Category: Blog Posts

We want justice

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

Jesus announced good news to the world – and that good news was that “the Kingdom of God is near”. This is one of a series of posts about ways in which our society is longing for the Kingdom of God, although it doesn’t realise it yet. My hope is that they will provide a basis for conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours – and perhaps a gentle provocation to some readers who do not follow Jesus, too. You can see the original post, with links to others in the series, here.

Global justice movements have gathered unprecedented pace and momentum in the last decade – movements for equal pay, against discrimination and human trafficking. Additionally, campaigns which have been around for longer such as the fight against global warming have been reinterpreted through this lens – in this generation, we don’t want to “save the planet”, we want “climate justice”. However, we have built a society that is deeply unjust, and sometimes the attempts to unpick it are overwhelming. The computer that I’m typing on at the moment may well contain components made by workers in unsafe conditions; the food we buy and the clothes we wear are consumer choices that often perpetuate injustice elsewhere in the world. If we borrow money to buy a house – as almost anyone buying will need to do – are we contributing to a system where only the rich can afford to live securely? And will the bank we borrow from invest its profits in companies that manufacture arms and sell them irresponsibly? We long for justice, but it seems that the total reset that’s needed is beyond our best efforts.

The answer is the Kingdom of God! That’s not to say that Christians live perfectly in this regard – far from it. However, one key foundation of the Christian faith is that God works in us to transform not only our behaviour, but also our desires. What would it look like for whole swathes of people throughout every section of society and in every nation to undergo this transformation? Then, to use the words of the prophet Amos, justice would roll on like a river – righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Why can this not happen through secular global movements? Avaaz.org claims a membership of 62 million people; 6 million people worldwide joined in “climate strikes” last year; blue-chip companies now pay their auditors for “sustainability audits” in response to public opinion – surely there is global momentum for justice? The trouble is – we don’t all agree on what justice is. This is seen most clearly in the “clashes of rights” that come to the fore every now and again. We could look at the Birmingham protests, where Muslims objected to the diversity curriculum – we want justice against homophobia and transphobia, but we also want justice against Islamophobia, so which one wins out? Pornography objectifies women, teaches objectification, and often exploits trafficked women; but surely women have the right to do what they want with their bodies and men have the right to consume what they want so long as no children are involved?1Just in case it’s unclear, I’m reporting society’s attitude here, not stating my own!

This clash becomes even more stark when it comes to the unborn. Lord Shinkwin, commenting on the recent discussion of his abortion disability bill, stated, “What I don’t understand is how after birth I can be good enough for the Prime Minister and the Queen to send me to the House of Lords but before birth I’m only good enough for the incinerator. I’m part of a group of people with congenital conditions that is being systematically killed.” He and others have regularly pointed out the inconsistencies of our approach to justice: take for instance two babies, conceived on the same day and with the same genetic disability. One is born two days before the other, and it is not only treated as a fully human life to be protected, but is further shielded by additional anti-discrimination legislation; on the same day, the other child can legally be killed simply because it is still inside its mother’s womb. This arises because of conflicting ideas of justice, and whose rights matter most.

Lord Shinkwin, who has championed the rights of unborn disabled babies

There is an answer to these clashes, and I wonder if our society might nearly be ready for it. It focuses on laying down our own rights, and standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves. So much of what divides society stems from our concern for ourselves – our benefit, our rights. Look at how divisive debates such as the one around Brexit took place in the public arena: almost all of the campaigning and slogans were about which decision would make life better for me – which would offer me better economic stability, better opportunities, more freedom. However justice-minded we may be, there is a strong leaning towards wanting justice for ourselves first, and many people would trace all our human evils back to this intrinsic self-centredness.

It is not only a question of laying down rights, however – we will also need to adopt a universal standard. The only way through for a relativistic society will be to adopt an unchanging, objective standard; the only one qualified to set such a standard is the God who made us – anything else involves one group of people claiming the moral high ground with no basis for their claim. This will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for many, as it involves laying down our own right to decide what’s good and what’s evil; it involves acknowledging that God is in charge.

