before it.”

This is an issue, which everyone should stand before God’s throne (on a regular basis) and seek His discernment about. Is there an area in your life where you need to establish a change of behaviour because of sin? If so, seek the Holy Spirit’s help to instil in you, a change of heart and mind.

Any comments?

Are you infected?

Selwyn writes, in today’s study: “Let us ask ourselves now: have we been infected by the tendency of the age in which we are living to reduce the eternal distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, to a question of taste?”

Those who truthfully follow Jesus, have God’s commandments written on their hearts; and, they have God’s Spirit within them.   Jesus, out of His immense love – will prompt us to look at those areas where we sin and He will provide a cure for our infections. God is constantly working to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, this means He is always working to remove the sin from our lives.

James 4:4-5 (NIV): “You adulterous (those who break their relationship with Jesus) people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?”  God is the good shepherd – He goes and finds those who are lost in sin and carries them back, to be restored.

Now, if we look at the following verses – John 16:8-15: When the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

As you can see, God’s Spirit helps us to discern what is sin and what is not; and it’s important to realise that the world’s view of sin and God’s view of sin are different – always has been the case and always will be – right up, to the last day. Those who really believe in Jesus – those who truly love Him and use all of their energy to follow His way, will constantly listen  for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Those, who call themselves Christians, but don’t do anything about the sin in their lives, are people of the world and (as James says) are enemies of God.

I’ve been fairly blunt regarding my comments on sin – but it’s a life and death issue.

Understanding sinfulness

I think the scripture verses, set for today’s study, are very instructive. Paul is writing a general letter to the church in Rome and, as such, covers a wide range of topics. It’s important to understand that what Paul has written is relevant for any generation – the words of Paul, inspired by God’s Spirit, are true – as there were nearly two thousand years ago, and they will still be true on the last day.

Romans 12: 1-2, 9-19 (NIV): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. …

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”  says the Lord.”

Please note that we are asked to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, at times this may be true in the extreme – as it is for Christians living in Iran. For most of us, we do have a daily opportunity to sacrifice our desires for sinful pleasures – we do have the opportunity to walk in Christ’s footsteps – and His footsteps do NOT follow the pattern of this world, as illustrated in today’s media.

Selwyn writes about the same issue I raised a few days ago: “A well-known American youth evangelist has commented on the fact that some young Christians respond to a call to discipleship during a meeting and then immediately return home to sleep with their girlfriend or boyfriend. We are fast becoming victims of the relativism and postmodernism that has infected our generation.”

I’m amazed that some church leaders shout about gay marriage and the like, yet I don’t hear the same level of protest about the fornication and adultery that’s found within many of their churches. Keep in mind that for a married person to look lustfully at another (who is not their husband or wife) is guilty of adultery; and the penalty for adultery, as for any sin, is death.  It would be wise for those who look at pornography to think about it as a form of adultery and that the consequence can be lethal.

In summary, if you are involved in a sexual relationship and you are not married then you are not following Jesus. He will say to you on the last day (if you have not repented): ‘Go, depart from Me – for I do not know you.’

It won’t matter at all, how active you were in a Christian youth group – it won’t matter at all how active you were in helping other people within your community – if you demonstrate that you don’t love God by not following His Word then you are not one of His flock.

That’s pretty easy to understand – don’t you think?

Thoughts to resist

Selwyn continues his discourse on sin.

As I mentioned yesterday – many types of sin are treated by the media as normal forms of behaviour. I don’t know how well known the TV show, Two and a Half Men, is known outside of USA – but it’s an excellent example of how sexual sin is portrayed as something normal – every one does it, or at least, wants to do it. The sin, in this show, is further disguised by well-scripted humorous (to many) circumstances – such that one could say they are watching the show for its recreational value – however, it’s the constant stream of this type of material which gradually erodes the standards God has set.

As Selwyn writes: “We who are followers of Jesus must not let ourselves off lightly when we find we have fallen into sin, whether it be in word or thought or deed.”

In Matthew 5:3-13 (NIV) we read: “Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ “

To follow Jesus, means that you will mourn over the sin in your life and the sin in this fallen world; sin is not an area which Jesus looks upon as humorous.  To follow Jesus, means that you constantly seek God’s help in trying to keep your heart pure – that means you plead for His help to identify and to overcome the areas of sin in your life. If, you follow Jesus – then you will take steps to avoid sin and this will often mean, that you will be ridiculed by those who think that sin is normal human behaviour and there’s nothing wrong with it.

If, you claim to be a Christian yet follow the ways of this world – you will have lost any saltiness you may have had – and be no longer good for anything. Fairly blunt words – but the Sermon on the Mount is a core teaching of Jesus, who will judge us all, according to His Word – when He returns – soon.

I think Selwyn’s conclusion is worth repeating: “It is important to understand how the mind’s defences can attempt to get us off the hook when there is sin in our life. We can find ourselves pleading that our circumstances were exceptional. Or that times have changed. Or that others do the same thing and so it’s no big deal. These are dangerous thoughts and every Christian must resist them.We must recognise sin for what it is, clearly admit it to ourselves and confess to God the wrong that we have done. We can’t get very far with God if there is sin in our life.”

Any comments?


A sign of strength

In today’s study, Selwyn writes about the subject of confession. He says: “We should be ready and willing at certain times in our spiritual life to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and voluntarily confess any known sin. … We will never draw close to God while there is unconfessed sin in our hearts.”

