Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also


28 February 2015

We've run out of wine.

< Drawn to the light | Index | No later items >

I'd like to introduce you to Jesus, but I don't want to persuade or cajole you. In fact, I don't intend to tell you what to think at all. Instead, I want you to see for yourself what he is like and then make up your own mind what you think.

An empty bottle
An empty bottle
We're going to begin with a bar malfunction at a wedding. The drink runs out. This particular wedding was two thousand years ago in Galilee, now part of northern Israel. But the planning was not thorough. I'm sure you know the feeling. You've laid on a big event. The invitations have gone out. The day has come. People are enjoying themselves. And then you run out of something essential - like 
wine.

A wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’

That's the story straight from the Bible - John 2:1-10, New International Version (NIV). I have four questions for you. Try to get the answers out of the story you've just read, you'll need to consider all the characters. What did they say? What did they do? What did they think?

  • What does this tell you about people?
  • What does this tell you about Jesus?
  • Is there anything here for you to follow or do?
  • Who else needs to hear this?

< Drawn to the light | Index | No later items >

30 May 2014

Finding Carol

Sometimes Jesus just surprises us. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Perhaps both of these things happen more often when we are open, and actively so. Something like this happened recently to a couple of friends and, although I came late to the action, I did get to play a small part.


At the Catalyst event
At the Catalyst event
Last Sunday I had driven from St Neots, where I live, with two friends from the group that meets at Caffé Nero (but that's another story). We were day visitors at the New Frontiers' Catalyst event at Stoneleigh in the Midlands.

It was almost time for the evening meeting when Dave Devenish would be speaking.

I'd agreed to meet Kevin and John in the restaurant area just outside the meeting venue, but found them at a picnic table outside chatting with a lady I didn't know.

Her name is Carol and she had seen them there and decided to speak to them. By the time I arrived they were talking about what it means to be a Christian and she was sounding a little anxious and confused. She is a very new follower of Jesus, just beginning her journey and we talked around that idea for a while.

Hearing the call - Jesus' twelve disciples were not Christians when he called them to follow him, yet they followed [Tweet it!]. Something about him was compelling or attractive or especially fascinating. Perhaps it was his simple, yet very stretching way of teaching, or just the fact that he was a rabbi and had invited them to follow him. As humble and unlearned fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary folk, this offer was as promising as it was unexpected.

At first they followed in ignorance, but they began to learn right away. Not only did Jesus teach them, he also showed them healing and the throwing out of demons and the need to love above all else. And he sent them out to do this work on his behalf in the surrounding towns and villages.

They probably didn't fully believe until after Jesus' death and resurrection, perhaps when the Spirit fell on them in the upper room at Pentecost. But they followed him in partial understanding, and eventually they believed, and they carried on following him and growing in wisdom and grace and love.

How do I know I'm a Christian? - I wanted to explain this to Carol. I wanted her to know that it was OK for now to be just following Jesus without understanding everything. A time will come in her journey when she realises that she believes in him and that she is eternally safe in his hands. And afterwards she will continue to follow him but with a deep understanding of what that means. But it is a journey, a process, and Jesus is both the way and the destination.

He guides us and prepares the way for us - Our time at Catalyst was a good day on many levels, but the icing on the cake (Kevin's words) was meeting Carol and having that conversation with her. Kudos to Kevin and to John who were ready to seize the moment and help Carol through her uncertainty. And thanks be to Papa, who set the situation up. He's so good at that.

As a result, Kevin and John were in the right place at the right time. They meant to arrive earlier and wait for me inside. But they got lost on the way and had to retrace their steps. Being late brought them to the restaurant at the right time. Deciding at the last moment to sit outside put them in the right place. And Papa did what he had intended to do from the beginning!

Carol, wherever you are we bless you. He will guide your steps in the same way, every day of your life. You will follow and follow, and at the right time you will realise that you believe, and you will follow and follow some more. Enjoy your journey in the company of the King!

Questions:

  • Have you noticed how the Almighty prepares things in advance for us?
  • Why is this significant?
  • Can you think of some examples from your own experience?
  • How ready are you to seize the moment as Kevin and John did?

See also:

23 April 2014

Jesus in trouble

We take a look at hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, bad health and imprisonment. Jesus suffered all these things, helps people with their specific problems, and expects us to do the same. He identifies with us and we really do need to identify with him and with one another.

At last night's Small Group meeting, Donna led from the introduction to Just Lyfe, a great resource from the Bible Society. We read Matthew 25:31-46 and I had a new insight that I'd like to share here on the blog.


Nothing to eat or drink
Nothing to eat or drink
In this section of Matthew, Jesus says, 'I was hungry... I was thirsty... I was a stranger... I was naked... I was sick... I was in prison...'. He strongly identifies with 'the least of these my brothers and sisters' (verses 40 and 45), so what I do for them I do for Jesus himself. Jesus came into the world because of his great love. He came to be with us and live this life as it was originally intended to be lived. And in coming he suffered these six issues himself and he also touched people troubled by these same six issues.

He identifies with us in the deepest possible way. And that should change us very profoundly.

I was hungry - One of the very first things Jesus did as he began his work was to go out into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). And he became hungry. He knows that life is not possible without food, and he explains that spiritual life is the same. Spiritual life demands spiritual food, the Word that comes from the Most High.

Jesus fed people when they were hungry (Matthew 14:15-21), demonstrating his understanding of our need for sustenance. And he himself is the spiritual nourishment we need (John 6:35). Don't starve yourself spiritually, but grow in stature and in energy by feeding on the Bread of Life.

It follows, if we are like Jesus, that we will provide physical and spiritual food to anyone who is hungry.

I was thirsty - Jesus was thirsty while he was dying on the cross (John 19:28-30). And he knows that just as we need spiritual food, so we also need spiritual drink to survive. He doesn't just provide a little, he gives us rivers of living water (John 7:37-39). Just as our food is Jesus (the Word sent by the Father), so our drink is the Holy Spirit (the Spirit sent by the Son).

