It’s Not About You

It’s not you … it’s me.

I wonder how many of you have heard that line before? You might have heard it in films or on TV.  You might have heard people using it in real life.  You might have had it used on you, or you may even have used it yourselves. It’s usually used to end a relationship, or to explain away problems in a relationship. It’s supposed to be a way to make the person who is being dumped or ignored feel less bad about it.  It’s not anything you’ve done, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s all my fault, it’s down to me.  Of course, this is unlikely to make the person being waved off think “Oh well then, that’s all right”.  In fact, a lot of the time the person saying it doesn’t even mean it, they just hope that if it looks like they are claiming responsibility, it will somehow make them look less bad. As if by trying to take the blame for whatever is wrong, they can somehow dodge it.

The truth is, in any human relationship there is always a bit of both going on.  If someone loves you it is, at least in part, because of something about you. Someone will like you because they see something likeable in you. It might be how you look (how shallow!) Or something you do.  It might be about the things that you are into, the places you’ve been, they way you talk or act.  It might be because you have a lot in common or because you are so very different.  It might even just be because you love them.  It’s much easier to love someone who loves us. There is one relationship though that isn’t like that.  There is one person whose love for us really isn’t because of anything we do. Have you ever wondered why God loves you?

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Warning Labels

Have you ever looked at the warning labels you seem to see everywhere these days?  I once saw one on a snack which warned that the product might contain traces of nuts or sesame seeds.  As the snack in question was sesame coated peanuts, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t!  Or more recently a packet of herbal insomnia remedy warned “may cause drowsiness”! I should think it would.

As amusing as they might sometimes be, warning signs are very important. If we know the risks and dangers of something, then we can take steps to avoid them. I was recently working in the garage with some chemicals.  The bottle warned me the chemical I was using was flammable, corrosive, toxic and gave off fumes – so I knew not to get it too hot, to wear gloves, not to drink it and to make sure the garage was well ventilated and I put the lid back on the bottle as soon as I was finished with it. Sometimes warning labels might just warn us to keep well away from a particular thing or area because they are just to dangerous to get near.

The Bible is full of warning labels.  It tells us to avoid lots of different things, people and situations.  It is easy to think that it is just being a killjoy, stopping us from having any fun, but that isn’t the case.  The things God warns us away from he dos so for good reasons – they are bad for us.  Some of them might harm us physically, or mentally, or emotionally. They might cause harm to those around us or mess up our relationships with them.  All of them are harmful to us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

What can make it harder is when all our friends seem to be doing the things the Bible tells us not to do, and worse, they seem to be enjoying it.  Well, there are certain chemicals or plants that can make you feel good, really, really good.  Right up until the moment they kill you stone dead, or leave you really sick.   These things are just like that, some sin does seem to be enjoyable in the short term, fun at the time, but really it is messing you up, and will leave you spiritually dead or sick in the longer term. If your friends are saying something is OK, and the Bible is saying it is bad for you, who knows best?  Your mates, or the God who created us all?  Short term ‘fun’ is no fun at all if it just leaves you messed up.

But as well as things we should keep away from altogether, the Bible contains other warnings.  Sometimes it warns us about missusing the good things God has given us.  The chemical I was using was useful for precisely the same reason that it was dangerous, I needed it to be corrosive so it would dissolve really strong glue.  If an insomnia remedy didn’t make you drowsy, it wouldn’t help you get to sleep. That’s all good.  But if I was to use acetone when I was cooking a curry, or take insomnia remedy before driving to Edinburgh, well, that would be really dangerous, not to mention pretty stupid!  They’re very good when used in the way their maker intended them to be used, but very dangerous if you think you can just use them any old way.  There are all sorts of things like that in the Bible, things God has given us to enjoy, but he’s given us instructions on how we should enjoy them and placed limits on when they are OK. People in the world today don’t like being told they can’t do stuff, and they wat to do what they like, when they like, how they like.  But really, ignoring God’s instructions is like ignoring the warning label on bleach, and drinking it because you don’t see why the manufacturer should tell you what you can and can’t do.