Thankfully, God is not simply a God who gives rules and laws: He changes hearts. If we really want to see justice in our generation – and if we are willing to lay down self-determination and accept God’s rule over us – He will set to work on our hearts, soften away the selfishness, and help us to live lives that are truly motivated by a love for others. And that is not a forlorn hope, but rather a truth with millennia of changed lives as proof.

Do you have friends or neighbours who are strongly motivated by social justice issues? Have you spoken with them about how the Kingdom of God is one of justice? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section!

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
    let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Psalm 97:1-2

A Nation at Tipping Point?

There is fashion, there is fad,
Some is good, some is bad.
And the joke is rather sad:
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating…

Propellorheads / Shirley Bassey

The Old Testament is more than a collection of historical records, poems and provocations – it recounts in detail, and from many different viewpoints, a very long story of God dealings with people – and in particular with one nation, through whom He revealed to the wider world what He is like.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelite nation go through repeating cycles: God delivers them from oppression and they live gratefully for a while, but then they turn away and start to live their own way. God protects them from the consequences for a while, and warns them that life doesn’t work that way, but when they persist, He withdraws that protection and lets them see what it’s like to live without His constant blessing. They start to experience difficulties, society breaks down, foreign relations become aggressive, and inevitably they end up oppressed by their own despot or by another nation. Finally, they reach a tipping point where their distress is greater than their pride, and they call out to God – and He rescues them. They live gratefully for a while, but then … well, you get the picture.

Why mention this now? Well, looking around at our situation in the UK, I believe that we are nearing that tipping point. Why? Firstly, as Pete Grieg has written1See this article on Premier’s website, there are signs that people are reaching out to God in this time: church attendance is increasing, many are praying for the first time, and songs such as “The Blessing” are being watched by hundreds of new people with each passing minute. However, this is also against a backdrop in which people are deeply longing for change – and much of that change they long for is really the Kingdom of God.

Much of the change that people are longing for is really the Kingdom of God.

That’s a bold statement to make! If at the end of 2019 you’d made the claim that the rapid social change we were witnessing was really a longing for more of God, I think most would have dismissed it. As our fronts of self-confidence are stripped away in this time of Coronavirus, I think we’re seeing that it’s true. Below, I’ve listed off some ways in which I think our society is longing for the Kingdom of God. None is without their problems for society – in each area, the Kingdom goes far beyond what humans hope for, but it also challenges our standards and motivations.

Within our society, there is a mix of desires. We can be quick to point out the ones that are “fallen” (that is: hostile to God); but even in our fallen state, we carry something of the image of God, and we desire good and right things, too. Could those “right desires” be pointers to faith for people we know? My hope is that these posts will provide a basis for conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours – and perhaps a gentle provocation to some readers who do not follow Jesus, too! And along with all this, let it push us to prayer. Our nation needs to experience the Kingdom of God!

God is Glorious

This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths about God’s nature. You can read an introduction to the series here.

Back in Genesis 3, when man and woman sin against God, their first response is to sew clothes for themselves because they realise they are naked. In a suddenly-fallen world, they fear exposure. The same is often true of us: we are afraid of what people would think if they knew us as we really are.

This can lead to all kinds of dysfunction in our lives. From the beginning, God created us to live in community, and the distance that comes from living fearfully threatens this communal life. James writes that we should confess our sins to one another1James 5:16, and John writes that if we “walk in the light” (rather than pretending we are sinless) not only will we be forgiven, but we will also have fellowship with one another21 John 1:7.

The picture on the right is a fridge magnet that can be found on my mother-in-law’s fridge. While it’s intended as a joke, it hides a deep truth: our friends are those who really know us – not just our wonderful sense of humour or our secret talent for painting watercolour; but all the folly, the pettiness, the failures, the disappointments, the ongoing frustrations, the poor choices and the wrong mindsets.

Those friendships are deep because of the level of trust that is built, but also because we can be friends with no pretence, and no hiding away. You see, with most people, we suspect that the level of our relationship with them is dependent on how we “perform” – whether we produce good work, whether we are fun to be around, whether we post beautiful selfies on social media, whether we are successful, whether we are hard-working. Our identity flows from their perception of how we deliver on all these criteria – so we develop ways of living that are focused on a fearful service of others’ opinions.

