Faith – How the Scriptures Present it.

Today I am going to digress from my usual format to share some thoughts which have been raised after my last post. What I want to say should not be regarded as a theological treatise but just some notes to help us to understand better how to read he bible, because after all, that is where we are looking to hear Jesus speak to us. Something which Ludwig said on Saturday synergised with thoughts I have been having for some time, which are relevant to what we are talking about.

Ludwig said “words on paper are one-dimensional, however we must realize that life and our relationship with God through Jesus is three-dimensional”. So what is he saying? Let us take “faith” as a word and as a concept as an example, because that is what I was asking you to chew over last week.

So if we look at the story about the ten lepers and what it says about faith, Luke 17:11-19 we can see immediately it doesn’t give a broad picture or definition of faith, does it? Rather one-dimensional. So what do we do if we want to learn what Jesus’ (Luke’s) point that is being made about faith in it? I think most of us would go into our storehouse of knowledge on faith and try and fit that over this story to understand it, instead of perhaps trying to see precisely what Luke does say about faith in it and what we can learn from that. You see this story was never intended to give us a complete picture or a comfortable definition of faith.

Lets take a step back. Luke is writing a biography of the most important figure in our faith, which he calls a “gospel” about Jesus. His whole book thus focuses on this figure Jesus. Building a picture of who He really is and what His mission was to earth. One important aspect of that story is the question; how should the reader relate to this figure Jesus? So Luke doesn’t sit down and neatly say this is Jesus and this is His character and mission and this is how the reader should relate to Him. He starts at the beginning, instead and tells us the story, well edited, of His life as it unfolded in order that we can meet the real flesh and blood three dimensional God/Person Jesus. He does this by telling a number of stories which each add to this picture of who this Man is and what He has come to do. No one story tells everything, nicely wrapped up, of what we need to know about Him. That would be impossible.

Its rather like looking at a beautiful diamond, describing the various facets and ways of reflecting and refracting the light into a myriad of dancing colours. It is three dimensional and changes in colour and appearance depending on which side you look at it from, the light and even your ability to perceive it. Trying to describe everything about Him in one story, even of several pages, would be like looking at a diamond and studying one facet in one source of light and expecting the picture to be complete.

So where does faith come into this discussion? Luke wants us to understand how we must relate to this central figure Jesus and he is showing that the correct way of responding to Jesus is by faith. But faith is also like a beautiful diamond so the whole picture cannot be fitted into one story, rather every now and then Luke shows us people reacting to Jesus “by faith”. The circumstances, sometimes similar, sometimes different put a different colour or facet onto the total three dimensional picture of what we should know and understand about faith. At least 12 times in his gospel he refers directly to someone’s faith in different stories and circumstances and in addition there are other nuances which contribute to our understanding of the concept.

So when we look at the story of the 10 lepers what can we learn from that about faith? Firstly, as I mentioned last time there was the recognition of their need. Now in this case the need is clear, but in today’s world the reason many people don’t come to Jesus is because they don’t perceive they have a need. Without realizing one has a need you won’t seek relief. Secondly Jesus responded by “cleansing” them. They had made contact with Him and received a touch from Him So we see not everyone who comes in contact with Jesus will respond in faith. There is only who one perceived something more in Jesus than a means to be healed. That one comes to Jesus the person and casts himself at His feet. He has recognized something special in the Person of Jesus. Now in the bigger context of Luke this is His Messiahship. But here the focus is on the importance of recognizing Jesus, however much you may understand about Him and coming to Him the “Person”. The focus is Jesus. Not the decision that the leper made, nor even the healing. The focus is on Jesus the Healer who also saves. That doesn’t mean the leper didn’t make a decision to go to Jesus, of course he made a decision, but the “salvation healing” was because his decision led him to Jesus that Luke wants us to see in this beautiful facet on faith. Alternatively the others did not respond correctly, despite Jesus touching them.

His decision is the response of faith that led him to Jesus and his healing depended on Jesus, not his decision. You see ultimately if our salvation depended on our ability to decide correctly then to-morrow we may find we are slipping and doubting again. So the lesson on faith here is a lesson showing us the correct response is to the Person Jesus.

