Faith of desperadoes (part 1)

jairus and jesus

We live in a world that celebrates self sufficiency and independence. But what happens when our lives are shattered? We dissolve from dynamic into desperado in the blink of an eye. Our systems of control make us feel safe and in control. For the competent and privileged, self reliance gives us predictability and make us feel effective and successful. But everything we depend on can be annihilated by news of a terminal illness, an untimely death, retrenchment, devastating betrayal or crushing sorrow over someone we love. That’s when it suddenly dawns on us how weak and helpless we are. I used to think I was invincible, but as I get older and my life is more profoundly intertwined with those I love, I feel more vulnerable, more conscious of how brutal life can be. Strength and self sufficiency are illusions propped up by wealth and success, but not for long.

In Mark 5:21-43, a wealthy synagogue ruler who has everything a man could wish for, watches helplessly as his sick 12-year old daughter slips towards sure death. By the same lakeside, is a disgraced woman who has suffered with an incurable disease for 12 years. This is no ordinary sickness which can be treated by medicine. She has been turned away by every doctor. Her illness is particularly cruel in that it subjects the woman to constant bleeding in a first century culture that isolated as ‘unclean’ anyone who came into contact with blood. She is a hopeless outcast.

Yet, despite the obvious differences, the respectable man named Jairus and the unnamed woman have much in common. Both are desperadoes….Both know they have a serious problem they cannot fix. Both hear that Jesus is in town. Both come to him in desperation. Both instinctively reach out for His healing touch. Both encounter Jesus face-to-face and receive the healing they long for. Both receive a much deeper healing they never bargained for. Their lives are changed irrevocably from their encounter with Jesus.

When we have heard Bible stories over and over again, it is easy to overlook details in the text and to miss the treasure at our fingertips. That is why I will ask you to read the whole text rather than splitting it up into two stories. As we shall see, the miracles are intertwined and must be read together. Let us pray before we read, that our hearts may be soft and attentive as the Holy Spirit applies this God-breathed word to our lives:

Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

A desperate father encounters Jesus

Every parent can relate to the anguish of Jairus, the helpless father whose 12-year old daughter is dying. Jairus hears that Jesus is in town and falls at his feet, pleading for the miracle worker to touch his precious daughter so that she will be healed and live. There is nothing pompous or casual about him. Jairus is a prominent ruler of the Synagogue and his daughter is on the brink of death, yet Jesus, who knows all this, allows himself to be distracted by an unclean, haemorraging woman who reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak.

The audacity of a desperate woman.

The two stories of healing are like twin wheels held together by an axle in the middle. The woman’s thoughts in verse 28 form the axle: “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

if only i touch his garment


The woman is too ashamed to come boldly to Jesus like Jairus did. Instead, she approaches him from behind, timid and fearful, not daring to make eye contact or speak to Him. Firstly, she is a woman in a culture which forbade women from going out in public alone or talking to strangers. Secondly, being permanently unclean, she didn’t have the right to mix with people or even worship in the temple, let alone make her way to the lakeshore and touch the clothes of a Jewish rabbi. Yet, she is desperate enough to break all taboos and touch the Saviour. What does she have to lose? She has already lost everything: her dignity, the love and fellowship of community, her hope and all her money to failed treatments.

Shamed and unnamed, a nobody.

Yet, Jesus does not see her as a diversion. He doesn’t despise her desperation. In fact Jesus gives her audacity a name– he calls it faith– and He rewards her faith. The instant her fingers touch Jesus’ garment, the bleeding stops and she knows she is permanently free from her suffering (verse 29). The healing is unequivocal and her relief is instant and total. The disease is gone forever as though it never existed. This is no cheap magic trick that Jesus performs, no sleight of hand or illusion. It  is an example of the emphatic nature of all Christ’s healings–Total, instant, obvious, irreversible and unmistakable. (The only exception is the blind man who was healed in stages, perhaps to illustrate the gradual nature in which we gain spiritual insight. Mark 8:22-26). No one in Jesus’ day ever disputed his miracles and wonders.

Fatal distraction.

Despite the pressing need of a dying girl, Jesus refuses to leave until the woman owns up to the touch. She has been healed. Surely Jesus could have left it at that, avoided publicly embarrassing her and moved on quickly to Jairus’s house? The unnamed woman had been bleeding nonstop for 12 years, yet Jesus delays his healing of a little girl on her deathbed to personally speak to this woman and patiently listen to her life story. The delay results in the girl’s death. It seems awfully like a fatal distraction, a misjudgment on the part of Jesus. Surely the Son of God should have prioritised the daughter of a powerful man and excused himself from the ramblings of an emotional, nameless woman who has just made Him unclean with her touch? After all, she has already been healed. Surely public figures need to focus on the task at hand? If He is God, doesn’t He know her life story anyway?

