Love without Fear

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“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:24-25)

In these two verses from Genesis we have a picture of the ideal human relationship in perfect unity (one flesh), complete vulnerability (both naked) and absolute trust with no fear of judgement (no shame). It is a portrait of perfect love.

The most beautiful thing we can ever experience is to be fully known by someone else, and at the same time feel totally and completely safe with them knowing us. Of course, no-one one ever truly knows us fully – except God, but many human relationships closely reflect this wonderful ideal.

Relationships, whether marriages, familial relationships or friendships, bless us the most when each person is not afraid to share themselves and feel totally safe with the other. This is a reflection of true love, because in true love, the Bible tells us, “there is no fear.” The Bible goes on to say, “perfect love drives out fear” and, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Martin Luther King said, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love”. And that is because the more we are known by someone else, the more of ourselves we put at risk. Deep love risks much…to gain even more.

Sometimes, we mistakenly doubt the good intentions of those who rebuke us out of love and concern. Sometimes, we bring emotional baggage to relationships that won’t allow us to trust. Conversely, sometimes we don’t perpetuate an atmosphere of trust in our relationships because we are manipulative, judgmental or condescending. The underlying principle in all such examples is we haven’t allowed ‘perfect love’ to ‘drive out fear.’ Instead, we are bound by fear. Fear cannot trust, and therefore, cannot truly love.

Sometimes we also fear God inappropriately. Does He really care about me? Is He really in control like he says? Is He truly good? Does He truly have my interests at heart? In the Scriptures God has answered with an emphatic “Yes” to all our doubts.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

For Prayer and Reflection: Is your relationship with God free of fear? What about your closest human relationships? Is your love for others free of fear? Pray that God will lead you into ‘perfect love’ for Him and others.

For Further Reading: Genesis 2:19-25

Thank God for the Cowper Gland

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“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

 I was sitting in my sex education class in Year 7. Much to our pre-pubescent amusement the teacher had projected on the wall a diagram of the male sex organ. As the teacher explained the various parts and functions to his uncharacteristically interested audience, he pointed to a small gland, about the size of a pea.

The Cowper gland, as it is called, secretes an alkaline mucous during sexual activity so as to neutralise the acids in the urethra that would destroy male sperm. I found it…and still find it incredible to think that the flourishing of our entire species rests on a single gland the size of a pea. Though I did not come from a particularly religious home, I was struck with the thought, “There must be a God.”

Others among us are similarly struck by the beauty of a sunset, the majesty of the heavens, the intricacy of an ant, the complexity of biosphere or the presence of rationality, morality and conscience in humankind. This sense we have of a Grand Designer in Creation is common for so many millions of people (Christian and non-Christian).

The atheists of today tell us that they see no evidence of God. But the Bible tells us the evidence is everywhere. It can be, “clearly seen…from what has been made.” Just open your eyes! Atheists are accused by God of “suppressing” an inconvenient truth (Romans 1:18-20).

One of the foremost atheists of our time, Dr Richard Dawkins, Emeritus Professor in Evolutionary Biology, is quite fond of making out believers in God to be intellectual fools. However, when speaking to Australian ABC radio on 2 March 2000 he remarkably stated:

“I suppose the grace of a running leopard or cheetah, the bounding kangaroo…the sort of powerful illusion of design that all living creatures have, but some seem to express more vividly…The almost irresistible urge to think, ’Gosh, somebody must have designed that’, and the beauty of discovering actually, no, they didn’t. There’s a wonderful process called evolution by natural selection which can go to work and shape living matter so that it really looks as though it has been designed.”

Dawkins is not the only notable atheist to admit a sense of design. University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne, in his book Why Evolution is True, wrote:  “If anything is true about nature, it is that plants and animals seem intricately and almost perfectly designed for living their lives” (2009, p. 1). Atheist Michael Shermer, in his book Why Darwin Matters, stated: “The design inference comes naturally. The reason people think that a Designer created the world is because it looks designed (2006, p. 65).

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck…but not to Professor Dawkins. If the illusion of design is so powerful, even to the great professor, then perhaps he can forgive those “simpletons” among us who dare to see the very same evidence differently…”simpletons” that include the likes of Professor Francis Collins, who headed the Human Genome Project and the Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Dr John Lennox, or the late Sir Robert Boyd (1922-2004), a pioneer in British space science who was Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Atheists and believers alike should all be thankful for the evidence of design. After all, where would any of us be without the Cowper gland?

