Carol’s Spiritual Question – Is Satan still around?

As children, we hear about the Devil as being a bad, scary being and I think for some people, especially those of a religious persuasion, this sub-conscientiously carries on into adulthood.  The Bible is full of examples where Satan tried to undermine God and Jesus in many different ways and also how he tried to influence people to do bad things throughout the ages.  Arguably, he has influenced people to leave the ‘straight and narrow’ and make bad life choices from time immemorial which has caused many very bad occurrences throughout the world.  Many evil people in control of countries may possibly have also fallen under Satan’s power leading to wars, corruption and the myriad of other monstrous and immoral acts which go on.

Non-religious people would say that it is up to each individual how they live their lives and that the Devil is just a construct to frighten and manipulate naive people.  Each person has their own perception of what is good or bad and this is often based on childhood socialisation.  Some believe scaring people with thoughts of the Devil is just a means of mass control.

Graham – part of your theology training would have covered the subject of the Devil and his works.  How do you explain your belief of his existence to a modern-day audience who, because of mass communication, technology and developments in science, are now more sceptical of such a supernatural being?  How do you know that Satan is still around?

Rev Graham replies:

Thank you, Carol, for your question, asking if Satan is still around and exists in our modern world! I guess we all have been taught from childhood that in some form or another good and bad exists. How we assess the existence and reality of evil and good as represented by Satan and God will vary according to our religious, philosophical and humanistic point of view.  

As a Christian, I believe in the existence of an evil presence, as taught in Holy Scripture and witnessed by many personal testimonies of people who have suffered and experienced evil in a number of different ways. Such a view compares to philosophical, humanistic and scientific thinking that is based on intellect and reason and would dispute personal faith and superstition that is seen to use the concepts of evil and good to control human thought and behaviour.

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In my theological training as a preacher and teacher, combined with over forty years of pastoral care within the church and community, it is clear that there is an existence of an evil force at work either implicitly or explicitly.

In the Bible there are many references to supernatural agencies and activities that seek to oppose the will and purposes of a Holy God as exampled in Psalm 91 where the Psalmist seeks protection from evil. In 1 Sam 16: 14 – 23 we read that the ‘spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.’

In the mystery of faith, evil spirits are under the complete control of God and it is very hard to understand why God allows evil to exist and act in opposition to his own will on earth. At this point I think it will be helpful to think about the Names, Character and Tactics attached to evil and how an End Game is predicted. 

Names

In Genesis 3 we read of a Serpent who represents a force contrary to God’s perfect will. The Tempter successfully changes the actions of Adam and Eve to disobey God’s command ‘not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge’ and in so doing gave the Devil ‘a power of attorney’ over their lives.

This evil force has a personal dimension to it as found in the discussions with Adam, Eve, Jesus and other people in the Bible.  The serpent is also known as Satan, Adversary, Lucifer Day Star, (Isa 14: 12 – 15) Beelzebub the Prince of the Devil. (Mat 10: 25) the ‘Ruler of this World,’ (John 14: 30) and the ‘Prince of the Power of the Air,’ (Ephesians 2:  2) all working against the plans and purposes of God, especially in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Characteristics

It has been said that Satan is like a malignant reality, a cancer that exists and will grow if left unchecked. In Isaiah 14: 12 – 14 and Ezekiel 28:12 – 18 we read of a symbolic account of the fall of Satan from heaven because of pride and, as a result, seduces many to follow him. In 1 John 3: 8 we find that ‘the devil has sinned from the beginning,’ and there are lots of common ground between all the writers in the bible about there being a force of good and a force for evil. The devil in 1 Peter 5: 8 is described as ‘a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ and in character is very cunning and ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11: 14) and darkness.

The influences and activities of evil are not necessarily obvious and therefore it is very hard to explain, describe or even believe in Satan’s existence in a modern world which adds to any confusion or sense of naivety. In trying to define evil, Satan is very plausible and would want us to believe that good is evil and evil is good and that there is no distinction between any forces of good or evil.

Tactics

In the early chapters of Job (1 and 2), we read how Satan was present among a heavenly host and asked to test the righteous Job which God allowed him to do. In the Old Testament there are a number of references to Satan who works against those who follow God such as Joshua the priest. (Zechariah 3: 1 – 5)

In the New Testament, Satan has his minions who exist in waterless places, (Matthew 12: 43) are objects of worship, (1 Corinthians 10: 20 – 21) seek the possession of people, (Mark 1: 34) cause suffering (Matthew 12: 22 – 24) and have great strength and possess animals (Matthew8: 32)

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In Jesus’s early ministry (Matthew 4:1) the devil failed in tempting him to follow his way instead of his Father’s way and then subsequently left Jesus for a season. Many Christians and non-believers are deceived into thinking that Satan is not a reality and is just part of a superstitious age and way of thinking. However, as noted in Jude 9, all Christians and archangels are in conflict with Satan and it will never cease until we enter into the presence of God in heaven.

Paul, in (2 Corinthians 2: 11), suggests that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s designs for he wants to gain an advantage over us. Encouragingly in(1 John 4: 4) it reminds us that ‘greater is he that is in us than he (Satan) that is in the world.’ God is faithful and will protect us and not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to cope with but in our testings will provide a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:  13) In the book of Ephesians (6: 11 – 17) we are told to ‘put on the whole armour of God’ and to stand against all the fiery darts of the evil one. Jesus, when he was approaching the time of his crucifixion, was affected by the words of Peter which he discerned as coming from Satan. (Matthew 16: 23

Overall we find that Satan tempts people at all times to thwart the plans and works of God as witnessed in the lives of the believing Ananias (Acts 5: 3) and Elymas (Acts 13: 10) who was ‘a child of the devil’ and didn’t believe. We have a reference to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2: 9) who are likened to ‘a synagogue of Satan.’  There are those who are said to dwell in ‘Satan’s seat’ (Revelation 2: 13) and seek to disrupt all missionary and church work. (1 Thessalonians 2: 18)  

In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Satan seeks to snatch the good seed that is sown in the heart of people responding to the gospel message. We have the example of Judas (Matthew 26: 21 – 25) who was used by the devil to try and undermine Jesus in Passion Week and Satan was allowed by God to shift Peter, with Jesus praying for him to resist. (Luke 22: 31 -32)

End Game

The main purpose of Jesus was twofold: 1) To destroy all the works of the evil in exorcisms and prayer. 2) To defeat Satan through his work on the cross and cut off ‘the power of attorney’ Adam and Eve had given to the devil.

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Satan has limitations and can be defeated. He only exercises power as allowed from God which can be hard to comprehend and reason why. Indirectly we can find that the efforts of Satan can cause the plans of God to succeed where otherwise they wouldn’t. Satan is ‘a malignant reality’ and, in his hostility to God, needs to be contained.  As Satan seeks to trick and deceive us, James tells us to ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you,’ (James 4: 7) and in (Hebrews 4: 15) we find that Jesus was in all points tested and tempted in every way just like we are, yet without sinning.

Satan faces judgment where an everlasting fire awaits him and all his angels (Revelation 20: 10) and his final defeat will be at the end of the age.  In our modern world, many people would say that there is no room for a concept of Satan and may be more inclined to take a neutral stance over the forces of good or evil. However, when things happen, the media and people in general are very quick to describe such actions as evil or miraculous from an evil force or a good God.

