Who remembers the Pick and Mix stands so enticingly arranged within the sweet shops of our youth?
Little white paper bags, weighing scales to check the cost as you go, a generous selection of different sweeties to pick your favourites from and the hygienically attached plastic scoops to remind the owners of grubby and sticky mitts not to just thrust outstretched hands straight into the sweetie containers!
Constrained by our pocket money budgets, we would survey tubs of rainbow drops, various flavoured bon-bons, liquorice straws, chocolate mice, sherbet centred boiled sweets and chocolate covered raisins, to name but a few! A real cornucopia of the sweet but with a few sours included. The pick n mix offered us a chance to bag up our own selection of favoured flavours without the need to invest in full size packets of the whole thing.
So, here is my food for thought this week; are we in danger of applying this approach to our faith?
Do we avoid the whole package of the bible and choose instead to suck on selected verses, maybe taken out of concept but tasting sweeter perhaps, without the wrapper?
I could have written of many potentially misapplied or misunderstood scriptures, frequently quoted without context today but I’ve chosen to go with possibly the most frequently heard.
I am not good at remembering scripture by chapter and verse numerically but even I can quote the following verse, ad infinitum:
Book of John Chapter 3 Verse16 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Could this be the most oft quoted verse ever? Please don’t misunderstand me, an often quoted verse is a beautiful and powerful thing in itself, but and there is a but, I think that this verse is used too frequently within Christian circles in isolation, with the idea or intent of supporting a faith based solely on declaration rather than a faith of love expressed, that has a tangible visibility to it. I have encountered some brethren who appear to almost defend themselves with this verse, whose depth of faith is of course, unknown to me but in terms of the fruit of their lives, were they to be accused of being Christian, the evidence, simply put, would be in very short supply!
The following verse doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as popular in the realm of Christian soundbites but within the same book and the same chapter, some verses later, we read;
Book of John Chapter 8 Verse 51 NIV
Very truly, I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
Aha, could there be more to Christianity then than simple stand-alone belief then? Should we comprehend more from the concept of belief than our current day culture suggests? Also, obedience isn’t such a popular word these days is it? However, reading both verses shows us that belief and obedience are both important ingredients of the outworking of the Christian faith and they call out for further reading as, surely, you cannot believe in or obey the commands of someone with whom you are not reasonably well acquainted? So even two verses give us more depth but when the scriptures were written, there was a plan, purpose and intent in the Holy Spirit inspired order of words.
I blog with soundbites of scripture but hopefully with respectful intentionality of both the content and the context of the verse and I use my life experiences, or that of others, to illustrate my application or understanding of the scripture.
So,summarily, what I am saying today is that we cannot simply pick and mix the scriptures that suit our tastes and chew on them as stand-alone nuggets of wisdom. Why? Because they come with packaging, content and the wider reading of detailed and Godly instructions!
God bless you all.
Firstly I will clarify my understanding of the meaning of the word ‘Binary’. I consider that binary is a system of two options; black or white, on or off, 1 or zero for example.
I recently had an interesting conversation with someone whose intellect I respect but who challenged my view of scripture as infallible and further conversational exploration resulted in the opinion that I am too binary and that God, simply, is not.
Oh really? I am considered radical? I had some serious food for thought right here.
Is this true or is this to support our individualistic and autonomously driven society’s apparent need for fluidity in all things, especially things that were previously considered solid in nature, such as your gender at birth?
Sadly the church is unable to stand clear of the worldly view and is under the same pressure or metamorphosis, depending on your point of view. There are currently radical shifts of opinion within established denominations that are causing more than cracks and fissures in the theological foundations; splits and separations are happening, as I write this, to many different and mainstream churches.
Additionally, I must ask, are we attempting to redefine the concept and the definition of sin? Do we believe that the passage of time allows us to ‘move on’ and to rewrite the code of what is acceptable in the sight of, or in the house of, our Holy God?
I would expect non-believers to campaign for what they believe is fair, moral and acceptable behaviour and to shift mainstream opinions further and further away from our western Judeo-Christian heritage.
However, the sheer numbers of those professing belief in Christianity, surely by definition, believers and followers of Christ, who are also moving to redefine what is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, is astounding to me.