In Hebrew thinking, the blood of an animal is its life. In the same way, Jesus' blood is our life and the Passover wine is a reminder of that (Luke 22:17-20). Jesus provided wine when it ran out (John 2:1-10). So receive spiritual refreshment every day, let the Holy Spirit flow abundantly from within you, pouring himself out through you into a very thirsty world.

I was a stranger - Jesus visited us here where we live. The Father sent him and he obediently came to live among us and to die among us and to show us that life is more than merely existing. His home is not here in the physical, he is a stranger to sin and wickedness. He came to redeem us and to redeem our world and bring us back into relationship with the Father.

And so often Jesus touched the lives of strangers, think of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), or the tax collector Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Let him touch you too. If you are not affected by him, do you even belong to him? If he is willing to touch you, how much more should you be willing to touch others? Invite people in, get to know them, don't hold back. How will they meet Jesus if you don't welcome them into his presence?

I was naked - This is a harder one for us to grasp. When was Jesus naked? He was naked on the cross; the soldiers divided his clothes (Matthew 27:35). Crucifixion was not only a painful death, it was intended to degrade and humiliate even as life ebbed away.

Sin also degrades and humiliates. Have you noticed how often Jesus said to people, 'Your sins are forgiven'? Have you ever really thought why? He came to restore us, to remove our shame, and to clothe us in robes of righteousness. His plan is that we, too, will begin to restore and rebuild. He wants us to re-make the world we live in, to restore and mend and redeem.

Learn the value of covering shame and humiliation for the people around you. Sometimes we do the opposite. But we need to learn to be more like the Master in this area too. Let your heart be filled with compassion and forgiveness and grace.

I was sick - When was Jesus ever sick? We don't know if he was affected by bacteria and viruses, and he wasn't in the world long enough for the effects of old age to set in. However, he died. He was fatally wounded by a sick and broken world, just as we are.

Jesus touched the sick and allowed them to touch him (Matthew 8:1-3, Matthew 14:36). Normally, the result of this was healing or wholeness. This is just another way in which Jesus redeems, reclaiming fullness of life from the damage that is everywhere around. We must follow him in this. We can pray for healing, apply medical knowledge, help the ill and the handicapped in practical ways and be generous with our time to comfort and befriend those who struggle with long term physical or mental conditions.

I was in prison - Jesus had a short spell in captivity, first at the hands of the Jewish authorities, and then with the Romans under Pilate. He knows what it's like to be a captive; he's felt harsh oppression and the crack of the barbed Roman lash. He knows what it means to be nailed to a piece of timber.

Jesus released people from all sorts of bondage - demonic possession (Matthew 8:28-32), judgement (John 8:2-11), grave wrappings (John 11:43-44). He came to set us free from the law of sin and death and he says to us, 'If the Son has set you free you are free indeed' (John 8:34-36). And Paul wrote, 'For freedom you have been set free'. In other words, Jesus truly wants us to live free. Like Lazarus, not only must we receive life, we must also respond to the call, 'Come out!'

Jesus did not release us from the shackles of sin without having a plan for our future lives. We are his ambassadors, those who know the difference between captivity and freedom. We are sent out to tell those around us, to share the good news of freedom with those who only know captivity and shame.

What now? - So the question that remains is, 'What now?' Jesus suffered these six severe hardships, he touched people who were struggling with each of them, and released them. He has released us from them too. He has done this with purpose and with authority. He has the right to say, 'Come out!' And he also has the right to say, 'Go in my name'.

Now it's up to you and me. Will we come out from the place of death or will we smile our 'thank you's and settle down comfortably in the grave?  Will we go and redeem the world around us as he leads us day by day, or will we stay sitting at his feet? [Tweet it!] Will we be obedient in our freedom? Like the men in the parable, will we make use of what we have been given so as to make more, or will we be afraid and bury it in the ground for safekeeping? Nothing is safe and nothing can be kept safe. We serve an unsafe Lord who expects something of us. He has given us a precious treasure - his own life. We can do so much with that gift. Dare we do nothing?

Questions:

  • What could you do today to help someone who is hungry or thirsty?
  • Plan to respond positively to every request for help and to every need you notice tomorrow. Jot down some notes on what happens. Did anything surprising happen? If so, what? Tell someone about it.
  • Find someone on their own (perhaps at a bus stop or coffee shop) and start a conversation. How did it go?

See also:

14 January 2014

Come to the mountain

What are the basic rhythms of our lives as followers of Jesus? They involve coming into his presence and going in his Name, and that, really, is all there is to it. Following Jesus is not complex or hard; he says it is easy and that his burden is light and comfortable.

The view towards Coniston
The view towards Coniston
I was at a church meeting recently and The Holy Spirit gave me the words 'Come to the mountain'.

I knew that if I began by speaking these words out, the rest of the prophecy would follow, but I didn't feel it would be acceptable to just speak, and I knew that if I'd gone to the front and asked to share it, the moment would have gone and I'd have lost the flow.

There's an immediacy about prophecy that will not be denied. So I borrowed a pen and jotted the words down as they came. Here they are.

Come to the mountain. Come!

From the mountain comes your salvation.
From the mountain comes your holiness.
From the mountain comes your light.
From the mountain comes purpose, grace, glory, power, peace, love, honour, authority and hope.

Come to the mountain.

I AM that Mountain.
I AM the Rock of your salvation.
I AM dependable.
Now I say to you, go in my Name,
Go in the authority, grace, love and peace that I have poured out upon you.
Go into the world, for I AM with you.

I don't know that these would have been the words I would have spoken; they are almost certainly not. But the gist of the message is probably the same.

Coming and going - And it seems to me that coming to the Mountain and going into the world are at the heart of all that we do. Jesus says, 'Come to me everyone who is tired and struggling, I'm gentle and I'll give you rest. My load is light, the weight I lay on your shoulders is manageable and comfortable' (Matthew 11:28-30).

In coming to him we will also be gathering together. When we are where he is, we will inevitably find his other followers in that same place. We don't gather because we decide to be together, we gather around him. Moths don't gather as a cloud because they want to be together but because they are drawn to the light.