Humankind is free to believe and act in whatever way and form they choose. Is Satan real today? Think about the spirit of the age we live in which promotes itself as a ‘god’ over any biblical God who is seen as irrelevant and meaningless.

As a Christian, it’s important to discern the spirits that are active in our home, church, work and community life and stand against the character and tactics of the devil knowing he is a defeated entity. Through personal faith, prayer and action we can be guided by the help of the Holy Spirit to promote and take forward all the plans and purposes of a good and Holy God for the healing and blessing of everyone.

Super Power

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Care for the Planet

The Return of Christ

Suffering

Prayer

Which is the Real God

Carol’s Challenging Question – Abortion

One of the most important decisions for any woman who has an unwanted pregnancy is whether to go through with it or have a termination.  Much will depend on the woman’s own circumstances and there is doubtless a huge amount of emotional turmoil involved in making a decision of that kind, not least of which is the effect it might have on her body in future.

Thanks – Rodnae Productions Pexels.com

There are many arguments for and against whether a woman has an abortion, some of which may be bound-up with her own cultural and religious background or even her age and economic or domestic situation.  Many women feel they have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies albeit, in the case of rape or incest, people often feel it would be lacking in compassion to deny a woman the right to terminate. 

There is also the scenario where the pregnant woman’s health and welfare are considered more important than that of the foetus, particularly where she has other children depending upon her.  Thankfully, gone are the days of the back-street abortionists who, mostly untrained and often working in very unhygienic conditions, could do untold harm to the woman and the baby.  If legal abortions were stopped it could be a return to these bad old days and many people would consider that a very retrograde step.

The other side of the argument, of course, is the belief by many, especially Roman Catholics that life begins at conception or, with some other religions, within the first few days thereafter.  Killing a foetus or premature baby would therefore be tantamount to murder in the eyes of some religious people.  Many believe that every human being has the right to live.  Some also believe that a baby is a gift from God.  Anti-abortionists say that there are many contraceptive methods available these days so unwanted pregnancies could mostly be avoided or, if the mother would agree to have the baby, that there are plenty of people in our society who would be happy to adopt.

The bottom line seems to be that abortion denies the child a choice; it destroys human life and makes life appear cheap and disposable; and people born with disabilities – where a choice can be given to end the pregnancy – can still lead full and happy lives.

Graham, I’ve heard about the sanctity of life but what would the Christian view be of abortion, especially if the baby was conceived in tragic circumstances or if it would have no quality of life?

Rev Graham replies:

Thank you, Carol, for your question. It is a very sensitive one and quite contemporary in the light of the recent changes to the Roe v Wade case in America. The point of your question relates to what would be a Christian view of abortion if a baby was conceived in tragic circumstances or if it had been diagnosed with a severe illness?

Thanks – Towfiqu Barbhuiya Pexels.com

In Matthew 7: 1 – 5 Jesus said “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” It is often easier to judge the actions of others rather than exercise wisdom, spiritual discernment, compassion and collective understanding. The practice of abortion has always existed wherever sexual activity has taken place within or outside marriage.

In debating the subject, on both sides of the coin, it can include a Christian perspective, those of other faiths and from a humanistic point of view. The great challenge is to try and find some common ground that allows equal values and differences to co-exist. A historical background to abortion, in a very general sense, would be one that dwelt in secret and was associated with immorality and shame particularly for women. However, for some worldwide societies and cultures, abortion has been considered acceptable. 

Over the years, the role of women has changed within western societies and has enabled them to exercise more freedoms and greater rights to self-determination. In the Christian church, opinions and understandings have developed from the teachings of the Bible, the Apostles and the early church fathers. In recent times philosophers and theologians, in the context of situational ethics, have widened the debate that ranges from a position of absolute no abortion to those who believe women within society should have a right to choose to have an abortion.

To aid our thinking and ultimately to try and answer your question, Carol, I have found in my research that there are six equal values that represent an understanding of people’s different points of view. When an equal value clashes with another value, without any compromise taking place, then conflict will exist and determine any outcome and conclusions to your question.

  1. Equal Value – Procreation.

An important aspect when debating abortion is how people view sexual activity. Is it solely for the procreation of children? What is the place of contraception and how might that relate to the use of abortion? Today’s modern thinking embraces the idea that sexual activity is very much for personal enjoyment that, almost by default, can result in a planned or unplanned pregnancy.

Many people of faith or no faith take a position that sexual activity is essentially for the purpose of procreation and can be enjoyed within a loving relationship. However, it must be said that, for any couple to engage in sexual activity, there must be an understanding that it can result in a pregnancy and they should be willing to take full responsibility for any such outcomes and not easily abandon them. 

  • Equal Value – The Right of the Unborn Child

Modern medical knowledge has produced different insights as to when we think a baby’s life commences which has changed historical debate. However, an embryo forming into a child does have its own status, value and right to have a chance to live just like anyone else has and Jeremiah 1: 4 – 5 affirms that God knows us, even when we are in our mother’s womb.

For the Christian, and those of other faiths, it is argued that a baby’s life commences at conception while some feel that it is formed at ensoulment which is believed to be when a soul, from God, has been infused into the child. Others would argue that a foetus does not have any rights until it is considered a child in the mother’s womb from around 12 – 24 weeks (gestational age) and, until then, may be classified as not viable. There is a strong body of opinion that believe, if an abortion takes place at any time, it would be viewed as taking away the baby’s right to life.

  • Equal Value – The Rights of the Mother

When a society is very patriarchal and does not fully respect the role of a woman as an individual person, prospective wife, mother and single person then there is a danger of denying full rights to a woman which can, and has, incurred serious reactions and protests. The history of the Suffragette Movement is one that has tried to redress such imbalances and introduced equal rights for all women and particularly any prospective mothers.

In any planned or unplanned pregnancy there is always the question as to how that new addition will be cared and provided for. There is the subsequent pressure, mainly on the woman, of how to cope with all the responsibilities of childcare, the home, work and wider family and community commitments. Many women consider the option of abortion as an alternative to the above, especially if shame and a lack of financial help are not available which mainly affects the poor and disenfranchised more than those who have a certain level of financial means. 

  • Equal Value – The Interest of the Father

In all the discussions around abortion, often the rights of the father are either ignored or dismissed. Its takes two to tango and a father has to face up to any equal share of the responsibility of a new- born child and support the mother in making any decisions about the life and equal rights of the unborn child. The father has a right and responsibility to support the mother in and outside marriage and provide adequate care as required by the mother for the child and any other children.

  •  Equal Value – Religious Moral and Standards

The Christian faith and other world faiths have codes of ethics that stem from their Holy Scriptures. Such ethics will act as guidelines concerning abortion. Most religions are pro-life but do accept that there is a place for some exceptions that uphold the equal right of the unborn child and the mother in tragic situations and severe illness.

It is very difficult when, ethically and culturally, there is no allowance for any abortion to take place. That in itself raises many other issues around shame, disapproval and a lack of adequate holistic support to a mother and father in trying to make the best choice for their own situation. It is important that if a government, church or religious group imposes a law that totally prohibits abortion, then it should also be accompanied by actions that are loving and gracious to help sustain any laws that are imposed.