What is striking throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is nothing like the average public figure! He doesn’t rank people according to status, how moral and upright they are, or how urgent their needs are. He is never too busy with “important” work to deal with an individual, especially a desperado. Jesus turns around and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” Of course He knows the answer to his question, but he insists on pursuing this woman.

Many people in the crowd are touching Jesus, yet only this woman has been transformed by his touch. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the next part of the conversation which I am quoting in the King James Version:

33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34 And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

The language of the KJV is bursting with significance and emotion. Jesus has given the woman far more than she bargained for! She is deeply affected by her encounter with Jesus and confesses all to Him. She told him all the truth (verse 33). She comes forward and literally falls down before Him as her Saviour.

Not long ago I read many passages from the Bible about the importance of remembering and sharing our stories of redemption (eg, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story”, Psalm 107:2), and I felt the Holy Spirit pressing in on me to recall my life story and write it down as a way of remembering what God has done for me. I divided my life into eras of seven years and it culminated in a personal encounter with Jesus, my Saviour, at the age of twenty-one, which transformed my life forever. (Before I turn 50, you are my witnesses that I am going to record the next four eras to remember the great deeds of the Lord!) As I wrote my biography in the form of five devotionals, I prayed and cried and told Jesus my story all over again. Did he know my story? Of course He did, as He was part of every scene! But telling Jesus all the truth about my life, including my hurts, shame, regrets, emptiness and longings gave me a freedom and blessing I didn’t expect. Nor did the woman.

After the woman has told the Saviour her life story, Jesus speaks an amazing blessing over her:

 “Your faith has made you whole. “

What a blessing to come from the mouth of the Messiah!

1) The woman came to Jesus because of a debilitating need. 2) She expected healing from Him. “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well“. 3) She fell down at the feet of her Saviour. These three acts of faith led to a personal encounter with the Son of God that would change her life forever. Transformation would not have happened if this woman had stayed at home or if she had allowed her fears to throttle her in reaching out to touch Jesus. It would also not have happened if Jesus hadn’t insisted on a personal encounter. Falling down at the feet of Jesus was like lifting the white flag of surrender. It was no mere religious experience for the woman. Jesus knew that she needed much more than physical healing. She needed inner transformation, wholeness and peace and that is exactly what Jesus gave her. This was the purpose of the diversion. 

The miracles of Jesus always point to a greater inner miracle, which is what Jesus, the Saviour, promises to do in the heart of anyone who puts their faith in Him. His death and resurrection offer us spiritual redemption and healing from the fatal plague of sin which makes each of us an enemy of a holy God. I love the word “plague” used in the KJV because sin is an incurable plague that kills us. Like the healing of the woman, healing from sin is total and irrevocable because it is based on the perfect life of Jesus, not on anything we do or earn. This woman came to Jesus with empty hands and an empty heart. She had nothing to offer Jesus but a worthless life of desperation, shame and suffering. But her bold act of faith brought her to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah Himself. He removed her sin and shame, restoring her dignity and making her whole. It was not just a fatal distraction– it was a faithful attraction, a personal encounter with Jesus, and an invitation to each one of us to come to Jesus in faith, as the woman did.

Go in peace!

Disease masks a much deeper spiritual problem that afflicts us. The politically incorrect teaching of the Bible says that our problem is sin. We cannot be at peace with God, or our neighbour, or ourselves, because of our sin. We are deeply fragmented. Since Genesis 3, humanity has lost its moorings from the God who made us (our Source), and the result has been emptiness, hatred, disease and death, failed relationships, suffering and every other form of brokenness of mind, body and spirit. If we are honest for a moment, this lack of peace is what we witness every day in ourselves and in the world. The woman came to Jesus in her desperation and He made her whole and gave her his peace.

Faith and Peace

Faith is the missing link that brings us back into fellowship with our heavenly Father and peace with God. It is not just “faith” in the abstract, but faith in the person of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. It is not just a peaceful feeling, but true Shalom. True shalom comes only from God, as Paul explains,

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:1–3, 8–10).