So, my equilibrium rocked by a respected brother, I turn, as always, to what does the Bible say?
The Book of Psalms 119 verse 89
Forever, O LORD, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Also, from the New Testament we are told;
The Book of Hebrews Chapter 13 Verse 8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The bible shows us clearly that our self-focus and need to define our own rules and morality is nothing new.
It also shows through the history of the Israelites and the prophetic scripture foretelling the future, the outcomes of such rebellion.
Please read and re-read diligently the inspired Word of God and then prayerfully and spiritually decide where you want to stand regarding the changes that occurring within the church right now. Now, these changes truly are radical!
Reflecting on my previous Blog (Re-centre the Sat-Nav), I pondered on why I had questioned the path that I was on and had tried to run ahead, striving to see what lay over the horizon?
I then realised that part of my confusion lay in the level of challenge that I was facing on a daily basis. In short, I was finding life really hard!
My ‘logic’ was based on some erroneous understanding of the joy that I was meant to encounter in everyday life. Please don’t misunderstand me, I first encountered and turned to Christ during one of the lowest points of my life and He returned, amongst many things, the concept of hope to me. Also, the last decade has had its share of mountainous adventures and abundance and also its deep valleys of grief and loss and I have needed Him every step of the way. However, I was finding that my current allotted mission field was impacting on the deepest and most vulnerable part of me. It was challenging me emotionally, spiritually and physically and I was battling fear in an area of my life that I had deemed was over and never to be encountered again.
God, it seemed, had other ideas!
Historically, I have witnessed and experienced doors ahead both open and shut tight as God has unfolded His plan step-by-step plan and I knew that Father had chosen this path for me. I had heard Him very clearly on this but, as the giants appeared in front of me, I began to re-tune my inner ear and to listen to the other voice instead.
Surely there has been some kind of mistake? This is too hard. A loving father wouldn’t allow even the narrow path to be this bumpy would he?
This sounds ridiculous to me now but as I inclined my ears to Satan’s seduction, my clarity of vision began to blur and I seemed to see scripture through a lens focussed solely on blessing and prosperity!
Now as the ground around me had begun to wobble, figuratively speaking, I was granted the wisdom to return to the cornerstone of my convictions. Back to Jesus and back to the gospels;
We know that Mary was obedient to her God given calling and in the New Testament, Luke tells us of the difficulties that she and Joseph faced on arrival in Bethlehem;
Book of Luke Chapter 2 Verse 1 ESV
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The King of all Kings was born into the humblest of places with just basic provision for Him and His parents as, in the town; there was literally no room for them!
We need to move over and make room for suffering and surrendering in our Christian lives, as we follow Him!
I may not understand right now but I know that God is good and afresh I commit to follow and trust in Him and repent of being deceived by the father of lies using my own selfish desires.
Jesus lived His entire life in surrender to the will of His Father, leading to His ultimate surrender in Gethsemane and then onto His suffering and tortuous death at Calvary, every step of the way was for our own good, God’s perfect plan for the salvation of mankind!
Oh those pesky emotions! I have been feeling lost recently, wondering if the last Godly Signpost that I had followed had been an error on my part?
Had I had wandered off the narrow path having misread a direction from the Lord and was I now circling around down a blind alley, surrounded by a mist of confusion? Was I catching glimpses of partially obscured ‘signs’ that were pointing in the opposite direction? Was I walking away from God’s plan for me?
In the natural, getting lost on your journey and then finding yourself in unfamiliar territory can raise your stress levels and it is no different in the spiritual.
Holy Spirit brought to mind the last time I had been doubtful that I was on the right track to a new destination and I had, mid-journey, taken our Sat-Nav from the dashboard and started to scroll ahead on the planned route to see for myself where we were going?
This resulted in an escalation of doubt and confusion until this clever little device gave me an opportunity to ‘re-centre the sat-nav’ and then, as my husband peered at me over his glasses, I sheepishly returned it to it’s cradle!
Why did I now doubt the direction that I had been so sure that God had sent me in? Well, I was feeling frustration, confusion and misery; in short I had lost my peace. I needed wisdom.