  • Equal Value – Humanistic Moral and Standards 

Alongside a religious point of view there is a strong body of opinion, and various societies from ancient times, that have accepted abortion and enshrined it in law and allowed it to exist as an alternative form of contraception. A humanist seeks reason, empathy and a respect and dignity for each person in determining the morality of abortion.

There is a feeling that laws from ‘a God’, as found in Holy Scriptures, are not helpful in addressing modern ethical problems. There is a desire to follow the kindest course of action or one that would do the least harm. It has also tried to offset any fall-out that mothers and families have encountered from religious communities where a total ban on abortion exists without adequate support to the mother and families where needed. 

Conclusions

Each of the six points have an equal value and deserve equal respect but, as we are aware, the difficulty is to be found when each value is not given a respect it deserves. When the rights, values and responsibilities of one person or group are imposed or not appreciated by another person or group then conflict will always exist.

There has to be a case that an unborn child has a right to live. A mother in deep distress has a right to consider an abortion. A father has a right to support and be alongside the mother and child or decide to negate any right and responsibilities. Theologians and philosophers have to be true to their beliefs but also look to accommodate the communities they live in which, in this modern world, are very diverse, different and complex.

It’s important for national and local leaders to construct a better holistic form of support that allows for the birth of children, without prejudice or shame, to be adopted by agreement and not forced. To offer financial and emotional support so that children may grow to be equally valued citizens, esteemed by parents and all in the community. I have tried, Carol, in a very limited manner, to put your question into the wider context of abortion which may be answered in two parts:

If a baby was conceived in tragic circumstances, what options may a mother and father take which may be supported from a Christian view point?

1) After a period of consultation with medics and other support agencies in respect to the tragic circumstances experienced by the mother it will be her decision to abort or not the unborn baby as she is the one who will have to live with any decision. Hopefully that will be with further support from local churches and community centres that offer counselling and pastoral support.  

2) After weighing everything up, ultimately the mother will decide if she is to give birth to the child and accept support from the immediate family and local support groups that offer financial, spiritual and emotional assistance. There could be the case that the baby is put forward for an agreed, not forced, adoption or placed in adequate social care.

If a baby has been diagnosed with a severe illness, then two choices could be made by the mother and father:

1) To terminate the child’s life and for the parents to receive appropriate pastoral support that includes spiritual and practical help. 

2) For the child to be born and then the parents to receive adequate financial and medical help alongside spiritual and emotional support from the local authority and local churches.

Pastorally, if we lived in a perfect world, then there would be no need for abortion but, in reality, we live in a broken world. Alongside any laws to be adhered to, there has to be scope for compassion and unmerited love which should be seen and experienced in the Christian community.

Thanks Maria Oswalt upsplash.com

We may ask what would Jesus do and say. In 1 Peter 5; 7 we are told that the Lord is interested in all our anxious situations that seem impossible to work out, for he lovingly cares for us.

As a church we have a right and responsibility to listen, protest and obey various laws. We also need to offer practical compassion to enable people to uphold the value of life and understand the distress of any death. 

Selah (Carefully think about what you have read, with discernment and compassion)

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From the Heart – The Policeman’s Story

This month we welcome retired police officer, Tony Smith, who recounts his Christian journey and tells us how he was clutched from the jaws of death.

ex-PC Tony Smith

Few people have had personal testimony to know what it’s like to face death but, for retired police officer Tony Smith from Greater Manchester, this terrifying ordeal became all-too-real when a Salford gunman opened fire on him just two years into his police career back in November 1990. The injuries Tony sustained included serious damage to his chest, neck and face and necessitated time spent in the Intensive Care Unit and six months rehabilitation afterwards.

Tony’s parents were part of the Windrush generation who came from the Caribbean in the 1950’s. While Tony and his siblings had always attended various Sunday schools, like many teenagers Tony got distracted from his faith for a while although he prayed when he needed or wanted to. Having joined the police in early 1989, Tony was enjoying his new career when the shooting incident occurred. It was then that he drew on his faith and he prayed that he would pull through, especially for the sake of his wife and 1-year-old daughter who he wanted to see grow up. God answered his prayers and, from then on, Tony’s faith was strengthened.

After months of counselling which instilled in him the need to talk things through, Tony was eventually well enough to return to policing in the same area where the shooting incident had taken place. He came to know Jesus well and thanked Him regularly for saving him from almost certain death. He then came to the realisation he had not always put God first and this turned his life round completely, recognising that the Lord is the centre of his being, not just part-time. The incident strengthened his faith and he believed God was by his side once he got back to his policing duties full-time.

Tony’s colleagues respected his religious beliefs and asked him if they wanted to know anything about Christianity, their view on faith being “live and let live”. He became a member of the Christian Police Association, attending prayer meetings and spending spare time in the Prayer Room at the police station.

During his police career, from which he retired in 2014, Tony worked in various departments including on the Section, then the Tactical Aid Unit followed by time in the Robbery Squad and finally in C.I.D. As a result of his previous policing experience, Tony was later successful in re-joining the police as a Civilian Investigator and now works in the Force’s Child Sexual Exploitation Unit investigating historical cases.

Over the intervening years from the shooting incident, Tony’s faith has grown even stronger and he regularly speaks publicly about the Gospels. He attends the Trafford Christian Life Centre in Stretford, Manchester, and is heavily involved in bible study, prayer meetings, preaching and many other church activities. He has also attended many study lectures at the Nazarene College.

Tony firmly believes in the Book of Revelations. He believes and prays that ALL will be saved in time for the Rapture. This is when Christ will take to Heaven all those who believe in Him and are committed to Christ in faith and are saved. Earth will be left to the anti-Christ and the tribulation period, which will last seven years. Then Christ will return to the Earth with those who have been saved. Christ will defeat the anti-Christ and his followers and set up His 1,000 year reign.


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Carol’s Spiritual Question – Which is the Real God

Graham – I’ve skim-read many parts of the Old Testament of the Bible and thoroughly read the New Testament all the way through, some sections several times.  I regularly attend church and listen to the readings and sermons plus I read three daily devotionals and have also watched some videos explaining the Bible in a modern, creative way.  I can’t pretend I understand all the Bible and many parts of it don’t seem to make sense to me – for instance, where people lived to be hundreds of years old and where women were still having babies into very old age – which they can’t even do now, despite all our medical advances and modern technology.

One of the most outstanding features which confuses me is that the God of wrath and anger in the Old Testament seems to be very different to the God of love and forgiveness in the New Testament.  Can you explain why this is?

Rev Graham replies:

Thanks, Carol, for your very thought-provoking question which I think we can all relate to in respect to the mystery of God as perceived in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible as a whole is a very embracing book that covers lots of different subjects and life situations that can seem totally irrelevant to a modern world but also has to be seen in a wider context that has an everlasting wisdom and truth that we all can take hold of.

I have thought long and hard as how best to address your question and I have found myself reading about the life of Stephen: The First Christian Martyr in Acts Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 and think it might help towards answering your question.

Stephen was chosen to be one of seven to attend to the practical needs of the growing early church and considered to be a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. However, members of the local synagogue opposed him and referred him to the Sanhedrin to explain his teaching about Jesus that was disturbing so many, even though they recognised that his face was like that of an angel.

Stephen gave a potted history of the Jewish nation as recorded in the Old Testament and how God acted and reacted to individuals and the community of Israel in obedience and disobedience. He mentioned Abraham, a man of obedience, faith and hope. Through Abraham, Israel would be formed and later leaders would take them through a time of slavery and into the Promised Land. They were a favoured nation and God’s continual presence and guidance would be upon them and all future generations.