If we put our faith in Jesus as our Saviour, we are no longer God’s enemies, but He has made peace with us through the blood of Christ. We are reconciled to Him. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and he is available to each and every person who comes to Him as Saviour, as the 1st century woman showed us by the lakeside.

What about us?

Jesus delays His visit to Jairus’s house to gives us a real life lesson on what faith looks like. Faith is an action. It is coming to Jesus in humility and speaking the truth to Him, confessing our brokenness and sin. That’s what He requires of us if we want his healing touch and true Shalom. Only true desperadoes can have faith. Faith requires that we stop masking our brokenness with systems of control and instead recognise our desperate situation, putting our trust in the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Do you relate to the pain, shame and suffering of this woman? Then step out in faith and come to Jesus as she did, empty-handed, desperate and honest. It’s no use hiding anything from the One who knows it all anyway. Why run from the only source of wholeness and peace? It is only when we get beyond our own resources, when we are true desperadoes, that we can say, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” We shall be made well indeed.

Or do you relate more to the anguished father, Jairus, the man who has everything except the one thing he needs most– the life of his precious daughter? Then you must come back for the next blog…This one is important!

“We need a Saviour not just to cap off our good deeds, not just to forgive our sins. We need a Saviour because we are spiritually dead and helpless without him, no matter how good we look on the outside.” John Piper,





Ladders and Crowns (part 2)

Healed-by-Touching-His-GarmentsThe God-man

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” CS Lewis.

Who is Jesus? That is the most important question we will ever answer, and Jesus didn’t give us the option of a fence to sit on. He made it clear that a person is either for him or against him (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). He said categorically that we either serve him as Lord and Saviour, or we will face Him as Judge. (Matthew 25:31-32; Acts 17:31).

Was Jesus just a moral, wise teacher or perhaps a prophet of God who gives us the golden rule to live by?  This option isn’t available to us either.

Trilemma: Bad, Mad or God

In 1859 the Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan (1796-1870) formulated what he called a “trilemma” which was later popularised by CS Lewis:

Christ either [1] deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or [2] He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or [3] He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable. (Colloquia Peripatetica p. 109)

Put simply in Lewis’ words: Jesus, who claimed to be God– was either a liar, or a lunatic or Lord. There is no option of saying He was just a good man. The eyewitness accounts in the Gospels paint Yeshua (Jesus’ Jewish name) as an extraordinary miracle worker and much more than a Jewish carpenter and rabbi. But could Jesus really be the God-manfully human and fully God, the Creator, Saviour and King, which is what He claimed to be?  Today we will focus on the second part of Philippians 2:1-11, an ancient hymn recited by the early followers of Jesus, which captures the essence of who the earliest Christians believed Him to be. The central message of Christianity is the incarnation (God becoming man), and on this miracle everything stands or falls:

Philippians 2:5-11.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

“Equality with God”

In Philippians 1, Paul is actually quoting an ancient hymn or confession which dates back to the first years after Jesus’ death. The incarnation was no legend that arose centuries after Jesus walked the roads of Palestine and performed miracles and wonders never seen before or after. Today there are some people who insist that Jesus himself never claimed to be God, and it was only in later centuries that His deeds and claims were exaggerated. The facts of history prove this to be untrue, as Philippians was written around 61AD, and this poem/hymn was being used in the first decade after Jesus’ death by people who had known Him personally in his lifetime, many of whom had witnessed His miracles, heard His teachings and seen His death and resurrection. Jesus also had many enemies who had every motive to expose him as a fraud and just an ordinary man.

“In very nature God”

We can deduce from the ancient confession that the earliest of Jesus’ followers believed He was not just a good man, but the God-man promised in the Old Testament. He claimed to be God with his own mouth. That is why the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus on more than one occasion. They understood exactly who He was saying He was, and in their understanding, it was blasphemous for a mere man to speak like that. However, Jesus proved He was not merely a man, but also fully God by His miracles and resurrection (v 9- 11). The signs were so spectacular, no one even tried to deny His power.

“Made in human likeness”

Yet, Jesus did not grasp onto what was rightfully His. What could be more humbling than for a holy God to be  born as a helpless baby and to willingly give himself up to be arrested, spat on, mocked, whipped, accused falsely, stripped naked and crucified as the vilest criminal (v 7 & 8)? Yet, He took on our humanity because he was sure of His Father’s love for him, He was sure of where He came from and where He would return and He was sure of His mission to save the world. Jesus was secure in His identity and His Father’s approval. That’s why He willingly submitted to becoming a servant and to experience the full spectrum of human emotion, needs, temptation and suffering. His mission was to redeem the world by taking the punishment for all sins through His death on the cross. Only because He was fully human, could Jesus live the perfect life we could not and pay the price to atone for our sin. Only because He was fully God, could He forgive our sins.