God’s glory is not like that. When He reveals His glory to Moses, God proclaims His name – the essence of His being. That’s his glory! And it is entirely based on truth, not on others’ perceptions. He is “the Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin – yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”3Exodus 34:6-7. None of that depends on others’ opinions of Him. Is God’s love misunderstood? Frequently – but that doesn’t diminish His glory. Do people refuse His forgiveness, or reject His right to judge? All the time! But He’s the glorious and forgiving Judge of the world anyway.

How would it change our lives if we let go of others’ perceptions of ourselves, and set all of our identity in God’s glory being revealed in us? This is the mentality of Paul, who describes us as having “treasure in jars of clay”:

  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, I can do the right thing, even if it is misunderstood.
  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, I won’t shape my behaviour around the brokenness of colleagues or relatives.
  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, I can be honest about my failings and seek help for areas of sin and weakness.
  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, I don’t have to present the “successful me” all the time.
  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, nothing will keep me quiet when I have an opportunity to share it with someone else.
  • If what I value is God’s glory in me, being a child of God and a bearer of His image will be something I default to, not something I have to remind myself of.

The truth we want to internalise is this:

God is glorious – so I don’t have to fear others


It is safer and easier to talk abstractly about “ways in which we might be living fearfully” – but let’s make it real and talk about ways in which I do this. I hope that my vulnerability in offering this up will allow you to look honestly at your own lives, and to be open about your own shortcomings too, so that we can all live better in the light of God’s truth.

The drive to be appear accomplished

There are some good motivations for doing all the various aspects of my job, and some pretty poor ones too. The original intention of writing these blogs every week is to provide a further resource for our community to explore discipleship and devotion, to offer encouragement into our weariness and provocation to any complacency. However, more than once – including yesterday – I’ve sat down to spend time with the Lord, and instead found myself twitching to write this blog, produce a video, or prepare a sermon. Honestly, what’s going on in those moments is not the standard pressure of a to-do list, but a desire for people to think, “he’s a good pastor – he’s always got something positive to share from the Scriptures” – or perhaps, “he must be working hard”. You see, occasionally I get fearful that people will think I’m lazy because I’m not out visiting people at the moment – a fear that’s compounded if (God forbid!) somebody sees me taking some rest. There are times when those things don’t bother me in the slightest, and it’s no surprise that those times are the periods when I’m most consumed with God’s glory, and what He’s up to.

The temptation to rewrite history

I had a fantastic, wide-ranging conversation with a friend yesterday, and he mentioned the temptation to tell a story about ourselves in such a way that it demonstrates a point we want to make, or shows us to have a particular characteristic – sometimes at the cost of being truthful. Valid points can be made from fictional stories (Jesus did it quite a lot) – that’s not the issue. But if the sum of what I share with someone is a series of anecdotes that have been “upcycled” to display truths about God or noble parts of my character, have I really opened up my life to them? And how will the real me be open to challenge and correction if the real messiness of those anecdotes is edited out?

Disagreeing badly

OK, this is one that I’ve mostly grown out of, but it’s definitely a past failing and an area where I occasionally still have to actively correct myself. To my mind, there are two very common ways of disagreeing with other people – withdrawing and allowing our disagreement and frustration to accumulate in dislike; and arguing defensively or even aggressively. Both avoid the risk of having to understand the other person’s point of view, and maybe even change our own viewpoint. Neither draws us closer to each other or to the truth.

When this happens in a church fellowship, it’s particularly destructive. It’s possible for a group of people to have a veneer of unity when the truth is that they’ve buried their disagreements in a box marked “resentment”. I’ve also been involved in situations where two or more people in a church simply won’t give each other a hearing, and are openly hostile. The second is rarer in the UK because of “Britishness”, but that’s no comfort if it simply pushes us the other way – into resentment. A friend from a church in France, quoting Ephesians 4:15, was known to say quite frequently, “I know we French struggle to speak the truth in love sometimes, but you British struggle to speak the truth!”