Stephen outlines that, in the days of Moses, they followed and rebelled against His leadership as witnessed in the making of the golden calf. During the time of the Major and Minor Prophets, the people continually turned to foreign gods and persecuted the prophets who represented God and had just murdered Jesus the very son of God. Stephen felt that the Jewish leaders limited God to the temple, as administered through the Law and Sacrifices, rather than God being shared for everyone which came from rebellion not ignorance.    

In Genesis we have the account of the universe being formed and human kind being established in God’s physical earth. In John’s gospel Chapter 1 in the New Testament we read that ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.’ John the Baptist links God, the Father and Spirit of the Old Testament, to Jesus who existed with the Father and Spirit in creation.

Jesus is the source of the New Testament that brings new life and relationship between the Old and New Testament God who is full of power, judgement, love and grace. A living relationship with the creator God is based on a new covenant of love that sits alongside law, sacrifice and good works from a heart of obedience not independence and rebellion.

Jesus is the human and divine model which conjoins the Old Testament to the New Testament that helps us embrace them both in all their complexions and simplicity. The God of the whole Bible wants a personal relationship with His creation and has, and continues to show, His character that can and does include His wrath, judgement and condemnation as well as His deep love, forgiveness and compassion.

As a young child I was taught and nurtured in the Christian faith to accept the Bible as a complete story that gave me examples to follow and help me establish my solid and lasting Christian faith that has been attached to the real world of challenges and doubts. For a person who grows up outside the church, it is quite normal to ask the question we are considering now to make an informed choice about the validity of the Bible as a whole which ultimately has to submit to faith over intellect.

Stephen, in promoting the gospel of Jesus, challenged the religious practices within the Jewish faith. Individuals, leaders and priests became uncomfortable with the impact and legacy of Jesus that offered a different way of living a religious life. Every aspect of the Old and New Testaments will challenge our daily thoughts and actions and, in our own ways, we will accept some and disregard many laws and practises.

The essence of faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit requires an obedient faith that does not live by sight, intellect or complete understanding. In faith we trust that, in the midst of doubt and the uncertainties of life, we may find a clarity and wisdom from the Bible that enables us to experience a deep sense of God’s personal presence and for it to be a ‘lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’  Here are some comparisons, contrasts and conclusions that exist between:

The Old Testament.                                                        The New Testament

The OT is foundational.                                                 The NT builds upon it.

The OT contains many prophecies.                                The NT fulfils many of them.

The OT provides a history of a people.                          The NT focuses on a person.

The OT shows the wrath of God against sin.                 The NT shows God’s grace towards sinners

(With glimpses of grace)                                                (With glimpse of wrath)

The God of the Old Testament has taken on flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s character and relationship throughout the whole of the Bible relates to sin and wickedness and includes wrath and judgement alongside forgiveness, grace and love.

In the Old Testament, God demanded a life of holiness and, for any sin, it required an atonement (a covering not removal) that took place in various ceremonial cleansings and sacrifices. In the New Testament we find that the sacrificial death of Jesus acts as an atonement of sin (that removes sin not just covers it) as outlined in Hebrews 10: 10 – 14.

The purpose of all humankind is to glorify God in our worship and by obeying His commands. We can give thanks for the progressive revelation of God in the Old Testament and the revealing of Himself personally in the New Testament which is a completion and complement of, and to, the Old Testament and both are very important to study and live by.

Previous Spiritual Questions

Super Power

Is the Bible trustworthy?

Care for the Planet

The Return of Christ

Suffering

Prayer

Carol’s Challenging Question – Gambling Addiction

It’s normal for people to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life – food, chocolate, alcohol, smoking or whatever ‘floats your boat’, as they say, but one of the most pernicious habits is gambling. Apparently, over half the population has participated in some form of gambling in the past year – and that can lead to a lot of problems. It’s not just the odd flutter we’re talking about here but the sort of gambling that completely takes over your life and can lead to addictions and major life problems.

Once gambling becomes compulsive, it leads to the person needing to keep replicating the habit to maintain the excitement, no matter what the harmful consequences may be. It’s closely tied up with a person’s emotions and leads to a detachment from their surroundings to become part of the game.

Arguably, even the addiction of some children and young adults constantly using home computers and games machines could lead to an unhealthy compulsion to win every time. Who knows where this could lead to in the future?

In many cases, winning money becomes immaterial to the actual experience. The compulsion may have roots in adolescence and may become an issue later in life. Advancing technology, the highly-addictive nature of certain products and on the onslaught of gambling-related media and advertising is apparently leading to an epidemic in gambling which society has never seen before.

Recognising the warning signs is the first step in seeking help for one’s self or others. Things to look out for can include spending more money and time on gambling than you can afford; finding it hard to manage or stop the gambling. Also having arguments with family or friends about money and gambling; losing interest in usual activities or hobbies and neglecting work, family and personal needs/responsibilities.

In addition, there is an intensity of always thinking or talking about gambling; lying about your gambling to get out of financial trouble; gambling until all your money is gone; borrowing money, selling your possessions or not paying bills in order to fund the gambling; needing to gamble with more money or for a larger period of time to get the same feeling of excitement; feeling anxiety, worried, guilty, depressed or irritable.

Fortunately there’s a lot of help out there for the gamblers themselves if they want to break the compulsion or for family and friends trying to help them (see Signposts below). Graham, as a Christian minister, has the bible got a take on this type of situation?

Rev Graham relies:

This is an interesting question to ask me, Carol, and you have covered many of the points that are experienced by those involved in gambling and affected by it. Personally, I have never had an individual or shared bet in my life. When I was a student I worked at Aintree during the Grand National and witnessed the magnificent horses, brave riders and the exuberant sound of excited punters all hoping that their horse would be the first past the post.

I have attended many other sporting events and activities where gambling would take place but I haven’t felt the need to have a flutter. As you have alluded to, Carol, there are many forms of gambling which include the lottery, slot machines, horse/dog racing, sweepstakes, roulette wheels, poker, bridge, raffles, flipping a coin, and many more.

At this point I thought it would be very insightful to interview a friend of mine who has been involved in gambling all their life and to ask what value or harm it has been to them individually and if it may be considered an evil or disease within society.

My friend gambled mainly on the horses and was introduced to it by his uncle and his father was extensively involved in it as well. The first bet took place at the tender age of 8 via his uncle and then from 13 years via a friend’s dad.  I then asked what it was like to have a first big win and loss which was one of “elation and depression.”

I asked if betting could be considered a skill or just a game of chance. “Any gambling on the machines is pure chance and with horse racing it is a mixture of skill and chance.”  Interestingly he said the addiction wasn’t “the money won, it was the loss that causes people to then gamble again,” and brings debt, shame and suicidal intentions.

We talked about gambling in general and I asked if it was good or bad for the individual and society and could it be deemed as a sin. He considered that “it wasn’t a sin”, more of a social activity, but wasn’t good for those who got addicted to it and how it affected their families and society generally. I asked about how gambling is marketed and the role of government. He condemned the use of advertisement on a broad basis that “promised joy but was inadvertently promoting addictive behaviour that ruined people’s lives.” In conclusion I asked what advice he would offer to anyone thinking about a life of gambling – “Don’t do it.”                                                                   

In reflecting on my friend’s comments, we may conclude that, in part, gambling may be considered a vice which affects the individual and society but it can also be considered a hobby or interest that brings passion, excitement and entertainment to many and is worthwhile.

