GOING DEEPER

Are all sins equally evil in God’s sight?

I had an interesting conversation with my wife last week, where I asked her this very question. Her response is indicative of what many in our church might say: “Yes, but I wish they weren’t.” I followed it up with my usual follow up question “why do you believe that?” After thinking for a while, she appealed to the sermon on the mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-29)
So the logic goes, if lust can be equated with adultery, there is really no distinction between different types of sin. However, this wasn’t said for this purpose. Rather it takes place in a setting where Jesus is teaching about a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (5:20).
 
The issue with them is that while they were nice on the outside, on the inside they were full of sin (Matt 23:28). They were also quite self-righteous, claiming that their sin wasn’t as bad as someone else’s (Luke 18:9-14). In response to this type of attitude, Jesus teaches that the internal motivation for the sin is enough to put you in the category of adulterer or murderer, and thus in need of repentance.

External action is not the be all and end all, the heart matters to God. That does not mean however that adultery and lust are equal, just that both are a violation of the 7th commandment. What most people think when they say that all sin is the same in God’s sight is that all sin separates us from God, and all sin left undealt with will lead to hell. There are not different levels of hell, reserved for the worst type of sins (at least as far as we are told in the bible). But to say that a liar has the same eternal destiny as a murderer if unrepentant is not to say that lying and murder is equal. This goes against both the teaching of the bible and our own common sense.

Evidence against the claim
No one would suggest that someone who lies, or who steals something in order to feed their family should be treated the same way by the police or the criminal courts as a rapist or a murderer. This natural sense of justice and the punishment being proportionate to the crime comes from an inbuilt sense of justice. Hence why Dani said she wished God viewed sins differently.

But this is also a biblical concept. For instance, the Old Testament law tells us “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” (Exo 21:23-24). The point is that you cannot take a life for someone who took a foot, the retribution needs to be fair. Likewise, in the Old Testament Law there was various levels of punishment for different sins, ranging from fines, to banishment to death. This only makes sense if God views some sins as being worse than others. But perhaps the clearest indication from the Old Testament Law that not all sins are equal is the use of the word ‘abomination’. When used, this delineates a regular sin (which separates us from God), and an extra vile sin that God abhors.

The New Testament maintains this distinction as well. Even within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This differentiates between a ‘plank-sized’ sin and a ‘speck-sized’ sin. Likewise, he differentiates between ‘camel-sized’ sin and ‘gnat-sized’ sin. Jesus tells Pilate that “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11). John likewise differentiates between different levels of sin (1 John 5:16).
 
Why is this important?
If all sin separates us from God, why is it important to let people know that not all sin is equally evil in His sight? Well firstly, it speaks to the nature of God. It is destructive to our witness to suggest that the sin of speeding is as evil to God as the sin of a paedophile. This gives a distorted, unbiblical picture of God (consider Jesus’s strong language in Matt 18:6).

But it is also important for us not to minimalize the seriousness of our sin. When we commit large-scale, destructive sins, it may be tempting to think we are just as bad as someone who has told a lie, and thus our sin isn’t ‘too bad’. This idea might even lead people to committing worse sins, such as: “I have already committed lust, so I’m guilty anyway, I might as well have the affair now!” This is a major distortion of Jesus’s teaching! Likewise, for those who grow and change, treating all sins as equal can lead to a downplaying of God’s sanctifying work in your life.

If you have come from a life of drugs and violence, and now you still struggle with lying and petty theft, you are not unchanged! Rather God has been successful in changing your heart and reducing the severity and external impact of you sin.
 
The good news for us all, regardless of the severity of our sin is that Jesus has paid the price on the cross. All who turn to him in faith and repentance will be forgiven. So whether it is a small white lie, or a big, life-altering sin, Jesus waits with open arms to take away your sin and welcome you into his family.

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Where is God in the desert?

Many of you would be familiar with the famous footprints in the sand poem. For those that aren’t it is worth a read:

“One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD.   Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD.
 
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.   He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it:
“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”
 
The LORD replied: “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

What is conveyed here is actually an important biblical theme that is seen particularly in light of the ‘desert’ or ‘wilderness’ theme of the Bible. As can be expected, the wilderness in the bible is not portrayed as a nice place. It is the place that the Israelites must travel through before reaching the promised land (Exo 15:22). However, the people sin and are judged with 40 more years in that wilderness (Num 14). Throughout the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the bible), the wilderness becomes a place of place of rebellion (Num 12), suffering (Exo 14:11), quarrels (Exo 17:1-2), judgement (Num 11:1-3), and temptation (Exo 17:7). The New Testament picks up this theme again in the temptation of Jesus, where he is hungry, thirsty and assailed by the devil. It is for this reason Christians often use the imagery of desert to describe times of great trial or difficulty.

One such ‘desert’ for me was the submission of my Master’s thesis this morning (I actually quite enjoyed it but probably will need a few weeks to get over the strain). I focused intently on the use of location in Stephen’s speech of Acts 7, and particularly how it pertained to God’s presence. I noted something interesting that bears out in other scripture as well. The ‘wilderness’ might be time of great strife, but it is also the most common location for God to appear to his people. This is seen in how God appears to Hagar, not once but twice in the desert (Gen 16:7, 21:14-17) Likewise, it was in the desert that God first appeared to Moses (Exo 3:30-33).
 

