Sunday, July 10, 2016

Facing Down Worry On The Cross Road (Luke 12:13-34)... On The Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusaelm in Luke's Gospel (ch10-19) and what it means for us today (Part 9)


In the church I worked in in Tauranga there was a man who had served in the artillery during the Second World War. He had served in the western desert with the New Zealand division, It had affected him greatly. He said he’d never seen anyone killed but he knew each time the gun he serviced fired it meant death. One of the ways it affected him was that when he came back to New Zealand he decided that he didn’t want to go overseas again. He just wanted to stay put.  This made it hard for his wife who particularly after they retired wanted to travel. She’d never been out of New Zealand, and when asked he would say ‘I’ve been and I’ve seen enough’.

Finally however he agreed to take his wife to Australia. She was so excited. The thing that changed his mind was a chance to see the wild flowers bloom in the desert. He remembered seeing them before. You see amidst the heat and desolation of the Libyan Desert the rain would come and just for a brief period afterward the desert would become a place of vibrant colour and life, the flowers in their vivid radiance would flourish just for a brief season and then as the heat and dry came back they would wither and die. He’d always remembered their vivid beauty I guess it gave him hope. Jesus invites us to consider the wild flowers here today and gone tomorrow, but more beautiful and wonderful than King Solomon in all his splendour so that we would know how much God cares for us, and be able to face down worry on the cross road following Jesus.

We are working our way through Luke’s narrative of Jesus final journey to Jerusalem, the one that would lead to the Cross. The narrative of that journey takes up the central third of Luke’s gospel (ch 10-19) and it focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to be his followers. What it means to walk the cross road with Jesus. In the section we are working our way through at the moment Jesus deals with the challenge to stay faithful amidst the pressures of life that would cause us to turn away.

At our Parish Council meeting in June we had a good discussion about worry and a good devotion on putting our trust in God. But one of the points that came up was the question is worry a sin? I mean to worry is to have a lack of trust in God? I have to admit I worried about that? It just does not feel right. In the passage we looked at last week and this week we have sins that Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard against. They were the yeast of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy: putting on a mask of faith and piety that does not come from a full-hearted faith in God… this week it’s all kinds of greed; a desire to be satisfied by more and more things, or possessions instead of relationship with God. But he also encourages them not give in to anxieties that go along with those sins. In the case of persecution fear, instead they should be bold and courageous and proclaim Jesus in the face of persecution trusting God to provide them the words. In this case they are not to worry about the necessities of life but rather live out their faith in Jesus with generous love and care for their neighbours.

Worry and fear are physiological reactions, one to danger and the other to actual or potential problems in our lives. They are seen as the negative expressions of the reactions in us that help us, that adrenaline buzz we need when faced with danger, or gives that ability to work harder and focus on solving a problem. But they are also responses that can draw us away from God. It depends on how we handle them. In the parable of the sower Jesus talks of the seed that had fallen amongst the weeds, it sprouted and grew, but it was chocked out by the weeds, and he explains that as being like people who hear the word of God respond to it but it is cocked out by all the worries of the world and the deception of possessions. It is how our faith comes to the fore in these times that allows us to stay faithful to Christ.

How do we deal with worry? How do we stop it from chocking the life and faith out of us?

The first thing Jesus talks about is perspective.

In the passage we read this morning Jesus is teaching the crowd about being a follower of his, about salvation and the kingdom of God and he is interrupted by a man who wants him to adjudicate in a dispute over inheritance with his brother. The man wants Jesus to bring his religious authority to bear on the matter. Jesus is not having a bar of it. He uses the interruption to tell his disciples to be on guard against all forms of greed. He tells the parable of the rich farmer, who had a bumper year, through no work or skill of his own actually finds his wealth increase. Who decides that he will have to build a bigger barn to store all this and relax because he has made it… he can eat drink and be merry… His security his identity all he is, is invested in what he has. We might think the man blessed, no money worries, But Jesus says God sees him as a fool. “You fool tonight your life is forfeited and who is going to get your wealth now?” In the Old Testament a fool is someone who lives their lives without reference to God. The man didn’t acknowledge God’s providence in the bumper crop, had no thought for God’s justice in how it was going to be used, though of his life and security and comfort in only what he had. In the end it came to nothing.