Negotiators often talk of reaching “accurate empathy” – the point where we can understand the other person’s viewpoint fully even if we disagree. If our hope is in God’s glory and not our own, that place of humility is easier – if we’re wrong, it doesn’t take away from our value or our identity.

What about you? Can you see ways that you act out of fear of others? Who are you honest with about your failings? What Scripture could you memorise and meditate on, to remind yourself to find your identity in God’s glory and not your own?

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

Romans 12:2

God is Gracious

This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths about God’s nature. You can read an introduction to the series here.

Thomas the Tank Engine was a staple of my childhood reading: I think my grandparents must have had every single one of the original books; I can still hear Ringo Starr’s Liverpudlian delivery of “You have caused confusion and delay”, and the original theme tune remains a favourite1but please, please, spare us the new one!.

However, when it came to raising our kids, we rapidly dialled back on Thomas. The main reason was that every new arrival to the island seemed to be treated badly until they had proved to the stern Fat Controller that they were a “really useful engine”. While we are all in favour of a good work ethic, positive attitude, teamwork, and everything else that constitutes “really useful” in the stories, we didn’t like that the proof had to come first, before acceptance and friendship were offered.

When we work to impress others, it so often brings out the worst in us: we focus where our actions will be most noticed, rather than paying attention to more important but less visible things; we seek affirmation of our efforts, rather than giving them selflessly; and we risk prioritising charisma or reputation over integrity. We can also place our identity in the opinions of others, rather than treasuring our status as children of God.

When we work to impress God, things are no better. Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Son primarily as a rebuke to the Pharisees2see Luke 15:2-3 for their attitude, and casts them as the older brother of the story:

But [the older brother] answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

Luke 15:29-30

The Pharisees are so caught up in their worldview, in which their hard work is earning them credit with God, that they can’t celebrate the very things that God is seeking to do – reaching the lost. In their implicit criticism of God’s actions, they dishonour Him – just as the older brother dishonours the father in Jesus’s parable. But the truth is, we often see God through the lens of the Fat Controller – despite God making it really clear to us that He doesn’t operate in that way. Paul writes:

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

From this world-changing act of sacrifice, there flows a different way of living. Instead of working for love, we respond to God’s unconditional love with wholehearted work. Instead of us measuring out what we do and counting the return, we are loved beyond our ability to repay, and can give unstintingly to God and to others. And of course, knowing and living out the truth about God’s nature always impacts our lives for the better.

How would it change our lives if we looked to what God has done for our identity, and saw anything we do as a loving offering of worship?

  • If God is in control, I can rest – even when there are still things on my to-do list.
  • If God is in control, I can pray for outcomes that go beyond my own abilities.
  • If God is in control, I don’t have to be anxious about things I’ve prayed about.
  • If God is in control, I don’t have to fear the unforeseen things that might happen tomorrow, because they didn’t catch Him unawares.
  • If God is in control, I have enough hours in each day and each week to do the things that He wants me to do. (maybe not to do all the things I want!)
  • If God is in control, prayer is never a waste of my time.

The truth we want to internalise is this:

God is gracious – so I don’t have to prove myself


As always, it’s good to look at our own lives to see where we fall short of believing the truth about God. We can then counter these by “renewing our mind” with Scripture, and asking the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. Here are three of the most common ways in which an attitude of “I have to prove myself” can play out in our lives:

Demanding or controlling behaviour towards others

If we believe that we have to prove ourselves to our Heavenly Father, we will often display this behaviour towards others who we “father” – our own children, or perhaps employees at work – as well as in peer relationships. This is the one that I have to watch most myself, as it can easily creep into my own behaviour. When I find myself becoming demanding or hard to please, particularly with my children, I am greatly helped by reading passages that talk of God’s great love for us, offered without preconditions – passages like this one:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:18-19
Boastfulness, self-promotion and pride