 

Throughout the rest of the wilderness narrative, perhaps the most common theme is God’s presence with his people through the tabernacle. As Alec Gilmore writes, “wilderness is a place for theophanies”! Perhaps the clearest indication and encouragement of this truth is found as Moses summarises the people’s time in the desert: “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’” This verse is even said to be the motivation for the famous poem above.
So what are we to take out of the times of spiritual dryness and darkness in our lives. My encouragement to us all would be to look for signs of God’s sustaining presence. It is in the valleys, not the mountains, that God is most shaping us into the people he wants us to be. No one likes to be caught in a desert, but it very may well be the place that he comes to you. To experience his glory is to render all trials and difficulties comparatively meaningless (Rom 8:18). The final hope that we have as Christians is that the desert will not last forever. Isaiah 35 paints this reality with beautiful promises that “he desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;” (35:1) and “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;” (35:6-7).
Jesus ultimately fulfilled these promises, but we live in the time of now but not yet. His redemption of the world, and the removal of deserts (at least the metaphorical ones) is almost upon us. In the midst of such turmoil we need to take these words addressed to a people stuck in the wilderness: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
 
Pastor Dan
 
 

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I don’t care if you liked ‘worship’ on Sunday!

Perhaps my most provocative title, but don’t worry, it was more than just trying to grab your attention. It also isn’t a slight against our fantastic music team and all the effort they put in (except for maybe the lousy drummer). Rather it is a blanket statement that should be able to apply to any week at our church, as ultimately, our music is not there to please you, but to please God.

While we all know this instinctively to be the case, it is still a struggle for our hearts accept. I remember last year as we re-formed the music team and had many beginning musicians and experienced musicians who were new to church music. I was excited about the heart and passion that was developing, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe at least once or twice and wonder what a newcomer thought. Thankfully, the quality of our music has improved dramatically since then, but I’m less sure on the quality of my heart. This morning I read these sobering words by R. Kent Hughes:

“Why do we worship? – is it for God or for man? The unspoken but increasingly common assumption of today’s Christendom is that worship is primarily for us – to meet our needs… The telltale sign of this kind of thinking is the common post-worship question, “what did you think of the service today?” the real question ought to be, “What did God think of it and those who worshipped?”” – R Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly man – pg 138-139

I would add to Hughes’s tell-tale sign my own question: “what did I get out of worship today?” rather than the more important “what did I give to God in worship today?”. I think we often make music into the attraction or entertainment element of our church services, the thing that might differentiate between us and another church. This is not just a problem for younger Christians who like the latest worship hit out of the Pentecostal megachurches. Even hymns can be used to this effect as they are often chosen to be the familiar one for the ‘oldies’ or simply to “keep the old-timers happy”. This is a man-centred approach to worship rather than a God-centred one.

So what is the solution? Well I think we need to re-frame how we talk about worship. On Sunday, Simon from Compassion said, to enthusiastic applause, that we don’t treat our music like a performance. But here’s the thing, I think we should. Except it isn’t the band performing and the church the audience. The church is performing and God is the audience! We should be asking what God wants to hear, and the type of music he likes. Unfortunately, the bible is scant on scores and musical compositions. However, it is big on lyrics! We do need to make sure the things we sing to God and about Him line up with worship in the bible. But perhaps even more important than the lyrics, is the heart.

Jesus, when addressing a controversy over worship had some powerful words to say. I’m going to re-write and paraphrase this (a dangerous thing to do to the bible), but I think the parallels are there: “Our ancestors worshipped with hymns, but you young‘uns claim that we must worship with loud pop music” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, it’s not about whether you worship in hymn or in Hillsong… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (taken loosely from 4:20-23 with 4:23 unchanged). The remarkable thing about this passage is that it is the only time in scripture that I am aware of God actively seeking something from believers. It is remarkable that we may actually (as C.S. Lewis writes) “be a real ingredient in the divine happiness”. Therefore, it is not the polished-ness of a performance that impresses God. It is the love of each and every Christian and adoration for Him that he cares about. It’s a bit like receiving a card from my 4-year-old telling me that I’m the best daddy in the world and how much he loves me… and me pulling him up on the spelling. God just isn’t that interested in how we sound, or even what style we use, as long as those things stem from a love for him and a love for others.

So what? What are you to do with these meandering musings of your jet-lagged pastor. Well, for one, I think we need to start to change how we talk about Sunday music. We shouldn’t even ask ourselves if we ‘enjoyed’ it, rather we should seek to focus and surrender our hearts to God’s enjoyment of it. After church on Sunday, ask each other if God enjoyed that, or “what did you give to God during worship”? The other thing we should do is remove the focus completely from ourselves. I know how easy it is to judge the band, the quality of the music, the song selection, and just about everything that happens up the front on Sundays. But here’s the newsflash that I need to remind myself of often: the band isn’t singing to you. They aren’t playing to impress you, and no sorry, they don’t really care if you enjoyed it or not.

We gather on Sunday’s to sing to God. If you have to do it in a way that isn’t really your cup of tea, I think that would be an even greater gift to our God who sees the obstacle you face, and the sacrifice you make in order to praise him. Soli Deo gloria!

Pastor Dan
 

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Did Jesus Even Exist?

