Posts Tagged ‘bad times’

Deuteronomy 30:11-20, John 8:1-11.

Choose Life

 

Father God, we thank you for giving us your word. We pray that we might be faithful to it as we listen to your voice. May our thoughts and desires be pleasing to you. Amen.

 

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that?

I’m sure you have heard that before, at least in part, from the film Trainspotting – an iconic film, which actually I have never seen.  But like all good students, I have a healthy reliance on Wikipedia to bring me swiftly up to speed with all the necessary facts.

Tonight we are going to look closely at both the passages we heard read to us, from Deuteronomy and John and find out about the life and hope that God offers to us through Jesus. We’ll look first about the matter of life and death, then how Jesus offers us a new way and finally what that might mean for us and for our lives.

A Matter of Life or Death

Somehow, a film about drug addicts in 1980s Edinburgh is very similar to tonight’s passage from Deuteronomy, where God speaks through Moses to the Israelites, telling them that they have a choice between death and destruction or life and prosperity. They have the freedom to choose for themselves which way to take. One way leads to destruction, curses and death, the other to prosperity, blessings, and life. Seems like a no brainer to me really, when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

 

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.

But is it actually that simple? What does choosing life involve? If it was that easy, surely everyone would be a Christian, wouldn’t they? Equally, if it was that simple, no one would be a drug addict either. Everyone would live to a ripe old age and be rich and happy. And that doesn’t happen, does it?

What’s more, the commandment we heard was to ‘Love God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.’ There were 613 commandments spread across Torah, the first five books of the Bible. That’s quite a lot of rules to obey, about what you wear, what you eat, how you work and how you pray. In seems a bit of a death sentence, doesn’t it?

And that is why Israel failed to keep up. Other ways of life appeared so much more attractive to them. They chased the gods of the surrounding nations. They trusted in those nations to protect them from invasion, rather than relying on God. And the prophet Amos tells us how the people were abusing the poor and how they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get back to their dodgy dealing and corrupt trading. Ultimately Israel was divided into two countries and each was invaded before eventually being scattered for rebelling against the Romans. They were headed for destruction.

But God intervened, despite all of this, through Jesus. Thankfully, we do not have to worry about not preventing a third-generation Egyptian convert from marrying into the Jewish people, not cooking meat and milk together or not eating fruit from a tree less than 3 years old, because, through Jesus, God has offered us a new covenant; a new way of living with all the sins of our past paid for.

A New Way

This comes out in our story from John’s Gospel about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Imagine the scene. It was early in the morning, but the quiet hum of Jesus teaching in the temple was disturbed by the shouts of accusation, a dishevelled woman facing the consequences of her actions, and the expectation that Jesus would be shocked and horrified and instantly call for her execution, in accordance with the law of Moses. It is a three-way trap for Jesus, caught between the demands of Torah, the popular support for his ministry from the masses who would welcome compassion and the potential wrath of the Roman authorities for advocating stoning someone. It may also be a trap for the woman, as there is no mention of any man being punished. And it takes two to have an affair.

But instead the scene plays out very differently. Jesus ignores the accusers, and is apparently captivated in writing something in the sand. The tension of the scene mounts until he says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.

He doesn’t look any one in the eye. He doesn’t need to. Everyone knows that they have done things wrong. These Pharisees and teachers of the law know that they haven’t always kept to the commandments all the time. We know that we do things that displease God and go against his standards. Sin is a reality.

People slip away, gradually, one by one, until it is only Jesus and the woman left. No one has condemned her. She is given a fresh chance at life, and the opportunity to make things right. Jesus does call her to leave her life of sin though. He isn’t condoning her behaviour and letting her continue in the hurtful pattern of the path of adultery. But he doesn’t condemn her, and he gives her the opportunity to leave her sin behind.

Choose life. Choose obedience. Choose a new way.

And Jesus does the same for us. We can be free from the things that we do wrong, because Jesus died on our behalf. The book of Romans tells us that “there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

 

I’m sure most people here have seen the new film of Les Mis? Jean Valjean is set free from a certain death sentence of being unable to find work and shelter as a convict. He meets a Bishop who invites him into his house for the night. Valjean succumbs to temptation and steals from him. Caught by the police the Bishop lies on his behalf and says the stolen candlesticks were a gift. He even gives Valjean more valuables to take and sell, and give himself a new start in life. And as a result of this grace, Valjean changes the lives of many others.

