Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 7v1-10 'Getting your just deserts?'

We live in a society that is all about earning.  All about deserving something.  You do this you get that, you don't do it you don't deserve it, you shouldn't get it.  That idea surrounds us all day.  You get what you pay for.  Your performance is appraised and rewarded or not and so on.

Verse 4-5 are fascinating.  The Centurion's servant is ill  and he is highly valued so the Centurion prevails on the Jewish elders of Capernaum to go to see Jesus on his behalf.  Here's what they say to Jesus "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue."  It's easy to see the way they think isn't it - he deserves it, he is worthy of this healing because of what he has done.   Interestingly Luke records Jesus went with them.

But what happens next shows us that is not the attitude of the Centurion, while Jesus is still some way off he sends friends who say "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed."  How different the attitude of the Centurion.  He doesn't claim he is worthy of this, he says he isn't even worthy to come to see Jesus himself.  But if Jesus just says the word his servant will be healed.  It is no wonder Jesus exclaims he hasn't even found faith like this in Israel.

This man is humble, he sees himself as unworthy, undeserving of an audience with Jesus let alone deserving of a miracle on his behalf.  And he asks Jesus to be merciful and trusts in his power even at a distance.  And Jesus is both merciful as he heals them man and powerful as he does so immediately and remotely.

This account challenges our expectations, our culturally moulded ways of thinking.  We do not deserve to come into Jesus presence, let alone be so loved by him that he dies in our place for our sins.  We are not worthy of being redeemed and adopted by him and yet that is what we are by grace.  How can we, given the grace and mercy we are shown, be anything but humble in the way we treat others?  How can we be anything but loving and gracious and merciful in the way we respond to them?   And how can we be but grateful and thankful to the one who did all this so us when we were his enemies?

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 6v46-49 'On Rocky Ground'

What difference are Jesus words making in your life?  That's the question that Jesus sets before the crowd, because if you listen to them and act on them and live by them they will make all the difference.

Jesus gives two pictures again of two men building, notice that both men listen or hear, what is the difference between them? It is what they do with Jesus words, whether they put them into practice, whether his words become what they build their lives on that matters.  (46) Is the key issue, Jesus is explaining what it means to call him Lord, or what it looks like to call him Lord. To call him Lord means that his words become the foundation for the way we live.

Levi is a great example, what impact do Jesus words have on him? He got up, left everything and followed Jesus. It is the same for Peter, James and John, Jesus says follow me, be fishers of men and they do it.

Luke has been showing Theophilus that Jesus is God the Son, he speaks God’s words with God’s authority, he brings and declares the kingdom of God is here. To call him Lord means to accept his authority; that he now deserves our obedience to his words because of what he has done for us on the cross. Jesus is Lord of all or not at all.

If Jesus is Lord it will mean we take what he has just said seriously. It means loving the person who has rejected or persecuted us in the work place, it means not standing on our rights but loving a person in need of God.

To call Jesus Lord means to act on Jesus call to a love that trumps that of the world; that impacts our will, decisions, actions, and wallets. That loves lavishly without thought or chance of return. To call Jesus Lord means there is no one we write off with the gospel, it means sharing it, loving, engaging with the homeless, the drug addict, the prostitute, the single mum, the refugee, the immigrant, because we see them as God sees them.

To call Jesus Lord means I evaluate myself, dealing with my own prejudices and sins before lovingly seeking to help others. To call Jesus Lord means grace will spill out of my life, it means Jesus words set the tone and pattern of my thoughts and actions.  Is Jesus Lord?

This passage takes for granted that we are hearing Jesus words, can I ask is that the first thing you need to sort out. To be reading the Bible daily, after all you can’t put it into action without hearing it. Maybe you want some help, why not ask someone if you can chat about what you’ve read on a Sunday morning over coffee before hand, maybe agree to read the same readings, or use the same notes so it helps with that. Maybe you want to study the Bible with others why not join a home group. Maybe you want to make Sunday mornings teaching live a little longer why not listen to the MP3 and/or discuss it over coffee or lunch afterwards.

None of us are perfect, none of us have this sorted. But as we come across Jesus words the disciple will seek with God’s help to ask for forgiveness and to repent – to change on the basis of what God reveals.