I had a great chat this week with a well-read non-Christian about whether Jesus actually existed or not. Now obviously, as a non-Christian, I had no expectation that he thought Jesus was divine, but I was still surprised that some people held the view he didn’t exist. From my perspective it was as preposterous as believing the world is flat. Bart Ehrmann, a noted agnostic and often vocal critic of Christianity puts it this way: “I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” On the other hand, famous Christian scholar N.T. Wright puts it this way: “I have taken it for granted that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Some writers feel a need to justify this assumption at length against people who try from time to time to deny it. It would be easier, frankly, to believe that Tiberius Caesar, Jesus’ contemporary, was a figment of the imagination than to believe that there never was such a person as Jesus.” While N.T. Wright might not see the need, I think it is prudent to give you some background about why Christian and non-Christian scholars and historians alike are so certain about the actual existence of a man named Jesus, who was believed to be the Christ
Biblical Material
Some people who take the argument that Jesus never existed would like to just throw out all New Testament texts as simple figments of the imagination. The problem is that even historians consider them to be highly accurate historical records, even if they view the miracles and divine intervention to be a form of ancient mythology. There are many reasons for this, the main one being the early copies we have found of these documents. The earliest manuscript fragment we have of the New Testament dates to the first half of the second century. It is a fragment of John’s gospel, that scholar’s believe reached Egypt around 100AD. This is remarkably early, probably within 20 years of it first being written. This most certainly means that there are earlier copies that have since been lost, and note that John is universally considered as the last gospel written. That means that Matthew, Luke, and especially Mark are estimated to have been written before 70 AD. Paul’s letter pre-date even that, with most compiled in the 50’s, less than 2 decades after the events they depict. That puts them well within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. If these events were completely fictitious, without an historic figure at the centre, it is impossible that the Christian movement would have taken off as it did. Especially under the persecution of the sectarian Jews and the pagan Roman empire, a non-historic Jesus simply makes no sense. Why die for something that everybody knows you simply made up?
 
Christian Material
There are many other sources in the century or so following Jesus’ death that aren’t included in the bible. These include:
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The double-sided P52 fragment
Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum. The sceptic might point out that Christian sources 100 years after the fact should be given little weight. They might be surprised to learn that two of the most important sources for Julius Caesar are Suetonius and Plutarch. Both are bias in their pro-imperial propaganda, and are written over a century after the Caesar’s death.
Josephus 37-100AD
 
Non-Christian Material
Perhaps the most convincing material for the sceptic is the various historical documents that attest to Jesus of Nazareth that are from a non-Christian or even anti-Christian perspective. Perhaps the most well known of the historians is Josephus, and particularly startling is his main reference to Jesus: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receiving the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was called the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct to this day.
Those that are aware of this text might know that it likely to have been revised somewhat by a later Christian copyist. What historians don’t doubt is that this was a changing of material to be more flattering to Jesus, it wasn’t inserted completely from scratch. A recent Arabic manuscript of Josephus reveals what might have been the original message: “At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die, and those who were his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them 3 days after his crucifixion. Accordingly, they believed he was the Messiah as the prophets had told wonders”. A lot less flattering, clearly less Christian, but equally certain to his actual existence. Later in Josephus there is an undebated reference to Jesus when he is talking about the high priest: “he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.” As a Jew, Josephus held no affinity for the Christian movement, and his reference in his historical book date around 95 AD are a pretty convincing proof of Jesus’ existence.
Beyond Josephus, Jesus was also mentioned in Roman works, completely hostile to this upstart religion. There are many, but one needs a special mention. Tacitus writes that “Christus, the founder of the name, was Put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign Of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time Broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief Originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things Hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their Center and become popular” This is not exactly a glowing reference, but includes the bare facts of Jesus life with 80 years of his death.
 
Perhaps the earliest non-Christian reference to Jesus however comes from the Syrian Mara Bar-Serapion in 73AD. “What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their 
 
Tacitus 56 – 120AD

wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.” Not exactly a belief in the resurrection, but there is little doubt, even from secular historians, that the wise king referred to here is none other than Jesus Christ. Other secular sources that I don’t have time to go through now but I encourage you to look up if interested are Pliny The Younger, Lucian, Phelgon, Celus, Suetonius, and Thallus. I quoted at the beginning a quote from N.T. Wright that it would be easier to deny the existence of Tiberius Caesar than Jesus Christ. A bold claim, but this is why he can make it. Jesus’s existence is supported by 9 secular sources, 20 Christian non-biblical sources and all 27 New Testament texts. Compare this to the measly 10 historical references we have to the emperor that was in power at the same time. Furthermore, the quality and quantity of the historical documents supporting Jesus far outstrips roman leaders of the time. Take Julius Caesar, the most famous and unarguably historic of the Roman emperors. Historic information about his life is contained mainly in four different sources. These sources have between them around 53 manuscripts to work out what was actually written. The earliest of these dates to a good 500 years after Julius Caesar supposedly lived, with the majority being over 1000 years after the fact. Compare this to Jesus, with his 56 different sources, 5800 different manuscript, dating from as early as a few decades after they were written. To deny Jesus’ existence altogether is completely unfeasible from an historical perspective.