 

Choose life. Choose forgiveness. Choose grace.

So What?

As Christians today, we don’t keep to the Mosiac Commandments. We no longer have a set of laws to guide our ethics, morals and choices. Instead, we have the example of Jesus. We choose to live as his disciples, and follow his teaching. He calls us to love God with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

It means that when I woke up grumpy the other morning and took it out on someone I live with, that was bad. It means that when I chose to get distracted in worship a few days ago, it was bad. When I thought unpleasant thoughts…or whatever. Even when I thought nasty things about the taxi driver who cut me up the other day.

But I don’t try to obey Jesus because I have to. I obey and try to let him transform me because I want to. The life and hope he has given me through his grace has totally and utterly changed my life. I have been forgiven much. I try to love Jesus with all that I am because without him, quite frankly, I was headed for death and destruction.

As a teenager I found life very difficult. I wasn’t at all happy with the way that I looked. I came from a broken home and didn’t want to become anything like my parents. I struggled to find friends who liked the same things as me. I started to withdraw from others, and had problems with eating. Then I began to turn even more on myself and started to cut myself to try to feel better. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I spiralled deeper down into a dark hole where I was in danger of throwing my life away along with everything I had hoped and dreamed for. A friend helped me see that that wasn’t the only way and that Jesus gives us life, hope and a future, whoever we are and whatever we have done. It hasn’t been an easy path, but it is definitely worth it.

Life is shorter than we expect. As you get older, the years go faster and faster. Someone told me the other day that now I have reached 28, I am now at the age I will always feel inside, even when I’m ninety and can’t get out of a chair. Even in my group of friends recently we had a stark reminder of the brevity of life as my friend was diagnosed with and eventually succumbed to bowel cancer. At her funeral, there was no doubt that even in her short life, she had embraced everything to the full. We will never be the same again.

Choose life. Choose hope. Choose freedom. Choose before it is too late.

The life that Jesus gives us is eternal. It is a life of fullness and joy. It is full of God’s peace, expressed in the Old Testament by the word shalom, meaning wholeness and an inherent peacefulness and prosperity. It isn’t a financial prosperity but something more than that.

Our Deuteronomy passage is open ended. We don’t know that the Israelites thought when they heard it. But that also leaves it open as an invitation for us, made even more urgent through the repetition of “today”.

What might it mean for you to choose life today? Maybe you want to find out more about the life that Jesus can offer us all. Or maybe you have been following Jesus for years and it all feels like a bit of a chore. Maybe some patterns of behaviour seem so tempting or so easy and they have been taking you away from the life Jesus offers. Or maybe everything just feels very dark at the moment.

Sometimes it might mean making a choice each day to walk in the path Jesus has set us. I know someone who has told me that they remind themselves each day as they reach out to turn on the shower that their life is a gift from God and that they are choosing to give their life to him each day anew. Someone else told me that every time they are driving and see an overhead gantry on the motorway saying there is a jam ahead, they treat it as a reminder to pray for others. Others I know have people they talk to and pray with for accountability for the old patterns and habits of sinful behaviour so they don’t keep on falling into the same traps. Ask God what he wants you to do, and how you can live in response to the life he offers.

Wherever you stand, God knows and understands. Like the woman caught in adultery, we can know life and freedom, even from things that, as humans, we might find hard to forgive. Why would anyone want to choose life? Because grace changes everything. When we choose life, God shines a light even into the darkest places inside us. That’s why we want to choose life.

Choose friends. Choose a family. Choose a future. Choose life.

Yesterday, someone wrote something horrible about me on Facebook. It was in response to an old joke about the time when I accidentally stood one person up because I hadn’t realised they had bought tickets in advance for the football and I had already arranged to meet someone else….boring, I can already hear you yawn. It was years ago, and there has been forgiveness since.

But someone else decided to chip in with some unwanted comments, saying that I should leave my friend alone as I had already done so much damage, and that I didn’t deserve him. Half their words were capitalised AS WeLL, just making the whole thing a LiTTlE mOrE FReaKY. Hmm.

