Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Where do we focus?

“‘Come,’ Jesus said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Matthew 14:29-30 NIVUK

I think Peter is often very hard done to in the way many people remember this story and the conclusions they come to.

For many of us the focus so easily becomes about Peter sinking through fear and lack of faith. Maybe that's a peculiarly British thing  - spotting the negative straight away!

Yes Jesus said to Peter "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

That was not judgemental or negative , it was a fact and a lesson. A lesson about what could be achieved with simple obedient faith even in the face of the seemingly impossible. 

The two things that tower in this story for me - and give me great encouragement and inspiration are:

1. The immense faith of Peter who heard an invitation from Jesus that, in human terms, was asking the  impossible, and to 'just do it' without hesitation. That is great faith and rock solid obedience. Give me more of that Lord...

2. OK, so he saw the the wind and waves and for a moment thought 'what on earth am I doing'. He faltered slightly and nature took its course - but Jesus was with Him. He reached out and took hold of Peter. There is a lesson that Peter needed to learn to encourage him in future heroic steps of faith.

Did Peter fall and fail again ? Yes, no doubt more times than we know.

Did Peter take awesome steps of faith again ? Yes, probably more times than we know!

Was Jesus with Him at every step of the way - in the failures and the triumphs?

Absolutely yes.

Was Peter a person just like us? Yes.

Was Peter heroic? Yes!

So what do you focus on in the story?

Saturday, 20 February 2016

You do it......

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’”
Matthew 14:15-16 NIVUK

There is a really interesting dynamic at work here that many of us Christians either have not yet grasped or have not really 'dared' to act upon.

The disciples had seen the obvious need, they had understood there was an issue that would need some sort of action. 

They were in a remote place with a lot of people and 'the people will need something to eat' The disciples pragmatic solution was that Jesus should send the people away to buy food locally. 

There was nothing wrong or unworkable about their proposed solution....except that Jesus had a different idea. Jesus said :

                          ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

OK guys well done for spotting the need, but I have a different solution - You do it!

Up pops the very understandable pragmatism - 'but we don't have enough food, in fact, we barely have enough to feed ourselves!'

Then, one of the most important things Jesus ever said ( in terms of how we 'do' ministry ) - 
He said: 'just bring me what you have got' after which the expectation was that the disciples would simply trust Him no matter how crazy or impossible things looked or sounded.

Jesus took what they had ( blessed it) gave them back what appeared to be EXACTLY what they had just given Him - ie totally insufficient resources for the task, then said - 'Now you go and feed them all'

And they went and did it and everybody ate and was satisfied.

So, the principle was:

1. Spot the need
2. Take your meagre resources to Jesus
3. Then, when He gives you back exactly the same as you have just given Him...!!
4. Go and minister to the need
5. See God work


Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Too simple to be satisfying?

Matthew 13 contains a number of pretty well known parables, starting with the parable of the sower. 

We probably think of parables as (generally) pretty simple little stories that are not too complicated.....  This is probably true for the most part BUT it would seem that there is far far more to them than meets they eye. We would do well to dwell on them for longer than it takes us to merely gain a superficial understanding of what they are saying.

Why do I say this?

The final verse of Matt 13 gives us the clue:
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”
Matthew 13:34-35 NIVUK

This is dynamite!

These 'simple little stories' contain truths ".....hidden since the creation of the world.’!

Surely this qualifies them for a prayerful re-read? 

Most of them are parables about the Kingdom which means we are reading truth that give us Kingdom insight that no one before Jesus had even begun to grasp. The pursuit, practice and application of these truths in our lives and the life of our communities has life and community changing capability.

But, let's not assume such power lies buried in complicated layers of hidden meaning that requires human scholarship and immense brain power to figure out. Quite the opposite in fact. This is how religious leaders have hidden Gods word from ordinary people for generations - robbing them of life challenging & life changing Kingdom encounters. 

