Reading the signs, Matthew 16vv2-3

Sometimes we don’t see the signs, no matter how clear they are to other people. Distraction, tiredness or misplaced confidence might explain the time I drove down a one-way street the wrong way (Acton), or the occasion I walked into the ladies toilets by mistake (Croydon).

The first mistake was embarrassing because a policeman noticed and pulled me over, and the second mistake was embarrassing because the women in the toilet were shocked – as was another man who had followed me into the toilet assuming I knew what I was doing!

The sign in the picture to the right meant nothing to me – but it would have spoken loud and clear to people of previous centuries. The shield (on a wall of Leeds castle) was the property of a medieval queen. She outlived her husband, and therefore her shield was in the shape of a lozenge – indicating to all that she was a widow.

I am not sure of the usefulness of this information, but at least it was clear. To the people of the day. But to me and I assume most of us in the 21st century we need a card stuck to the wall underneath explaining its significance.

Our ignorance regarding such information is understandable and unremarkable, but this is not always the case with other topics. What about the religious leaders of Jesus’ time? They didn’t read the signs right. Even though they saw the miracles, they still asked for signs. The response of Jesus was, ““When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:2–3 NIV11)

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on the Pharisees and Sadducees. After all, Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting. And perhaps that’s the problem. We fail to see things for what they are because we are expecting something else.

What might be the relevance of all this for a Christian today? My question would be, “When you read the Bible what are you expecting to find?” If we are looking for reassurance, guilt, grace, faith, conviction, compassion, comfort, or whatever – we will find it. But is that at the heart of Bible study? Isn’t it vital to remember that we study the Bible to find God? To find out more about Him? To get to know Him better? If we approach the Bible with an open mind we will find Him. And if we find Him, we will find all we need.

What helps you to keep your spiritual eyes open? Please leave a comment on this blog to help us all make sure we don’t miss the signs.

I learned my lesson and have never walked into the ladies toilets again. I hope the man who followed me learned to look for himself and not blindly follow.

Solutions to spiritual self-deception

Today’s post harks back to my day amongst classic cars and their owners last Saturday. Why did I go along to the Heritage centre? Well, my interest in older cars is practical, not theoretical.

You see, I currently run a 1991 VW Golf which I bought for £50 five years ago. It, like its owner, is not getting any younger. When it passes on to that great garage in the sky I intend to replace it with a classic car (pre-1974). Not having owned a classic before I have a number of questions. One, and perhaps the most important, being “Will it be a money-pit?”

I spoke to an owner on the day and asked him if buying a classic car was a fast-track to financial ruin. He assured me he had bought his for only £2,500. A “bargain” he said. Sounds reasonable, I thought. Then he listed all the improvements he had made: overdrive, uprated shocks, polyurethane bushes all round, new stereo & speakers, better brakes …. the list went on. A little later I overheard him confessing that he had spent around £8,000 on the car – making it a total outlay of £10,500.

Now, irrespective of whether you think that spending £10,500 on a classic car is advisable (and it’s an opinion matter), the point is that he did not spend £2,500 as he first told me.

Humankind’s propensity for self-deception never spoke louder. I shouldn’t be too harsh on the car owner – after all, I and most of us have been less than honest with ourselves when we’re dealing with something about which we are passionate. Losing objectivity about a car has consequences, but at least they are temporary. What about spiritual matters? How do we avoid spiritual self-deception? Here is one key tip.

We need a Nathan.

Remember the story in 2 Samuel 11? David should have been on the battlefield, but instead he was in Bathsheba’s bed. The story is frightful, but, at least for a while, has no resolution – only the ominous words at the end of the chapter, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.” (2 Samuel 11:27 NIV11)

In time the prophet Nathan is sent to David.  This courageous man of God tells a parable about a wealthy man who took advantage of a poorer man. David doesn’t realise it is a parable, but takes the story literally. He reacts in this way: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”” (2 Samuel 12:5–6 NIV11)

Nathan reveals the truth, ““You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’” (2 Samuel 12:7–10 NIV11)

There is more – go and have a read of 1 Samuel 12 for more detail. But for our purposes today, it is important to note the vital part Nathan played in saving David from self-deception. The King had no intention of facing his sin. Nathan had other ideas. Do you have someone in your life courageous enough to tell you the truth? Avoiding self-deception is only possible if we’re willing to listen to others with a different perception.

Please leave a comment in this post to help us avoid spiritual self-deception. What works for you?

I’m not sure if my classic car owning friend was aware of his classic car blindness to reality. I wonder about his wife? Nevertheless, I hope to have a Nathan around when I need him.

Three ways Jesus held on to his vision

Penny and I spent the morning hours at Samphire Hoe. Samphire who? Samphire where?

When the channel tunnel was dug, 5 million cubic metres of spoil had to go somewhere.  It ended up behind a specially constructed lagoon wall. And now? Now it is a nature reserve. Home to 200 species of plants, 200 species of birds and 30 of butterflies.

But at a cost.

The plaque in the picture to the left testifies to the lives lost in building the tunnel. Eleven people died between 1986 and 1992 specifically as a result of working on this project. I’ve been through the tunnel a few times, but never knew the true cost. The only ‘cost’ I’d heard of before was measured in terms of billions of pounds.

I paused at the site of the memorial and took a photograph because it reminded me that human lives are always the cost – in one way or another. Any big project, any legacy-leaving activity involves men and women paying a price.  Perhaps this is obvious, but I needed refreshing on this because so much of what I do as a Christian makes me tired!

What does tiredness do? Well, nothing necessarily. But it depends on what else is going on in my life. I have no idea what motivated the 10 people to continue working on the tunnel after the first worker died. Or what about after the sixth, seventh and eighth person? Whatever their reasons they must have been compelling. And this is the key – a compelling vision will keep you going no matter the cost. Jesus had a compelling vision, so what were the key factors that held him to that vision? I’d suggest at least the following three things.

  1. His vision was bigger than himself.  ““My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34 NIV11). This was no self-centred vision. Jesus placed himself willingly under the authority of the Father. A person compelled by a vision bigger than themselves will pay any price necessary to see it fulfilled.
  2. He knew the cost and decided to embrace it.  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV11).  Jesus speaks here in a prophetic way about his death and legacy. The results are staggering – the early church exploded and 2,000 years later millions still celebrate what Jesus did. But he was not blind to the cost. Indeed, he embraced it.  In other words, he was not a victim, but a willing co-participant in the Father’s vision.
  3. He prayed when it got overwhelming. “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:35–36 NIV11). I am reassured when I see the honesty in Jesus. He did not want to do this. But, there again, he did. The struggle of the vision took him to prayer, and prayer took him back to confidence in the giver of the vision.
When the Christian vision gets blurry I’ll do well to remember that it is not about me. It will help to bear in mind that the cost is part of God’s plan to serve and save people, and it will become possible to live the vision when I take my struggles to God in prayer. 
What helps you to hold on to a vision as a Christian? Please post a comment below and help us all hold on to our vision.
I wish the eleven people who died could have seen the completed tunnel, or the view from Samphire Hoe below. But I wish more than anything that I can live my life to a vision that remains undimmed as the years go by – and I get tired.