Does he send us out together? Yes he does. Jesus taught his followers to go out in twos (Luke 10:1-2). We are to go, not as a cloud around the Light who is Jesus, but in smaller groups. We do not go alone, we go in company, but we go in the company of a few.

So if we are attracted to him, we will be among many. But if we are obedient to him we will be among a few. And because we need to do both, sometimes we'll gather together and sometimes we'll go out with a few.

Basic rhythms of life - Coming into the Light and going in his Name are the basic rhythms of following Jesus [Tweet it!], they are the pattern of discipleship and missional living. These were the rhythms when he walked the dusty roads and hills of Galilee and Judaea with his followers, they were the same rhythms during the time of the early church, they are the basis of life for his persecuted people in China and Pakistan and Indonesia and many other places, and they are the same rhythms of discipleship and mission that the church in the West is beginning to rediscover.

So the call to all his people is twofold. 'Come to the Mountain' and 'Go into the world'. We are not truly following Jesus unless we are doing both. Come into his presence singing, 'Jesus is Lord'. Go into the world sharing in practical ways the good news that he is the Lord of love and of forgiveness and of freedom.

And rejoice! Again I say, rejoice!

Note: The photo was taken from near the top of Coniston Old Man, a mountain in the English Lake District. The view shows Coniston Water and the lovely little town of Coniston. Click the image for a larger view.

Questions:

  • Are you gathering around the Light? Are you going into the world? Consider if and how you do these things.
  • Is there anything you should change about your gathering and going? Pray about it.
  • When you are on a mountain you can see the country below laid out like a tapestry, you see it as a whole in a way you cannot do when you are in it. Is this significant for discipleship and mission? In what way?

See also:

21 September 2013

Cruising the gospel

Alan Hirsch urges us to cycle through the gospels as one way of keeping Jesus central in our hearts, thoughts, words and deeds. It's good advice and I've been trying it out online. Consider joining me in a trip through Matthew. After that we'll move on to Mark.

Cruising the Gospel
Cruising the Gospel
For the last couple of months I've been busy with a new project, Cruising the Gospel.

It's one of the reasons there have been so few posts on Journeys of Heart and Mind recently. So here's what I've been doing and why.

Cruising the Gospel sprang from a desire to focus more on the person, words and actions of Jesus. To this end I've been reading a short passage every day and writing some notes on what I'm discovering.

If you'd like to join me why not read along and leave comments with your own thoughts?

Forgotten Ways - Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways tells us that making Jesus the centre of all we are and do is an essential element for rapid and spontaneous church growth. This is not just a matter of studying his life, it's not enough to know about him; we need to live him and breathe him and be deeply affected by him from moment to moment.

Not only that, Alan has concluded that having Christ at the centre is just one of six essential strands that we in the West have forgotten (although they remain latent in all of us and can be reactivated).

For each of the six he suggests things that we can do to influence our thinking in useful ways. Cycling through the gospels is one of these.

Come and join us. Let us know what you think. Visit Cruising the Gospelsign up for the emails, or grab the RSS or Atom feed for your favourite news reader. Join in the fun.

Questions:

  • If you don't have Christ at the heart of everything, how can you even be a disciple?
  • Other than cycling through the gospels, what else might you do to keep Jesus central?
  • Why not take a trial run in Matthew 16:13-28?

See also:

21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

20 June 2013

Jesus makes a start

Leaders in the church, Part 10
< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

Matthew tells us how Jesus began his ministry by moving to a new town. Like him, we need to find the right time and the right place to proclaim the good news. Like him it's essential that we demonstrate good news as well as speaking about it as widely as possible.

Walking on the shore of Galilee
Walking on the shore of Galilee
Jesus leaves Judaea following John's arrest and returns to the region of Galilee.

He moves away from his home in Nazareth and goes to live in Capernaum instead, then he begins to preach his message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:12-25).

Isn't it striking that until this time he has done nothing but construction work for thirty years?

Often described as a carpenter, it's likely his work included more than that. He was a constructor and a repairer; if you think about it those were very appropriate tasks for someone who would later construct and repair relationships between the Creator and his creation.

A time and place for everything - At the right time and in the right place he begins his work as a leader. And what a leader! Here is the King of Kings beginning to speak into the world and reveal the redemptive purpose of Yahweh in an altogether new and more dynamic way.

How often do we speak and work in the wrong place and at the wrong time? Usually we will speak whenever and wherever we have the chance. But if we are truly going to be like Christ we must learn to be much more cautious, listening to the Spirit for guidance and doing and saying what he shows us at the time and place of his choosing.

But there's more here for us as leaders. How is it that in verse 16 the 'people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light'? Like Jesus, we must live among the people. It's difficult to reach people who are strangers to us. Jesus goes, moves to a new town, and lives there. If we are going to lead we need to first get in amongst the people we need to reach and allow our light to shine there.

Missional and incarnational - Alan Hirsch considers we need a missional impulse (going out from where we are), and an incarnational impulse (living amongst those we are sent to reach). Only when these are in place can we expect to reach the hearts of the people in meaningful ways that they can accept. Isn't this exactly how Jesus began his service, in Galilee, after John's arrest? He came with a mission and he came to live among us to do it.

And in living there and walking by the sea he sees Simon (known as 'Rocky') and Andrew and comments on what they are doing in such a way that they accept his invitation to follow. He collects James and John in the same way. Now they are a band of five.

And at this point he begins to travel throughout the region, teaching in the synagogues, sharing the gospel, healing the sick, and becoming famous. His ministry is under way! Notice how he has gone out from his home locality (Nazareth) responding to a missional impulse and then settles in Capernaum (responding to an incarnational impulse).

Perhaps he lived there for a period of time, we don't know how long. He might even have taken on construction and renovation work. So Simon, Andrew, James and John were not strangers when he called them to follow him, they lived in Capernaum and would have seen him and spoken with him before, perhaps often.