Perhaps you have spent time with someone who always brings the conversation back to themselves, or who responds to someone else’s story with one of their own to outdo them3some light-hearted reading!? Perhaps, if you take a long hard look at yourself, you are that person sometimes! This behaviour is countered by understanding the lengths that God has gone to in order to justify us, the vast significance of God’s view of us, and the near-irrelevance of others’ opinions about us. Two great prompts for this:

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood … he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:25-26

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:22-23,26

But perhaps even more common is simple pride – putting on the mask of everything being fine, while underneath we are hurting, broken or tangled up in sin. The truth is that God desires to bring everything into the light, not to shame us, but to free us – the book of 1 John, which is all about how God’s unconditional love for us overflows, says this:

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:7-9
Low self-esteem

Lastly, there is the low self-esteem that comes from a belief that we are constantly being evaluated on the basis of our works. If that were the case – if our value was tied up in our usefulness to God, or our faithfulness to His commands – we would rightly feel worthless. However, the love and status that God gives us is unrelated to our achievements or lack thereof. Psalm 8 puts this in beautiful perspective, showing how vast and powerful God is, how tiny we are, and how seemingly insignificant, and yet:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands

Psalm 8:3-6

What about you? Can you see mindsets or actions in your own life that stem from a need to prove yourself? What Scripture could you memorise and meditate on, to anchor it deeper in your life that God is gracious?

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

Romans 12:2

God is Great

This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths about God’s nature. You can read an introduction to the series here.

Over recent years I have come to realise that one of the hardest things about prayer is that it involves doing nothing. I don’t mean that prayer is itself passive, but when we pray, we take time that could be spent doing, fixing, thinking, writing, researching and we give it to God1of course, you can also pray while doing things – I’m talking here about dedicated times of prayer!. Essentially we say, “I trust that God can do more with this time than I can.” We take something out of our own control and give it to God.

What is our obsession with being in control? Deep down, we know that it’s far better for God to be in charge – but when it’s our goals, our hopes or our reputation on the line, we’d rather have the “certainty” of relying on ourselves!

One of the longest-standing enmities in the Bible stems from a man wresting control from God. Abraham, carrying a miraculous promise of a son but getting on in years, agrees with his wife Sarah to father a child by her servant Hagar. Surely this is a way to fulfil the promise within what was culturally acceptable practice? Isaac and Ishmael are still enemies to this day.

Of course, things left in God’s hands are so much safer anyway. God sees everything and – far from being overwhelmed – He both understands it all, and is able to deal with it all. As one of King Asa’s seers explains to him in another episode of a man seeking to control instead of trusting God:

Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

2 Chronicles 16:8b-9a

If we can learn to trust God in ordinary, everyday things, I’m convinced that we’ll fare much better when faced with situations we have no illusion of being able to control: a broken dream, a bereavement, or even a global pandemic.

How would it change our lives if we looked to God as the One who is really in control, and owned our own limited authority? It could have such a profound effect on us:

  • If God is in control, I can rest – even when there are still things on my to-do list.
  • If God is in control, I can pray for outcomes that go beyond my own abilities.
  • If God is in control, I don’t have to be anxious about things I’ve prayed about.
  • If God is in control, I don’t have to fear the unforeseen things that might happen tomorrow, because they didn’t catch Him unawares.
  • If God is in control, I have enough hours in each day and each week to do the things that He wants me to do. (maybe not to do all the things I want!)
  • If God is in control, prayer is never a waste of my time.

The truth we want to internalise is this:

God is great – so I don’t have to be in control


One character issue that this speaks to in particular is time management and busyness. How many times have you said, or heard it said, “I’m snowed under!” or perhaps “There just aren’t enough hours in the day!” If we work this attitude back to its root, it comes down to one of three sentiments:

  1. “God got my workload wrong”
  2. “Someone other than God is calling the shots on my time”
  3. “The world needs me!”

All three of these point to a root belief that is at odds with “God is great”. If we were looking to throw off stress by challenging these mindsets from Scripture, where might we go?