You have asked, Carol, what does the bible have to say about gambling and we may think about what opinion the church may have on the issue as well. The bible does not comment particularly about gambling but we have an example of the soldiers at the foot of the cross rolling a dice to compete for Jesus’s clothes!

There are a variety of opinions on gambling within and outside the church that range from outright Acceptance and Moderation, that includes safeguards, and complete Abstinence. In essence, the bible seeks to widen the debate by referring to the intention and attitude behind any gambling that takes place as the following verses indicate:

  • ‘Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have.’ Heb 13: 5
  • ‘Do not covet’ – your neighbour. As found in the tenth commandment. Exodus 20: 17.
  • ‘Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.’ Matthew 6: 21
  • ‘Wealth gained hastily will dwindle but whoever gathers little by little will increase.’ Proverbs 13: 11.
  • ‘The love of money is a root of all evils.’ 1 Timothy 6: 9 – 10

Another aspect to think about is the contrasting aims in regards to contentment and discontent. Godliness and contentment is great gain compared to worldliness with discontent that may bring misery. People gamble to get money from others because they want more than they already have. Gambling is based upon chance and that can be viewed contrary to God’s personal and social ethics related to work. Gambling promotes an attitude of ‘something for nothing’ and the importance of material gain over contentment.

It is true that all of us are constantly looking to increase and maintain our wealth so as to live and thrive the best we can. It is said that there are three main ways to gain an income. One is by contractual working. Two is by the exchanging and bartering of goods. A third way is when we receive gifts and inheritances from loved ones. The bible condemns gaining money by cheating, stealing, lying and taking money that belongs to others. There are many negatives that gambling brings to society which you have referred to including problematic and addictive behaviour leading to excessive debt, broken relationships and family breakdown which weaken society in general.    

It is quoted that St Augustine said, “The Devil invented gambling.” If we say that gambling is a sin it has to be related to how individuals see the concept of sin affecting an individual and society. John Wesley, in his sermon ‘The Use of Money’, felt that gambling was divisive and is a means of gaining money at the expense of others and inconsistent with love of our neighbour.

As Christians, we are encouraged to love our neighbours and care for the poor. Gambling exists on the basis of a winner and a loser and we may place ourselves above another who is the loser. It is often said that the only winner in gambling is the bookmaker and it has within it a culture of greed that grows alongside a spirit of covetousness which may be classed as consensual theft.

For some Christians gambling may be permissible on four fronts:

What is gambled must be freely offered and risk-assessed so that any family needs are still met and nobody should gamble another’s money without the consent of that person.

The gambler must be free to gamble without any unjust compulsion to do so.

There should be no aspect of fraud taking place in any transaction.

There must be some form of equal playing so that no expert may take advantage of a novice.

It is claimed that if an individual can handle the above constraints then it may be fine to gamble but, if not, then the advice would be to abstain completely. There is also the issue of what example we offer to those observing our behaviour and may follow with, or with not, being able to handle gambling in all its forms. For some people they have a talent for gambling which can be seen in the selling of stocks and shares as well as gambling in general and making a professional living out of it.

Some churches use bingo and lotteries to raise money for charitable purposes and social interaction. The Lord wants us to use our wealth wisely for personal gain and for the benefit of others and not to misuse it in any way. If we neglect our time and money then it may be considered a sin against the best wishes God has for us. For all the good attached to gambling there is the bad which includes poverty, crime, corruption, demoralization of ethical and moral standards, a lower living standard and lots of misery.

As we think again about Jesus on the Jesus on the cross, the criminals alongside him decided that he was either a winner or a loser. The centurion proclaimed “Surely this was a righteous man”, while the soldiers were just interested in getting and selling his clothes to make money.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson Pexels.com

We all make choices and do not fully know if we have backed a winner or loser. In faith we choose the Lord to guide and provide, to give us a deep joy and purpose and, like the believing thief, to one day enter into Paradise.

So, Carol, gambling has and always will be with us and presents difficulties, alongside joy for many. It seems that in the Protestant tradition, legal or illegal gambling is wrong. Many within the Catholic church and other traditions feel that gambling isn’t a moral question at all and, under constraint, is acceptable. I think we all hedge our bets in one way or another according to our understanding of the bible, church tradition and the prevailing social and moral status quo. For further reading on gambling you can consider the following statements from:

The Church of England, The Catholic Church,  The Methodist and the Baptist Church.  

SIGNPOST ORGANISATIONS

Premier Lifeline – National Christian Helpline Tel 0300 111 0101

Free and confidential advice and support is available in Greater Manchester:

NHS Northern Gambling Service – Tel: 0300 300 1490 or email: referral.ngs@nhs.net

Beacon Counselling Trust – Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: gamcare@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk

National Problem Gambling Helpline – Tel: 0808 8020133 free or 020 7801 7000 or

email: info@gamcare.org.uk

Gamblers’ Anonymous North West – Tel: 07974 668999 or info@gamblersanonymous.org.uk

GAMFAM charity for families affected by gambling – complete their online contact form.

Gordon Moody – national gambling charity – Tel: 01384 241292.

Samaritans – Tel: 116123

Hope Line UK from Papyrus – if under 35 – Tel: 0800 068 4141.

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Carole’s Devotional – Pentecost

Carole Crossley is the author of a daily devotional book entitled ‘Are you Listening.’ Carole has kindly agreed to share on our website; exploretoinspire.uk a number of her devotions for your encouragement (2019 Jesus Joy Publishing used by permission) and if you would like to order a copy of Carole’s book, go to ‘Are you Listening’

This devotional is about PENTECOST one of many Bible Stories that she has shared over the months and we hope you enjoy it.

Imagine being transported back through the dark, dusty envelope of time, when God sent ‘His Spirit’ to be our comforter and guide. Would you have said yes in that instant?
Are you ready to say YES now? Do you want the Holy Spirit to come into your life? God’s Spirit is just as alive for this generation, as it was in the past.
                                                       ………………………………….

Following the horrendous cruelty of the cross, the group of sad, lonely men, were now emotionally distraught. Their spirits were in torment, as they consistently focussed on the death of Jesus. Their expectations for the future had been destroyed, with the devastation of seeing Christ crucified. They were now despondent. Their heartache hung heavy, like a dark veil pressing down on them. The future looked bleak, had it all been completely meaningless? What about the promise of a kingdom with Jesus, they didn’t understand. Their grief clouded everything that Jesus had told them.

Their lives had been plummeted into a pit of extreme despair. Imagine the pain in their tormented souls, anguished into silence, with the memory of Jesus being nailed to a cross, flogged, spat upon. His flesh made bloody and torn when they forced a crown of thorns, upon His innocent head. Their eyes were pools of desolate sadness as they gathered together, each one deep in their own tragic thoughts. The disciples did have some comfort though, in their silent fellowship; each holding their grief inside, with a shared understanding of each other’s pain.

They were continuing to meet secretly and pray together, in the way that Jesus had taught them to. Each man was struggling with their own indirection, it was weighing them down. They felt hopeless in the aftermath, of having their beloved leader taken from them. The disciples had still got their individual faith and the recollection of their ‘Masters’ words, each holding protectively onto their personal interpretation. They all acknowledged a need for Jesus, for his constant presence in their lives. Support had come from each other, but their ‘rock’ had been removed. Jesus had been crucified.