The incarnation is unique to Christianity

“… the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.” (CS Lewis, Miracles, chapter 14).

Hundreds died for this belief that Jesus was God in the flesh. The oldest surviving declaration of a Christian martyr in the first century states unequivocally:

“It will be impossible for us to forsake Christ…or to worship any other. For him, being the Son of God, we adore.”

The oldest surviving pagan report about the church described first century Christians as gathering before sunrise and “singing a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Jesus was not just a teacher or prophet to these early Christians. They worshipped Him as God.

“God exalted him to the highest place”

If you are in any doubt about whether the incarnation is myth or legend, just read through the New Testament. Every time I pick up my Bible and engage with the actual texts, I am struck by more examples of Jesus being explicitly or implicitly called God. Last night I  was reading Luke 1 and 2, the story of Jesus’s birth, with my thirteen year old daughter, Hannah. As we read the words out loud (without a formal carol service to anaesthetise us), we were both emotional and full of wonder, picturing the angel Gabriel delivering his message to Mary, an ordinary Jewish teenager:

 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).

Doesn’t this everlasting kingdom sound a lot like Philippians 2:9-11? 

As if this isn’t enough, a whole host of angels appears in the sky to herald Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds! What a meeting between the divine and human, between the supernatural and the common!

No ordinary baby

The New Testament writers wrote from eye witness accounts and make it impossible to conclude that Jesus was just an ordinary baby. He is heralded as a King, and right from the moment of his birth, it is as though an invisible ceiling is lifted and heaven literally bursts into earth’s atmosphere! “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!”  Do we realise what profound words we sing so blithely at Christmas time, as if God stepping down to earth from heaven is an everyday natural event? Perhaps it’s so wonderful that we are inclined to file it away in the same category as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

It blows my mind to pieces, but I absolutely believe the incarnation happened, in real time and space. Even Mary and Joseph “marvelled at what was said about Jesus” (Luke 2:33) and they knew his destiny as Messiah from the angel’s message. The incarnation is the greatest gift the world has ever been offered. All we need to do is receive it by believing in God’s Son. I love this song by Aaron Shust, “This is what we believe.”

You are the Christ
Anointed One
Light of the world
God’s only Son
In the beginning was the Word
Emmanuel has come to live with us
Truly this Man is the Son
The Son of God
Who takes away the sins of the world
This Man is the Lamb
The Lamb of God
Who takes away the sins of the world
This is what we believe
You are the Way
The Truth and the Life
You came to change
Our wrongs to right.

No ordinary man


The ancient hymn quoted in Philippians 1, leaves us in no doubt as to who Jesus is: Jesus is God in his essence. He is not just like God in some general sense as some people say we are all ‘gods’. He is not just made in God’s image as we are. We can change our appearance or re-invent ourselves, but this hymn is absolutely specific: Jesus is “in the very nature God”;  He is “equal” to God. 

Here are a few other examples where Jesus is explicitly called God, the Creator and King of all:


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18).

“Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:28).

“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Romans 9:5).

“…while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).

But about the Son he says,“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:8.)

“…To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” (2 Peter 1:1).

The way up is the way down

For me, the greatest news about the incarnation is that God came down from heaven and became a human just like me. He wasn’t a stoic ice-man with an iron will, but a compassionate, fragile person who cried at the grave of his friend Lazarus and sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. I find my rest and peace in a servant king who is not aloof from my human brokenness. As a human, he faced betrayal, injustice, grief, lack, exhaustion, humiliation, shame and a painful death beyond what I could experience in a hundred lifetimes, yet he was completely innocent and pure. In my life or death, I know that there will never be a pit so deep or dark that I will not find Jesus there. Personally, I experience the greatest intimacy with Jesus when I am in my deepest personal pain, because I know He cares for me and has been there himself.   

A final word on crowns and ladders

crown of thorns

Jesus was heralded as King when He was born. Jesus wore a crown of thorns as He died. But at his resurrection, he traded the crown of thorns for the eternal crown of the supreme King. One day every knee will bow to King Jesus, even those who reject or ignore His gift of life.  