  1. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”2Psalm 139:16, or perhaps “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”3Ephesians 2:10
  2. Our work for others is a subset of our obedience to Christ: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do”4Ephesians 6:5-8
  3. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”5Acts 17:24-25

What about you? Do you think, speak or act in ways that are not in line with “God is great”? Are there areas where you feel yourself grasping for control? What Scripture could you memorise and meditate on, to see that shift?

I leave you with a video that I stumbled on while doing some reading on this topic. It’s a song called Control by a group called Tenth Avenue North. The chorus reads:

God, You don’t need me,
but somehow You want me
How You love me,
somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
and give You control
I give you control

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

Romans 12:2

God is Good

This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths about God’s nature. You can read an introduction to the series here.

A few months ago, as I was walking down Windmill Lane, I realised that I had been thinking completely wrong about God’s goodness. In my head when I prayed and worshipped, I always thought of a whole set of attributes – good, loving, kind, faithful – and tried to express to God that he was fully all of those things. Perhaps that doesn’t sound very wrong to you, but the difficulty is that it sets up the idea of a “scoring system” that’s independent of God – as though on some objective cosmic checklist, God alone gets full marks. The fact is, God doesn’t score 100% – he defines what 100% is. To be fully good is to be fully like God – no other concept or person works as a yardstick for God.

This can affect how we think about things. Perhaps you struggle when you read passages about God’s judgment on sin, or struggle with the idea of His wrath, or His jealousy? Certainly outside the Church, people frequently make claims that God isn’t good because He does x or y1for some idea of how deep this goes, read for instance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_the_Hebrew_Bible#Prophetic_books. Wittingly or unwittingly, we often develop our own ideas of “good” and “evil”, and expect God to conform to them, and this independence, this determination to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, is the sin of our ancestors Adam and Eve.

How would it change our lives if we saw God as the source and benchmark of all goodness? It would change our motivation for so many things:

  • If God is my reward2Genesis 15:1, I don’t need to make myself feel better by looking important.
  • If God satisfies me3Psalm 103:5, I can live celibately in singleness or faithfully in marriage because I don’t need to seek pleasure outside that status.
  • If God is my treasure4Philippians 3:8, I don’t need to find fulfillment in what money buys, and I can live generously.

The truth we want to internalise is this:

God is good – so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction


One really helpful application of this is in shaking engrained sinful habits or mindsets. If you find yourself wanting to get free of an addiction or a besetting sin, one tool in the inventory is to ask, “what is going on in my heart when I …?” Very often, the answer is that we are plugging a hole – perhaps loneliness, low self-worth or boredom. We can then go to the Scriptures and ask, “what does the Bible tell us about God which meets that need?” We can then make it part of our self-discipline to memorise those Scriptures, and to make them part of our daily thoughts. Rather than simply “trying not to sin” (also important!) we are also seeking goodness where it should be found – in the Lord.

As a worked example, we could take jealousy – let’s imagine that Arthur really struggles not to envy other people – in particular Beatrice, who is younger but has already been promoted above him. As he sits down and prays it over, it dawns on him that underneath all the comparisons, he doesn’t really believe that God has given him enough. He also realises that he really wants affirmation from other professionals, and the lack of it is leaving him feeling unvalued.

Going to the Scriptures, he reads this:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

2 Peter 1:2-4

As he reflects on what a great treasure it is to have received God’s grace and peace, he is struck that he hasn’t fully appreciated how amazing that is. He’s provoked by the statement that “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life”, and decides to memorise that Scripture, and make a daily habit of repenting for his past ungratefulness and reciting that verse.

Other changes might be needed – he may need to confess his jealous thoughts to another believer, or perhaps rethink his approach to work and identity – but he has identified a weak foundation and shored it up from the Scriptures.

What about you? Are there areas of your life where you struggle to believe that God is good, and that you don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction? What Scriptures might you call to mind, and how might you see those areas changed?

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

Romans 12:2

It matters what we believe

This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths highlighted by Tim Chester in his book You Can Change. You can read more about Tim and the “4 Gs” here.