Can you see he point I’m trying to make? Each story, each facet of a subject like this goes to making the whole, a three-dimensional picture rather than a one-dimensional definition.

There is obviously much more that one needs to understand about faith than this, but one step at a time builds a strong edifice, a three-dimensional picture, one that stands the tests of the storm. And when I ask myself what Jesus is saying to me after reading this story it should focus and draw from what has been said in it. Like Do I really see and understand how deep my need is for Jesus’ work in my life. Or, am I really responding in faith when I see my difficult situation and going to Jesus to get to know Him better so that my faith can grow?

Maybe next time I will say one or two things more. Happy reading and especially happy meeting the Author of these wonderful scriptures.

Healing or Salvation?

As I become quiet with the words of the song “Is anyone worthy? He is!”, resounding in my ears. The thought that comes to me is – “bells tolling”. I see in my mind’s eye a tall old-fashioned steeple and can hear the bells tolling loudly, What do tolling bells mean? “They are symbolically calling you to worship – they are calling you and everyone else to come and worship Me – There will be trumpets when I come on the clouds – but for now look up to the mountains, look up to the clouds because the tolling bells are calling you and everyone else to worship Me – Covid is one of My bells, the violence and anarchy, dishonesty and hate, racism, selfishness all round all these horrors and many more – they are all My bells tolling. The answer is NOT in reformation but in transformation – only as individual people are transformed will the Kingdom truly break into the world – one person at a time, but for strength and purpose gathered together as my church – my true church.”

I pick up my reading in Luke at 17:11, with the reminder of the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His teaching on the coming Kingdom. This is a short story which appears to have an obvious point – “I must remember to be like the one who gives thanks to Jesus for his healing and not the other 9, who mooch off to the priest to show themselves on the instruction of Jesus”. I want to move on to the next passage which is giving more direct information on the kingdom. Then something stops me. Just like the rich man and Lazarus there must be more to this story. So friends, why don’t you take a bit of time to consider what the true message Luke may be giving us through this story? (vv 11 – 19).

So this is what I picked up: 1. The 10 men were alienated from society and should not even have come near Jesus. On top of this, the one who is mentioned at the end was a Samaritan who would have been even more alienated by his race. 2. They recognize and acknowledge their plight and need to be helped, crying out “Jesus, Master have mercy on us!” 3. They are all “cleansed”. The Greek word used is ‘katharizo’ from which comes the description of a medicine which will cleanse your insides as a ‘cathartic’. 4. One of them sees he is ‘healed,’ Greek word ‘iaomai’, from which comes the term ‘iatric’ to describe something medical. He saw that he was medically cured. 5. He then draws near to Jesus and throws himself at Jesus’ feet thanking Him. 6. After his interaction with the man Jesus makes this statement: “Rise and go, your faith has made you well”. the Greek word now used is ‘sozo’. Sozo is the same word for ‘being saved’. So Jesus is in fact pronouncing Him as being made completely whole, IOW not only healed physically but also saved spiritually.

So what does all this teach us? 1. All men are alienated from Jesus (God) through their sinful state. Salvation breaks that barrier and allows us, no, invites us to draw near to God. At the same time no-one is too ‘unclean’ to be save as we saw before with Lazarus. 2. It is necessary to recognize your need before you will come to Jesus for ‘healing’. 3. There were 10 men cleansed, yet only one was saved. Does this in fact give a true reflection of the ratio of people who hear the gospel and those who are ultimately saved through it? Figures elsewhere in scripture give a similar ratio. 4. Interaction with Jesus even on a miraculous level does not necessarily mean a person is saved or even will be saved. There is a wide spread of “common grace” in the world.

The enigmatic statement at the end which one can take at face value is, that it was his faith that healed the Samaritan. The question that comes to me is, what made the difference between him and the others? Where did his faith come from? What did it entail? Maybe you would like to chew that one over.

What did Jesus say to me? This was a timely reminder to me that, not everyone who is touched in some way by Jesus is necessarily saved. I have become more than ever convinced that we far too easily assume salvation has happened in this post-modern, easy-believism society. True salvation involves a total transformation, not an intellectual acceptance. The secret difference of course is the work of the Lord through His Spirit.