I know the stats are really quite something. Cyber-bullying is massive. And this would barely even qualify. But it had been a bad week and it just hurt a little bit more than it should have done. Yeah, so it was all in jest. After all, it was an old joke. But some things just aren’t funny when you don’t know someone or what their intentions might be, it just makes things worse.

It certainly made me think about what I post in the future. And just makes me want to pray more for those for whom cyber-bullying really is a daily reality.

Under the broom tree

Posted: July 28, 2012 in Fear, Hope
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I have been reading a bit about Elijah recently. From the high of Mount Carmel he sank to the low of solitude under a bush in the desert, afraid and suicidal. Some people make a lot of the fact that he has forgotten God’s glory manifested on the mountain (see 1 Kings 18), and that he is wading in a mire of self pity. But I prefer to think of Elijah as overwhelmed, and depressed. He is clearly looking at the world through the wrong lens.

Yes, in some way, he has just been on that mountain top. But that didn’t mean that all his problems disappeared, and that Jezebel no longer wanted to kill him. The strain of the incident must have worn him down, until he could take no more, and then he just runs.

Basically, he fell into the trap that we can all fall into so easily. He got hungry (why the angel of the Lord gave him food), angry with the prophets of Baal, lonely (he thought he was the only person left who worshipped Yahweh), and tired. Fatal in his mind. So he prayed that the Lord would take away his life.

Luckily for us and him, that was not a prayer that God answered. He provided through food and water, and an experience that he would never forget.

So even heroes struggle sometimes. Even heroes get depressed and can’t see a way out of their problems.

But thankfully God can. And he does.

A bad day??

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Oh dear
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So, having a day when everything feels a little like the above. A day when it seems like everything (even the weather) is against me. Faced with my own company and a to-do list, and quite frankly it is boring. Hence, finding interesting videos.

Think I might try to be creative later – see if that helps remove me from my pit. And in the meantime, I had a little chuckle.

 

A lament

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Misconceptions
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 1 I am one who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
   he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
   he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

 13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for people to bear the yoke
while they are young.

28 Let them sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on them.
29 Let them bury their faces in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let them offer their cheeks to one who would strike them,
and let them be filled with disgrace.

31 For people are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to any human being.

34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Lamentations 3

A few weeks ago, I heard this passage read in a sermon and I found it really difficult. Somehow the idea of God causing suffering didn’t really appeal to me. I know it says later on that the Lord does not willingly bring affliction on to anyone, but that seems to be contradicted earlier on. Life in exile was bad for the Israelites. People were killed and raped and starved and kept as captives… but God brought this on them? What sort of God would that be?

Yes, I know they had sinned. But what sin is bad enough to cause that sort of punishment? As someone who has been abused, I would not wish it on anyone.

And then at that moment, life just seemed to be very unfair. I mean, why me? What had I done? I was a child when it had happened. Maybe I hadn’t always behaved myself like I ought to have done, but this?

So I had a chat with someone wise who pointed out the difference between sinning and being sinned against. So, my abuse was a result of sin. But not mine.

And somehow, that changes everything. I can understand that that is not God’s desire. At all. In fact, He must have been having a pretty bad and sad day when it happened too. But He did not cause it to be.

And He knows that it hurts. But it doesn’t have to any more.

 

Here is another video that I really like. Sometimes it is so hard to keep on remembering that God is faithful and in control of everything. Even when it feels like the world is crashing down around you, and that hopes and dreams are being shattered.

But He is.

Praise you in this storm

The other day I gave up, gave in and stopped fighting. It was awful.

I knew that I would regret it afterwards. I knew it wasn’t what God wanted for me. I knew that I was giving up on a good five months without having done any damage. But I just didn’t care.

Afterwards, I didn’t feel any better. In fact I threw up. Not clever. I’m not even sure what it did help really.

Now it is time to slowly start climbing back onto that wagon, step by step and day by day.

I sing in a Gospel choir, and one of the songs we sing is going round and round in my head: “I want Jesus to walk with me”. Right now, that is so true. He is my only hope.