We can focus on life being about what we do and do not have, what we can and cannot do about something, and miss the reality of God. I used the picture of this sparrow last week, and with the wonders of modern technology it was cropped.

The right perspective is this God in the picture (represented by the cross). That is how we are invited to face financial issues and other worries in our life.


Secondly, providence. Not only perspective that God is in the picture, but a right understanding of the character of God. Jesus turns to his disciples now and says don’t worry about the essentials of life. You see Jesus brings good news to the poor. Most of his listeners were not having those first world problems but dealing with subsistence living issues. How were they going to feed and clothe their families? Jesus invites them to look again at creation. Look at the ravens, they don’t sow or reap, they don’t have barns and storehouses, God cares for them and feeds them. Now we might thing that a raven is a step up from a sparrow, but in Jewish thought it was the other way round. Raven’s were unclean animals. Part of the success of this species is that they are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat anything, they are scavengers, and what mae them unclean was that they often dined on carrion, dead flesh . But shock God cares and provides even for these filthy animals. How much more does God care for you?

The wild flowers don’t weave cloth, doesn’t work hard yet they are more beautiful that Solomon,  the high point of fashion and power in Israel’s history.    Consider the daises in your back lawn, they are beautiful enough to make daisy chains for your daughter one minute and the next you’ve mowed over them, they are caught up in the catcher and  you’ve lobed them into the compost, or the gradin sack for someone to pick up and take away. But God has clothed them in such splendour. You are more precious to God than those flowers. God cares and God provides.

Sandwiched in the middle of those two Jesus says that really worrying about those things aren’t going to do any good anyway. We can’t add a single day to our lives, an hour or a minute by doing it. In fact we know that worry and stress is a killer, it shortens life. Instead of worry we need to learn to rely on God’s providence his care his ability to provide. Just a quick illustration, while I worked at the same church in Tauranga, two girls in my youth group said they couldn’t come to a labour weekend camp at Hunua Falls. I told them money shouldn’t be an issue, and not to worry , I’d pray and God would provide. Kris and I were not in a position to pay the extra $100 to get them there.  Next day I won $100 on a silly radio show quiz. The announcer was amazed I was able to guess a particular movie from one line of dialogue. Usually they only gave away a smaller amount as with each clue the amount went down but by the grace of God I got it first time. I rang the girls and told them they could come to camp. Over the weekend they told one of the leaders that they were both depressed and had decided if nothing changed over the weekend they would commit suicide. Teenage angst and drama or real I don’t know. I do know that God meet them that weekend in a way that bought new life and hope.  God cares God is able to provide.

It’s not don’t worry be happy it’s don’t worry rather trust in the goodness and love of God. In the end God already knows what we need.

Finally it’s about priority.

Jesus says the priority for the pagan nations around Israel was on what they would have to eat and drink. Clothes and food and possessions, they worry about those things, but we are to live differently, we are to live kingdom of God values: To have the priority of being wholehearted about Jesus. Of course as this is Luke’s gospel this has an outworking in how we use our resources. We can live generously and in a way where what we have is used to love our neighbour and care for poor, because God cares for us and is able to provide for our needs.  God is not anti-wealth he is not calling us to be destitute, but rather to change our priority for life and for what we have. It about where we want to invest our resources… in this realm or in God’s kingdom.   In Acts 2 it says that as a church they did not have anyone who had a need, because people sold their possessions and gave the money to the apostles, not to line their pockets and so they could live in flash houses but to give to people who needed it.  A home group at the church I gew up in,, had a couple whose car died and they didn’t have the money to replace it. Another couple in the group had money saved up to replace their beaten up old car that just might make it a bit longer so they gave their money to the couple without the car. Another couple in the group were in the process of updating to the latest model and decided well they could live with last year’s model for one more year and gave their money to the second couple.  I think in the end someone won lotto and it paid for all of them. My mum was part of another home group made up of widows who did the same thing on a smaller level simply sharing the little they had over each week with people who were short that week.  But you see how prioritising the kingdom of God can decrease worry in a whole community of faith. Challenging aye… I wonder how much worry we still have because we still don’t put the kingdom of God first as a community.

