Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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Obstacles in life

Some of my grandchildren do an Obstacles Course as an after-school activity. And we face many obstacles in life. Today we are looking at the most important obstacles in our lives. These are the ones that come between us and God. This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham in February 2019. It’s also on video.

Do you have peace with God? Are things good between you and God? Are things settled between you and God? Do you know Him? Do you know who His Son Jesus Christ is? Jesus Christ came to the earth for a reason. God sent Him on a rescue mission.

The Bible tells us that we’ve all sinned, we’ve all come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). The penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet God so loved you that He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven to earth for the purpose of taking our sin (Jn. 3:16). Because the penalty of sin is death, the entire human race was born under a death sentence. When the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) sinned, sin came into the world. Sin is disobeying God. It’s breaking God’s law. It’s infected the entire human race. We’re all born in this sin. No one had to teach you how to be bad. No one had to teach each of my twelve grandchildren how to be bad. I’ll tell one of them “Don’t do this”, and then they’ll do it! They’ll do it just to defy you. Where did that come from? It’s the sin nature that we’re all born with.

God created humanity, but we’re separated from Him because of our sin. And God planned to redeem (restore) us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to take the death sentence for you and me. And Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth to take our sin. He died on a cross for you and for me. He was buried for our sins and on the third day God raised His Son to life. If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ, I’m going to invite you to do this today by confessing your sin to God, and by asking Him for forgiveness. If you do this God will forgive your sins, give you eternal life, and give you a new beginning in your life. The new start is like hitting a reset button on your life. Many people say, “If I could just start life over again”. Well, you can do that today.

The Bible says, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mk. 8:36NLT). Let’s look at a man in the Bible who was on the verge of losing his soul.

A new start

Jesus entered Jericho and made His way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” He said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and save those who are lost [like Zacchaeus]” (Lk. 19:1-10).

Jesus was passing through Jericho, which is in the Jordan valley about 27 km (17 miles) from Jerusalem. The Romans put a tax collecting office there because it was on a route between Syria (Iraq) and Egypt. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans who were a foreign occupying government. Zacchaeus was a Jew who worked for the Romans. His people, the Jews, saw  Zacchaeus as a traitor. He was working with the enemy. So they didn’t like him. And as a tax collector he was corrupt. He was a corrupt public official. Nobody likes corrupt public officials. They are despised. The Jews couldn’t do anything about it because the Romans were in power. The Romans didn’t care if Zacchaeus overtaxed people. And that’s what he did. He charged too much. He would give the Romans what they required, but would charge the person a little more and put the extra in his pocket. The Bible says that he was “very rich”. And he was despised, the people called him “a notorious sinner”. He was hated. He was a cheat, and a liar. He sinned against his people.

When Jesus was passing by, Zacchaeus wanted to see who He was. He’d probably heard a lot about Jesus. He’d raised the dead. Given sight to the blind. The deaf could hear. Sick people were healed. He just wanted to see who Jesus was. And when Jesus travelled there were always many people following Him. There was a commotion. It sounded exciting. Zacchaeus wanted to see who He is. But Zacchaeus was short. And Jesus was passing by. And Jesus is passing by you as you read this post. If you’re not sure that your sins have been forgiven. If you’re not sure that you have peace with God. You can be forgiven today. You can hit that reset button on your life. You can start your life over again. If you’re willing to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Obstacles to a new start

So Zacchaeus just wanted to see who Jesus was. But there were obstacles. He was short. And there was a big crowd. He was probably up on his tip-toes. He wanted to look over the top of their heads, but he couldn’t do it. It makes you feel that you’re little in the eyes of God. It makes you feel as though your life isn’t important to Him. That you’re somehow insignificant. But you’re important to God. You have a soul. You have a spirit. God made you and created you. And He loves you. And God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to talk to you. He wants you to talk to Him. But sin is a barrier between us and God. Sin has to be removed because you can’t have a relationship with God with sin in the way. God loves you. You’re important to Him. The Bible says that “this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