He was born in a stable and earned a living making household furniture. Yet, He died on a wooden cross to bring us life and an eternal home. He showed the futility of climbing ladders of success and pointed to Himself as the stairway to heaven, the bridge between sinful, lost people (like you and me) and the Father who made us. He showed us the way to fellowship with our heavenly Father. Jesus was not just a good man. He was the God-man.

I’m over the moon with Jesus as my Saviour. But, I’m not sure I fully embrace Jesus as my Lord and role model. I like the idea of being a daughter of God, having the comforts and privileges of royalty, but I’m not too keen to be a sister of Christ, especially when it comes to suffering.

But as Jesus wore a crown of thorns, so must I. As he served and put others first, so must I. As He died physically, so I must take up my cross and die to myself every day. 

The way up is the way down. That is not the way my natural mind thinks!

I can  no longer be at the centre of my universe. That goes against every human instinct!

I can no longer wear the crown. It is firmly on the head of King Jesus who will return to make all things new! 

The song, Lifesong, by Casting Crowns expresses my heart as I long for my life to imitate my Saviour’s.

Ladders and Crowns (part 1)


Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death –

        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Which ladder are you climbing?

If I compiled a bucket list of Scriptures, this passage from Philippians would be on top. Like a scalpel, it cuts away all the fluff of religion and hypocrisy and goes straight to the heart of what Christianity is all about. It answers the questions of who Jesus is and why He came to earth. It crystallises the Gospel and spells out in practical terms how the Gospel radically transforms our relationships if we are true followers of Christ. Like a double-edged sword, this inspired text pierces the heart of our “mindset” (verse 5), which shapes our attitudes and relationships. The Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that a disciple of Christ is called to imitate Jesus in ways that will make us completely counter-cultural, especially in the area of ambition and success. Are we climbing the ladder of “personal ambition” and “vain conceit“? Or do we recognize that Jesus, the unique God-man, is the ladder between heaven and earth as he claimed to be (John 1:5), the One in whom we will find ultimate meaning, success and purpose in life?  “Ladders and Crowns” is a two-part series. Part 1 focuses on the first five verses of Philippians 2; and Part 2 will hone in on the ancient hymn quoted by Paul in verses 6-11.

Independence versus inter-dependence.

In western culture, independence is equated with freedom, individuality, strength and happiness. In the world’s eyes, it is the independent and autonomous who climb the ladder of success and reach their dreams. Yet, the Bible warns that if we give free rein to our natural selfishness and pride, autonomy will lead to our own destruction. The Christian worldview says that humans are created and designed by God to worship and give glory to Him as Lord, and to be inter-dependent, not independent. Nowhere is this distinctly Christian mindset more evident than in our closest relationships.

Marriage killers.

An independent, self centred mindset is at the heart of most failed marriages and dysfunctional families. Currently, more than half of all marriages end in divorce and a vast proportion of marriages are profoundly unhappy. In South Africa the top 5 reasons for divorce are:

#1 Lack of communication and a refusal to compromise.

#2 Physical/ psychological/ financial or emotional abuse;

#3 Infidelity and cheating;

#4 Social media (“free-spirited commenting, posting and sharing of information,” internet flirting and less face-to-face intimacy and real communication).

#5 addictions (particularly internet pornography).

Other causes of divorce in the top 10 include conflict over parenting responsibilities; differences in priorities and finances. Apart from the emotional scars suffered by spouses, every one of these failed marriages inflicts collateral damage on children, relatives and friends which may last a lifetime. (

Narcissism in pretty packaging.

Independence is often a euphemism for selfishness or narcissism. Today’s Scripture calls it “personal ambition” and “vain conceit“(verse 3). It is the mindset that says, “It’s your life and it only comes around once. Do what makes you happy regardless of what others think. Life is short, so don’t waste your time on difficult people. Walk away from bad vibes and negative energy, move on from people who no longer make you smile.” God’s Word reverses the order. Throughout the pages of Scripture, we are told that all glory belongs to God and that it is futile for men and women to gaze at our own image in the mirror and spend our lives climbing the ladder of personal ambition and vain conceit. This ladder gives us an illusion of success, but is in fact the stairway to a hopeless, meaningless life, and ultimately to death.

Pride is the most insidious of sins for a Christian, because it lures us up the world’s ladder of success. Its rungs are selfish ambition and vain conceit. Sadly, even when we summit the ladder of success, we will discover that our ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. What a waste of a life!

Jesus is the Stairway to Heaven.