There is one more kind of warning label to look out for.  Remember my sesame coated peanuts?  Well, I didn’t have to worry about them, I have no problem with eating either ingredient and they aren’t going to do me any harm (unless I eat so many I can’t eat my dinner), but for some people, that warning could save their lives. For people with an allergy, the slightest taste of that snack which I was free to enjoy could be deadly. And that is true spiritually too. Some people have a kind of spiritual allergy to certain things.  Things which are totally OK for other people are spiritually deadly to them.  These things – and it could be all sorts of stuff – are poison to them.  They mess up their relationship with God and those around them, they rob them of their self-control and they lead them further in to sin. The Bible warns us about these things too. If you find that something has this effect on you, or you just can’t stick within God’s boundaries for it, then it doesn’t matter how OK it is for other people, you need to keep well clear of it if you don’t want to end up in a bad way.

So the next time you see a warning label, remember that they are there for a reason.  God hasn’t warned us off certain things or placed limits on them because he wants to spoil our fun, but because he know what is good for us and what isn’t, and he wants us to be safe, and really happy.

It’s not what you know…

… it’s who you know.  All the knowledge in the world won’t help when it comes to the most important question you’ll ever answer.

Sometimes, I can be a bit of a geek.  No, really.  I like facts, and knowing things.  I like learning new stuff, the more obscure the better, and I used to have a bit of a reputation as someone to have on your team playing Trivial Pursuit.  Those of you who are at school, college or uni will be finding that there are always new things to learn, stuff you need to know.  If you leave home, start a new job, take up a new sport, you need to acquire the right knowledge.  From where to find the toilets to how to do your job, from who likes the same things you do to how to do calculus or fix a car engine.  In church, Sunday school or Bible class, you’re learning too.  We learn about God and about Jesus.  Knowing about stuff is important, and you never really stop learning things.  No matter how much you know, there is always more.

But, there is more to it than that, and just knowing about stuff is not enough.  Perhaps you have a favourite actor or musician.  Maybe you know a lot about them.  You read about them on the internet or in magazines.  You know what kind of food they like, their birthday and their favourite colour.  You know how many pets they have, the names of all their children and the first record they ever bought.  You may know loads of things about them, but does that mean you can just roll up to their house and expect to pop in and stay with them?  No.  You may know all about them, but that doesn’t mean you know them.

Getting in to heaven is going to be just like that.  Entry isn’t based on an exam, or a test or a quiz.  When God asks you why you should get to spend eternity with him it won’t help if you can recite the whole of the Westminster Confession or list all the Bible facts you know, or even demonstrate that you’ve learned lots of complicated theology.  When it comes to getting into heaven it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.

A lot of world religions – including Islam – teach that God is essentially unknowable.  Their only hope for eternal life is to do as much good stuff as they can and hope that when they die, it will have been enough.  We know that this isn’t going to work.  No amount of ‘good work’ can outweigh our sin, just the same as no amount of knowing stuff will get us in to God’s house.  Thankfully, we can know God, and the way to eternal life is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is God the Son.  And it has to be a proper one on one relationship between him and us.  If our parents or our friends are Christians, we can’t get in to heaven just by relying on them to get us in, we need to know him ourselves.  If we do, we’ll be made welcome in his house when this life is over.

So, how do we get to have this relationship with Jesus?  Well, suppose that you meet someone who you want to be friends with.  You might talk about getting to know them better.  So, do you just Google them?  Follow them home to see where they live?  Stake out their house and get to know their routine?  I hope not!  While it is good to get to know about your friends, if you want to get to know someone, you have to talk to them and spend time with them.  Jesus is no different.  If we want a relationship with him, we need to talk to him and ask him to be our friend.  We need to pray to him and invite him into our hearts, and if we do that, he’ll invite us to live in his house forever.

So remember, when it comes down to it the important thing is not how much we know about Jesus, but whether we know him.