For Prayer and Reflection:  Thank God for the beauty and marvellous design of his Creation. Thank Him for the wonders of Creation that touch your heart.

For Further Reading: Romans 1: 18-20.

Blood and Wine

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 “And in the same way he [Jesus] took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” (Luke 22:20)

Do you enjoy a nice wine when celebrating a great event? This Easter it may be worth taking an extra cup.

When modern western people make solemn agreements, they tend to sign a written document and perhaps celebrate with the gentle clink of some wine glasses. Ancient Near-Eastern peoples, by contrast, had a far more vivid way of solemnising a contract: they sacrificed animals and walked between the bloodied pieces (Genesis 15:17; Jeremiah 34:18).

The sacrifice invoked a potential curse upon both parties. It inferred that they would share the same terrible fate as the sacrificed beast should they fail to uphold their end of the agreement.

Thus, the shedding of blood was an important motif in making solemn agreements. Even today, a linguistic legacy of such traditions causes some people to still talk in terms of “cutting a deal.” In fact, the word, “covenant” (solemn agreement), comes from the Hebrew word, “to cut.”

At his last supper on that first Easter, Jesus told his disciples that the wine symbolised his blood of the “new covenant.” Jesus would die on behalf of humankind because none had kept God’s first covenant (the Old Testament). The shedding of his blood would indicate that the necessary sacrifice for human covenant-breaking had been made.

Wine has many symbolic meanings and practical applications in Bible. Wine was a symbol of blessing from God (Genesis 27:28). Grape harvest and wine-making were times of joyous celebration (Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33). Jesus turned water in wine at a wedding celebration (John 2:1-12). Wine points us to the great end-times feast where Jesus says he will drink it again with His followers (Matthew 26:29).

In biblical times wine had many medicinal purposes also. The “Good Samaritan” applied oil and wine to wounds of the stranger he assisted (Luke 10:34). The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to take some wine for his “frequent stomach illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). On cross Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh for pain. The wine of the new covenant speaks of the healing Jesus’ death brings us.

Wine is also used as a symbol of judgement. The wine of world can cause one to “stagger” and “fall” (Psalm 60:3; Jeremiah 25:27). The picture of the ancient peoples treading grapes was used as an image of judgement, with the feet of the treaders stained by grapes, as with blood, in vats full of blood red wine (Joel 3:12-13; Revelations 14:17-20). Unsurprisingly therefore, the motif of wine often symbolised blood.

Jesus’ last supper hearkened back to the Passover feast in Egypt when the children of Israel were commanded to place the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts so that God’s judgment would “passover” their house. When Christians drink the communion wine, they are reminded that God’s wrath will similarly “passover” them at the final judgment.

Jesus has paid the penalty of our covenant-breaking by shedding His own blood. He is the perfect Passover sacrifice whose shed blood was sufficient to satisfy God’s holy demands once and for all, and end the sacrificial system.

How rich in meaning and power is the cup of the “new covenant” in Jesus’ blood. As far as wine goes, it’s the best vintage on offer!

As this Easter corresponds exactly with the ancient Jewish Passover may I suggest a cup of communion wine to celebrate?

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For Prayer and Reflection: Thank God for Christ’s death on our behalf. Thank Him for the shed blood of Jesus that heals us, and promises us salvation from God’s righteous judgement. Praise Him for the promise of a joyous celebration at the end of the age.

For Further Reading: Luke 22:1-20

Numbering Your Days

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“Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

In 1990 I embarked on a yearlong backpacking adventure to the Middle East and Europe. My first destination was Cairo, Egypt. As I stepped into the Cairo immigration area the contrast to Australia could not have been more different. My first vision was of a soldier placing his Uzi sub-machine gun on the floor as he recited his evening prayers. The weaving high speed taxi ride to the hotel room that followed was every bit as thrilling (read terrifying) as any carnival ride. On the streets were teeming masses of people, animals, chaos and guns.