On Wednesday morning I was taking the rubbish bins back from the gate here at the church across the carpark and up the drive to where they are kept by the manse. Do it every week. It may have been the onset of the stomach bug that hit with real vengeance that afternoon, but I found myself looking down. The bins were empty, but it felt like I was dragging all the cares of the world behind me. My forehead (which seems to get bigger each year)  was knotted and tight my neck straining with the stress. A whole raft of concerns seemed to delight to flash tauntingly across my mind’s eye. Then I stopped and looked up.  The tree up in the corner of the section which has always been here and I take for granted, suddenly struck me with its beauty. The deep green in stark contrast to that light blue sky we’ve been having on those cold clear mornings. I gained perspective, the beauty of creation and the awesomeness of the creator, I remembered providence, the God who made this, cares for me, loves me, has given his son to gain my forgiveness, and has sent his holy spirit to live in me, and he cares and provides… and started to work with priorities all these things I need to do… I could do them and in all of them I wanted to put God first. I’ve got them done despite that stomach bug. People don’t worry, look up… God cares God provides, we can put him first and he will take care of the rest.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Courage and Trust on the Cross Road (Luke 12:1-12): On The Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem (luke ch 10-19) and what it has to say to us today (part 8)





I sat down to write my message for this morning on Thursday I had been wrestling with the passage we read today which is full of some difficult sayings of Jesus. And that day I was blessed by my daily devotions… you see in Nicky Gumbel’s opening comments,  I found a great summary of what Luke is talking about in the passage we had read to us  Luke 12:1-12…
  “The message of Jesus is the most powerful message in the world. It is good news. It changes lives. It changes cities and cultures. Yet it is also a message that provokes opposition. God equips you to pass on this message by giving you the Holy Spirit”.
In this passage Jesus talks of being faithful in the light of persecution: he talks of overcoming that very human response of fear so we can walk the cross road following Jesus with courage and trust.
We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative (ch 10-19), a Journey narrative that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him.  Today we are moving into a new block of teaching, over the past few weeks we’d seen that Jesus was heading more and more into conflict with the religious and political leaders of the day and in light of that he calls his disciples and us to be faithful. He focuses on two things that should encourage us; Seeing present trials and challenges in light of eternity, and a correct understanding of the nature of God. We can be faithful because of who God is and that God will bring his plans and proposes to fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
The passage opens with a temporal link ‘meanwhile’ we’ve moved on in the narrative to a new situation but it’s not a clean break with what has gone before.  We are told that there is a great crowd of many thousands, and while the crowd in the earlier part of Luke’s gospel are always seen as a benign presence, here we are told they were trampling on one another, it is a bit more threatening. Maybe it was a bit like the crowds for euro 2016, a mix of the ecstatic and eccentric Icelanders and their joyful synchronised clapping but also those elements of Russian and English fans spoiling for a fight. Because in the previous passage we’ve been told there are elements who think that Jesus is motivated by evil, others who are demanding that Jesus show them greater and greater signs, and that the Pharisees and scribes are there questioning and hoovering waiting for Jesus to slip up so they can pounce.  In Luke’s gospel when there is a crowd Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches them about true discipleship.  Jesus is aware that the pressure of the crowd can cause us to compromise our faith, either the pull of popularism, to simply keep on pleasing the crowd or the push of persecution to appease the crowd.   Both pressures have historically caused the church to compromise their faithfulness to Jesus and push and pull at our faith: The pull to conform to the standards and social norms of today and the push against our faith, at least to keep it to ourselves.
Jesus starts by calling his disciples to be on guard, not against the unruly crowd, but the unruly tendencies of their own heart; to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. Yeast was added to dough to make it rise but in Jewish thinking it was also a metaphor for sin that once it is entertained can infect the whole mixture or dough.  In the passage we looked at last week Jesus had used a play on words to challenge the Pharisees, he had said they had missed the love of God and others but loved the good seats in the synagogue and the respectful greetings in the market place. It all had to do with external appearance not what was at the heart. Here Jesus sums that up with the word hypocrisy. It was a mask an act they put on. Jesus calls us to be wholeheartedly committed to him, that we are to be people of integrity, our outward actions and reactions, how we live and how we love should be a reflection of what is at our heart, our external life should be a reflection of our internal life, regardless of who is watching.