What Makes us Rich?

In my mind I play with the picture of my meeting with the Lord this morning. Am I being called to a sort of conference? In my mind I see myself at someone like a headmaster’s desk as he frowningly peers down at me, having called me to give account of myself and answer for my attitudes and actions and to receive instructions for the day. “Its not like that at all” says the Lord, “I invite you – I invite you into a fellowship bubble – a circle – and as we meet, the circle is complete – it is where I can share My love and thoughts with you. But I don’t hold you down in the circle – I encourage you to fly – you are free to go – just know My love is like a magnet drawing you back to me – and even in your freedom I am with you – guiding, strengthening, leading and opening new ways – yes and if you want to go your own way away from Me, I will let you, but my invitation stays – there is danger there though – there are traps and ways that appear delightful, drawing you in – into bondage again – but when you are ready, I will liberate you. While you are there though, you will be separated from Me and My fellowship -but never, never from My love. The ultimate goal remains and I will win the battle for your soul – against the evil one, the world and the flesh – and you will return to this circle of fellowship”.

Yesterday my reading was in Luke 16:14-31. But last night something unusual happened. I kept thinking of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, every time I woke up. So I felt I should revisit this passage again this morning. Why don’t you read it through and jot down what you see in it. Remember the context is the teaching on money. What do you see as the bigger picture which climaxes in the teaching of the parable?

Here are some key thoughts: The teaching was obviously aimed at the Pharisees who are described in vs 14 “who loved money”. They are further described as having hard hearts and trying to justify themselves, with totally wrong values. What a mouthful! Then comes an interesting two vv-16,17. The Pharisees were obviously embedded in the OT trying to live by the Law, and actually thinking they were doing pretty well. Jesus warns them though, that since John’s ministry a new era has begun. An era where the kingdom is breaking in and it is being introduced by the preaching of the “Good News” (the gospel). The Good News was not setting the (moral) law aside at all, but it was introducing a new era, personified by the story of the rich man and Lazarus and set in motion by Jesus’ fulfilling the predictions of the Law and Prophets and to be launched at His resurrection (vs 31).

Why don’t you take a few moments to read the story of the rich man and Lazarus again and see in what way it is demonstrating the new values and order of the kingdom.

OK so this story shows that the values of the kingdom are completely opposite to those of the world. Remember back in 15:2 Jesus was accused of welcoming sinners, which offended the worldly Pharisees. Jesus Himself said He had not come to be served but to serve; Mark 10:45,and showed it by washing His disciple’s feet (John 13). Elsewhere in Luke, He proclaims “blessed are you who are poor, for you shall see the kingdom of God” Luke 6:21. Now stop and think. There is no merit in Lazarus, in fact the picture of dogs licking his sores makes him unclean as well as poor. There is no merit in poverty. as such, but the fact is that the poor are far more likely to perceive their need of salvation than the rich. Like those described as “sinners”, not people that were more sinful than others but people who realized their sinfulness. The rich are so busy building their own empires and believing they can take care of all their needs with their money they are not interested in salvation. (They will harden their hearts even against the overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. v 31).

Interestingly this is the only one of Jesus’ stories like this, that actually names a person. This suggests to me that Lazarus was “known” by God, which points to his salvation? cf John 16:3 “Now this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ….” Whatever the details, this whole story is used to introduce us to the new values of the Kingdom, which will be developed as Luke goes along.

For me: this is a timely reminder that the great command to “love” encompasses all the the laws. I must be prepared to love rich and poor alike. But also recognizing loving the wealthy often has far less of a reward than loving the poor.

Is Money the Enemy?

“Open”! I am standing before a huge door – heavy timber, large bolts all over – completely locked – then as I look it swings open. There is Jesus – “I have opened the way for you – this is a new and living way – you are invited to enter through the ‘new and living Way which is my body – broken, my blood shed on the cross – you are invited’.”