Speak and act in ways that bless - Matthew 4:23-25 fills in the detail on what Jesus did as he travelled around Galilee. He taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick and the oppressed. People came from miles around, from Judaea, and the Ten Towns and from beyond the Jordan too.

Just as Jesus made disciples out of the people around him, so can we. Potential disciples surround us, all the time. But we must speak to them. And, just like Jesus, we need to bring good news, not only talk about it. Jesus brought good news in the form of healing, freedom and grace. He blessed people. He was kind.

If you aspire to lead, follow his example!

Questions:

  • Are there people in your area with needs? (eg Elderly, sick, struggling to manage, poor)
  • Can you think of ways you might bring something good to such people?
  • Who is more likely to listen, someone who knows and likes you, or a stranger?
  • Jesus hung out with people, where could you go to do that?

See also:


< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

17 May 2013

Jesus is tempted

Leaders in the church, Part 9
< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

Jesus was cast out into the Judaean wilderness (an arid semi-desert). As an example of a good leader he was tempted and passed the test with flying colours. We need to be like him in that respect. Whether we are dealing with material things, the miraculous or worship, we'd better get it right.

The Judaean wilderness
After he was baptised, the Holy Spirit led Yahshua (Jesus) away to be tempted.

Because Yahshua is our King, teacher, master and Lord he is the prime example of a leader. He's a perfect example in every way. Therefore, in this study of leadership in the church, there is no better approach than to pay attention to what Jesus said and did.

All of us are tempted, and it follows that all leaders are tempted, and because Jesus lived among us as a human being he was tempted too. So what can we draw out from Matthew 4:1-11?

Spirit led - The prayer Jesus taught his apprentices includes the words 'Don't lead us into temptation but release us from evil'. So it may seem surprising that here in Matthew 4:1 we read that the Holy Spirit led him into a barren place to be tempted.

All leaders suffer particular forms of temptation when they are in a barren place, so let's bear that in mind as we work through these verses. But let's also bear in mind that it's not necessarily wrong to be in a barren place. The Spirit himself may choose to lead us into and through such places in our lives, if necessary repeatedly.

Something to eat - Jesus has come to the uninhabited, semi-desert country where there's little or nothing to eat, he's fasted for forty days and nights. And Matthew 4:2 states the obvious - he was hungry!

In our places of greatest lack and when things are at their most desperate we may be tempted to take shortcuts. For Jesus, bread from loaf-shaped rocks would have been cheating, removing the temptation by means of a shortcut. But we don't grow by taking shortcuts; we don't feed just on bread, we feed on what Yahweh says. We must feed on his words of life. The first temptation is to be more concerned with bodily needs than with spiritual needs.

Something marvellous to see - What could be more of a draw than a man jumping from the top of a high and significant building in the heart of a city and landing unharmed? This time the evil one actually quotes from the Old Testament to make his point! This is about impressing people.

We are all tempted to do whatever it takes to get people's attention. For leaders this is always going to be a potential issue. Nobody is listening... OK then - watch this! Maybe I'm not going to jump off a building, but I might try loud, professional music or fancy artwork or special promotional offers.

But once again we must resist. Jesus shows us the way to handle the issue, the evil one is capable of quoting from the Bible but he is always looking for a way to trap us. He made a double mistake; he tried to test the Son by getting him to test the Father.

He may encourage you and me to test both the Father and the Son, but since that first Pentecost, we also carry in our hearts the same Spirit that is in the Father and the Son. If we are hearing from the Holy Spirit we will be just as hard to trick as the Son himself. We have a real advantage over the enemy.

An offer to receive power - The enemy has dominion over the world and offers to give it to Jesus. But the price is far too high. Jesus will never worship anyone but the Father and neither should we. I almost feel sorry for the destroyer, he is already defeated and nothing he offers is of any real worth. He must be desperate to try a ploy like this!

I will only accept what Jesus offers. I will worship him as he worships his Father. They and their Spirit are one and I will worship only the One.

An issue for leaders - There's a serious consideration here for anyone who aspires to lead. It's bad to go astray. But to lead others astray is far, far worse. If I serve anyone or anything other than the Lord and others follow me, I am leading them into peril. If I worship anyone or anything other than the Lord and others copy me, I am leading them to worship false gods.

We have here three examples, right attitudes to material things (bread), right attitudes to the miraculous (falling without being hurt) and right attitudes in worship (due only to the Almighty). These three stand for a host of other similar things - the stuff of life (daily needs, hobbies, worldly goods) - testing Papa ('look at me' in healing, prophecy, working of wonders) - worshipping false gods (money, power, fame).

Who is worthy to lead? Who will rightly feed the sheep and guide them?  If you set an example the sheep will follow, so make sure your example is a sound one!

Questions:

  • Jesus was tempted in body, mind and spirit. Can you think of examples from your own life?
  • What clues does Jesus' example offer concerning good strategies to avoid sin?
  • How long do you think you could survive in the desert?
  • We all lead and we are all followed. How can you be sure to set good examples in your life? 

See also:


< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

08 May 2013

Jesus in proper context

In their book, 'The Shaping of Things to Come', Frost and Hirsch point to Jesus' Jewish background as key to understanding his life, death and his mission. Any attempt to understand him based on Romano/Greek culture or 21st century western culture will cause distortions to the truth.

The Shaping of Things to Come
I'm currently reading The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Here's a brief quote from Chapter 7.

...the Jewish heritage is the primordial matrix out of which Christianity was birthed, and which we would argue is the only matrix out of which it could be organically understood in its fullness. Except for Luke's writings (he was in all likelihood a proselyte of Judaism), the New Testament is a document written by Jews. Therefore biblical Christianity's 'genetic code', its kinships, its plausibility structures, its genius, are all Hebraic to the core and back.

The point is this. Because Jesus is a Jew, rooted in Jewish society two thousand years ago, if we want to truly understand him we need to view him, read him, hear him and watch him in action from a Jewish perspective.

Not to do so is to risk misunderstanding much that he said and did. And what is true for Jesus is also true for his church; this comes out clearly in the extract above.