King Solomon wrote this;
Book of Proverbs Chapter 20 Verses 24.ESV
A man’s steps are from the Lord;
how then can man understand his way?
This cleared the mist for me today. The truth is that I am not on the wrong path; I’m in the wrong position! Instead of following Him, I’ve merrily gone skipping ahead, trying to see the details and purpose of His plan that is always out of sight, just over the horizon! Instead of faith and trust in my Lord, I have sought my own knowledge and comprehension!
King Solomon also wrote this;
Book of Proverbs Chapter 3 Verses 5&6.ESV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths
I was lost but now am found in more than one way! It wasn’t the Sat-Nav that needed re-centering on this occasion. It was me!
I don’t believe that I have shared this before on this blog but I have a disability and need to use a range of mobility equipment, depending on which item is suitable for any one chosen activity on a particular day.
Recently my husband and I were setting off for a day to visit a small seaside town with a friend who had visited previously and knew the place relatively well.
We hoped to explore some of the town centre shops but also, our friend had explained that there was an accessible coastal path that involved a very steep incline but, literally at the end of the climb there was a beautiful view, a charming coffee shop and some beautiful, in fact award winning gardens.
To be honest, I was sold on the charming coffee shop!
Our next step was to choose which equipment to take with us and my mobility trike, which is capable of managing an incline and a serious distance and which can carry my walker on the back of my seat, was chosen over my scooter (short distances on the smooth, level ground of a shopping mall) and my wheelchair (think poor hubby pushing uphill and barred by narrow doorways).
We arrived and parked in good time and set off, following the coastal path with the sun shining, a gentle breeze blowing and the anticipation of a treat at the journeys end. We weren’t disappointed and after much oohing at the spring border displays and full of coffee and carrot cake, we turned back and headed for the shopping area of the town. Thus far then, this was a delightful day.
On entering the town, I could see that it was charming, olde-worlde and unpedestrianised with narrow, hilly and bumpy pathways. We had chosen a midweek, school day which leant the socio-demographics towards the older generation and there were a plethora of multi-coloured walking aids in view. My heart sank as the unavoidable truth hit home; I was going to be in the way!
Pulling my trike as tight into the shop wall as possible, I chose to wait outside for hubby and our friend as my limitations mean that using my walker is time limited and best kept for those shops that scream out my name rather than just call to me. It didn’t take long to regret this decision.
An elderly gentleman, himself needing to use a walker, slowed and with some effort, managed to negotiate the narrow pavement around me. As looked into his face to apologise for the inconvenience, he screwed up his features into a glare and veritably hissed at me, “Could you possibly use anything bigger?”
Oh, the impact of that verbal sucker punch!
I felt embarrassment, shame and my face burning within a milli-second! I opened my mouth to reply but for once I was speechless and he seemed able to walk away far quicker that he had approached.
Was he threatening, abusive or using foul language? No, but he hit every one of my rejection markers, knocking them down flat in a single efficient strike!
I felt so rejected; abnormal, surplus to requirements, misunderstood, and, as so often, simply in the way.
As I blinked back the tears that were threatening to betray my humiliation and vulnerability, thoughts of how the ‘old me’ would have reacted rose up and I realised that the elderly gentleman’s departing speed would have been inadequate to escape a loud and vitriolic piece of my mind!
Being selfless (read prideful); I smiled at my companions as they exited this shop and ‘cheerfully’ followed them onto the next stop. Again I parked outside but now there was a painful burr right under my saddle.
All I could see in my mind’s eye was a replay of the old man’s face and all I could hear was the ‘real truth’ of the words he had so publicly spat at me and this scenario was permanently stuck on repeat!
I began to think about all the things that I should have, could have said to him! I let my mind drift and presumed that he had only just started needing a mobility aid and what, if anything would he understand about disability from a younger age! Did I know anything about this man’s truth? Heck no, but the judgements I was birthing were springing forth at warp speed!
And then Holy Spirit gave me a nudge;
Book of Acts Chapter 8 Verses 23.NIV
For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.
This was as effective as the sharp brakes on my trike and pulled me up short! What was I doing and where was I going with this? I needed to forgive and let this go right now!