No, Jesus told simple stories to ordinary people and 'hid the meaning in plain sight'. These Kingdom truths had remained hidden not because they were too hard to find or understand but because they were so everyday and simple that people almost thought 'that can't be right, it's too easy, there should be more to it than that'! 

Their eyes, ears and hearts missed the obvious that was right in front of them and went off searching for something that was 'a more satisfying understanding'. 

It's a bit like the king in the old testament story who was told that his leprosy would be cured if he would simply dip himself in the Jordan river. He was incensed and nearly missed out on life changing healing because the method was too simple for him, not to his liking - he had expected something more 'elaborate'.  (2 Kings 5:1-19)

Fortunately (for him) he had wise and simple counsel who said 'just go and do it'

Let's re-read the parables and ask the Holy Spirit to show us the simple truths that are there in plain sight and to enable us to apply them and make them part of our personal and community Kingdom experience. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Seeing,hearing or drifting?

Reflecting on my own journey I have a number of observations that I know to be, but wish were not, true.

There are times when I just seem incapable of seeing or hearing God's self evident truth. This is usually for one of two reasons which always ultimately lead back to sin and/or unbelief. 

In either of these cases there are usually one of two root causes at work. 

The first is because I have made choices that are consciously and intentionally about what I want rather than what God wants. 
Second,and in some ways more serious, my heart, which so often struggles under the burden of self deceit, has persuaded me that I am in the right and that what I am doing or why I am doing it has Gods blessing or enjoys Gods favour.

 Paul, in Corinthians, urges disciples to have times during which they 'test themselves' with regard to ACTUALLY being in the faith rather than just thinking or saying we are. This requires a depth of honesty and openness that can be difficult and may require us to seek counsel from mature Christians.

If this goes according to Gods plan for us, rather than our own, it will often result in the 'Godly sorrow ' about which Paul also talks to the Corinthians.

There are two simple biblical principles to begin to understand where we are 'in the faith':

1. How is our relationship with God (really)? Do we regularly set aside and spend regular quality time with Him - reading His word, being in His presence and listening to Him? This is NOT about doing things FOR HIM it is about the thing that is so close to His heart for us - being with Him in intimacy.

2. How is our relationship with His church (God's people) - Hebrews reminds that we 'should not give up meeting together as some of you are doing. This is the worship and fellowship test. What are our relationships like - do we include ourselves or have we become self excluded?

This is an important part of our 'spiritual audit' and Jesus warned of the dangers of not being honest with, and about, ourselves. 

One of those warnings is:

“In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘ “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.””
Matthew 13:14-15 NIVUK

I spent a number of years in the spiritual wasteland that results from not heeding such warnings. Years when I spent so much energy going through the motions, trying to persuade myself that things were OK when it was so obvious to those around me that I was not... It's not worth it - 
Do the test, turn and be healed.

Hard or healed - which are we?

Bitterness or blessing - which flows from us?

Godly sorrow or earthly sorrow - which do we practice?

Godly determination or self imposed drifting - which best describes where we are?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

So where's the evidence?

It is interesting that when John was in prison and he heard about 'the Messiah' he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus 'Are you the one or should we expect someone else?' 

Was this not the same John who baptized Jesus, who saw the Spirit descend, who heard the voice of Father say 'this is my son, listen to Him' and who said himself 'Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' - Yes, we are talking about that John! 

Now here he was, in prison, probably at a 'low ebb' was he doubting ? needing reassurance? Maybe prison had never featured in his 'personal life plan' and he just needed to know it was about something real? He would, no doubt, have been aware of the many other people (around 400 we believe)  who were claiming to be 'the Messiah' . To be honest, we don't really know why he had reached a place where he felt that he needed to ask the 'are you for real' question about Jesus.

However, what is important is Jesus attitude and answer. There was no hint that Jesus was in any way affronted, upset, surprised or disappointed that his cousin, John, had expressed what, to many people, sounded very much like doubts. 