What will you do as a result of Jesus words? Are we prepared to examine ourself in the light of his words? Maybe this morning we need to confess to wrong attitudes or actions, or that we say Jesus is Lord but there are areas where we are holding back. Jesus stands ready to forgive, he has already paid for it and cried out “Father forgive them.” We just need to ask and the repent, put his words into action with the help of his Spirit.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 6v43-45 'What Grace produces'

You can’t be something you are not. Why not, because you will eventually get found out. If someone said they were brilliant at football how would you know if it was true? You would watch them play and their actions will prove or disprove it. Here Jesus is calling on his disciples to do likewise. He uses the image of fruit trees, they produce the fruit of the type of tree they are and can’t produce any other, it is just the same with you says Jesus. The self evaluation of (42) matters because our fruit, what we are producing, reveals whether or not we have understood the gospel, it shows us which way we are living, and you can’t fake it.

(45) Uses the word stored – the idea is of a storeroom, or a treasure house, the place where you keep what matters most. Our mouths and our natures reveal what our treasure is, what is really inside.  It's not what you say you are you are, it's what you are you are.

Do you see what Jesus is saying? Grace shows. If I have understood the love of God seen in Jesus coming for me when I was a guilty rebel, I will show it by loving guilty rebels. If I have understood God’s mercy in not condemning me when I deserved it but seeking relationship at the cost of His Son then it will show in my showing mercy to others, not judging them but inviting them to come and know God.

Just flip that on it's head, that means if I don’t show mercy and love, if I judge and right people off then it shows I have not and do not understand God’s love, in fact it shows God’s love is not in me.  I can’t help but think Jesus has the good, religious Pharisees in his sights as he says this.  What was in their heart, what did they treasure? Law, legalism, pride, position. How was that seen? They wrote off the likes of Levi, legalism about Sabbath and so on.

But what about Levi, what mattered to him? Grace, relationship with God. How do we know? He left everything and followed and he looks like Jesus as he invites his friends to come and see, come and listen.  Am I prepared to evaluate myself? To ask the question: what do my fruits reveal? There are only two choices – either my mouth reveals good or evil.  Either it reveals that I have understood God’s love and grace or that I haven’t.  “for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” Am I being fruitful? I guess one of the dangers is to examine ourselves and think I am being fruitful that's good.  But the challenge is to do so more and more, to increasingly love as God loves. If I find I am not fruitful then we need to probe more deeply and ask why?  Is it that I have forgotten how much I am loved?  Is it that I have begun to drift into thinking I deserve God's grace?  Is it that I have just taken my eye off my total need of Jesus and his grace to me?  If so Jesus is ready to forgive if we repent of that and ask him, he has already paid for our hard heartedness at the cross and just waits for us to bow the knee and admit we can’t do it and to ask him to save us and rule us.

There is another danger and that is that we could go away thinking I do good things therefore I’m ok. The good that Jesus talks of here is not being nice, it is doing what God desires, what pleases God not because we are earning save ourselves points but because God has saved us by grace.  Grace always produces fruit?  What is grace producing in our lives?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Daily Reading: Acts 12 'Expecting God to answer?'

It's one of my favourite moments in the whole of the bible, v13-14 record the arrival of an angelically rescued Peter at the house where the church was holding it's prayer meeting interceding with God on Peter's behalf.  He knocks on the door and Rhoda opens it, what happens next reads almost like a comedy sketch, you can imagine her eyes going wide as she sees Peter and then leaves him stood at the gate as she runs in and tells the others that peter is stood at the gate.  But before we are too harsh on Rhoda she is not the only one who finds it hard to believe that miraculous way God has answered their prayers.

Peter himself struggles to believe it (v9) Peter assume he is seeing a vision and it's only in verse 11 that "When Peter came to himself he said "Now I am sure that they has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."  Then he goes to the house of Mary.  Peter as he seeing the angel and obey his call to get up and walks past dozing guards assumes its a vision not reality.  And the early church are as incredulous as Rhoda is, what is their response (15) "You are out of your mind... and they kept saying it is his angel!"

We expect the soldiers an the Jewish leaders and Herod to be amazed but in this passage ewe see that the church is amazed too.  They have been praying but don't seemed to have expected this answer.  It's another reminder that God rules.  It's a spur to pray.  And it convicts me because too often I am just like them in my lack of expectancy when I pray.  God rules, he reigns, he acts.  Whilst his answer may not always be as we want, as James martyrdom shows, we are still to pray and expect to see answers.  Certainly when we see the answer standing there right in front of us we mustn't write it off as coincidence but praise God for his gracious answer to his people's prayers.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Daily Reading: Acts 12 'Prison Break'

I can't help but wonder how the Apostles felt throughout the events on Acts 8-12.  The initial growth of the gospel in Jerusalem had been explosive, but with persecution the church has been scattered across Judea and Samaria and the gospel growth there has been dramatic.  Now in chapter 12 the focus shifts back to Jerusalem and we see that the Apostles now face persecution, a significant shift from Acts 8.  Now it's not the religious leaders leading the persecution it's Herod, pursuing and persecuting and even execution some of the churches leaders because it wins him favour with the Jews(2).