Some of them were now wavering. Indecision in what to do with their lives, with grief and uncertainty. Still there was an aura of anticipation, which flowed back and forth between them. It radiated from their hearts. None of them knew why, or understood where this feeling came from. It had begun when their Lord had appeared to them three days after His death. His presence had strongly resonated with each of them, they had waited, none daring to voice their thoughts. Could they be quite sure, that their recollection of his words, weren’t fanciful? Had they really heard Jesus say, “Wait, a helper will come.” It didn’t make any sense, surely their grief was responsible for their imagination.

It was at this time, whilst they were together in the shabby upper room; with the doors and windows locked (because of their fear of discovery), when their sad deflated lives changed forever!

Suddenly, there was the sound of a violent wind blowing, despite the previous calm of the day. At first it was almost imperceptible, then, building in volume, it couldn’t be ignored. They looked at each other, their eyes wild in uncertainty. The disturbance was all around them and seemed to originate from above! 


The room shook as if with thunder, but no, it was more than that. More like the throws of an earthquake. Shock and fear of the unknown, gripped and stilled each of the Apostles. They clung onto each other, dumb with fear. Something amazing was present, something incredibly powerful, and something that they had never experienced before. They trembled, holding their breath, too afraid to move, let alone run. Tensely their eyes wild in terror, they felt the power of God. Their fear dissipated, each of the Apostles submitted, without reservation, they allowed Jesus access into their hearts.

In fiery tongues of flame, the Holy Spirit separated and came to rest on each of them.

The flaming tongues of the Holy Spirit burned into their very souls and branded their hearts, with the love of The Lord Jesus! Never before had they felt such an injection of power, a source of undeniable authority, strengthened and penetrated their souls.

Instantly, each of them began to speak ‘in Tongues,’ in many languages, which they had previously not known, suddenly the Apostles became fluent in them. A crowd gathered in bewilderment at viewing the scene. Many accused the disciples of being drunk – yet, despite the people originating from many different regions, all understood their native tongue when the disciples began speaking to them.

Peter, overflowing with the Holy Spirit, his presence strangely influenced, thundered an address at the crowd. He quoted from the prophet Joel. Peter’s voice was earnest commanding, he spoke with immense authority. The people listened, the Spirit moved and the prophecy was fulfilled!
JOEL 2: 28-29
The Lord’s Promise of His Spirit.

The same Spirit is open to us today, just as the disciples received and accepted the Spirit with joy and welcome – God wants each of us to invite His Spirit into our lives now! 

                                                    ………………………………………

Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ my heart is empty and I have a God shaped hole just waiting for you to fill it. Bring Your Spirit into my life and change me forever. I am sorry for the things that I do wrong and I want to follow You.
Amen.

Carole’s Devotional – Hannah

Carole Crossley is the author of a daily devotional book entitled ‘Are you Listening.’ Carole has kindly agreed to share on our website; exploretoinspire.uk a number of her devotions for your encouragement (2019 Jesus Joy Publishing used by permission) and if you would like to order a copy of Carole’s book, go to ‘Are you Listening’

This devotional is about HANNAH one of many Bible Characters that she has shared over the months and we hope you enjoy it.

The bible teaches us that a gospel centred life, will have an eternal significance for us. The way we live our lives can affect others. The bible discloses stories of many influential women, who have impacted others by their actions.

1 Samuel :1

Hannah was a distraught woman, she desperately wanted children, but she remained childless because God had closed her womb. Hannah’s husband had a second wife, Peninnah and she was very cruel towards Hannah. Peninnah already had children and she used every opportunity she could find, to torment Hannah, deliberately taunting her about her barrenness.

Hannah, was understandably, very distressed and her response was to turn wholeheartedly, to God in prayer. She prayed day and night, pleading with God to give her a son. Hannah never doubted for a minute, that in God’s goodness, he would answer yes, to her prayer.

Hannah promised, that when she was blessed with a child, she would give him back to God, for his sovereign purpose.

Hannah never wavered in her conviction that the Lord would provide and she persevered with her prayerful request. She was over joyed when her son, Samuel, was born! She held the tiny baby in her arms and she remembered her promise to God. For now though, she would keep him close and love him.

Hannah must have been devastated, when Samuel was grown enough to be dedicated to God and leave her to go and live in the temple. However she never wavered from the promise she had made. God had given her a son and now she must do her part, regardless of the cost, she would honour God.

Samuel, her son was chosen by God, he was anointed to become a great prophet and priest. Hannah’s continued prayers and faithful commitment to God, enabled Samuel’s life to be anointed and Israel was blessed with a great judge and prophet. The fervent prayers of a mother were effective and showed that God cares about the oppressed and afflicted.

Prayer is a wonderful gift from God and we are free to communicate with him in this way. He hears and responds to everything we say to him, but don’t forget to thank him and show your appreciation for all he does for us. Remember that the way we live our lives, ‘will’ effect those who are around us and we should try to be a good influence.

Carole’s Devotional – Easter

Carole Crossley is the author of a daily devotional book entitled ‘Are you Listening.’ Carole has kindly agreed to share on our website: exploretoinspire.uk a number of her devotions for your encouragement (2019 Jesus Joy Publishing used by permission) and if you would like to order a copy of Carole’s book, go to ‘Are you Listening’

This devotional is about EASTER one of many Bible Stories that she has shared over the months and we hope you enjoy it.

A slow lilac mist crept stealthily over the rough sandstone. Peering into the gloom the disciples cautiously stepped over the sharp edges of the loose rocks, which marked the rugged track, leading them in reluctance to the tomb where Jesus lay.

Time may as well have stopped. The shoulders of those who were heavily burdened with the events of the past week, sagged so low, that grief was tangible in their stance and the weight of it threatened to overcome them.

The speed of the lizard on the path, would once have drawn interest; it raced out of danger as the vibrations warned it and so the reptile avoided their heavy footsteps. This time it drew no reaction, as the band of desolate men trudged on in despair.

The long lonely road – deserted at this hour – continued to beckon them. Many were the miles that they had trudged together, with Him. Never had the journeys seemed so hard, but just a few steps on this road, seemed endless, hot, dusty and full of despair.

Each tortured soul was trying in vain to make sense of the events leading up to His death. The feelings of their failure were very strong; an inadequate knowledge and a realisation of how quickly things could change, had left them with the unbearable feeling of guilt. Why hadn’t they helped Him?  How could they have deserted Him?

Each one of them, once a faithful follower, turned to examine their own heart and were left in no doubt of their fragility. What would they do now? Go back to their old lives? There was so much of ‘Jesus’ embedded in each of their hearts. The Apostle’s knew that each of them had been special to Him.

Imperceptibly, there was a flicker of something, something deep inside. How much He had taught them, what joy they had experienced when He was with them. Gone in a moment, so much promise dashed. The unbearable tide of emotion broke each of their hearts. Their souls yearned for Him. How could they carry on? They were lost.

The mist had started to clear. A glorious crystal clear sky, enhanced by the bright warm sunlight had given birth to a new day. Slowly they lifted their grief-weary eyes and then, curiously, ahead, they fleetingly glanced an image. Each one turned to the other, unspoken thoughts, imagination, was replaced suddenly, by a feeling of purity which enveloped their souls. They didn’t know what it meant or how to explain it.