Jesus finishes his warning about this with a series of three sayings about what happens in secret will be made known. It has a present real life application: eventually the mask will crack or we will drop the act and people will see what is really at our core, what we believe will become known, in times of great pressure to conform or persecution is definitely one of those times. It also has an eternal application as well. As we move through this passage there is a time when we will stand before God and what is in the heart will be made known. King David is an example of that in scripture. He is known as a man after God’s own heart, he has integrity, now sadly he blows it big time, he is not perfect, but even in that case when confronted with his sin he repents and turns back to God. We have his powerful prayer of confession in psalm 51. 


Jesus moves from the pull of popularism to the push of persecution. He tells his disciples, they are not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather fear him who can throw you in to hell. Ok relax Jesus isn’t getting into the old hellfire and brimstone preaching here and neither am I. firstly Jesus is a realist, he knows what is going to happen to his followers that they like he will face persecution and death. He tells him in verse 11 they will be bought before synagogues rulers and authorities, there is going to be pressure to deny Jesus. Church history is full of persecution and martyrs and Jesus is saying don’t fear that, even though they can and will kill you, rather fear God.
Of course fear can be understood in two ways, the first is the crippling fear of being afraid, scared, petrified, it’s the sort of fear that can cause us to turn away from trusting Jesus Christ can cause us to deny him.  The other fear is the idea of respect and honour. Jesus here is NOT saying we should be afraid of God because God’s got the bigger stick, rather our respect for and honour of God should enables us to be faithful to him, cause in the end he is the one who cares.
This is where our understanding of God’s character comes into play. Firstly in this passage it is the only place in Luke’s gospel where he addresses his disciples as my friends, I tell you my friends do not be afraid… He’s speaking out of love and compassion. But also telling them that God cares for them. God is not angry or vindictive, God cares. God cares for the sparrows, that in the market place are a dime a dozen, they are still sold to be eaten but he cares for them. When I worked at the chapel at Auckland University I used to sit outside and have my lunch, and sometime just sit out under the trees and pray, and the sparrows would come round for food or because they wanted to join in the prayers. At a glance they all looked the same but if you looked at them they were all unique and different, you had to look for it. God invests such creative energy into these sparrows uniqueness. He cares for us so much more. He knows our most intimate detail and need, he even knows how many hairs are on our head. Ok there is room for a joke here, but I’m not going to make it… and maybe some of us are just trying to make God’s job a bit easier…  we respect God because God cares for us.
There is a correlation between what we do in this life and what happens in eternity. Jesus goes on in typical Jewish though patterns to repeat what he has said in a negative way in a positive one. He says that if we acknowledge him before humanity, he will acknowledge us before the angels of God. There is reward for those who are faithful. If we reject Jesus in front of people, Jesus will do that before the heavens. 
Then we have this really tough saying of Jesus that those who speak words against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. I think it’s there to be reassuring, but I know many young people who have in youth group asked about this unforgiveable sin, worried they might inadvertently commit it.  The first thing I always tell them is if you are even worried about then that’s good proof you haven’t committed it.
Scripture and history show that those who have rejected and spoken against Jesus have been welcomed back and forgiven. Peter who denied Jesus three times is reconciled with Jesus after the resurrection. ‘Peter do you love me, peter do you love me, peter do you love me… He is commissioned to be an apostle and a shepherd of God’s people. Saul stood at the stoning of Stephen and held peoples coats, so they could throw stones, he persecuted the church and yet on the road to Damascus meets the risen Jesus and his life is transformed he becomes Paul the apostle to the gentiles and writer of much of our New Testament. I could go on, many of Jesus greatest advocates started out anti-Jesus. Blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is an ongoing rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. Pharaoh in the Old Testament is a biblical example, when God shows him his power it says that pharaoh hardened his heart again and again, till finally it says that God hardened pharaoh’s heart and he would not let the people go. It is encouraging for us because even if we buckle under pressure we know that the God who cares about us will and does forgive and restore. One of the big pastoral issues for the early church when it faced persecution was how they treated those who had buckled under and when demanded of them sacrificed to the roman emperor as God. Richard wurmbrand was a Christian leader who was imprisoned for many years and tortured in communist Romania and he talks of having to deal with meeting fellow prisoners who had denied the faith or even informed on him and his colleges and then later fallen foul of the communist regime. Some continued to deny Christ, others repented and returned.  
Finally in the face of persecution, Jesus gives his disciples great hope, that the God who cares for them and who would pour out his holy spirit would be there with them and in situations of conflict and confrontation would give them the words to say. Now one commentator said quite rightly this is not a passage for teachers and preachers who don’t prepare well , rather it is when we find ourselves in situation where we are called on to defend our faith in Jesus Christ. I think the great example in scripture is Stephen in the book of acts whose response to the Sanhedrin, the religious court in Jerusalem is a wonder exposition of Israel’s history and how it all points to Jesus. It says that they could contend against him.  The God who cares is the God who gives us his Spirit to be with us and enable us especially in times when we need that help.