What obstacles prevent you from being reconciled with God? What are the obstacles that prevent you from coming to Christ today? Zacchaeus had that crowd – he couldn’t see over their heads. What’s your obstacle? Sin prevents us from coming to God. Sin blocks the way. Sin is breaking God’s laws and standards. All of us are guilty. I’m a sinner. When I was 22 years old I prayed to God confessing my sins. I trusted that Jesus died to take the penalty for my sins. When I was growing up I didn’t want God running my life. I just wanted to have fun. And I thought that the more fun that I could have the better life could be. But I found out that the harder that I tried to have fun, the more empty my life became. And I finally got to the place in my life where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. And you might feel like that. So I prayed, “God I have sinned. My life is upside down in such a mess that I don’t know where to go or what to do. Today I surrender. I want to turn from my sins. I believe that Jesus is your Son. I believe that He died from my sins. I believe that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him. I want Him to forgive me. I want a new beginning. A new start. If you just take the pieces of my life, you can have it”. When I prayed that prayer, I meant it. And God forgave me, He’ll do the same for you. We’re all sinners. We’ve all lied (said something deceitful)? We’ve all stolen (taken something that doesn’t belong to us). We’ve all coveted (wanted something that someone else has). If you’ve lied, God will forgive you. If you’ve stolen, God will forgive you. If you’ve coveted, God will forgive you. If you’re guilty of sexual sins, God will forgive you. We’re all guilty and under a death sentence. But God has provided an escape and that’s through the cross. Because Jesus took our sins to the cross, He paid the debt for us.

You may say, “There’s lots of religions in the world”. This is not about a religion. It’s about a relationship with the one true God. You can have that today. But you have to be willing to accept it by faith. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Even if you’ve kept all the laws, you were still born into sin. And the penalty of sin is death. Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. And you’ve got a big obstacle without Jesus Christ. Because the only way that you can come to God is through faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father [God] except through me” (Jn. 14:6). There’s not many roads to God – there’s only one and that’s through the cross of Jesus Christ. Because He’s the one who paid the debt of sin. No one else paid the debt of sin in all of history, only Jesus. None of the religions claim to take your sin. Only Jesus Christ has taken your sin. If you put your trust in Him today, He will forgive your sin. But you have to come by faith.

Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. That crowd was in his way. Something was missing in his life. And he was searching. But he probably didn’t know what he was searching for. When Jesus was coming, he wanted to see who Jesus was. I think something was drawing him. When God made and created us, He created a vacuum in everyone that could only be filled by God Himself. The Bible says that “He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart [mind]” (Eccl. 3:11). And when we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ He comes in and fills that void in our lives.

Overcoming the obstacles

Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He was pretty resourceful, so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a sycamore-fig tree. So he was sitting up there like a monkey just waiting for Jesus to pass by.

Zacchaeus had a great job. He had a licence to steal! He could just overcharge people and the Romans wouldn’t do anything about it. So he had a pretty good job. He had plenty of money. He was successful. Although no-one liked him, that didn’t seem to bother him too much. Maybe you’ve been able to get all the things in life that you have wanted. The career that you’ve studied and worked for. The toys that you’ve always wanted. Maybe the family that you’ve wanted. But something’s missing. There’s a vacuum inside that you’re trying to fill with things. People sometimes try to fill it with work, drugs, alcohol, or sex. But it doesn’t fill the void that only God can fill. Jesus can give you purpose today. He can give you meaning. If you’re willing to trust Him.

So Zacchaeus is in that tree and here comes Jesus. And the Bible says that Jesus stopped. And He will stop for you today. And the Bible says that Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus. And He sees you today. He knows everything about your life. He loves you. He made and created you. And Jesus comes to Zacchaeus and He sees Zacchaeus and He calls him by his name. He knows your name today. He called Zacchaeus. And God is calling some of you. You are thinking, this is something that I need to do. I need to get this right today.

Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. And then He said the call is urgent, “Zacchaeus! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today”. And the Bible says that Zacchaeus responded immediately. He “quickly climbed down” from the tree. He could have sat there thinking, I’ll just wait until the next time that Jesus comes by and maybe I’ll have lunch with Him then. But Jesus wasn’t coming back to Jericho again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He was on His way to the cross to die for you and me. He wasn’t going to come back that way again. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have another opportunity. He had to make a choice either to obey Jesus or to keep sitting in the tree and ignore Him. But he responded immediately. And when he climbed down from the tree, He called Him Lord. I think he was converted by the time his feet hit the ground. He called Jesus, Lord.

Now the people began to gripe and complain. “Can you believe that Jesus is going to go to this guys home?”. There was gossip going on. And Jesus heard it. And Zacchaeus heard it. Zacchaeus said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”. That money didn’t mean anything to Zacchaeus anymore. He’d found something worth a lot more. He’d found the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, “I want to come to your house to stay today”. Jesus wants to come into your life and He wants to stay in your life today. Zacchaeus obeyed, and Jesus came into his house. He wasn’t hindered by the people’s criticism, grumbling and griping. We are all sinners. We are all guilty. We all deserve God’s punishment. But God loves you and He’s holding out His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and if you’ll put your faith and trust in Him, God will forgive you. If you’re not sure your sins are forgiven, then confess that you are a sinner. Say you are sorry and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that you  want to trust Him as your Savior.

To do this follow the “Steps to peace with God”.

Acknowledgement

This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham on 24 February 2019. This event was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s also on video.

Written, March 2019

Also see: Steps to peace with God


How to start reading the Bible

The Bible is a big book that was written thousands of years ago. Where do I begin to read it? And, what does it mean for a reader today? Here’s a simple outline of the Bible’s structure. It can be divided into two sections. The portion written before the 400 years of silence is called the Old Testament and portion written afterwards the New Testament.

The books of Psalms to Song of Songs are Israelite wisdom and poetry. Most were written 1000 – 700 BC.

Chinese bible 2 400pxWhere do I begin?

A history book or a story book is usually read from the beginning to the end. Stories usually begin with an introduction and then suspense builds up to a climax. The climax is the turning point of the story when the main problem is addressed. After the climax there is relief and it ends with a conclusion.

It’s probably best to begin by reading the introduction and the climax of the Bible.

The introduction of the Bible is a foundation for the rest of the Bible. So start with Genesis chapters 1 to 11. It begins with God creating a perfect universe (Gen. 1-2). But then the first couple, Adam and Eve, disobey God (Gen. 3), which brings conflict and evil into the world. This sinful pattern of behavior and its impact is demonstrated by the events described in the rest of the Old Testament. It is a characteristic of humanity that doesn’t change.

Because of their disobedience and wickedness, God punished mankind with a global flood (Gen. 6-9) and by dispersing people across the earth into different languages and nations (Gen. 10-11).

The climax is when God solves the problem of people’s sinfulness. He does this by coming to the earth and taking the punishment that we all deserve. There are four separate accounts of the life of Jesus Christ: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It’s a good idea to read Mark first because it is the shortest.

The Bible’s climax has two plot twists. Firstly, Jesus’ followers believe He is the Messiah, but their hopes are dashed when instead of setting up His kingdom on earth, He is executed as a criminal. So their great expectations are replaced by grief and loss. Secondly, a few days after His burial Jesus miraculously resurrects back to life and the grief and loss is replaced with joy! What a dramatic fluctuation in emotions!

What’s the main theme?

The Bible is all about God’s solution to the problem of people’s sinfulness. This is God’s promise or God’s rescue plan. It is fulfilled in the history of Israel, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to king David and to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. It is now fulfilled in the Christian church, which includes all nations. In the future it will be fulfilled in the resurrection of God’s people and the restoration of creation back to its original state.

What does it mean?