A different mind-set also brought home to me that this incident had actually done me a favour. It had highlighted to me all the lies that had seeped past my defences over time and the thoughts that I had not taken captive but had instead allowed to settle into the psyche of my identity. I had allowed these lies to become my truth.
I knew where the lies had come from so who was I going to look to for the Truth? Whose ‘truth’ was I going to believe?
My Lord and Saviour is Jesus Christ so what did He have to say about my worth?
He said that I AM WORTH DYING FOR!
I recently had an eye test and I needed to have bi-focal lenses, to see both long and short distances well. I had to wait for two weeks but having collected my new ‘specs’, oh my goodness, what a difference! No longer do I try to adjust my arm’s length whilst squinting at ingredients for a recipe or constantly try to enlarge text on my phone, only to find that although I can now read some of the text, half of the document I was trying to comprehend has disappeared off of my small screen! So, the world of close up comprehension has returned to me and I can see clearly now.
Historically, my short sight meant that I have needed glasses to see objects in the distance clearly since my early teens. So, for the majority of my life, a single lens prescription has effectively met my needs.
Also, for the majority of my life, I had not been a Christian and the only vision that I was interested in seeing was the natural world around me. My new bi-focal lenses have reminded me of the profound change in my life when I encountered Jesus and began praying for ‘eyes to see.’ For He said;
Book of Matthew Chapter 13 Verses 16.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Oh my dear God, what a difference! What an empowering, life changing difference.
Did every problem, worry and challenge that I had in my life disappear? Absolutely not! But, as my spiritual eyes began to open then wisdom, perspective and hope came to re-frame the view around me.
Most importantly, truth began to be revealed with more clarity from the mist of God’s mystery and my blossoming spiritual awareness gave view to ‘that which is not seen’.
Walking out this life, with awareness of the natural and the supernatural, grants such a deepened understanding and explicit purpose to our life here but also gifts a priceless anticipation of our eternal lives to come. The Apostle Paul said;
Book of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 Verses 17 and 18
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
My clever little smartphone has a relatively new alert and has started helpfully notifying me of my ‘Screen Time’ usage. Oh dear, was I in for a shock?
Yes, absolutely, if I had been asked to guess at the amount of time that I stare at my phone I would have been oh so, so wrong.
My actual figures were well over double what I would have surmised and this has given me cause for concern. Why? Because, time is precious and I so often feel that my ‘to do’ list is in danger of being overwhelmed by my ‘time to do it in’ availability.
Here comes my justification. On my very clever hand held device I can; SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger and email. I can check the Time, the Weather, the News, my Location (or that of others), my bank balance, my fitness level, the next train or bus, take photographs, listen to music, shop to my heart’s content oh and also actually make and receive calls!
I had considered that my Online Bible, Daily Devotions, and Prayer Site had somehow been the main focus and largest consumption of my time but this irritatingly clever and accurate new function breaks down my time and my illusions, and this week the heading of Social Media had the largest number of minutes used!
The Apostle Paul said;
Book of Romans Chapter 8 Verse 5 ESV
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
I would have declared that my choice had been made historically and was renewed again daily as a decision to set my mind on the things of the Spirit but, indisputably, with the evidence in black and white, I had allowed the tempting distractions of the world to consume far more of my time than I had been aware of.
Defensively, I considered the reading that I did on Facebook, oft times coming across news on persecuted Christians and updates on Israel that are completely ignored by mainstream media but is my newsfeed predominantly made up of this information? No, it is not. The Apostle Paul also said;
Book of Philippians Chapter 4 Verse 8 ESV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I want to keep my focus on the things of the spirit and the things of beauty in this world.
I could turn off my ‘screen time’ notification but it has served me as a clarifying early warning that my focus was not where I thought it was! Time for change!
Since I turned fifty years of age, around eighteen months years ago, I find myself bombarded with specific targeted advertising, both through my online life and my letterbox.
It seems that the plans I have for my funeral and my ability to leave something behind for my loved ones is of great concern to those offering various ‘policies’ to assist me with this matter.