Jesus claimed that He is the stairway between earth and heaven, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 1:5; 14:6). Therefore, Paul calls those who are “united with Christ” to climb a different stairway to the world. Jesus showed us the steps by his own life, death and resurrection. The great and sovereign God walked ahead of us as a human being and said, “Come to me to be washed clean of your sins and be set free. Then live as if you’re free by imitating me. I’ll give you the power of my Spirit to do it. I’ll show you how to live a life worth living. Just follow in my steps.” The rungs of God’s stairway are humility, compassion, tenderness and love (verses 1, 2). Being united with Christ means that it is no longer I, but Jesus, who is at the centre of my life. I belong to Him, not to myself. It means that I take the crown off my own head and worship Jesus only, not my spouse or my children, not my desire for money, recognition, sex, control, approval, comfort or any other created thing. Humility is putting aside my own personal preferences and needs, denying myself, staying faithful to my promises, speaking the truth in love, hanging in with family and friends (even when they don’t make me smile), serving others and speaking words of life.

Imagine what would happen to marriages, families, schools and sports teams if we valued Christ-centred inter-dependence instead of independence, “in humility valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others.” The mindset of Christ is essentially humility.

This is what C.S Lewis said about humility:

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

From Mere Christianity

Lewis says that the cure to conceit is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less! Humility is self forgetfulness and fulfilling the job description of Christ followers: We are part of a redeemed family of servants, united with Christ and each other, on mission together in this world to bring hope to the hopeless. There is no place for prima donnas or glory seekers in this family. We are “like minded, one in spirit and of one mind” (verse 2). There are many Christian denominations, and diverse personalities within each local church, but only one Spirit who lives within all true followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. We serve, rather than grab what we think is due to us. We are outward focussed rather than self obsessed. The glory and praise belong only to Jesus who “is in the very nature God“, who bears “the name that is above every name“(verse 6; 9). Inter-dependence has transforming power. Paradoxically, it does not cramp our style but is liberating because it leads to an abundant, love-rich life. Bound together in community, attached firmly to Christ, and striving together for the glory of God the Father (verse 11), we are free to thrive and find comfort, encouragement, support and strength for whatever lies ahead.

The Crown belongs to Jesus

 Just suppose the hymn in verse 6-11 is actually true, and that God really did come to earth as a man, Jesus Christ; that the God-man actually gave up his royal “crown” (his status, privilege and rights) in heaven; that He made the ultimate sacrifice by dying on a cross as a common criminal, naked, shamed and abandoned. Suppose it is true that even now in the 21st century, Jesus is the King and Lord of the universe, the One “to whom every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth“(verse 10) and “every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verse 11). What does this say about the crowns of status, power, wealth and success we like to put on our own heads to make us feel important and worthy? Am I the only one who repeatedly finds herself climbing the world’s silly ladders to measure my success and greatness? What could God have hoped to achieve through his incarnation? I hope you will join me for Part 2 to look at this amazing hymn which tells us clearly who Jesus is and why He came to earth. Let’s put the crown firmly back on Jesus’ head where it belongs.

Download and listen to “I will boast” by Chris Tomlin.

Swords and Scalpels

Hebrews 4:12-13

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Ephesians 6:17

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Active and alive.

Throughout the centuries the Bible has been ridiculed and banned, distorted, misquoted and burned. Yet, it has survived and is still the most widely published and read book in history. Written over a span of fifteen hundred years, by around forty different authors, the sixty-six books of the Bible comprise one congruent story which shows us the truth about God, the world we live in, ourselves and God’s great plan to redeem the world.

Both true believers and enemies of God are in no doubt about the power of God’s Word. William Tyndale, a brilliant priest and scholar of 7 languages, was strangled and burnt at the stake in October 1536 for translating the Bible into English so that ordinary people like you and me could read it for ourselves and be taught God’s truth rather than the lies the Church was feeding them. The church authorities hated what he was doing and recognised the implications. What was the charge against Tyndale? Heresy– he dared to teach that we can have our sins forgiven and be saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This teaching, for anyone who has ever read the Bible, is the essence of the Gospel, literally good news, and forms the axis of Christianity. The Gospel is the reason why Jesus came to earth and why we have a Church in the first place, but Tyndale discovered it when he read the Greek New Testament and couldn’t keep the treasure to himself.  He was so compelled by God’s love for humanity that it became his life passion to bring the power of God’s Word into the living rooms of ordinary homes, and he was willing to defy the authorities, live as a fugitive and eventually die as a criminal to make his English Bible accessible. Tyndale’s words are as appropriate today as they were to readers almost five hundred years ago:

“Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods, or that it is made breaking of the king’s peace, or treason unto his highness, to read the Word of thy soul’s health—for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes.”