Culturally overwhelmed, I was in some trepidation when on my arrival at the hotel the concierge insisted that I surrender my passport overnight. My fears were not allayed when I asked if it could be returned the following day. “Inshallah,” was his casual reply, (“If it is God’s will”). I immediately supposed that the concierge was being obstructive. But lest I made a bad situation worse, I repeated my question, to which he repeated the same answer – “Inshallah.”

“Inshallah” (God-willing) is an expression used all over the Arab-speaking world by Muslims and Christians alike. The concierge was not being difficult. Like so many of his countrymen he did not presume that life was in his own hands, but rested on God’s grace. His humble attitude is shared by many of the poor in other parts of the world, and by those who lived in earlier ages where death and the uncertainties of life were ever-present.

We complain of difficult flu seasons, but throughout history, it was not flu, but plague or other serious illnesses like smallpox that carried people off every Winter.  As I write today there are 320 000 suspected, (largely unreported), cases of cholera in the Yemen. I wonder if many Yemenis are presuming to have a gap year backpacking in Europe as I did in 1990?

The Apostle James had much to say about our presumptions in this regard:

Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)

 Everybody knows that they are going to die, but nobody believes it…at least not in the west. But the Scriptures tell us to “number our days” and that, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten…fourscore if your strength endures.” (Psalm 90:10).

 Anyone who lived a mere threescore and ten (70 years) in our context would feel cheated…especially if they had retired at 65 or 67. It is not what the retirement brochures promise. But an average life span among Australian men did not hit 70 until 1977. In 1900, the average lifespan was 51. In 1890, it was a mere 47. Within two to three generations we are living a 1/3 longer than our ancestors and have quickly forgotten that life is in the Lord’s hands.

We know we are going to die, but we don’t believe it. We need to believe it. We need to number our days, that we might gain the heart of wisdom.  May you live many days – Inshallah.

For Prayer and Reflection: Ask God to help you number your days and give you a heart of wisdom. Pray that the Lord will show you when you are being presumptuous about your life.

 For Further Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

The Politics of God

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“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword…and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ (Joshua 5:21-22)

 My father (now 88) grew up in the former Yugoslavia during the Second World War. In 1944, he was on an island that was controlled by Partisans (Communists). The entire island was starving. On one particular day, many boxes of food arrived on a boat that had managed to slip past the German naval ring around the island. On each of the boxes, together with the American flag, was written in large black type: “A gift from the people of the United States.”

Despite the obvious identity of the donors, the Partisans told the assembled masses the impossible tale that the food had come, not from the “People of the United States,” but from their comrades in Communist Russia. No one dared to disagree.

To the Communists the Church represented part of the established order: an order they sought to overthrow by violent global revolution. And you don’t make good revolutionaries out of Christians who are commanded in their Scriptures to “pray for those in authority,” (1 Timothy 2:2) and to, “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” (Matthew 22:20) And so, as murderous and godless Communism swept across Eastern Europe, the Church looked for political salvation. In Yugoslavia (or Croatia at least), many in the Church fled into the arms of local Fascists and tragically became soiled by association with their murderous genocide of Serbs and Jews.

I believe there is a lesson from this history for Christians today. We are living in an age when paler shades of these extremes are again beginning to rear their ugly heads in the public square. Whether the subject is immigration, asylum seekers, homosexual marriage, gender theory, Islam, Israel, climate change or Australia Day celebrations, political and social debate on almost every subject is polarizing to the extremes. In the media, and especially on social media, everyone is ‘outraged’ at the smallest difference of opinion. Bullies demand us to choose sides. There is little expression of love for enemies voiced in the public square or on social media.

Like the Partisans who claimed the boxes of food came from their comrades in the USSR, so the “cultural Marxists” of today seek to impose a political correctness upon us, that irrespective of plain evidence, allows no dissenting voice. Meanwhile, reactionaries on the right, rail against immigrants and other minorities and use such inflammatory language that they appear to validate the very left-wing agenda they so despise. Where is the love of one’s neighbour in all this political clamour?

Christians must have none of this. They must be careful not to run from fear of the godless left into the arms of the godless right. Even as we stand up for what we believe (which we must), we are commanded to love our enemies and seek their welfare (Matthew 5:44). We are not promised to receive love in return. Indeed, we are promised the opposite (John 15:19). But as Joshua discovered (in the above passage), God will not take “our side.” We must choose His side. It is the only safe place to be…even if we should die defending our position.