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Jesus looked like many other Jews of his time. This is perhaps the most accurate artist rendering to date

The Problem of bias

As we have seen one of the main arguments against the existence of Jesus is that early reports about him are biased. As we have seen, that criticism doesn’t discredit his existence, but it is important to keep in mind. The earliest historians of Jesus couldn’t help but be biased, because what they saw transformed their life. This leads to the true problem of bias we see today. Many non-Christians find the claims of Jesus and the bible hard to stomach. It is not that they are unbelievable, it is simply that they find them undesirable. An historic Jesus raises the real possibility of an historic resurrection. An historic resurrection means a risen Lord who needs to be trusted in and listened to, and who will one day judge the world. People trying to escape this reality would much prefer to put their heads in the sand and deny Jesus ever existed, against the overwhelming weight of evidence. The question of Jesus’ existence is well and truly a settled one. The more important question for us is what role will he play in our life today.
 
Pastor Dan Bassett

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Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

It is little wonder when Boney M used Psalm 137 as the basis for their 1978 classic “By the Rivers of Babylon” they stopped before they reached the shocking last verse. While perhaps the most vivid example of cursing prayers (or what scholars call imprecatory psalms) in the bible, it is by no means unique. We spoke of Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 4 during church on Sunday, which is very similar to Jeremiah’s prayer in 18:23. The psalms however are absolutely rife with these curses (Ps 12, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 83, 109, 137 and 149 to give but a selection)
 
The Challenge of Imprecatory
While the ancient world was bloody and unsophisticated (supposedly) we are much more mature as humans today and baulk at this kind of prayer. Particularly as Christians we can write these prayers off part of the Old Testament that is completely irrelevant to us. They are part of an inferior ethic, and we can shy away when critics of Christianity bring them up today. However, I don’t believe this does justice to why God has put them in the bible. Yes, psalms are human words to God, but as part of scripture they are God inspired words from humans to God. We know God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so there must be some use of these psalms today. Even New Testament author’s saw their value and quoted from them in their writings. We too need to consider the challenge of these prayers and how where they fit in our prayer life.
 
Initial Solution
One thing worth acknowledging at the beginning is that not all imprecatory psalms are created equal. Many are quite soft in what they wish upon their enemies, and a good deal of them are simply a cry for natural justice to happen. For instance, in Psalm 35:8 we read: “Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it—to his destruction!”. At its core this is a prayer that what the enemy intended to hurt David befall himself instead. People today might call this Karma, but there is no leaving it up to Spiritual forces of the universe for David, he calls God to bring about justice. Even the dreadful words of Psalm 137 can be considered in this light. When Israel was sacked by the Babylonians, many innocent women and children were slain ruthlessly. The psalmist is saying simply that God will have a special place for those that give the Babylonians the same treatment they gave the Jews.
 
The heart behind the prayer
However, these prayers at times go beyond the simple principal of eye for an eye. They call for the full weight of God’s wrath to come upon those who oppose and speak against God’s people. What is going on then? Well I believe at the heart of these prayers lies two factors. Transparency and God’s sovereignty in justice. When we have been personally hurt, or see our family or people get hurt, it is natural to have strong feelings of revenge. We want those to hurt us to suffer, and at times, suffer even more than we suffered. When we feel this strength of emotions, we can either bury them inside and pretend to be more loving then we are or take them to God and acknowledge how we feel. The psalms show us that God can take the full range of our emotions and we can talk to him when we feel joy, when we feel hurt, when we wonder what he is doing, and when we want people to get taken to the cleaners. But beyond transparency, these prayers focus on God’s sovereignty in judgement. He is ultimately the one who will hold everyone to account. By taking our hurts to him, we are giving up our own opportunity for vengeance and placing it in his hands. We can ask God to smite, because we know God will indeed smite when necessary, and he will not allow his people to be downtrodden forever.
 
The curse of the cross
Many of you might be wondering, “but how does this fit in to the New Testament ethic of turning the other cheek?” As we discussed on Sunday, by handing our hurt to God, I believe we free ourselves up to move on and indeed turn the other cheek. Imprecatory prayers and forgiveness aren’t mutually exclusive, in fact they can go hand in hand. We see this ultimately at the cross. Every time someone prayers an imprecatory prayer they are asking God to curse someone that deserves it, to bring about a swift end to sin. We know God accepts this type of prayer, because He himself outlines blessings for when his people keep the covenant and curses for when they reject it. The Hebrews were given the law through Moses and told: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19). Wherever there is sin therefore, in ourselves or in others it can be appropriate to call out for God to keep his word and bring a curse upon the perpetrator. But the good news of the New Testament is that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”” (Gal 3;13). Therefore, whenever we pray for a curse, or when we call out for justice against those who oppress God’s people, we must acknowledge that the same curse of judgement should fall upon us – But for Jesus Christ. He took on the curse that should be upon us, so that all who look to him in faith may receive the blessing of unbroken relationship with God.
 
Our deepest longing for our enemies
Often in Christian ethics we are debating between black and whites. Something is sinful or bad, the other thing is good and proper. I don’t think that is the case with imprecatory prayers. They in themselves can be good, they accord with the justice of our God. But our deepest longing often should be for the curse of our enemies to come upon Jesus. In other words, have our enemies transformed into brothers and sisters as they too trust in Christ and are forgiven. However, I don’t think it is sinful to not desire that in every circumstance. Ultimately, how best to pray in each situation is a work of the Holy Spirit. If you lived during World War 2, would you have prayed for Hitler’s salvation or his demise and judgement? I don’t think there is a wrong answer. What about how to pray if your spouse is attacked or you children murdered? I think both a prayer for retribution and a prayer for forgiveness and repentance can honour and glorify God in their own unique way. When dealing with enemies, we need to recognise that as humans made in the image of God, we desire justice. But we should also aspire to be more like God, who while we were His enemies died for us, and brought us to Himself.
 