There are a number of associated issues: one is the ability to recognise what is sin, and the second issue is what to do about it when it is recognised. These two areas need the involvement of God’s Spirit, if there are to be effectively addressed in our lives.

In the Western culture there has been a significant erosion of our sensitivity to sin. This loss of sensitivity is associated with the saturation of world views into our daily lives. It’s hard to escape the constant bombardment coming from TV and other media sources which pushes the message that if ‘everyone is doing it – then its okay, as long as no one gets hurt’. I recently read an article in a Christian magazine about the increasing trend with young Christians (in USA) to enter into a sexual relationship before they were married. If we put aside questions about their faith and just look at what this type of change in behaviour indicates, then we can identify why it is difficult for many people to confess their sins – because they don’t see themselves as having their hearts stained with sin.

To break through this self-deception, we need the power of God’s Spirit to identify sin in our deceitful hearts. Consequently, we should put some time aside to invite God to do an intensive check of the status of our hearts; and, at the same time to unblock our ears so that we can hear what He has to say about the sin in our lives.  We are not perfect – there is always some area in our lives which needs attention and confession.

Once sin is identified and we confess – then comes the big step; we must do something that will lead us in the direction where we no longer fall (with God’s help). Jesus final words to sinners, in general, were: “Go, and sin no more.” Today, His words are still active – they are still words of life and death.

In 1991, when I turned my life over to Jesus there were certain activities which I knew were areas of temptation. One was that I use to go drinking after work on a Friday night with a group of work colleagues.  From previous experiences I knew (with the Spirit’s guidance) that this was a habit that held many dangers for a young, immature Christian.  Through the strength of the Holy Spirit working in my life – I stopped going out after work and never went back to that type of environment. There are other areas of sin in my life that I’m still working through with God, some of these sins were not initially noticed by me and it took Jesus’ searching light to uncover them. Once identified – you can start to work out strategies, through prayer, to avoid the circumstances where such sins are likely to occur.

I just went though this bit of personal history to illustrate that you need to make changes in your life to avoid sin; and, Jesus loves you so much that He will help you make the necessary changes.

In summary, confession of all sin is essential but first we must be able to discern, to recognise the sin in our lives.  Just because everyone else is doing it – doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes; and He’s your final judge – at the end of the day.

Unrestrained anger

These verses of Genesis 4:2-8 (NIV), are – for me – full of sadness. How, a brother can murder his own brother, is difficult to understand: ” … Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. … “

An important point – I feel – is that Satan takes advantage of our feelings; and actively pushes us towards sin. He is crouching at the door of your life – waiting for the best time to take you. Yet, we live in victory – a victory won for us by Christ; and, with God’s help we can turn away from Satan’s influence.

In today’s study, Selwyn makes two important points; first, there is nothing predetermined (by God) in Cain’s actions – Cain has a clear choice before him. The second point is that sin quickly takes hold when we allow unrestrained anger to rule our heart.

I liked the following bits: “God is telling Cain that his acceptance does not depend on the quality of his offering but rests on the attitude and motivation of his heart. Had he looked into his heart at that point and considered his motives, brought them to God and repented, things would have been quiet different.

Cain was being given another chance, which was then followed by a significant warning: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door … “. This is a graphic image of sin as a dangerous predator lurking in wait to pounce upon its victims. [This is also, a good image of how Satan works.]

But note again: there is nothing predetermined here. God gives Cain a challenging choice: ‘ … it desires to have you, but you must master it’. The implication here is that Cain could, with God’s help and power, stop the tide of anger.”

This is a challenge in today’s world –  the idea that we can (when walking hand-in-hand with God) master sin – we can become more and more like Jesus; and, as we progress on our journey carrying our own cross; we can resist Satan:  as God – told Cain; and He continues to tell everyone – we must master sin. What are your views?

‘Let go and let God’

To a certain extent, today’s study covers a lot of the same ground, that was discussed yesterday.

However, given the importance of this topic, I’ll post Selwyn’s conclusion (slightly modified): “I pointed out that our responsibility is to decide assertively not to sin, then to trust God to work in us – both to will and to act according to His good pleasure. The strength to resist is there in our lives in great abundance, but victory depends on us assuming responsibility for what we can control – making a clear, clean-cut decision to obey God by not sinning. … It is our responsibility to carry out the action of self-control before victory can be seen in our lives.”

In John 15:9-14 (NLT) – we hear Jesus telling His disciples: “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. … “

Clearly, Jesus is commanding us, to obey His commandments. One, other point that I’ve highlighted – ‘we are to love each other in the same way that He loves us’ – Jesus has set the standard for love. His love is not to be confused with the way, many people misuse the word ‘love’, to justify their self-centred, sinful ways. To put it bluntly – Jesus is not the God of lust – even if the lust is thinly camouflaged, by an attempt to call it love. What do you think?

In James 4:4b-10 (NLT), we have the same theme – also expressed in fairly blunt words: “Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

In summary, there are some who dismiss the obvious meaning of the verses above – they say, something like: ‘Well, it was a different culture back then – we now know, so much more about human nature and the influence of genetics and environment’.  The spiritual truths found in Scripture, are from God’s mouth – He knows everything about all cultures, over all of time. These spiritual truths will never change. Those who are His children, hear His voice, and know His words are true. You either believe this truth or you don’t – there’s no fence to sit on – regarding this issue. Do you agree?