I am taken by the hand and enter the most beautiful garden – gorgeous flowers, in superabundance – their perfume filling the air, my eyes are dazzled. He walks with me in the garden explaining – “I have shared many secrets of the kingdom with you – they are like these flowers – but even so there is much more which you still don’t understand – you see through a glass darkly now – but then you will see face to face and know everything, in the meantime, remember, I am not some distant deity who sits unapproachably on a throne – I want to walk with you in the garden and have continuous fellowship – not just at certain moments – I want to share your whole day with all your thoughts, all your fears, all your plans I want you to be my friend and I want you to be my bestie, your very best friend”.

My reading today is Luke 16:1-14. OK so this is one of those passages which you wish weren’t in the bible. At first reading it seems to suggesting that Jesus commended an obviously corrupt manager of a wealthy man’s possessions. This almost feels like this fits into the Zondo commission. While commentators either let it slide past with little comment or make a feast of all the possible meanings, let us just try and let Jesus explain it to us by looking carefully at what the text says.

The parable (it is NOT an allegory) ends at vs 8 and I think the key phrase is “dealing with their own kind“. The following explanation Jesus gives, focusses on the word ‘eternal’ in vs 9. There seems to be a comparison and a contrast here. The comparison is the word shrewd and the contrast is between the benefit that shrewdness will bring to the person. The dishonest manager is looking only to care for himself, which is the worldly way. The disciple (remember they are the audience cf vs 1) on the other hand should use shrewdness for eternal gain. There are other passages which suggest the reward we will receive for sharing with others is personal friendship in the hereafter.

Lest there be any suggestion that Jesus is commending dishonesty, the story in vv10 -12 shows how important it is for the disciple to be trustworthy. This in direct contrast to the untrustworthy manager. Notice the word “trust” or “trustworthy” is repeated 5 times and is sharply contrasted with “dishonest” twice.

So what is the underlying attitude the reader should have towards money? There is no room for compromise when it comes to money or possessions – you either love God or you love them. James speaks of a “double-minded man” in James 1:8. Which are your motivation for life? A good example of the wrong attitude towards money, follows in the story about the Pharisees and their attitude towards money and fame, in vs 14.

So what did I feel Jesus was saying to me? I need to carefully consider what my attitude is towards my possessions and money on an ongoing basis. What I have, is entrusted to me as part of the stewardship which God has entrusted to me. My use and management of it will demonstrate whether I can be trusted with more. I take that not necessarily to mean only money but everything God has given me. And it includes my study of the scriptures and use of the teaching gift I have.

So lets all be shrewd in the “Kingdom way” and make friends for ourselves in eternity.

Banqueting with the Lord.

Seasons – the word comes to me as I have finished listening to a bright worship song, to the tune of Irish dancing music – “Lift high the name of Jesus” – and my mind has moved to the thought that so little of my life at the moment is characterized by this bright and joyful sense of dancing and singing.

“Seasons – your life is made up of seasons” is what I sense the Lord is saying to me, “and you have now come to the winter season of your life. A time of less light, a time of cold, a time of loss and loneliness – a time of retreat – of sickness and incapacity – But know this – I have not changed. I am the same yesterday, today and to-morrow – My faithfulness is new every morning – I am the same God you worshiped, danced and had great joy with for many years. Now I have given you maturity so that you can understand My word better as you go through this season – but I remain the same and want you to have the same joy and freedom you had when you were younger – your joy is seated in Me, it is in Me that you can dance and sing – and I have set you free from so much that was holding you back when you were younger – so come now, I lift you up – come and fly with Me, mount up like an eagle and soar in your heart with Me”.

So as we come to Luke we see that most of Ch 13 is set at various banquets or feasts. Why don’t you read from vs 7 to the end, but focusing mainly on 15-35. Let’s stand back and take a broad look at this passage, and leave the detail up to each of you. Firstly a couple of questions to meditate on: On a purely worldly level what do feasts and banquets represent? What happens at these events and why do we have them? Then what makes biblical feasts and table fellowship different to this? Thirdly, as we look at these 4 parable stories, what do you think is the key vs which sets the tone for the message Luke wants us to get?