 

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Why read or preach on the Old Testament?

As we embarked on our new series through Nehemiah this week, I had interesting conversation with visitors to our church. They pointed out that their old church never preached on the Old Testament, and it was refreshing to see that ours did. Many have commented both positively and negatively on how much Old Testament we use in our sermons. For those who are unaware, we do four main series throughout a year (based roughly on the school terms), and we spend half of them going through an Old Testament book. Sometimes, this may feel dry, sometimes even reading the Old Testament can be a challenge. So I thought in this post I would provide some key reasons why we as a church preach from the Old Testament, and why it would be good for you to include it in your personal bible reading.

It’s the bible that Jesus and the apostles read and preached from
Not many Christians realise that Jesus and Paul weren’t walking around with a fully formed bible in their pocket (though that intuitively makes sense). When Jesus would teach the crowds, his launching point was often the scriptures as he knew them. Every time the Lord says “it is written”, or “You have heard that it is said”, he is referring back to the Old Testament. It is what He read and what He was steeped in from birth. If it’s good enough for him, it is good enough for us. Likewise, when the apostles preached and were seeking to explain the saving significance of Jesus, they did so using the Old Testament. Even when it came to writing the New Testament, the apostles quoted, borrowed and were influenced heavily by the scriptures of the Old Testament.
 
It shows God’s faithfulness and human depravity
The New Testament largely follows the story of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus is perfection itself and the disciples largely get things right through the power of the Holy Spirit. Read in isolation, the modern Christian may underestimate the power and pull of human sin! The Old Testament in some respects is much more relatable, as we see the people of God give in to envy, anger, lust, pride and bitterness. But it is not at all discouraging, as the more we grasp the sinfulness of people, the more brightly God’s faithfulness shines. The New Testament is full of examples of people doing incredible things for God (obviously through the power God gives them), but in the Old Testament we see more clearly the incredible things God does for a people that doesn’t deserve it.
 
It gives us a deeper understanding of the gospel
In line with that last point, the deeper our understanding of human sin and God’s faithfulness, the deeper our understanding of what Jesus did for us. In fact Jesus himself was able to go through the Old Testament and show how all of it pointed to himself (Luke 24:25-27). Not only does the Old Testament provide the context for why Jesus came, it foreshadows and provides types and prophecies that he later fulfils. A gospel without the Old Testament is anaemic; it can lead to an individualistic, personal understanding of what Jesus did. “Jesus came just for me, to fix my problem of sin”. While that is in some respects true, Jesus also came to fulfil the covenant with Israel, the promises to Abraham, and to undo the fall and bring about a new creation (amongst many more reasons!).
 
Its largely untouched by Christians and churches
Nothing is a bigger killer to interest than doing the same thing over and over again. Because the Old Testament is rarely read or used, its stories and points can be fresh and interesting. We have all heard sermons on the good Samaritan or the prodigal son. We have all read Philippians 4 or Romans 8 in a time of crisis. Often these texts are read and preached on more because they are easy to understand on a surface level, though we can run the risk of making them seem mundane. I’m not desperately looking forward to preaching on John 3:16 for instance, because what could I say that you have not heard 100 times already? That isn’t to say these passages aren’t important, it’s just that the same message said from a different passage might have twice the impact.
 
It is the majority of God’s inspired word
God in his providence has seen fit to make two-thirds of our bible Old Testament. It may be that the Old Testament is more important to Him than it is to us, in which case we would do well to rectify our neglect of it. If we simply are “New Testament Christians” then we miss out on most of what God would seek to say to His People. Furthermore, if Paul is right and “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17), then we can starve ourselves by avoiding it.
 
Stories cut through in a society that largely rejects authority
Once upon a time simply saying that “the bible tells us so” was enough to convince most people of a claim’s truthfulness. Not so anymore. Much of the New Testament is set out in epistles, which are based on the authority of the apostle, and are letters trying to convince the reader of a certain truth they should accept and live by. This type of claim to authority and exhortation to live in light of the truth doesn’t necessarily relate in a post-modern culture that rejects authority. Narrative makes up the bulk of the Old Testament and subvert the defences of the sceptic. By not setting forth any proposition or expectation on the reader, they can be enjoyed, yet still teach the audience. They provide examples, are relatable, teach moral truths, and subvert our understandings about ourselves and God.
 
 
So where should I start?
So maybe I’ve convinced you and you will rock up and listen to our current series through Nehemiah (or follow along online). But what about in your private bible reading? Some different options are available. One common one is to start in Genesis and work your way through. The main problem with this style is that many get bogged down in Exodus in Leviticus (which can be heavy going, I admit!). This can be countered by reading the Old Testament alongside and with your New Testament. Otherwise, skip the books in the Old Testament you find hard, and come back to them later! You could also pick out a section of the Old Testament and read that (eg. Minor prophets, major prophets, Pentateuch, the writings, Deuteronomic History, Chronicler history). Perhaps the easiest suggestion is to download the YouVersion app on your phone and simply browse the bible reading plans for a whole bible plan, or an Old Testament book plan. There are many good options out there that will help boost your faith and depth of biblical understanding.