Tyndale knew that the Word is the lifesaving medicine our soul needs to be healthy, because it comes directly from our Creator. The Bible is still banned or restricted in many countries today (eg, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, Yemen), but in our free western world where the Bible is read at Carol services, Easter, Christmas, christenings, weddings and funerals (hatches, matches and dispatches), familiarity often breeds contempt. I am concerned at the casual way in which some Christians today treat the Bible, picking and choosing what they want to believe, holding onto the promises but ignoring the conditions, explaining away anything that contradicts popular opinion. They read it as though it is a book of mythology or Aesopp’s fables, completely denying its power and authority. Christians in the past were willing to die or suffer for God’s Word, because they were utterly convinced that it is alive and active, relevant for all time and every culture. They understood the radical transformation that takes place when ordinary people take the Word of God seriously. They understood the unstoppable power of the Gospel when educated and uneducated people, rich and poor, young and old, submit themselves to God’s truth, as they did in the book of Acts.


It’s presumptuous today to speak of truth. Truth is old fashioned and intolerant. Truth in western culture is whatever is right for you, whatever you feel to be true. Yet, in this passage, Paul the apostle talks about the Word which penetrates deep into our soul, which exposes and judges our hidden motives and secret attitudes. There’s nothing subjective about this kind of truth. The Word lays it bear before the eyes of God who creates and knows everything and who will bring everyone to account. “Word” is the English translation of the Greek logos, but logos has far richer implications than just speech and thought. For first century Christian readers who understood Greek philosophy, logos meant the divine reason, plan, wisdom and logic behind the universe. If this is the meaning of God’s Word, reading Scripture should fill us with awe and wonder. It is not just printed words on a page, but the very thoughts and breath of God, true in every sense and showing us the meaning and purpose of our lives. God’s Word clearly spells out His design for life and what is right and wrong in his eyes. Some of it flies directly into the face of what is politically correct and accepted by the majority. The Bible is unique because it is God’s standard and not just an echo of our culture, as is human-authored media and literature.

Heart surgery

The Word of God does what no other human literature can do: it operates on the hearts of those who believe, like a sharp scalpel in the hands of an expert surgeon. The Holy Spirit is the great surgeon, the Counsellor whom Jesus promised would “teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26-27.) If you read the Scripture with a believing heart, there is nothing passive about the experience. My personal experience of getting deep into God’s Word is more like mining for hidden treasure or being thrown out of a comfortable hammock! Scripture was never designed to lull us into a false sense of security, and that was true in the days of the prophets as well as today. The true prophets who proclaimed the Word of God fearlessly were hated and killed because they spoke uncomfortable truths that people didn’t want to hear. It’s true that some parts of the Bible are comforting and poetic, but there are others that pierce deep into the marrow of who we are, cutting through the deceit and lies that obscure an unhealthy organ. Swords and scalpels are hardly comforting, but a sword is a powerful weapon and a scalpel is a life-saving instrument. The Word convicts us of what’s wrong in our lives and if we yield to its truth, the Holy Spirit will do His work in our heart.  The process may be painful, but “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18.) The Word challenges us to stand up and be radical followers of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, even if this costs us dearly.

Seven hundred years ago, the prophet Jeremiah said “the heart is deceitful above all things”. ( Jeremiah 17:9). I don’t know about you, but I have an uncanny ability to be deceived by lies and have many blind spots. Everyone can see them except me! I find myself justifying my actions; blaming other people and ignoring my true motives. I say Jesus is Lord of my life, but I still think my secrets are safe from him. My thought life, my personal ambitions, my attitudes and responses sometimes fly under the radar undetected. But when I read the Bible, something hits me right between the eyes and I realize the power of Christ himself has cut through all my lies and defences. The Holy Spirit throws his powerful spotlight on pride or an idol that I need to take care of. God’s Word has the power to dissolve smoke screens and go into dark places where the source of our problems lie. Just as Jesus could see into the hearts of the Pharisees, so too the Holy Spirit opens the curtains of our hearts so we can see clearly to do a spring clean. Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. As I read the pages of my Bible, my motives are undressed and laid naked before God; lies and distortions are set straight; new insights continue to jump out from familiar passages and I am getting to know the God who is, not the God of my imagination. If you are a disciple of Jesus, the double edged sword of God’s Word is a crucial weapon to fight against the lies of Satan, both in attack and defence. If we don’t immerse ourselves in Scripture, we’re defeated before the battle even begins.