What we believe matters, and has a concrete effect on our lives. We can see this in the simplest of examples: my car might be roadworthy, with a clean MOT and a full fuel tank – but if I believe that it’s unsafe or out of fuel, I’m not going to drive it. For me to fully benefit from having a car, I need to know the truth about the car, and I then need to exercise faith that it’s true by getting in and turning the key.

This works itself out in our beliefs about God too. Scripture is full of truths about God’s nature; however, if we don’t believe them, we don’t live in the full good of them. This is seen very clearly in the parable of the talents. Two of the servants are confident enough in the character of their master that they are happy to risk their talents in order to see them put to good use – sure enough, their master is pleased with their actions; the last servant has the same master, but believes wrong things about him:

Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.

Luke 19:20-21

Because of his wrong beliefs, the servant acts wrongly- to the master’s detriment and his own.

Over four blog posts, I’m going to be looking at each of four fundamental statements about God’s nature, how it affects our lives if we fully believe it, and how we can “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” where we find our belief lacking.

Lastly, if these posts challenge or provoke you, I’d encourage you not to process it on your own. We are made for community, and “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Talk it over with a prayer partner, with someone from your home group, or with a church leader. I am convinced that this is the most effective way to grow in faith!

Alpha update

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead … God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:30-32

We are running Alpha online!

We are in a season when many people are asking big questions about life, and the usual distractions of busyness and social interaction have been forcibly removed, at least for those not in front-line services. As people turn over the existential questions of life, we want to be on the front foot in offering the Truth – we have a loving Creator, a self-sacrificing Saviour, a constant Companion, and an eternal hope. The Alpha course is a great way to do this! Below is a short video from Caroline & Dan about why we’re doing this now, who you might want to invite, and how to set about doing so.

How might you be involved? Who would you invite? Let us know here: https://forms.gle/kV1CF6HeeJDjAFC36

“As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:20

Praying, being and doing

I am convinced of two things about prayer: that God acts powerfully in response to prayer, and also that He often speaks and gives us things to do, say, change, repent of, or be bolder in.

We see this in 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat is faced by an invading army. Their prayer is “we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” God’s response, delivered through the prophet Jahaziel, is that God will defend them – but He also gives them instructions on what they must do. The victory comes about through God’s power and their weakness – singing not slinging!

As we pray, let’s continue to entrust to God situations that are beyond us – not only the spread of the virus, but the lost and rebellious state of our nation – and then let us stand up and be what we are called to be – God’s people, called by His Name, filled with His Spirit, and proclaiming His Gospel.

There’s a great prayer in Ephesians 3 about God’s people standing up to their full stature – I’ve recorded a prayerful walk through it, which I hope will be a help to us in praying it for ourselves.

Why are God’s people resilient?

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:3

One of the amazing feats that Christ accomplished through the cross was the creation of “one new humanity” – He abolished divides of race and descent, and bound together anyone who put their trust in Him as a single people: the People of God. Throughout the New Testament we read challenges to “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds”, to “allow perseverance to complete its work of making us mature”, and perhaps most radically to “love our enemies”.

Why is it that this new People of God can be resilient? How can we live that out in this current season? Here are five good reasons from the Scriptures:

We have a faithful history

One of the joys of having a Bible that was written over a period of nearly 2000 years is that we get a long history of what life with God is like. We can look back at God’s interactions with individuals, families and nations, and with the benefit of hindsight we can see not only how God showed them love, faithfulness and undeserved kindness, but also how He disciplined people, taught them, and brought about justice on a personal, national and international scale.

God reveals himself in Exodus to be “the Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin – but not leaving the guilty unpunished.” Story after story show this to be the case. As we read on, we are shown an increasingly clear picture of a God who can be trusted entirely, who is never caught out, never acts selfishly, and consistently blesses people at His own cost. This picture culminates in God coming to earth as a man in Jesus, demonstrating all those same attributes clothed in human flesh.

This faithful history gives us confidence! God deserves to be taken at His word just because He’s God – but to help us in our weakness, God has given us nearly 4000 years of faithfulness to look back on, with much of the first half captured in Scripture. Will God find ways to bless us? Yes! Will He shield us from anything at all wrong happening to us? No – He wants us to grow through suffering. Will He stand with us and support us through difficulties? Yes! Will He consistently give us better than we deserve? Abundantly!