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Should all Christians speak in tongues?

I recently preached on Acts 2 in church (listen here). Knowing the controversial nature of the passage, I expected to be harangued as I left church. Surprisingly, I only got positive feedback from both charismatic and conservative minded people alike. However, I am aware that not all in the wider Christian community would be so appreciative. Particularly controversial I’m sure is my assertion that tongues is not the only and definitive evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I thought I would post this article explaining why I believe that is the case, to give some support for what I said in church. Afterwards, I quickly cover why I think that regardless of our difference on that one issue, why the Charismatic revival has been a blessing on the Lord’s church. So, these are 12 reasons why I don’t think tongues is ­­the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.

  1. The emphasis of Acts 2 is on the message not the method. They do indeed speak in tongues, but Luke draws attention that it was to “declare the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). This is clearly in line with the emphasis in the first chapter as to why the needed the Spirit, to be empowered to witness (1:8). Drawing attention away from the message to focus on the tongues goes against the essential meaning of the passage.
  2. The reception of the Holy Spirit is tied to salvation. We see that in Romans 8:9 that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” The New Testament is also clear on what brings salvation: Faith alone. To insist on another step, such as speaking in tongues, is to go to dangerous territory.
  3. Only 3 conversion stories in Acts explicitly include the note of speaking in tongues (2:2-4, 10:44-46 and 19:6). The salvation of the Samaritans in chapter 8 doesn’t explicitly include it, but safe to say it probably happened there too. There are at least 9 occasions of conversion where it isn’t included (8:36; 9:17–19; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4, 34). Saying it did because all Christians speak in tongues is circular reasoning. I’m not saying it didn’t happen in any of these cases, at least one went on to speak in tongues (Paul), but we no nothing of the others. 4 of the 13 conversion stories in Acts is simply not enough to determine a precedent.
  4. The specific circumstance of those 4 stories have alternative reasons why the speaking of tongues makes sense. They all are the first time a people group have received the Spirit, and thus are evidence that they have received the Spirit in the same way as the first Christians. The point is that Jew, Samaritan, gentile and converts of John are all accepted by God and should thus be accepted by the church.
  5. Paul writes the only connection between the term “all” and “speaking in tongues”, and his point is that ­not­ all speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:31). It takes a certain amount of mental gymnastics to explain around that.
  6. Later in 1 Corinthians 14, when Paul says he wishes his readers could all speak in tongues (14:5), it suggests that they can’t. He doesn’t rebuke them for that and suggest they need to work on it, rather he directs their focus elsewhere.
  7. When Paul tells us to desire the greater gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:31, he has just finished listing gifts, starting with “first…, second…, third…, and then…” This suggests and order of pre-eminence or importance. He puts tongues at the end of the list. When Paul says desire the greater gifts, he is clearly trying to draw their attention away from tongues to more useful gifts for the life of the church. If Paul doesn’t consider tongues a ‘greater’ gift, it hardly can be considered the foundational, evidential gift many assume.
  8. When we are told to judge as to someone’s faith and hence salvation, the focus is not on gifts but on fruit. Hence the way to tell if someone has the spirit is not whether they have any particular gift, but whether they manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)
  9. It is important not to jump to the conclusion that narrative portions of scripture are prescriptive and not just descriptive. Unless we have solid reasons for believing otherwise, narrative in the bible is telling us what happened, not telling us what we should do. Otherwise, we could look at the book of Joshua and justify genocide, or at Isaiah 20 and justify public nudity.
  10. If Acts 2 is taken as prescriptive, (i.e. what must always happen in the life of the church), we should also expect wind and fire and our language to be a known, understandable human language. That is not to deny there might be other form of tongues, but to say those other forms of tongues are the evidence of the Holy Spirit is not ignore the example in Acts 2. One could argue that only known languages are the evidence of the Holy Spirit, and this would line up more closely with what happens in the four tongue events of Acts. However, the sceptic in me thinks this can’t be the measurement because it is harder to fake.
  11. It is not taught anywhere in the New Testament. If indeed tongues is the evidence of the Holy Spirit, you would expect that to be clearly taught in any of the epistles, or even foreshadowed in the gospels.
  12. It has not been the history of the church. It’s dangerous to base arguments purely on tradition or church history, however when you are saying that tongues are for all Christians, you would expect the Holy Spirit to maintain that witness across history

 

Now I know not everyone will agree with my reasoning above, and that’s ok. Feel free to email or leave a comment on the church facebook page leaving (constructive) feedback. But even if I’m correct about tongues, we would be wrong to reject everything that has come out of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement. They bring a healthy and much needs emphasis on the following things:
  1. The power of Worship. Until the Charismatic renewal, worship tended to be a reserved, reverent affair. While trying not to lose the reverence, Charismatics have brought a much need vigour and excitement to our music in particular. David sung with instruments and percussion, and even danced before the Lord. With our deeper understanding of God’s love for us in Christ, we surely should not be less enthusiastic.
  2. The power of the Holy Spirit. It is a life changing power. In Acts we witness lives being turned upside down, and we read of the power, and the boldness that accompanies those who received the Spirit. Many evangelicals think the Holy Spirit is merely a doctrine and forget that He brings power!
  3. The power of experience. Christianity is not simply about agreeing to a set of propositions, it is about experiencing the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit didn’t subtly sneak in to the first Christians, He filled them!
  4. The power of community. My personal (and indeed subjective experience) is that Pentecostal churches tend to be places where the marginalised, the single mums, the low socio-economic and the outsiders feel welcome. It was in a Pentecostal church I gave my life back to God and the biggest reason was because it was there where I first felt like I had a church family.