Have we missed something? - Perhaps this is something the church has overlooked over the centuries. We have often tried to understand Jesus in terms of the Romano/Greek culture of his day or in terms of today's western culture. But neither of these is appropriate and both may mislead us.

How are we going to tackle the task of refocussing and recalibrating? A good place to begin is by reading and re-reading the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps a rhythm in which these books are read regularly might help us.

The Shaping of Things to Come is a good book, even a great book. It examines the phenomenon of church in a new light and shows the developing western model of the past 1700 years to have been missing the mark. It's accessible, enjoyable to read, and should provoke much thought.

The book was published in 2003 but a new edition is now available.

Questions:

  • How often do you cover the gospels in your Bible reading?
  • What might the effects be of taking Jesus out of his historical context?
  • Have you read 'The Shaping of Things to Come'?
  • If so, would you leave a comment sharing your thoughts about it?

See also:

29 April 2013

Men, women and children

Prompted as I wrote a reply to a blog post, I felt I needed to write at greater length on some principles of leading and following. Men, women and children all have a place in leading us in following Jesus. But is it men, women or children who do the best job of leading?

The simplicity of a young child
Felicity Dale, writing recently about women as leaders, asks, 'What is God about to do?' (It takes both men and women, Simply Church).

As I began to write a reply to her post, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me along a track I'd not considered before.

I'd had hints of this from time to time over the years but I hadn't put it all together in my mind.

Here's my response to Felicity's post.

If we define kingdom as the realm in which the King is obeyed, then wherever men, women and children are following Jesus - that is the kingdom.

But let's remember the children in all this. Believing children have some wonderful advantages over us adult believers. Everybody agrees that men can lead, a growing number agree that women can lead too, but who has considered that children can lead? Sometimes they do so in the most natural and unselfconscious way. And sometimes, as men and women, we just need to swallow our pride and follow them!

What is Father about to do?

I have a strong hunch that he is beginning to show us that all should lead and all should follow. What I mean by that is that we don't need to recognise particular people as leaders and others as followers. Instead we will be recognising leaders in the moment. Who is leading right now? Who is leading by their words, by their actions, by their love, by their compassion, by their joy, by their wisdom, by their humility? If Christ is revealing himself through a particular person right now, follow that person!

I'd like to develop this a little more.

Leaders - What do we mean when we think of leaders and leadership? A leader is clearly a person who leads, someone who goes in front. Leadership extends the idea to suggest someone whose role is to lead, someone who is skilled at leading and is expected to lead often, even always.

But I'd like to ask the question, 'Which way is a person facing when they lead?' There are three possibilities.

Looking forwards - Someone who is looking forwards is looking away from the people who are following. Such a person is looking at Jesus and following him. If I follow such a person I will also be following Jesus. Jesus goes where he chooses to go, the person who is looking towards him follows where he goes. I follow the follower so I go where the follower goes - so I go where Jesus goes. This is good, this is safe, this is what someone who leads should always do.

Looking sideways - I think we often do this. Such people are not looking at Jesus but nor are they looking at those who follow them. They're going off at a tangent. Follow them at your peril!

Looking backwards - Is this what we sometimes mean when we talk about leaders and leadership? Is the focus on the listeners and followers, not on Jesus?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking here about someone speaking to a group of people. You can do that with your eyes firmly focussed on the King. I'm talking about someone who is focussed on the listeners and followers, someone who cares more about being followed than about following Jesus.

Another name for people who do this is 'false shepherd' (or 'bad shepherd'). These people want to feed on the sheep rather than lead the sheep to good pasture. Jesus shows us what a good shepherd is like. He is the Good Shepherd. He told Peter, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'.

Perhaps most of us, most of the time, look in all three directions. We gaze partly at Jesus, we glance away to the side, and we look to see who's following us.

Men, women and children - Remember, we're talking about believers here. So now ask yourself, can a man play the part of any of these three kinds of human leader? Yes, he can.

Can a woman play any of these parts? Yes, she can.

Can a child play any of these three parts? Well, perhaps. But in my experience believing children tend to look forward towards Jesus. Young children, in particular, tend to be much too naive to look sideways or backwards. So what does that tell you about the right kind of person to follow?

Jesus wasn't kidding when he told us that unless we come like little children we won't even see the kingdom of heaven.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who lead looking forwards, sideways or backwards?
  • Would you trust a child to lead you?
  • Depending on your answer to the previous question, why? or why not?

See also:


27 April 2013

We need a new approach

SpaceX is solving a fundamental blocking problem in spaceflight. This is a great example for the church where a similar blocking problem needs to be addressed. As with all such problems we need a new approach, a new way to see the problem and find a solution.

Grasshopper landing, 5th test flight
Sometimes good examples help us to see our situation in a new light, and great examples can even encourage us to do something about it.

Here is a truly great example from SpaceX, the Californian commercial spaceflight company owned and run by Elon Musk.

First the example, then we'll take a look at how we might apply it to the church.

Spaceflight? Church? There seems to be a disconnect, perhaps. Well no, actually. But more on that later.

Spaceflight is expensive - Here's the situation as Elon found it. Spaceflight is extremely expensive; launch costs for placing a large communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) are typically £150 million or so.

This is what I call a blocking problem. It blocks further progress. Spaceflight cannot become routine on a large scale with launch costs of this order. For decades these high costs have been regarded as unavoidable. What might be done to reduce them?

By carefully designing the company's Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets to be as efficient as possible, both in terms of manufacture and deployment, Elon Musk has been able to trim the launch cost considerably. But it's still too high, much too high.

Not being one to give up easily, he realised that the fuel costs are less than 1% of the cost of the rocket, so if a rocket could be reused over and over again (like an aircraft) the cost per launch could fall very dramatically.

Grasshopper - So this is what SpaceX has been attempting with its 'Grasshopper' project. Grasshopper is a test version of the company's standard Falcon 9. It has flown five times so far, higher each time. The recent flight to 250 m is amazing to watch. It goes up, it hovers for a while, and then it returns to the launch pad and lands!