In order to understand the original meaning of a passage of Scripture it’s good to know who it was written to. For example, the Old Testament was written to Jews living in Palestine, whereas Paul’s letters were written to Christians living around the Mediterranean Sea. It also helps to know where it occurs in the sequence of events shown in the table. For example, was it written before or after Jesus was on earth? The context is also important – what happens before and afterward the passage?

Other questions can be asked, such as – What does it say about God? What does it say about humanity?

What’s its conclusion?

Choose-your-own-path adventure story books and video games have multiple endings. At the end of each chapter/episode, there is a choice between various options, which determines the path taken and the eventual ending of the story.

The Bible has two conclusions. They are heaven (Rev. 21:9 – 22:5) or the lake of fire (hell) (Rev. 20:15). Which one will you choose as your destiny?

Written, January 2015

Also see: Understanding the Bible
Read the Bible in one year
How to read the Bible in chronological order


A New Start

The importance of renewal

Recently I moved to a new place of employment. Before I left my old job I spent a day sorting through the stuff that I had collected in my office, keeping some things, but discarding many items that were no longer useful. Changing jobs was a good opportunity to clean up all the things I had accumulated after 14 years at my previous job.

Similarly, when people move to another dwelling they have many possessions to go through. Some have garage or yard sales to get rid of unwanted belongings. We accumulate lots of unnecessary things over the years. Also, there’s a limit to how much we can store. A new start can be necessary and refreshing, but it can also be challenging.

For Humanity
We follow a God who has given human beings new starts down through the ages. When evil was rampart early in history, God started again and re-populated the earth, beginning with Noah’s family. Noah lived right and obeyed God (Gen. 6:9). But children and descendants don’t always follow the ways of their parents and ancestors, and people still disobeyed God and wickedness once more became prevalent across the earth.

In the future God has promised a new start for the universe: “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5 NIV). He calls it “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). This will be idyllic, as God “will live with … His people” (Rev. 21:3). It will be a world where everyone is right with God; like it was in the beginning, in the garden in Eden (Acts 3:21; 2 Pet. 3:13).

From Jesus
Many people received a new start in life from Jesus. Those with serious disabilities and diseases were healed, demons were exorcised and death was reversed. A demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs and wore no clothes was cured and restored to be “in his right mind” (Mk. 5:1-17). Lazarus was raised from death to life (Jn. 11:1-44)!

Jesus gave many people a new direction in life. The disciples changed their occupations when they followed Jesus (Mt. 4:19). Zacchaeus, a wealthy and corrupt tax collector, changed his ways, becoming generous to the poor and those he had cheated (Lk. 19:8). However, the rich young man remained the same and went away sad (Mt. 19:16).

Jesus told people they should repent instead of perishing in hell (Lk. 13:3,5). This means to turn around and go in a different direction. He came to rescue these people (Lk. 19:10). It is like giving them a new start. Such a transformation needs to come from within and not just be external. Judas Iscariot seemed to make a new start with Jesus, but he didn’t change internally. This led to despair and suicide (Mt. 27:3-5).

For Christians
At Pentecost, those who followed Jesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit and when they spoke about 3,000 people joined them (Acts 2:1-41). Many others had a radical new start as well. Paul was converted from a persecutor to a preacher (Gal. 1:23). The slave Onesimus became a partner (Phile. 16-17). Those in the church at Thessalonica turned from idolatry to Christianity (1 Th. 1:9). In fact, all Christians are part of God’s new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is the most important new start we can make.

Each Day
Each day is a new day. It brings fresh opportunities and challenges. We can make a new start each day to follow Christ and serve His purposes in our part of His world. This means being willing to dispose of the rubbish in our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our thoughts and attitudes (Eph. 4:23-24). Prayer and recalling God’s goodness is a great way to start each day (Ps. 5:3; 88:13). Then we will know, like Jeremiah, that God’s faithfulness is great; His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).

Published: February 2004