So here is how I see these: a worldly feast or banquet is so much more than just sitting down to eat. It is a time to celebrate, to remember or look forward to something special. It is usually stretched out to give everyone a chance to have fellowship with each other. Now a biblical feast encompasses those ideas but with a spiritual dimension, many Old Testament feasts and festivals were set up to remember God’s interaction with His people. It was also a time to look forward to special events and special fellowship with the Lord. I found Isaiah 25:6 most illuminating as are many other similar ones. That looks forward to the great wedding feast which will end history, of course. By the way, the communion meal we have is similar in that it reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus and His final meal with the disciples, as well as celebrating the fellowship of being part of His kingdom now and also looking forwards to the final feast in the fulfilled kingdom.

So against that background we should perhaps see the teaching in this chapter at various banquets, as a picture of the fellowship we have with Jesus as His disciples, which has been given to us as a result of the entry into the kingdom stories of the previous chapter and highlighted by the statement in v 15b – “blessed be the man who will eat at the feast in he kingdom of God” . So now what is the key verse? It seems to me to be vs 27: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”.

The message of the first parable (16-24)? It is not necessarily the obvious people who will be part of His kingdom. The people who find excuses probably points initially to the Pharisees, but those excuses are universal, aren’t they? So what are your and my excuses for today which prevent our total commitment? And what am I doing to invite the outsiders, the ‘ugly’ people to the banquet, instead of the obvious one’s?

The message of the second story? (vv 25 -30). There is no room for people who are half committed to His discipleship. What do you understand by “carrying your cross daily”? The cross represents nothing less than death, so we are to die to our own agendas our own desires and plans and listen to where Jesus is leading us so that we can truly follow Him. This is a question of priorities. What is your priority to day? What is mine? I must continually examine myself.

And so the third story, (vv 28-33)? While becoming a disciple is free, it is going to cost you your whole life from now on. The message of these two stories is clear and unambiguous, there can be no half-measures if you want to be a disciple of Jesus. While the benefits of true fellowship with Him which we receive in return, (reflected by the table fellowship in the background) are priceless!

Finally the salt: what do you take these last two vv mean? I think many commentators get it wrong. To me salt gives flavour, taste to a dish. It can only do that if it retains its distinct qualities. We as Jesus’ disciples are to be different to the rest of society. We are to bring the true flavour of close fellowship with God into society. We can only do this if we remain different and can only do that if we are truly committed to Jesus and follow Him daily. This is not a legalistic expounding of rules but carrying out the true flavour of the fruits of the Spirit, collected together as the great fruit of love.

Plenty, plenty to think about if you bring all these things to rest in your heart. “He who has ears let him hear”. Heard that before?

Jesus, On His Journey to Jerusalem

With the words of the great hymn “How great thou art”, still ringing in my ears, I see in my mind’s eye a stream running down over stones in little waterfalls, the water crystal clear, a beautiful tinkling noise in the background. Soft vegetation and ferns abound around it. “That is a picture of the ‘Water of Life’, which you have drunk from – it has given you eternal life – but continue to drink from it, as it continually washes you clean.” The Father then takes me by the hand and leads me into the forest. The environment, trees, shrubs, flowers, beautiful and so peaceful – yet there are thorn bushes between and snakes lurking. “I am walking with you as I did with Adam in the Garden, but here I need to guide you – here are all sorts of threats – I am leading you to a garden where we can have pure communion without the threats – forever – close to Me and My love. My love now is very real – but for now you must receive it by faith – until then when you will be able to see it with your own eyes, when you are finally in My full presence”.

My reading today is Luke 13:31-35. It is of course to be read in context, especially of the previous story in 13:22-30. We must also remind ourselves that Luke is describing Jesus on a journey which will end in Jerusalem, cf 13:22. So, what can this little story about Herod and his tricks and Jerusalem and Jesus’ longing to gather His chicks, have to say to us – to you and I today? Why don’t you read it through and jot down what you are seeing in it? Remember we need to first establish what it meant to the people of that time, before we can understand it for ourselves now.

So firstly we are reminded through Herod, of the threat that is hanging over Jesus’ head of His death. But notice v 32b “On the third day I will reach my goal”. This reminds us of two things: 1. Nothing would stop Jesus from reaching His goal. (remember Peter in Acts 2:23) 2. So what is His immediate goal? Well that has to do with HIs destination – Jerusalem. So what does Jerusalem represent?