 

We need to learn from each other, encourage each other and keep our focus on the gospel. I think it’s a real pity that the Holy Spirit has been so divisive over the last century, as where the Spirit appears in Acts, we see unity, loving witness, and power. Our understanding of the Holy Spirit and tongues will not save us nor doom us. Faithful Christians indeed sit on both sides of the fence. It is up to us to love and learn despite those differences.

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How Jesus is like Mary Poppins’ Handbag

I remember growing up as a kid and thinking that whatever special effects or wizardry lay behind Mary Poppins Handbag was impossible in real life, until I became a fully-fledged adult and met my wife Dani. What I thought was the work of trick cameras I found was common to all females, with the mystical working of the handbag design meaning that they can always fit more in there than would seem physically possible. Slightly more important than my wife’s cosmetics fitting into her clutch, is the question of whether the fullness of God could possibly dwell in human form. From a natural perspective, being an all-knowing, all-powerful, unchangeable deity simply cannot cohere with the limits of the flesh. But as we see in 1 John 4:1-6, the bible argues that this is indeed an essential element of Christianity.
 
If you haven’t already, take the chance to read it now. You will notice that John is keen not to take every professing Christian’s word for their good intentions. While verse 1 tells us that we are not to “believe every spirit”, it is clear by referencing the “false prophets who have gone out into the world”, that John has in mind people who claim to be led by the Spirit. Thankfully though, John outlines a test, a simple dogmatic requirement that differentiates those motivated by the Holy Spirit, and those that are diametrically opposed. The test comes down to, in verse 2, confessing that: “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”, which is from God, or denying that truth, which is from the world.
 
You might be wondering about why there is such an obscure test to one’s authenticity as a Christian. Certainly today, the reality of the incarnation is not at the forefront of attacks on orthodox Christology (Study of Jesus). However, the denial of Christ’s humanity, or Docetism, as it later came to be called, is extremely toxic to faith. Docetism, which comes from the verb “to seem” in Greek, basically refers to any view that suggests Jesus’ real humanity or real suffering was simply illusionary. It had its heyday in the 2nd century, as a central part in many gnostic formulations of Christianity. It is unlikely that John had full-fledged Docetism in his sights here, however, his argument undermines that later heresy. Particularly sharp is his accusation in verse 3 that “This is the spirit of the antichrist”. Basically, Docetism is untenable with the theology set out in 1 John.

But what is it that is so toxic, that warrants the strong language that John uses here? Why is this something we should even be talking about in church today? Well Gregory of Nazianzus wrote an axiom against a different heresy, where he stated: “that which He has not assumed He has not healed (or redeemed)”. If Christ did not assume our flesh, if he was not fully human like you and I, what hope do we have of redemption? It’s a bit looking at the crisis in the United States around government shut downs and emergency declarations, and saying that the one thing that could fix the problem is our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison flying in to save the day. No, it will take an American to fix America,  just like it takes a very human Jesus to bring humanity to God. Salvation itself is at stake here, and John calls us to reject this heresy as coming directly from the enemy.

Americas saviour?

So hopefully you would be able to recognise a full scale docetist, and you might even be able to recognise why such a view is dangerous and puts questions around salvation itself. But what can you do in light of this passage? Well I think that John leaves us with both an imperative and an encouragement regarding this grievous error. The imperative is in how he begins his passage, telling us to test the spirits. This is not a descent into bigoted distrust of all those who are different. But it is a warning to be on the look out for those Christians who are spouting modern day iterations of Docetism. Particularly susceptible to this error are converts from Islam, which denies Jesus’ real suffering. Likewise, any syncretism with New Age philosophy runs the risk of valuing spiritual over the physical, and could also lead to a denial of Christ’s physical body.
 
However, while this error may be subtle, and is extremely dangerous, John provides the best encouragement of all for us in verse 4: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Docetism, and the related heresy of Gnosticism may seem to be making a resurgence. There will always be a force in this world telling us that Christ did not come in the flesh. But we can have assurance that God has overcome the world, and he has done that through the God-man, the divine and yet human, Jesus Christ.
 
So let this passage send you out with a wind in your sails this week. Not everything nor everyone that claims to be from God truly is. But that which is not from God, and particularly the dangerous heresy of Docetism has and ultimately will be dealt with. It puts forth a saviour who cannot truly identify with us in our weakness, who is not fully human, nor has fully suffered. This is not a saviour worth worshipping, as this is a saviour who is unable to complete the task of redemption, and bring us to God for all eternity. Praise be to God, that Jesus became like us, and took what we deserve, that we might experience what only he deserves: Eternal Rest.

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Does Acts 2 endorse Capitalism?

During our Bible study and preaching series through Acts, many questions and elements of the passage can lead us down the rabbit hole and away from the main intention of the text. They are often a reflection of later ideas and questions asked back upon the text, rather than arising from the text in its own setting. One of those issues is the question of Communism or Socialism in Acts 2:42-47. Verse 44 in particular tells us that the early church “had all things in common”, and verse 45 adds that “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” On a surface reading, we could say that a communist form of government with no private ownership is closest to this, and should be what Christians advocate for.  