There was a disturbance further on. A woman was crying, excited, running, towards them, clambering along the rough pathway, slipping in her haste. The men rushed forward, catching her as she stumbled. Her face radiated joy, tears of pure happiness flowed copiously, down her tight parched cheeks. Her hoarse voice brought the joyful news.

He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive!

The men congregated around her, pushing to get near; what was she saying, what did she mean? Who’s alive? ….. But they knew; hadn’t they had a warning, hadn’t there been a strange sense, tenderly growing inside? Right from them waking up early this morning, they had known that something was different, something had happened! The feeling had persisted and they didn’t know how to put it into words.

They recalled the things He had said when He was with them; events were unfolding, just, as He had promised! All along the essence of Him had been with them during the journey. Yes that fleeting image, which they had all seen, meant that His presence was close. It was all unimaginable.

Excitement, urgency, speed – but above all else they felt an overwhelming love for each other. All the condemnation of self-had now left them and feelings of holiness and transparency flooded their spirits. They just wanted to hug each other and to feel alive again! 

Jesus was back!

They knew it, they felt it, and they breathed it in. What joy! What purity! What clarity!
Suddenly, again, the future was paved with love!

Carole’s Devotional – Mary

Carole Crossley is the author of a daily devotional book entitled ‘Are you Listening.’ Carole has kindly agreed to share on our website; exploretoinspire.uk a number of her devotions for your encouragement (2019 Jesus Joy Publishing used by permission) and if you would like to order a copy of Carole’s book, go to ‘Are you Listening’

This devotional is about MARY one of many Bible Characters that she has shared over the months and we hope you enjoy it.

The icy tendrils of despair gripped my heart in an overwhelming burden of emotion. It is inconceivable that any mother should witness the cruel devastating scene that I was now forced to look upon.

My beautiful, perfect Son, was nailed brutally on a rough splinter-ridden cross and left in enormous pain to hang in an agonising death.

My constricted throat stemmed the animal wail I longed to scream. The arid hot sun was beating down on my dropping shoulders; the strength was slipping out of my dear, dear, Son.

I shrunk in torment. My tortured thoughts travelled back to the promise of His birth, thirty three years ago.

The excitement of my betrothal party to Joseph had brought our two families together in such joy. Joseph was older than I but that was a good thing; it meant he would have the means to take care of me, to provide for me and I would serve him as a wife should, with faithfulness and love.

It had been while I was skipping along in my dreams of flowers and wedding feasts that the strangest thing had happened.

Fleetingly, as I turned my head, out of the corner of my eye I saw a bright vision. The brightness automatically caused my eyelids to close tightly in protection. Falling to my knees I covered my face and bowed as low as the rough path would allow.

I curled up in terror against the atmosphere; something immensely powerful was present. The vivid light had announced a presence – a presence that made me tremble. If my shaking limbs would have allowed it, I would have run from there with all speed.

The quietness echoed and my tension held me in a terrified grip. With clear authority, a reassuring voice penetrated my befuddled mind.

The message was, in essence, clear, but I struggled to make sense of it. I understood the words but not the meaning. I was told about the birth of a son; my first born. I was informed that I would become pregnant with the Holy Spirit.

It took some time for that to sink in! Even then, I had no concept of what it meant. I asked how that would be possible to a virgin; I worried what Joseph would say and I wondered what it all meant.

In retrospect it was all surreal, uncanny, unexpected, unknown. I had heard of others having visions but I had never experienced anything like this.

The voice speaking these things to me introduced himself as Gabriel, an Angel; the message he brought had come directly from God.

My fear overcome, I knew that God was asking something of me, anything He wanted! I would obey! Indeed there was no doubt in my mind; I would do whatever God asked of me, no matter what the cost to myself.

I had tried in vain to hide my changing shape. The long cloak-like clothes which I was familiar with wearing were helpful in the early days. Joseph was amazingly understanding about the situation. He cared enough about me to try and hide my disgrace. He decided to go ahead with our marriage and then quietly divorce me.

I know that something happened to change Joseph’s mind because we remained together for the rest of his life and we gave my son Jesus our love and, in time, brothers. He grew up in a loving family and Joseph cared deeply for Him, teaching Him a trade and bringing Him up as his own son.

I always knew that my first born would be special – the Angel had said so – and the circumstances of His birth were unique. I had kept each memory safely locked in my heart.

A short time before His birth, we were all told there would be a census throughout the Roman Empire. It meant we had to register in our home town (our place of birth). This had been ordered by Augustus, the Roman Emperor.

We travelled over rough terrain for many days. I was riding on the back of an elderly donkey; poor Joseph had to walk. We arrived in Bethlehem one clear starry night. The journey had been long and we were exhausted, just longing for rest and a good night’s sleep. My lack of personal experience didn’t interfere with my instinct; I knew the journey of birth had already begun several hours before.

 Bethlehem had been oozing with people; the small town had never had such crowds descend upon it. The inns were full; every room was taken – too many people for too few places to stay. Joseph had tried to find us somewhere with weary patience, being turned away time and time again.

He led me on the donkey up to the last inn on the road. In answer to his request, there was a kindly face smiling in welcome. The smile meant so much. No, there was no room but on seeing my distress, the innkeeper offered us a dry stable at the back. We were both so grateful.

Jesus was born during the night; such a precious time, such a lowly, humble place to make His appearance. We were surrounded by animals – cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks. The animals were so quiet during His birth, until His first breaths were taken; then it was so strange – they raised their voices, they cried in unison, they sang, they howled so sweetly, the volume brought excitement and joy. My heart overflowed.

Within the following hours we were visited by shepherds who had travelled from nearby where they had been looking after their flocks.  The atmosphere in the stable was one of tremendous joy and thanksgiving. I was grateful for the safe delivery of my baby; but to have strangers celebrating and praising God for His birth, well, it was truly amazing. I hugged myself in awesome wonder, savouring all those feelings of love and peace. I had thought about His birth many times and I know it was special.

It was the custom for a new born boy to be taken to the temple so, at 8 days old, we went along with our Son. He was named, ‘Jesus’ – just as the angel had instructed – circumcised and dedicated to God as we gave two pigeons in sacrifice.

Later the Eastern Kings arrived! They brought presents out of their riches for my baby – gold, frankincense and myrrh. They had been led in their journey to find us by following a star! I knew then, without doubt, that my Son had God’s hand upon Him. I savoured every moment.

Very soon, Joseph was warned of danger in a dream and we had to leave and hurriedly go to Egypt. I remember feeling afraid as we left the warmth and safety of the stable. God had told Joseph we needed to escape from King Herod. He wanted to kill my baby!

We did however return to Israel after Herod’s death and we settled in Nazareth which is where Jesus grew up. The excitement of Jesus’ birth receded into the background and we got on with our lives  but I often thought in wonder at the events.

I don’t think anyone has had a more perfect Son! He has given us so much joy. His wisdom, even from an early age, touched all who came into contact with Him. He studied God’s word and always seemed to have an insight into the scriptures. I proudly watched as He grew.