Firstly Jerusalem was God’s city. It represented God’s presence among His people – the temple. It was the focal point of God’s Kingdom here on earth as described under the Old Covenant. But now it is to be the focal point of a new work of God. We have already seen in vv 18 and again 20 a reminder that, that kingdom was now breaking into the world and was going radiate into the rest of the world (from Jerusalem). So what does this passage say is going to happen in Jerusalem that will be the fulcrum that will launch the kingdom? Firstly because the children of Jerusalem have rejected the King, their house will be left desolate. v 35 a. So the old purpose of the temple as the center of the kingdom, is being done away with, because the chicks were not willing to be gathered – ie. judgement. What is going to happen now is always presented against the background of God’s judgement?

So what is going to happen to launch the kingdom? See the last phrase in v 35 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, gives us the clue. The people at that time would have been familiar with that statement, but are you? As it shows in the NIV margin it comes from Psalm 118:26., but appears to have been a common slogan. If you look at that vs in Psalm 118 and notice the vs before – vs 25. What does it say? What is He, who comes in the name of the Lord (the Messiah) going to bring? Well folks the mystery is out, that is what the people at that time were looking for, what they regarded as the ultimate blessing when Messiah would come. Can you see it? Salvation. However their expectation was another sort of salvation. Notice also the strange reference to ‘the third day’ and the very real threat to Jesus’ life. So the mystery still has to be completely unveiled, as we proceed in Luke.

For me today: as I meditated on this passage – firstly God has an unswerving purpose, which is involved with His kingdom, starting with salvation for each individual who will be part of the Kingdom. Nothing, no matter how severe, no war, no earthquake or storm nor a Covid pandemic can prevent that – so I can have complete confidence in His completing this plan and my part in it. Secondly I have to take note of the fact that many people choose to reject this message of the reason for Jesus’ coming. Pertinently, as is also warned in the previous story, these are often the very people who think they are OK. Often sitting on the church bench next to you. This means they will face judgement. From my perspective it encourages me all the more to share the gospel, at the same time understanding and expecting rejection often. Thirdly – I need to remember there is only one place where salvation was won for mankind, The old temple has been desolated and the new temple is Jesus Himself where I meet with God. And the plan for me and the world is securely tied up with Him in His plan.

Happy digging in His garden for His treasures, which are there for all those who seek diligently and then you will hear Jesus speaking to you.

Repentance – How do You understand it?

Yesterday afternoon my eyes flew open when I realized that I had allowed myself to drift down into a deep dark pit of lustful thoughts. Despite immediate confession I still felt contaminated this morning, so this is what I heard the Lord say. Then notice how today’s reading fits the situation like a glove.

I see a bright light, like a lighthouse shining in the dark – ” I am that light – I don’t only shine on you from the outside, but light-up your heart and soul from the inside, as well. Reaching into those darkest spots – to cleanse you and set you on the right road again. Everyone – everyone who is human has areas like that where they are weak and need cleansing – judgementalism, legalism, muttering and complaining, joylessness, lust, greed, pride – desire to be noticed and recognized and admired, whether for physical attributes or some skill or ‘achievement’ – all those seeds are in everyone – you too, so you need My holiness – to be totally holy. It does not mean that you should not be striving in your own life for holiness – but in reality you are always seen by Me as ‘in Jesus’ who is absolutely holy. Now here is My grace – I lavish My grace on you for redemption of sin and sins through the blood of Jesus”.

My reading is Luke 13:1-9. This is a discussion and then a little parable which seem to have one main message. I wonder if you can see what that is. So lets tackle the discussion first (1-5). What is the point that Jesus is making? There is a repetition of some words and ideas which should point you to the answer.

Firstly vs 2 “do you think these Galileans were worse sinners? And vs 4b do you think they were more guilty….? What is He saying? Obviously the answer is no in both cases. Conclusion? Bad things happening to people is not necessarily a sign of sin or even more sinfulness. In other words the real message is that all people are equally sinful. This is confirmed by the instruction Jesus gives after each example. Do you see it? “Repent or you too will perish”!