Jesus simply pointed out that what was promised was actually happening. Jesus had indicated right at the beginning of His ministry that His sole purpose was to let people into 'the good news of the Kingdom' He was in 'the Kingdom advancing business' and that this 'good news' would include, among other things, the work of the enemy being destroyed. Some of the very tangible indications of this were healing and releasing people from oppression and the power of the devil. 

When faced with John's question Jesus, without hesitation, points to the demonstrations  of Gods Kingdom bringing life and freedom to ordinary people. Here was the evidence - the promise of the advancing Kingdom being worked out and fulfilled day by day.

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Matthew 11:4-5 NIVUK

We know that there are other tangible demonstrations of the advancing Kingdom that Jesus also pointed to . Firstly the depth and quality of love that begins to be lived out in the lives of those who follow him and the ultimate 'work of the enemy' death and the fear of death, being defeated on the cross.

If we are in a place where we have questions that may sound like doubts or like disillusionment or disappointment or dissatisfaction with God - ask them and He will meet us in them. He will not judge but will reveal to us what we need to move on and join Him in the 'Kingdom advancing business' 

And there is more- remember Matt 10? Jesus gave authority & power to those who follow Him to be able to demonstrate the answer to those in our communities who have the same honest and understandable questions as John.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Give it away....

Following previous blog about what Jesus has given us, we continue in that same brilliant chapter,  Matthew 10, and read:

“Freely you have received; freely give.”
Matthew 10:8 NIV

Basically Jesus says
'Here's how it works: I give you authority and power, you totally give away the benefits of all you have received to others - and don't hold anything back!, now off you go and be "me" to the world'

'Demonstrating and declaring the Kingdom of God' 

'To bring light and life to people and communities'

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

He gave them......

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority ......

It is well worth stopping mid sentence here... For our purpose it is almost irrelevant what the second part is about. 

A transaction happened between Jesus and His disciples... He gave them something that they previously did not have and it revolutionised their understanding and practice of what it meant to be a Jesus follower.

He gave them AUTHORITY (to ........)

What is the nature of what He gave them?
Why did He give it to them?
What are the implications for us ( modern day disciples?

He gave them authority ( exousia is the Greek word) which means He gave them the power that is normally associated only with a person in a particular role. In other words the centurion has a power over a group of men that was not available to any Tom,Dick or Harry. A police man or women possesses certain powers that go along with that position of authority, and so does an earthly King. People who have the RIGHT to, and PRIVILEGE of, exercising  power. More than this, they also have a responsibility to actually exercise it - it is not just theoretical power. If things are going to operate as intended for the good of other people the power not only must be used, it must be used correctly and for the right purposes.

Here we have the King of Kings (who possesses ALL power and authority) giving the right and privilege of using some of this power specifically for the good of others (and the demonstration and advancing of His Kingdom part of which is the destroying of the works of the devil)

This is big stuff!

This transaction happened so that they could DO things that they could not previously do and that nobody can do in their own strength. 

Interesting, exciting and challenging that followers of Jesus were expected, yes expected, to do things as a matter of course that are ordinarily impossible for human beings! This totally requires a relationship with the King and a willingness to accept what He gives ( impossible as that is to comprehend). Then to step out beyond the boundaries or our own limited experience, faith and comfort zones into the privilege and right of exercising the power He gives for the benefit of others.

In this case it was.......to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Matthew 10:1 )

So what about us?

There is nothing in scripture subsequent to this that even hints that such authority is not given to those who are His disciples. In fact everything that follows, particularly following His death and resurrection and Pentecost, screams out that the giving of such power to His followers and so much more are the 'Kingdom norm'. 

Nothing demonstrates this better than the history of the birth and growth of the church in Acts and the teaching in Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians regarding the gifts of the Spirit (the tools of the trade for Christians).

The simple message is :
Keep close to Jesus (disciples have committed to follow Him)
Receive what He gives (by faith)
Step out and begin to use what He has given (by choice, in faith)

Demonstrate the Kingdom - give light and life to people and communities.