Not So Simple…
However, this is only a surface reading of the text, which doesn’t paint a full understanding of how the early church operated and what the modern political system of communism stands for. In terms of this passage, the “having all things in common” refers to the use of objects, not their ownership. So individuals might have owned a house, but they used it for the common good. We know this, because Christians such as Ananias and Saphira and Barnabas were able to sell their property later and then give the proceeds to the church. Acts 2 clearly doesn’t entail a legal handing over of all property, otherwise, there would be nothing to sell later.
Furthermore, the verbs here of “selling” and “distributing” are written not in the aorist tense, but in the imperfect. Don’t let the big grammar words scare you, basically (and this is a gross simplification) aorist tense indicates an activity that occurs in the past, once off, or is punctiliar (at a particular point of time). However the imperfect tense indicates ongoing activity. Logic tells us that the ongoing activity of selling and distributing their possessions meant that it didn’t happen all at one time, like it was a requirement to join an exclusive cult. As believer’s had certain needs, those in the community that owned more would use those goods for the needs of the people. Likewise, they would even sell their stuff periodically to provide financial support for others. The ultimate example of this was believers like Barnabas who sold their land and property completely and gave it to the poor. This action would not be noted and attributed to an individual if it was the norm and not an outstanding example.
 
Capitalism or Communism?
The other thing worth noting, is that this kind of sacrificial love and communal living is something that is only described after the outpouring of the Spirit at the beginning of chapter 2. That is to say, this is something that is impressed on believers, by the Spirit, and should be viewed as impossible without the transforming work of  that Spirit. In other words, the believer may have it impressed on them, through God’s guidance, to a radical, selfless generosity (and every Christian should to varying degrees). However, to expect it from a nation as a whole, even from the unregenerate, finds no justification in Acts 2. That is not to say that the greediness and individualism that is more typical in capitalist societies is a more biblical picture either. The Bible simply does not outline a complete political picture of what secular governments should look like in the midst of the church age. What it does advocate is that the church is a rival kingdom, with a completely different and indeed radical agenda from the society around it. That might mean generosity and social justice where the poor are marginalised and forgotten, and empowerment of the individual and family units when the government becomes oppressive and supreme.
 
The question that this passage should raise in our hearts is not actually about communism, but about the importance of generosity that goes above and beyond the expected. It is a well noted point that the New Testament does not at all advocate a tithe (10%) offering to the church. As C.S. Lewis famously put it “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” (Mere Christianity, p86-87). The early Christians clearly valued their faith, their love for Christ, and their love for each other well over getting ahead and being financially successful. It is only when the idols of our heart, particularly the lure of materialism, is more important and more treasured than Christ, that we would baulk at the idea of selling all we have and give to the poor. Every time I teach or preach on a passage that involves radical generosity, you can almost hear an audible sigh of relief when I say something like: “God doesn’t expect this from every Christian”. But the challenge I want to leave with you today is not to downplay the challenge of this chapter. Would you be willing to give well beyond your means for the sake of the kingdom? If not, why not? How can you put your money where your mouth is this week?
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dan Bassett
 

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Bible Verses for Anxiety or Depression

The other day I was listening to the excellent podcast from John Piper (Ask Pastor John), which was talking about what bible verses to turn to when in the midst of depression. If that is the struggle you are going through, I encourage you to listen to the original here. John piper outline 5 different types of verse to turn to in such times. As any doctor will tell you, depression is also closely aligned with anxiety, and so I thought I would offer 6 different types of verse to read when going through anxiety. Because it is based on John Piper’s list, it will also be helpful for depression (though the specific verses I have chosen are more aimed at anxiety). I hope it is as helpful for you as it has been for me.

  1. Those that talk about the need for waiting on God.
  • “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock” (Psalm 40:1–2)
  • “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
  • “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?… But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:1-2,5-6)
  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.” (Psalm 25:16-17)

 

  1. Those verse that show how to experience gutsy guilt. This isn’t to say that anxiety or depression is a punishment for any specific sin, but just a recognition that we aren’t innocent and deserving any better than the deepest of all pits.
  • “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness [now that’s what I would call depression or anxiety], the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.” I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me [not against me, but for me]. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:8-9)
  • Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. (Psalm 51:8-9)

 

  1. Fix your attention especially on the passages that describe the stunning work of Christ on the cross
  • “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8)
  • “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3)
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13)
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
  • Many more such as: 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:12, Philippians 1:6, Isaiah 53:4–6

 

  1. The fourth group is to recite Scriptures that explain God’s promise to the anxious or depressed Christian:
  • “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” ( John 14:27)
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • See also verses such as Psalm 91:1-16, Zephaniah 3:17,

 

  1. Those verses which command us to forego worry and joylessness (based on God’s promises):
  • “But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
  • “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
  • “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22)
  • “’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14)

 

  1. Read and pray those verses which describe peace and freedom from anxiety, whether or not you fully feel them yet. This is not hypocrisy, it is a way to call out to God that what is true in these verses may be true for you.
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
  • “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
  • “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
  • “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)
  • “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” (Psalm 118:6-7)
I hope these verses will help guide your thoughts and minds to the freedom that is yours in Christ, and always remember the numerous benefits of walking alongside your Christian brothers and sisters as you go through these trials.
 

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