So what is the little parable in vv 5-9 saying? It may seem simple at first glance but I came across 5 different things that commentators suggest come from it. But this is about what Jesus is saying to you and me today so let’s look at the simple straight-forward meaning. So how do you read it? Well it seems the Owner of the vineyard has a clear problem – there is a fig tree that has not produced fruit for three years. The Owner wants to pull it out, but there is a Gardener who intervenes and asks for another year’s grace. The real point behind the story, of course is that a fig tree only has value if it produces fruit. So how do you interpret it?

Seen in the light of the previous section and instruction on repentance it seems the real sign of true repentance is the production of fruit. We see this principle repeatedly in the NT Remember the parable of the sower? The sign of good soil is it helps the seed to grow and produce fruit. The three years here seem to indicate the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth and so who is the Gardener? Surely, Jesus Himself, acting as advocate which will only happen after His death and resurrection. Then of course we see that the action of the Gardener is to treat the tree so that it will produce fruit from now on. It is also a picture of God’s patience with us, not judging us immediately when we sin but giving us time to repent and here we have the help of Jesus, as advocate in the matter.

Now I found myself meditating again on the true nature of repentance. What do you understand by that term? The word is translated from the Greek word “metanoia”, which means to change one’s mind. Easy? Well maybe not so fast. You see, faced with our sinfulness or a specific sin situation, we can make up our minds to stop it. But that does not always really help does it? Because we are weak and likely to fall back into the same trap again. So this is how I see it. We sin because we like it. It is attractive to us and we enjoy doing it. So, to find true repentance from our hearts, not just our minds, we need to focus on something or rather Someone who we can enjoy more than our sin. So true repentance starts with our recognizing the immensely greater value of Jesus than our sin and the fact that He can give us far greater joy than the temporal enjoyment we get from our sin. So we need to regularly turn to Jesus and find Him giving you more joy than anything in this world and finding His beauty and majesty so much more desirable than what the world can give. And of course, being the Gardener He will help us in that quest because that is why He has come.

Frightening words “repent or you will perish”. That is why repentance is such an important first step to becoming a Christian. But although our initial repentance is absolutely vital, we need to continue on a daily or even more often than that, path of repentance and the way to make that second nature, is we should cultivate that relationship and joy In Jesus.

Where is your treasure?

Before I start to-day’s blog, some house-keeping. Just a reminder that part of the exciting journey I have been having is to experience a growing ease with the concept of “listening prayer”. I don’t want to repeat what I have already written so I invite you to visit my blog of the 21st Dec, to read more about it. To find that blog tap the title of this blog. It will open up a new section below it and if you scroll down you will find a section headed “archive”. If you tap Dec it will open all the Dec blogs and you can scroll down till you get to the 21st. So welcome anyone who is new to our blog family and feel welcome to just read or to contribute if you would like.

Now to what I received from the Lord yesterday: “It is ‘I Am’ talking to you – I am talking to you just as I talked to Moses from the burning bush – only now Jesus is replacing the burning bush. I am talking to you through Him. Just as I used mighty works to release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – so Jesus used mighty works – only they were in His own body – His death – on your behalf – His resurrection – His action as the ‘Sacrificial Lamb’ that set you free from the slavery of Satan and sin – now I am leading you through the desert. Jesus is acting like Moses He is the Leader, He is the Pillar of Smoke, He is the Pillar of Fire by day and by night – He is the Tabernacle – He is the High Priest, the Sacrifice and the Prophet all these in His majestic hands – as you travel as a stranger through the desert, He will provide water – Living water, He will provide manna, He is your Manna. He will protect you against the snakes that Satan will send at you – just keep looking up at the brass snake on a pole – look in faith to Him – He is your shield to protect you from sickness and pandemic. He has appointed you as an elder to serve under Him…..just be obedient and stay close to Me and I will give you daily bread to feed those whom I have given you to minister to”.