Watch Grasshopper do it's stuff in this SpaceX video. Don't miss it. It's truly astonishing!

On the next cargo flight of Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX intends to 'land' the first stage on the sea as a trial run. They don't expect to succeed on the first attempt (though I suspect they may do better than most people think). But they will persevere and when they are comfortable with the process they will eventually return an intact first stage to the launch pad.

And then they'll work on minimising the refurbishment and refuelling so that the same rocket can be flown several times a week, perhaps even several times a day. And they plan to work on returning the second stage as well.

I'm sure you can see how this will change everything. Space launches will become far cheaper and new markets for launch services will develop as a direct result.

And the church? - Ah, the church! You see the church has a similar problem, something that has been taken for granted like high launch costs in the rocket business. Church in the West has seen falling numbers, falling influence, falling relevance to ordinary people.

All sorts of programmes have been organised involving better music, excellent teaching, novel forms of meeting, cafe church, simple church, exciting children's programmes, house church and more. None of these things in themselves has made a fundamental difference.

Like Elon Musk and SpaceX we need a new way of thinking.

And we already have one! Alan Hirsch has put his able mind to work and has identified six key elements that are essential but sufficient for explosive and continuing growth. Taken together (and he makes it clear that they must be taken together to be effective) these six elements can make a dramatic difference.

The first key element is 'Jesus is Lord' and that should surprise none of us. But what are the other five?

You'll have to wait for a later post to find out. But if you can't wait, get a copy of Alan's book, 'The Forgotten Ways' and start reading. It's excellent stuff, illuminating, exciting, and carrying a real hope for the future of the church in the West.

Questions:

  • Does it seem to you that church in the western world is advancing or retreating?
  • Why is the western church not growing explosively like the church in China or India?
  • Have you heard Alan Hirsch speak, or read any of his books?
  • Is Jesus truly at the very centre of all you do and say and think?

See also:

26 March 2013

The colour of the robe

Visiting Bath Abbey left us with a conundrum. When the Roman legionaries dressed Jesus in a robe and mocked him as a king, was that robe purple or red? The Greek text is fairly clear with a small caveat and I'm left wondering if it was, in fact, a rather dark red, perhaps a centurion's cape.

Stone tracery in the roof of Bath Abbey
Donna and I spent a couple of days in the city of Bath recently. While we were there we looked at a number of interesting places including the Roman baths, the famous Georgian architecture, and the Abbey.

The Abbey had some beautiful panels, the Bath Abbey Diptychs. They are presented as pairs, one painted and the other made in needlework.

One of them had a lovely, red, fabric background and the text referred to the scarlet robe put on Jesus by the Roman troops when they mocked him as a king.

This got me thinking, surely the robe was purple, not red? When we got home Donna checked and it seems the robe is sometimes described as scarlet and sometimes as purple.

So what happened? - After Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman troops for crucifixion, they stripped him and then dressed him in a robe and a crown of thorns. Matthew says the robe was scarlet (Matthew 27:28). Mark says it was purple (Mark 15:17). Luke doesn't mention the event at all. John says it was purple (John 19:2).

So what colour was this robe? There are several plausible reasons for the differences.

The Greek is quite clear. Matthew uses κοκκίνην (kokkinēn), Strong's number 2847, literally 'scarlet' or 'crimson'. This kermes dye is obtained from an insect that lives on the holm oak tree. Matthew and John use the word πορφύραν (porphyran), Strong's number 4209, which usually means 'purple' or 'purple garment' but may also mean 'deep violet', 'deep scarlet', 'deep crimson' or 'deep blue'.

So one possibility is that the three gospel writers are in agreement and the colour was a rich, dark red of some kind.

Alternatively there may be some doubt about the colour, eye-witnesses might have seen or remembered it as either purple or red, particularly if it was a heavily dyed fabric and therefore dark.

Meaning and availability - Another point worth making is that purple was a colour that denoted wealth and high status. The Roman emperors wore purple so it denoted rule, power and kingship. Scarlet on the other hand might represent sacrifice, blood or death. Both seem appropriate, one representing Jesus as King of kings, the other as High Priest. Red and purple were both components of the Jewish priestly robes, along with blue and gold.

We can also ask ourselves what dyed garments the soldiers might have had available. Soldiers wore a white tunic under their armour, but coloured material was expensive and was not worn by the ordinary legionaries. Purple fabric was even more expensive and it's most unlikely they'd have had access to it.

Centurions, however, wore a red cape; might the soldiers have used one of these to dress Jesus as a king? It's certainly possible. A much cheaper dye suitable for these red capes would have been madder.

What's more, using a centurion's cape would have made the mockery deeply shameful as well. It's not unlikely Jesus would have remained naked with just the cloak over his shoulders, the woven thorns on his head and the reed in his hand as the soldiers taunted him. Then they dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to die. They stripped him again before nailing him to the cross, and shared out his clothes as he hung there. In this way Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled (see Matthew 27:27-35).

For me, the idea that the colour might have been deep and could be described equally well as purple or scarlet makes perfect sense. So too does the possibility that a Roman centurion's cape was used.

Questions:

  • Have you ever wondered about the colour of the robe? I hadn't until now.
  • Does the deep red using madder seem a probable solution to you?
  • Do you think the colour is symbolic?

See also:

13 March 2013

If there's a Creator...

If there's a Creator, why is suffering permitted? Perhaps we are looking at life in the wrong way, it's not about ease and safety. It's about living a more free and abundant life, about loving one another, about knowing the Creator intimately. Life is not supposed to be me-centred, it's other-centred.

A royal doll's house
Haven't we all heard this question? 'If there's a Creator, why does he allow suffering in the world?'

Or it might be, 'Why did he let my wife/husband/child/parent/friend die?', or ,'Why didn't he stop a terrorist incident?'.

Why are there earthquakes, why is there disease?

It's a question that comes from a great missing of the point. Our Father didn't promise us lives without trouble. Indeed, Yahshua specifically told his followers that they would face severe trouble in the world.