CS Lewis said, “It is Christ Himself, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. “

Will you  yield yourself today to the logos? Will you allow the logos to show you, teach you and change you from the inside out? Will you allow the Great Surgeon Himself to perform heart surgery on you? It will not only save your life but enable you to flourish like a fruitful tree planted beside a stream. Will you join me in a regular reading of his Word?

Look up!

Psalm 121
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Where do we turn for help?

I clearly remember the first two Scriptures I stored in my memory bank as a child. The first was 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.” The second was Psalm 121. For me, these have been constant reminders that I will only find true safety in God, the Source of life and love. The problem is that this is not always my instinct when I am hurt or offended, overwhelmed with problems, dangers, fears, despair and temptations. My eyes dart about from one useless remedy to another instead of fixing their gaze on the only One who can give me sure help. I want to be fully reliant on God, but I often find myself fretting and desperately seeking comfort, solutions or escape when disaster strikes, much like a crazed hamster running around an impossible maze. Lifting our eyes to the mountains is a decision of the will and an act of faith. It requires willpower to take our eyes off the hazards at our feet and look upwards. It takes faith to focus our minds and hearts on a God we cannot see, while the visible world is shouting for our attention and perpetual action.
Here’s the truth we need to sink deep into our souls: God created the universe from nothing. He has infinite power and holds the whole world in his hand. Isaiah 40:22 says that God “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” Who of us has even created a single molecule, let alone a mountain, bird or human body? What kind of a God creates a planet to support a vast array of life, perfectly positioned in its galaxy, with the perfect star in just the right place to warm it up, with the perfect tilt, mass, spin, magnetic field and mass, and shields its inhabitants by other comet-sweeping planets? The first verse of the Bible says categorically, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Yet, this great Creator-God also cares for the little things of this world, the details of our ordinary lives. It is He who sustains us day by day. Who of us knows what tomorrow will bring? Yet, even in 1000BC when David penned Psalm 121, he painted an image of this awesome God as his personal help with such affection for His children that He cherishes each one of us as a father would watch over his baby. Even better than a human parent who needs to sleep, God never slumbers nor sleeps! He covers us with his love day and night even when we face extreme circumstances. The scorching heat of Palestine’s days and the freezing dangers of the nights is a metaphor for the many troubles we will face in our lifetimes and God will be our refuge through them all.

Do you see God in the way that David sees Him in this Psalm? Do you have such an intimate relationship with God that He is the first person you call on for help? This promise of protection was for believing Jews (Israel) in the Old Testament, but since Jesus, the promised Messiah came, all people who have put their faith in Christ are called “children of Abraham,” the new Israel. Two millenia after David wrote this Psalm, God still watches over the coming and going of those who take refuge in Him. Our God never changes, though circumstances and cultures may change. The only condition is that we put our trust in Him.

Day by day as a I walk with God, I am discovering that He is the only one who can hold me up and stop me from stumbling. Psalm 121 pictures a person sliding or falling, trembling or staggering on a dangerous path that we cannot handle on our own. How often I feel like that shaky person! God doesn’t stand and watch us indifferently from afar, but is as close as our right hand, as powerful as a Special Forces body guard, as protective as a hedge of thorns. That’s the truth about God, the maker of heaven and earth. The question is whether we believe it–whether we exercise that muscle of faith to look to God for help–rather than turning to creature comforts. Believing God requires that we make a choice in our minds and step out in faith.

The alternative to looking to God for help is not safe or comfortable as we suppose. When we turn our gaze away from the Maker of heaven and earth and look instead to created things to satisfy and protect us, we’re embarking on a journey through the desert equipped with a leaky water bottle and no map. We’re facing armed robbers in the dead of night with a pea shooter! That’s how useless our worldly comforts and protectors are.

Instead, commit Psalm 121 to memory, and when that difficult situation arises, flex your faith muscles. Find a quiet spot or go for a walk, preferably in a beautiful place where you can take in what God has made. Look up and say aloud, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth….”You may be trembling when you start out, but you will be peaceful and steady when you return home. That’s what happens when we orbit around God instead of ourselves.

Download and listen to “Praise you in the Storm” by Casting Crowns. Some of the lyrics are straight out of Psalm 121.