For Prayer and Reflection: What are your politics? Pray that God will help you overcome your personal political prejudices and help you align them with his Word and will.

For Further Reading: Romans 13:1-6.

The Address of the Messiah

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“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.” (John 1:45-46)

Being the son of a migrant refugee (a “wog”), and having attended a fairly rough public high school in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, I experienced a mild but definite prejudice in my youth from many of those I met from the wealthier, more “pure bred,” parts of the city. Snobbery about where one lives and to which class one belongs is nothing new. In Jesus’ day, it was far better to have an address in southern Israel than in the northern region of Galilee. And although Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (in the south), he lived most of his life in the Galilean town of Nazareth (in the north). And in the view of Nathaniel and a good many others, that could not be a good thing.

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Why was this the case? About 800 years before Jesus was born the northern tribes of Israel in the Galilee were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and dispersed throughout their Empire. These are the so-called 10 lost tribes of Israel. Israelite tribes like Zebulun and Naphtali vanished from history. After the Assyrian invasion and deportation, the despoiled population of Galilee that remained inter-married with other local peoples, and became a mongrel-breed known and despised by other Jews as, “Samaritans.” Even full-blooded Jews (like Jesus) who lived in the Galilee were considered racially and socially suspect.

The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day shared these prejudices of the general population. “Look into it”, they argued to a supporter of Jesus, “and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:50). They were wrong. Their prejudice had blinded them to the fact that the prophet Jonah had come from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25). This was an important signpost to Jesus they were missing.

You see, all eyes looked for the Messiah to come from Bethlehem in southern Israel…respectable Israel, pure Israel…not the badlands of Galilee, the skid row of Israel, Israel’s “hood”. Bethlehem had been King David’s hometown in the reputable tribal lands of Judah.

But God had other plans and in an amazing piece of prophecy written hundreds of years earlier Isaiah 9 tells us:

“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light:

Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

…For unto us a child will be born

unto us a son is given;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Can anything good come from Nazareth? Why only the ‘Prince of Peace’ himself! And just as the earlier Galilean prophet, Jonah, was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish as a future signpost, so too Jesus was three days and three nights in the belly of the earth (Matthew 12:40).

For Prayer and Reflection: Meditate on the titles given to the Messiah in Isaiah 9 (above). Praise God for the wonder of His Word, and for giving us signposts and keeping His biblical promises.

For Further Reading: Isaiah 9

The Messiah – The Son of David

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“When your days are complete and you [King David] lie down with your fathers, I [God] will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

Many people today love to explore their family history. The current fashion is to have one’s DNA tested to determine long forgotten ethnic origins. The ancient Jewish people had a similar obsession with their ancestry, and were anxious to establish the purity of their Jewish and/or priestly credentials.

The use of genealogical records is well attested in this period of Jewish history. The Apostle Paul knew he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). In his histories Josephus, a contemporary historian, tells us his own genealogy. He tells us he found them, “in the public records” (The Life 1:6). Josephus also tells us that King Herod destroyed some genealogical records to conceal his own ignominious background (Josephus, Antiquities 14.9). Herod was only partly Jewish.

Multiple Old Testament scriptures promised the Jewish people that the Messiah would come from the line of King David and would rule with justice forever. Therefore, the New Testament begins with, A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David…’ (Matthew 1:1), establishing Jesus’ hereditary credentials to be the promised Messiah. Of further interest, the word, ‘genealogy’ could easily be translated ‘genesis.’ Thus, in its very first verse, the New Testament heralds a “new genesis” – a new beginning.

Interestingly, although attacked about his teachings, his miracles and the company he kept, at no point, despite it being an obvious target, did Jesus’ enemies question the authenticity of His Davidic descent.

King David had been God’s chosen king. He was, for all his human flaws, “a man after God’s heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). He was a saviour of Israel in that He killed Goliath, the giant enemy of God’s people and ended the Philistine oppression of them. In this sense King David is a “type” or foreshadowing of the true and perfect saviour who was to come – the Messiah.

King David was born in the town of Bethlehem, in the tribal region of Judah. The Messiah, it was promised, would also come from Bethlehem. Almost 800 years before Jesus was born the Prophet Micah predicted:

“‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2).

