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?