Today I am reading Luke 12:22-34 (but this is actually part of a larger section so maybe add vv 13-21 to that if you are joining me). So read through the passage to get a broader perspective before we focus on individual things. What do you think is the key vs of this section which reveals to us what the central message is (the telos)? This is obviously about priorities, so why are they so important to God? In what way do our priorities towards our possessions and our security in this world, tell us about our relationship with Jesus? Now within this passage what do you feel Jesus is saying to you today? I am going to share some of what He spoke to me, but first do business with Him in the passage above if you want Him to speak to you today.

So to me the key vs is v 34 “where your treasure is there also your heart will be”. This is almost a barometer of your progress with Jesus, something like what fruit you produce. The hyperbole of the first parable should not put us off considering in what ways we perhaps are being rich towards ourselves instead of God. How much, even a tiny bit, is there of covetousness still lurking deep down?

Of course then the section from vs 22 shows us the benefit of trusting God completely for all our needs. So are you able to put all your living concerns completely in God’s loving hands? One of the most comforting verses in the bible is vs 31, “seek His kingdom, and these things will be given you as well”. I have often reminded myself of this vs when faced with difficulties

So for me, I have to remind myself every time I come to a passage like this that although the passage may be familiar, to what extent am I really believing it and living it out in practical trust. We will always fall short of the perfection that God plans for us, but it is our desire and preparedness to grow and change that is the measure of our genuine trust in Him.

The spirit of the Pharisees, Lives on in the Church.

“Open my eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus”.

“Open your eyes – I am all around you – I am especially present in My Word – but I am also present in My creation – and in the love shown you by others. I am present but you can only see Me with the eyes of faith, hear Me with the ears of faith, feed on Me and obey me with the heart of faith. I am there with you ‘active’ in My Word, as in Hebrews 12, like a two-edged sword.”

Yes Lord I want to meet with You, not just in the written word, but in the Spirit who inspired that word, to understand the purpose, the ‘telos’ of each passage- verse- word – story – injunction. The written Word must lead me by the hand to meet the majesty of the Author of the Word – spoken to all, jointly – but to me personally – to meet me at the point of my need and instruct me. So Lord please continue to open your word to me, so that I may enter your rest (Hebrews 4:3, 11) that I may fully experience the state of blessing I am in.

My reading in Luke today 12:1-13, is a continuation of the confrontation that Jesus is having with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The various specific sins Jesus highlights are not difficult to understand. As I meditate on this whole section, it comes to me that it is often the “religious” people who are the biggest problem in the church and the world. Their witness is distorted by hypocrisy – the danger of their teaching is that they twist the word of God, taking away its power to liberate and laying burdens on people’s backs. It is the religious people who often turn on each other and tear each other apart, often over unimportant points of doctrine. It is they who seek to form cliques of “like-minded” individuals, effectively excluding others from the gospel. It is the religious people who so distort the word of God to make it suit their particular petty sins eg the whole gay issue.

My unbelieving son Jean recently made a telling statement: I asked him how the people in England are taking “Brexit”. His answer was it is a fait accompli, now people either believe in it and embrace it or reject it completely. It is like religion he said. In other words you either believe in “religion” or you don’t. How much of a role have religious people played in causing him to make choice not to believe? So the outsider often sees the church as a sea of frowning religious faces looking down on them, ready to condemn them, instead of a kaleidoscope of beautiful flowers in the garden of God, ready to enfold and welcome others into the warm embrace of a relationship with the Father.

The frightening thing is that the seeds of the Pharisees lie within each one of us, hypocrisy, showing one face to the world and the church and having another private one, the seeds of pride, wanting to be seen doing good works to get accolades from others and maybe even from God, The seeds of legalism, finding your Christianity a burden and laying burdens on other’s backs and so on, the list is there in Luke. The solution is simple yet difficult to maintain. The writer to the Hebrews writes “Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall…..” (Heb 4:11) Yes the abundant life, the life of God’s promise is described as that rest, where we cease from striving to please God, but the apparent contradiction is that we must make ever effort to enter. There are so many forces working against our entering His rest on a daily basis, that we need to face them head on, with the knowledge that we have the full power of the Holy Spirit with us. Without being constantly alert we will fall into the trap of become legalistic, becoming religious.

Friends, let us go out there and become part of the solution and not part of the problem. We have the potential, through God’s Spirit of being the most beautiful, desirable flower in His garden.