 And so, in the fullness of time it came to pass that:

“…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7).

For Prayer and Reflection: Ask the Lord to make you a person after His own heart.

 For Further Reading: Jeremiah 23:5-6

Fake It Until You Make It

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“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)

My wife was pregnant with our third child when I received the call at work. She had lost the baby that had taken almost 3 years to conceive. Inconveniently,  we had organised a party for my son’s 4th birthday for that very afternoon. Both of our children had been talking about the party for days and were jumping out of their skin with excitement. For their sake, my wife wanted ‘the show’ to go on. And so, for the love of our children we pressed on with our party plans. My wife also felt that she wanted to grieve privately before disclosing to too many others what had happened. A cancellation of the party would make that impossible. How could I disagree? The show had to go on.

But ‘show’ it was. Amidst my son’s well-wishers and kids high on sugar, our hearts were in our boots. The party, just a couple of hours in length, felt interminable as we fake smiled and laughed with the happy crowd and played party games with the children.

We pulled it off. We faked it till we made it. We must have done such a good job because my daughter, then about seven, exclaimed after all the guests had left, “This has been the best day EVER!” The tragic irony could not have been more poignant.

It wasn’t easy, but faking it seemed the wisest and most loving choice at the time.

I was chatting to my minister one Sunday morning. His poor wife had been chronically ill for over 18 months. She suffered with a permanent fatigue, migraines and chronic pain. The diagnoses had been ambiguous and uncertain. With four young children, life was a challenge. Even as a minister’s wife, (though she knew better), she was beginning to feel that God had abandoned her.

I commiserated with my minister on how hard it must be for he and his wife to front up at church with a welcoming face when they probably didn’t feel like showing up at all. He then shared by saying, “You know, to a great extent, you have to fake it till you make it.”

I was initially a little uncomfortable with my minister’s response. “How inauthentic we all are,” I thought. And yet, I had to admit to myself that daily I did much the same thing.

Aren’t there some days when you have to go about your business and your heart is in your boots? You’re troubled, you’re anxious, you’re depressed, you’re unwell, you’re lonely, you feel undervalued…etc. We have all been there – all of us just faking it. Is there any merit in all this pretence?

Well, mercifully I believe there is. If we want to transform and become more Christlike, some role-play is often required.

In his classic work, “Mere Christianity,” author C. S. Lewis wrote:

“The first words of the Lord’s prayer are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God…you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already…

Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality.”

The moral of the story? When it comes to building godly character, sometimes you have to fake it till you make it.

For Prayer and Reflection: Ask the Lord to help you to clothe yourself with Jesus Christ.

For Further Reading: Matthew 5:43-48

The Importance of Friends

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“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

The most frequent and bitter tears shed during one’s school years arises not from poor grades and missed opportunities, but from disappointments in friendship. Even as adults many of us know the deep pain of a friendship that has gone awry. But why does friendship matter to us so much? And why especially does it concern us so deeply in our childhood and adolescence?

The 5th Century BC Greek philosopher Aristotle had a lot to say about friendship. He observed that although immediate family is the most important and necessary source of emotional need and nourishment, friendship was one of the highest forms of love, because it was not based on obligation or responsibility (as many familial relationships are), but on the mutual choice to love the goodness and virtue in another. Indeed, oftentimes we love and depend on a friend more than a family member (as the Bible verse above demonstrates).

That is not to diminish the role of a sibling. One can be apart from a sibling for many years…and they remain your sibling, and will typically be there for you when times are tough. Friendship, by contrast, requires maintenance through regular contact. That said, it is possible (though not necessary), to love and enjoy a true friend more deeply than a brother or sister. As the Scriptures say, A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17).

Friendship is so important to the formation of our identity and sense of self-worth. We desire to be loved and valued by others for who we are. That is why friendships are so important to us as children and adolescents. To be chosen to be a friend is so very affirming.

We don’t need many friends to lead a happy life. “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend,” said Aristotle…and he was right. Most of us go through life counting truly close friends on one hand. Hence, why losing a friend is so painful. Indeed a solid friendship is far more fulfilling than popularity. As Aristotle said again, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”

However, a jealous or possessive friend is not a good friend. “By myself”, says C. S. Lewis, “I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence, true friendship is the least jealous of all the loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love [friendship] ‘to divide is not to take away.’”