So Peter finds himself imprisoned and on death row, no doubt knowing exactly what happened to James the brother of John. I wonder what he thought about as he sat in his jail cell.  I wonder if his mind wandered back to his reinstatement by Jesus when he was told that when he was old another would lead him where he did not want to go.  Did he wonder if this was it or if he was secure in trusting he would live?  The key detail we're told is (5) "so Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to Go by the church."  Where is the power in v1-5?  It looks v4 humanly speaking as if it is with Herod; he seized Peter, put him in prison, delivered him, had him guarded by 4 squads of soldiers, he keeps him in prison.  But the power is really seen in verse 5 as the Church approach and pray to God, the almighty, the king of kings, before whom Herod is less that dust on the scales.

We are shown again that though it looks to earthly eyes as if Herod has the power really the church have access to the sovereign ruling mighty God, the one who is all powerful.  It ought to spur me on to pray.  We are, in Jesus invited, to come to God the almighty sovereign ruler of all not as subjects grovelling hoping to persuade him to hear us but as our Father.  We are heard by God because of Jesus, and there we have access to the real power in the universe. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 6v39-42 'Speck Spotting!'

"39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye’, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye."

One of the results of our being part of a culture that fears judgement and challenges the right to judge is that we as Christians are fearful of helping others deal with their sin because we think we might be seen to be judging them.  But the challenge of Jesus teaching here is that we are sometimes blind to our own faults whilst assuming we see perfectly the faults of others.  Disciples are not fully trained in that we are not exactly like Jesus, we will be imperfect and therefore we must be careful to humbly be examining ourselves rather than simple judging others.

But here is what Jesus is not saying.  Jesus is not saying that we never help other believers deal with the speck in their eye.  Rather he emphasis is on us first examining ourselves and dealing with our sin, the plank, humbly and in repentance and confession before you look at others and seek to help them deal with the sin you see.  Jesus is calling his followers to avoid hypocrisy - critiquing others for faults that go undiscerned, unchallenged and unchanged in us.  The challenge isn't not to help others with sin, rather it is to be dealing with our own sin first.

What does that mean for us?  It helpfully calls us to be examining ourselves.  Do I know where my weaknesses are?  Do I know where I am most sinful?  What am I doing about it?  Am I mourning over my sin, confessing it, repenting of it and changing?  It also calls us to avoid being critical of others, we are not judge them in a negative sense, rather given we are dealing with our own sin, removing the plank, we are then called not to judgement and critique our brothers and sisters but to lovingly help them fight sin in themselves with the same resources we have used - the gospel, grace, prayer, confession, repentance and the joy that comes from sin forgiven and life by the Spirit.

Can you imagine the benefits a church where that was happening regularly would reap?  Can you imagine the fruitfulness and joy that we would experience?  Ask God to help you begin today by repenting of our being quick to critique, and to reveal sin in your life - don't expect it to be anything less than painful.  But thank God that in Christ by the Spirit you have everything you need.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 6v37-38 'Measured judgment?'

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

I'm deliberately slowing down with these two verse because we live in an age when we are a bit schizophrenic on the idea of judgement.  We are big no the idea that no one has the right to judge me and yet our cultures passes judgements all the time on others; what they wear, how they parent, the state of their marriage, and so on.  But it is also often a criticism that is levelled at the church - Christians are perceived as being judgemental and condemning.  One of the greatest problems our society has with God is the idea of God as judge.  That fear of judgement has infected us as Christians in both a positive and negative way so its worth pausing and meditating over verses like these.

The section begins with two negatives (see I told you it was negative says the voice of our society), "Judge not... condemn not..."  More literally Jesus is saying "Stop judging... condemning..."  But Jesus isn't saying all and every judgement is wrong, but he is saying stop the fault finding, nit-picking and criticism of others.  God calls us not to be constantly critical where it doesn't matter - how often are we critical where we shouldn't be and lack judgement when we should be.

Instead the believer is to be marked by the two positives; "forgive... give".  Not as one off things but as a constant repetitive generous action.  This should be the normal everyday attitude of the believer, forgiving and giving.  We are to be focused on and pursue the positive well being of others.  Such an attitude flows from our experience of God's forgiveness and blessing.  And God is pleased and blesses those who have that attitude, those who are just like their heavenly Father.

How counter cultural would we be today if in our workplaces instead of criticising we forgave and were generous with our praise?  How would it change our families if we were quick to forgive rather than find fault?  As God's children, redeemed, forgiven, given every blessing we are to show the contagious love and character which God has shown us to others.