We have a Pioneer
Anyone who has been in a crisis situation will recognise this situation. Everyone is caught off guard by a sudden development, there’s a pause, and then all eyes turn to the most experienced person in the room. They’ve seen it before, weathered it, picked up some scars, and learned some lessons.

If I was given a penny for every time I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” over the last month, I’d be able to buy a decent-sized multi-pack of toilet roll! Who do we turn to in an unprecedented situation? One who has seen it all, experienced every difficulty that a person can, weathered it, and picked up some scars. Specifically, in His hands, feet, side and heart. Jesus has experienced poverty, oppression, violence, temptation, betrayal, hatred from others, torture and death. He was surrounded by crowds, yet when it really counted He was abandoned and left alone and isolated. He knows what it is to dread the future, even while others depended on Him for leadership and guidance.

We have a Pioneer who has gone before us. Nothing we go through is too much, and He promises to be with us – not to shield us from everything, but to stand with us. Hebrews 12 puts it this way: “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

We have company
In his foreword to the excellent history of Christian spirituality Water from a Deep Well, Eugene Peterson writes, “This book is a timely antidote to the amnesiac, one-generational world that we live in. A one-generational church is capable of generating energy but there are no roots. When the emotions wear off or difficulty arrives it withers. Soon there is nothing to show for it. Without a cultivated memory we live from hand to mouth on fad and novelty. But Christians don’t sprint out of the starting blocks in each generation in a race for heaven. We are on a relay team. We have a heritage, a richly composted family history. We need to know these members of our family who lived lives similar to what we are living and lived them well. As we get to know them, we are less isolated, less alone. We are not orphans. We are not misfits.”

We can look back to Christians who have gone before us – and persevered through plagues and worse. Hebrews 12 again: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And we can also look sideways, to our brothers and sisters in other nations, also running the race with us. When we worship the Lord, we stand alongside believers in Portugal, Albania, Kazakhstan, Iran, North Korea, Japan, China, Bolivia, Canada, and so many others. Many of them are in the same situation as us, and can encourage us. Many have been through, or are going through, worse situations that are only compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. We can look to them for encouragement, and offer them our support as they too seek to be resilient.

We are a temple
We can read the Scripture quickly – ” You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” But pause. God lives in us. God lives in us. This is not a metaphor, but a reality! The Spirit who lives in us reminds us of foundational truths, like our status as children of God; He communicates to us the thoughts of God, and helps us to pray in ways that line up with God’s plan. You can see in the Scriptures how central the Temple was to Jewish identity – it was the centre of their world; it marked them out as God’s people; it was a place of direct access to God; it reminded them of their national history; it was a symbol of God’s protection over them.

We have all of that in us, the Church – Paul writes: “Don’t you know that you [plural] are a Temple of the Holy Spirit?” All those benefits and more are now found in us – the covenant People of God.

We have a certain future
I had a friend in a church in Wimbledon who used to say, “when the devil tells me all the wrong things I’ve done, I read Revelation 21 and 22 and remind him how it all ends!” She said it with a smile, but it’s true. The book of Revelation lays out picture after picture of what we can expect – first of all, Jesus with us, refining us, provoking us and offering rewards to the faithful; then troubles, including international upheaval and disaster; and then a true and lasting peace – not a dull, lack-of-anything-happening peace, but a celebration, a wedding, an eternal reconciliation of everything and everyone to God and to each other!

One of the most powerful things about Revelation is how so much of the imagery is utterly incomprehensible. The precious stones that have unusual appearances, rainbows like an emerald, creatures covered with eyes, the cubic New Jerusalem “adorned like a bride” with gates made of a single pearl each. The point is this:

‘What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’ –
    these are the things God has prepared for those who love him –
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

The hope that lies ahead of us is amazing beyond belief. One more reason to look Coronavirus straight in the eye, note its danger to life an limb, and then face it with the far-more-certain hope of future glory in our hearts.

” Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. – Hebrews 12:28