However, there was one time, when He was about 12 years old, He became separated from us. We had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Joseph, Jesus’ brothers and I had gone on ahead presuming He was travelling behind us with friends. It was late when we discovered that He wasn’t with our group. The knowledge that no one had seen Him had us both trembling in fear. The terrible knotting up of my stomach muscles, the vivid imagined accidents, horrified us into action. We turned around to retrace our steps.

After three days searching, we found Him in the Temple. Jesus was with the religious teachers; He was in discussion with them and showing such wisdom and knowledge that belied His years. He seemed surprised that we were worried and that we didn’t know where to look for Him. The years passed all too swiftly.

At the age of 30 He had gone willingly into His ministry. My heart had been so very sad but a mother knows when it is time to let her precious children go; but it hurts and my heart clenched in grief.

My lovely innocent son; His teaching had blessed all who had listened and had a heart to hear and receive God. His touch could heal and save. When anyone looked into His eyes, something beautiful happened in their souls. His touch was gentle, encouraging. He brought truth and love. Peace followed in His path; the lives He changed and the faces of His followers, spread the joy that was theirs. Yes, from the moment the angel told me about Him, He had penetrated my heart.

Yet look where that had brought us! My son was dying on a cross! Whipped, humiliated, beaten – a cruel thorny crown tearing into His head, spit dripping down His face and blood running from the deep indented nails driven mercilessly into His flesh. I could not bear to look!

My anguish pulled me to my knees; I clawed at the air, hardly able to draw breath, my heart split down the centre. Something died in me that day.

Piercing my grief, I heard His voice. Suddenly, there was silence all around; something forced me to look up at my son. The deep brown pool-like eyes were not in pain, they summoned my attention.

He looked down at me and all the love, with which I had cherished Him, was etched in His expression. His voice was clear as He said, “Woman, this is your son,” I became aware of John besides me.

Jesus turned to John saying, “She is your mother.” Even in His great suffering He was still putting others before Himself; He held my gaze for the last time.

Peace flooded my heart; the pain was no longer acute. This was God’s will. My love would never diminish but God’s hand, which was placed so gently on my heart, would see me through this trauma. I had to let my son go. His death would bring freedom; I would still have Him in my heart even though His physical presence would be absent.

Love of this kind, of this intensity, would never die. Trials would come and go and God’s peace would comfort and ease the pain.

I now knew that God’s will had, and would, be done.

Carole’s Devotional – Pilate

Carole Crossley is the author of a daily devotional book entitled ‘Are you Listening.’ Carole has kindly agreed to share on our website; exploretoinspire.uk a number of her devotions for your encouragement (2019 Jesus Joy Publishing used by permission) and if you would like to order a copy of Carole’s book, go to ‘Are you Listening’

This devotional is about PILATE one of many Bible Characters that she has shared over the months and we hope you enjoy it.

It was so early that the dawn was only just breaking. The unwelcome hammering not only disturbed my slumber, it caused fear in the pit of my stomach. To be awoken, in such a manner, well suffice it to say, it had never happened before and I was quite alarmed by it.

I am an official, someone who commands respect. My authority usually protected me from any intrusive behaviour. No one would dare to deliberately awaken me, unless there was something really urgent that needed my attention.

I lived in times when such an event at the very least unnerved me; at best it made me feel suspicious.

Being unaccustomed to visitors at this early hour, I hastily decided to be the authoritarian. I could easily change to humble servility, if the circumstances demanded it, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the spectacle that greeted me.

There stood a man dressed in a white robe which covered His entire body, allowing only the peasant-type sandals to show beneath.

Head bowed in submission, hands tied tightly behind His back, there was no resistance at all. The man, who stood so quietly in front of me, had an amazing presence! Without speaking a word and without looking up at me, he had an aura of so many things – authority, gentleness, vulnerability, sadness, understanding, empathy, and much more – all so tangible that I could touch them. I sensed that this was no ordinary man.

The shouting interrupted my thoughts and I was instantly brought back to the present. A variety of angry men stumbled into the entrance towards me; there was the Chief Priest, members of the Sanhedrin as well as the Guards. They pushed the quiet man towards me. On enquiring as to the charges, I was told that He was called Jesus and claimed to be the King of the Jews. The chief Priests had also accused Him of many other things.

I was astounded to learn just how many accusations there were against Him. The quiet man said nothing! He spoke not a word in His defence. He humbly accepted the charges and the rough injustice of His treatment.

It was more than unusual to me. My experience had taught me that a prisoner would say or do anything in the hope of gaining release. Never, ever, before, had a prisoner not tried to jump to His own defence?

The custom at that time of year was that a prisoner, chosen by the people, could at their request, be set free.

The uneasy feelings I had about the quiet man continued to grow. Having found that He had committed no crime – even though I have to admit that would normally not have bothered me – I somehow felt loathe to charge him, even with a trumped up charge.

I went out on the balcony. The crowds were swelling in numbers despite the relatively early hour. I was deeply surprised and horrified at their answer, when I asked them who should be set free.

I fully expected the name of Jesus to be shouted loudly. But it wasn’t. Barabbas! The name was screamed in defiance.

As I gazed down at the seemingly out of control mob, I was astounded when I visualised a pack. They moved as one, they yelled in frenzy, unconcerned about the torment of the condemned man. They who would feel no pain, who would experience no suffering, cared nothing for the consequences of their mob-like actions; or the injustice of the situation.

I quickly questioned their decision. It was the Passover feast and it was because of this that the law stated we could release a prisoner – any prisoner, regardless of offence, who happened to be the people’s choice.

Just then I received an important message from my wife. I held great store by her wisdom; the gods often spoke to her in dreams. This day was no exception. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man’s life.”

The message created great fear in me and it crawled up from the pit of my stomach. I hoped the crowd would change their incessant chanting. What could I do? I asked again, “What shall I do with the prisoner Jesus?”

The ferocity of the crowd astounded me. “Crucify Him!” The quiet man made no sound; I wondered if He could be in a trance. Why did He have no reaction?

“Crucify Him, Crucify Him,” -the sound was like thunder. It increased in volume, it reverberated around me and I wanted to cover my ears. The quiet man had no reaction. He made not even a movement. He seemed unaffected, almost as if He had seen this scene played out before Him at some previous time.

It was by chance that I discovered that Jesus was a Galilean from the region which was ruled by Herod, my enemy. My wife’s words returned to my thoughts. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man.”

I would send the quiet man to Herod; let’s see what he would make of Him.

Herod had long wanted to meet with Jesus, having tried many times to see Him. The reputed miracles He had performed had Herod intrigued. I had no idea at the time but my actions in sending Jesus to him, caused a healing of the rift between us. As a result, we overcame our disputes and that day we became friends. Herod could find no fault in Him either; at least he was no threat to the kingdom.

It wasn’t long before Herod became bored with taunting and making fun of Jesus and he decided to return Him to me.

I gazed down on a rabid, ferocious, blood thirsty, pack of poisonous people! The crowds, if anything, were even more determined to have the quiet man crucified! I deliberately went to the bowl and washed my hands, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s death. Let his blood be on your hands.”

The name of the thief and murderer Barabbas was yelled and chanted so loudly that the stones around me began to shake. He was the crowd’s choice. I could do nothing more, I had to release him!

That was something I didn’t want to admit even to myself. I pulled myself together. I was Pontus Pilate!

The decision was made. I turned Jesus, the King of the Jews, over to the guards to be flogged and crucified.