It would appear that my goal should be to leave a ‘legacy’, which in world terms will be valued by two-fold criteria; firstly my ability not to be a burden by burial and to have made suitable arrangements for a dispatch that will cause no inconvenience, particularly financial, to those who are professing love for me at that time.
Whilst I certainly appreciate the wisdom of this and my intentions are to meet this requirement, my greater focus is to ensure that I have run this race of my life to win the greatest prize of all. As the apostle Paul said;
Book of Philipians Chapter 3 Verse 14 ESV
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the life assurance than I am interested in, the assurance of life eternal!
Secondly, my ‘legacy’ will be judged by the sum of money or the value of the ‘estate’ that I can leave behind me for others. Again, whilst leaving a sum behind for my nearest and dearest would be nice, my true aim is to stay intimately connected to the true vine so that it could be said of me;
Book of Psalms Chapter 92 Verse 14 ESV
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
For, if my faith is truly built upon rock and bears out, as I know in my heart that it will, what greater possible gift can I leave my loved ones than the fruit displaying the truth of Jesus Christ, our Messiah!
As I write this, my son, my daughter-in-law and my two youngest grandchildren have left the UK to return to the Church in California, where my son went to recover from his addiction to drugs and alcohol, just four short years ago.
He met his wife on campus during his following internship, married in 2016 and two adorable little boys have been born to them whilst they were back in England and during the time he applied for and received his Green Card.
This has been one of the toughest times that my husband and I have been through for some years. On hubby’s return from the ‘drop off’ run to the airport he immediately removed the empty cots and high chairs to the relative emotional safety of the loft. But, over the next few days, as we began to return our house to some semblance of normality, we moved furniture around and found odd socks, toys and dummies that had been abandoned as a family of four squeezed their lives into three suitcases. Each reminder reignited the fierce pain of loss for us and the reminder that our daily lives together had changed to such a long distance relationship. The grief we are feeling continues to come in waves, with some bigger than others!
But and it is a big but.
We know that they are answering the specific call of Jesus on their lives and they are prayerfully following Him.
Jesus makes this promise in the;
Book of Matthew Chapter 19 Verse 29 ESV
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
This promise brings us much comfort as our hope for our future is in Him. Much as we miss them now and are praying to be able to visit soon, we have hope that we will spend eternity together.
As we get older time appears to be accelerating at such a rate that no sooner have we got used to the beginning of another New Year, than Christmas is almost upon us and we are looking surreally into the beginning of another new cycle with another number all of its own.
Personally my flesh bears witness, mirrors reflecting the silvering of my hair and whilst my eternal spirit ensures that I feel no different within, I find that practically, when I am completing forms online, I have to frantically clicking further and further backwards whenever my date of birth is required!
Our bible tells us how short our time is here in this world;
Book of James Chapter 4 Verse 14 ESV
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
So, we are further geographically apart now, whilst we are here, but our hope through Salvation in Jesus Christ is that we will forever be together for eternity.
Our car was recently due its annual service, it was collected and returned to us not only fully serviced but newly washed, bright, shiny and clean.
We were delighted but a little sheepish as we realised how grimy our car had been previously as the difference was keenly obvious!
Then, very suddenly, hubby became poorly and therefore it was some days before we left our house again. Finally, the time came that he was well enough to head on out and we cheerfully opened our back gate, expecting to see a gleaming vehicle awaiting us. But no, our car sat before us, its appearance as grimy as it had been before its return from the dealership some days before!
We understood that driving our car around, particularly in the winter quickly rendered it muddy and dirty but the weather had been dry and it simply hadn’t been moved.
Purely being outside, in the world for just a few days had left it as filthy as it was before its wash!
I felt Holy Spirit use my realisation and surprise and He brought to mind the following Scriptures.
Romans Chapter 12 Verse 2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Colossians Chapter 3 Verse 2 ESV
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
We are not to be conformed to this world but just being in it, without a conscious focus to set your mind above, will very quickly lead to the residue of the world clinging to our minds, bodies and spirits. Transformation by the renewal of our minds is a process and standing still is not a wise option!
God can use all things to speak to us and on this occasion, He chose to speak to me using my stationary but grubby car!