He himself faced ridicule, scourging, and a ghastly death. Why would we expect to suffer any less? And if we who have trusted in him and follow him face hardship, danger and loss, why would those who have not trusted and followed expect a better deal?

The fact is, he did not necessarily come to bring us health and happiness and security in this life, he came to set us free and pour into us the essence of a new life - a life that will never end. We begin to live the new Kingdom life now even while we still struggle daily in our old, temporary lives.

We rarely think about the alternative to a universe in which suffering is allowed. The alternative would be no free will, no self determination. Only chaos (in the mathematical sense) makes life possible.

Why is this so hard to grasp, so hard to come to terms with?

Perhaps it all depends where we are standing as we review the situation.

The view from this world - Looking at it from the perspective of this life alone it is natural for people to want comfort and security. If we expect to die and pass into an empty obscurity, why would we search for anything else but benefit now? More money, more fun, better health, more happiness, more time, less work, more to eat but a slimmer body, less working out but better fitness, less effort but more achievement. Are these reasonable goals? No!

As long as we think of heaven as a place of lazy happiness and easy joy we are trying to find the wrong reward. And if the truth be known, we are still wanting to enjoy that reward in this life.

The view from the kingdom of heaven - But Christ did not come to reward us. We did not (and cannot) earn a reward. We are too often like children opening a wrapped gift and saying, 'But I didn't want a key, I wanted a doll's house. This comes from a failure to understand from a grown-up perspective. Which is best for us, a doll's house now or the key to our Father's house so we can freely come and go?

We need to learn to live our lives from this new perspective. It's not healing now, or food now, or safety now that truly matters. By comparison with receiving the heavenly and eternal healing, food and safety and having them in the here and now are of little value.


Heaven invades the world - And if this is all true, why do we see people healed when we pray for them? Why did Yahshua tell his followers, 'Ask anything in my name and it will done for you by my Father in Heaven'?

One of the greatest joys and privileges we have as believers is the gift of being able to come to the Father in the name of the Son. It is one of the means by which the kingdom of heaven invades this physical universe in which we live. Other ways include direct communication through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through dreams and visions, in prophecy and teaching, words of comfort and wisdom, and above all the growing knowledge believers have of the Father's heart and nature.

Some will say, 'But it doesn't always work!' This is true, sometimes we pray for healing and there is no perceived change. It might be due to lack of faith in the heart of the one who asks or of the one who is prayed for. But it might also be because we have not clearly heard the Father's will and purpose. It may be because we give up instead of persisting in prayer. And sometimes it may even be because the hard experience is essential for our eternal well-being or for someone else's.

We need to become like Yahshua who said, 'If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. But even so, Father, let your will be done here, not mine.'

Isn't this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, 'Let your bodies be made spiritual sacrifices'? We must lay down our lives daily. Lay them down and not take them up again. Lay them down and leave them for Papa to use and bless in his own way and at a time of his choosing.

And while we are here, in this world, it is our responsibility to help other people whenever we have the means to do so. We must pray for the sick and feed the hungry. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Questions:

  • What does it mean to you, personally, to 'let your body be made a spiritual sacrifice'?
  • How do you answer someone who says that unanswered prayer shows you lack faith?
  • Has anyone ever said that to you or someone you know?

See also:

09 March 2013

Leading, Matthew 1:1-17

Leaders in the church, Part 4
< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

The basis for all church leadership is not in what we do, but in who we are. Jesus himself is of the royal line of David, he is king because of his family connection and he is King of kings because of his even stronger family connection as one person in the triune nature of the Most High.

A decorated family tree
Matthew 1:1-17 - 'This is the genealogy of Yahshua'...

Right at the beginning of the New Testament is a statement that should make us sit up and think about leadership. It's not about what Jesus would do during his three years of ministry, fundamentally it's all about who he is. And the same is surely true for us.

The foundation for any kind of church leader is who they are, not what they do. Jesus' claim to be the promised, anointed One is based on his inheritance. He is of the line of kingship, descended from David, not depending on conquest or appointment or influence through political manoeuvring. And he is descended from the father of the race, Abraham.

A greater line - As will become clear later during his three years of travelling and sharing the good news of the kingdom, he has a third line of relationship - with the Father and the Spirit. So he is of the kingly line through David,  of the chosen nation through Abraham, and has an inseparable presence as part of the triune nature of the Almighty. He could not come with a greater recommendation or from a higher source.

But take note of some of the other characters in the genealogy. Abraham we've already noted, there is Isaac who prefigures the Son to be offered up by a loving heavenly Father, and he is of the line of Judah from which Judaea takes its name.

There is Rahab, a non-Jewish prostitute and her son Boaz who redeemed Ruth, and Solomon, the one who was wise enough to ask for wisdom. And last of all there is Joseph who was not Yahshua's father but who turned out to be a mere building contractor yet a great stepfather. No man was his ancestor except through a woman, Mary.

Let me repeat that. No man was Jesus' ancestor except through a woman. The entire male genealogy consists of nothing more than step-ancestors!

Not a matter of ancestry - If this tells us nothing else it should tell us that following Yahshua depends not on our inadequate human ancestry but on our relationship with the Almighty. It depends only on a willingness to turn back to the Father and receive the gift of being hidden in Christ. This is not a matter of leadership as the world sees it. Instead it's a matter of humility and acceptance and love. If a man or a woman is to lead it can only be because Jesus himself has chosen and equipped them.

These first seventeen verses of the New Testament therefore set the scene for leaders and leadership. They are foundational. Leaders are to be humble, chosen by the King alone, not necessarily of high birth. There is no inherited leadership. No hierarchical leadership. There are just people willing to play their part whatever the cost. Just like Jesus!

If you want to follow Jesus don't ask, 'What did he do?' Ask, 'Who is he?'  If you want to be a leader don't ask, 'What have I done?' Ask 'Who am I?' If you want to follow a leader don't ask, 'What have they done?' Ask, 'Who are they?'

Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing'. (John 15:5)

Questions:

  • What have you done and achieved in your life? What does it amount to?
  • Who are you? (Who are you in yourself, in Christ, in your heart?)
  • Are you a good model for those around you? Are you following Jesus?
  • If people follow you will they end up in a good place?