All friends will disappoint us at some time or other. And we will disappoint our friends. Friendship is not always perfect. Jesus knew this when he called his twelve disciples “friends” (John 15:15). Although he knew he would be betrayed by a friend (John 13:21), and be abandoned by the Twelve at his arrest (Matthew 26:31), he still chose to have friends…and die for them. Jesus was a model for true and perfect friendship, summed up in his own words at the Last Supper: “Greater love has no one than this,’ He said,’ that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

For Prayer and Reflection: Are you a good friend? Ask Jesus to create in you the same sacrificial love for others that he had for His friends.

For Further Reading: John 15:12-17

Reflections for a New Year

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“Not that I [the Apostle Paul]…have already been perfected, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” (1 Philippians 3:12-14)

In 1998, I was working on an archaeological dig in Israel as a coursework component of my Masters degree in Ancient History. It is not nearly as romantic as it sounds. In fact, most of the work, with its arduous digging in the desert sun, was equivalent to heavy gardening on a very hot summer’s day. In the course of one such day a twenty-something Israeli girl asked me with some incredulity, “Why have you travelled all the way from Australia to Israel to do this?” I replied simply, “because I love history.” “Ahh history,” She groaned. “This country has too much history.”

“History” can indeed be a burden as many Israelis and Palestinians know only too well. But our personal histories can be similarly burdensome. The longer we live, the more hurts we can accumulate; the more battle-weary we can become with life’s struggles and disappointments; the more conscious we become of our own sin and shortcomings. When a crowd brought a woman accused of adultery and sought to stone her, Jesus challenged them with the demand that the one without sin should cast the first stone. They responded and, “began to go away one at a time, the older ones first” (John 8:9). Age had clearly sharpened the accusers’ sense of their own moral failings.

Often-times, especially if you are a reflective person, it is your own heart that accuses you most harshly about past actions and misdeeds. We can often forgive others more readily than we can forgive ourselves. But the Bible is clear. Our hearts will not deliver the final verdict at the Last Judgement. If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20). God is “greater than our hearts.” Only He will have the last word on forgiveness…and He has already spoken. He sent Jesus to pay the price for all our sins: past, present and future. Not to forgive yourself is to put yourself above God and place your wisdom above His. Ironically, not forgive yourself is itself a sin that requires forgiveness.

The 1st of January is often a time we take stock of our lives. This is not a new custom. In Roman mythology, Janus, after whom ‘January’ is named, was the god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings. He is most often depicted as having two faces, looking in opposite directions – the future and the past. Logically, therefore, the Romans chose to name the first month of their calendar in Janus’ honour, as the turn of a new year marked a time of looking back at the previous year and looking forward to the next.

However, where we have failed in the past year or indeed the past many years, the God of the Bible would have us learn, but would not have us overly dwell. The present and the future should take a much more prominent position in the forefront of our minds than our past.

Our passage above demonstrates that one of the greatest Christians the world has known, the Apostle Paul, was painfully aware that he fell short of the standards God expected of him. He knew he was not yet perfect. He didn’t celebrate the fact, but nor did he allow it to hobble him in his walk with God. He chose to lay aside his past by, “forgetting what is behind,” and instead looked to the future by, “straining toward,” the goal God had set before him. And this is precisely what we all need to do, not just on the 1st of January, but as a habit of our everyday lives.

The new year provides many with a determination to do things better in the future. Many of us will make resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, spend more time with our children and set many other worthwhile aims. But the most important resolution one can make at any time is to accept the Lordship of God and the forgiveness He offers through Jesus. If you wait to be perfect before you come to Him, you will never arrive. If you (or I) were perfect, we would not have required a Saviour. Jesus would not have needed to die. But, as the Scriptures declare:

“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 1:8-10)

Therefore, in 2018 God would have you come as you are, but with a determination not to stay as you are. Make this your New Year resolution. You won’t regret it.

For Prayer and Reflection: Confess your sins to God. Ask Him to purify your heart and to extend His Lordship over your life. Understand that this is a process and not simply an “event.” Ask Him to lead you through to a better life ahead. Forgive yourself and others of the hurts and misdeeds of the past and ask for God’s help to do better in the future.

For Further Reading: 1 John 1