See also:



< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

25 February 2013

Simple church with children

Donna lives in Nottingham and is meeting children on the streets and simply involving them in church life. There is a pattern to what she is doing, a simple process at work. Watch the video and see for yourself. This is exciting. This is church at its simplest and best. This is Jesus doing his stuff.


My friend Donna is doing simple, organic church with children from her area.

You can watch a video of her with three of them and hear what she has to say about it.

Watch below or on the Simple Stories website. Either way be sure to visit the Simple Stories homepage afterwards, there is much more there to see and read.

Come back here after you've seen the video and let's think about this for a moment. There's a very simple process at work here, can you spot it? It has nothing to do with taking children to church. It has everything to do with being church. And it has a lot to do with making disciples just as Jesus told us to do (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Pattern - Here's an outline of the simple process Donna is following.
  1. Donna has met children on the street near her home.
  2. She has told them the good news that Jesus loves them.
  3. She is meeting with them regularly and showing them that they can pray for one another and have a lot of fun together and read the Bible together.
  4. She is getting to know the parents as well.
  5. She's encouraging the children to pray for their friends and to start their own, new simple churches with them.
These children are doing much more than most of us adults ever do. They are planting churches!


Papa, bless Donna and the children in Nottingham as well as their friends and families. Keep them close to you, Jesus. Help them walk with you every day and listen to what you are saying to them.

Oh, and teach us to be obedient just like they are!

Go! Go! Donna!

Thank you, Jesus. HalleluYah!


Questions:

  • Do you see how easy this is? Anyone could do it!
  • Can you see how you could use the same approach with the people you meet in daily life?
  • What is stopping you making a start today?

See also:

23 February 2013

The Ugandan bill

Legislation in Uganda is set to increase the penalties for homosexuality, possibly even to introduce the death sentence. How should believers and followers of Jesus respond? What does the Bible say about sin? What does it tell us about love? And how might we respond to the Ugandan bill?

The Ugandan flag
David Bahati, a Ugandan Member of Parliament (MP), submitted a private member's bill in October 2009.

Nothing unusual in that, you might think, just an everyday part of political life in Uganda. Except that in this case the bill, if passed, will change Ugandan law concerning homosexuality and has resulted in a great deal of strong, international criticism.

Current legislation in many African nations, including Uganda, makes same sex relationships illegal with severe penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. The new bill proposes to significantly increase these to include the death penalty in some instances.

The situation is extremely complex involving widespread anti-gay public feeling within Uganda, criminal damage and even murder, international civil liberties and gay rights protests, and interference by certain religious people. As a result there has been a delay while a Ugandan parliamentary commission investigates the circumstances and implications of the bill.

But now the political process is moving again and the bill is being debated once more.

With that backdrop, how should we respond as followers of Jesus? I think there are two things we need to be very clear about. Two things that should underpin our responses. What does the Bible say about sin? And what does the Bible say about attitudes to others?

All have sinned - So what does the Bible say about sin? First of all we should recognise that all of us have sinned, there are no exceptions (Romans 3:23). But let's read the next verse too (Romans 3:24). All have sinned, but all have been justified by grace through Christ. Does this justification require anything from us? Yes. The sacrifice of Jesus requires my faith in order to apply to me (Romans 3:25).

There are many different ways to sin, but they are all equally effective in cutting me off from spiritual life with Papa. I have a very simple choice. I can continue in my sin, or I can turn away from it and receive spiritual life through faith in Christ.

Sin comes in many varieties. Murder, lying, theft, anything dishonourable or false. There are no severe sins, no minor and insignificant sins. Anything that breaches the standards set by the Almighty is sinful. We all fall equally short, murder is not worse than a tiny white lie because both are offensive to him. One kind of sin mentioned with others in the New Testament is sex between two men (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) This is not my opinion, it is right there in the Bible. If you disagree with this statement it's no good discussing it with me, you need to discuss it with Jesus.

I need to add one more point. It is not my place to judge others. It is not my task to punish people for sin. Whatever you may have done, I am just as guilty as you are and deserve exactly the same punishment. Only grace can save us, and as we have seen, grace comes through faith in Jesus.

How to treat others - What does the Bible say about attitudes to others? The ground rule that trumps everything else is love. (Luke 10:27, Matthew 5:43-45) We are called to love, not just some people but everybody. We are to love those who love us and those who do not. We are to love those who agree with us and those who oppose us.

What follows from this is very simple. Killing people (for whatever reason) is wrong because it is unloving. Therefore the death penalty is wrong, regardless of the crime.

Applying this to the Ugandan bill - The Ugandan government is democratically elected and is free to do whatever it wishes within its international obligations, and whatever it considers to be the will of the Ugandan people.

People who follow Jesus are free to love others, irrespective of their thoughts, words and actions. Love is not easy, sometimes it is very hard indeed. But there is no room for believers to hate others. Anyone who feels or expresses hatred towards other people has no part in Christ.

That leaves us to wonder about any religious people who would encourage legislation like this Ugandan bill. Are they really motivated by love? I don't think so. Are they even on the same side as Jesus? Are they following  him? Clearly not regarding this particular issue. What will they say to him when they have to account for their actions?

Protesters are free to openly discuss any issue that troubles them and to attempt to persuade others to join them in discussing and protesting. Christians who protest should do so in law abiding and loving ways. Non-believers who protest are not so restricted but will do well to understand that the most effective way to win hearts and minds is by being polite, kind and gentle. Anger, hatred and violence however expressed tend to make co-operation less likely and conflict more probable.

Please consider adding your name to a petition against the Ugandan bill. There are many other ways to  register your views, but you need to act quickly. Time is very short and every additional name counts.

Questions:

  • Do you know any people that you are unable to love? Does Jesus love them?
  • How do you think believers should approach politics?
  • What sins do you regard as most serious, and which as least serious?
  • Do we have the right to try to influence foreign governments?

See also:

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