friends don’t be afraid…Don’t be afraid… Jesus calls us to walk the cross road with courage and trust… Yup it’s not an easy road, as Jesus says in john 16:33  ‘in this life there will be trouble…yes we will face pressure to assimilate to compromise the gospel.. yes we will face the pressure of opposition and persecution … 'But take heart… Jesus has overcome the world'… do not fear, God cares, Jesus Christ came and lived and died that you may be forgiven and have new and abundant life… the Holy Spirit dwells with and within you… to empower and to guide, to teach and to lead. He will guide you home and welcome you, ‘well done good and faithful servant.


Courage and trust on the Cross Road (Luke 12:1-12): On The Corss Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem (luke ch 10-19) and what it has to say to us today (part 8)



I sat down to write my message for this morning on Thursday I had been wrestling with the passage we read today which is full of some difficult sayings of Jesus. And that day I was blessed by my daily devotions… you see in Nicky Gumbel’s opening comments,  I found a great summary of what Luke is talking about in the passage we had read to us  Luke 12:1-12…
  “The message of Jesus is the most powerful message in the world. It is good news. It changes lives. It changes cities and cultures. Yet it is also a message that provokes opposition. God equips you to pass on this message by giving you the Holy Spirit”.
In this passage Jesus talks of being faithful in the light of persecution: he talks of overcoming that very human response of fear so we can walk the cross road following Jesus with courage and trust.
We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative (ch 10-19), a Journey narrative that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him.  Today we are moving into a new block of teaching, over the past few weeks we’d seen that Jesus was heading more and more into conflict with the religious and political leaders of the day and in light of that he calls his disciples and us to be faithful. He focuses on two things that should encourage us; Seeing present trials and challenges in light of eternity, and a correct understanding of the nature of God. We can be faithful because of who God is and that God will bring his plans and proposes to fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
The passage opens with a temporal link ‘meanwhile’ we’ve moved on in the narrative to a new situation but it’s not a clean break with what has gone before.  We are told that there is a great crowd of many thousands, and while the crowd in the earlier part of Luke’s gospel are always seen as a benign presence, here we are told they were trampling on one another, it is a bit more threatening. Maybe it was a bit like the crowds for euro 2016, a mix of the ecstatic and eccentric Icelanders and their joyful synchronised clapping but also those elements of Russian and English fans spoiling for a fight. Because in the previous passage we’ve been told there are elements who think that Jesus is motivated by evil, others who are demanding that Jesus show them greater and greater signs, and that the Pharisees and scribes are there questioning and hoovering waiting for Jesus to slip up so they can pounce.  In Luke’s gospel when there is a crowd Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches them about true discipleship.  Jesus is aware that the pressure of the crowd can cause us to compromise our faith, either the pull of popularism, to simply keep on pleasing the crowd or the push of persecution to appease the crowd.   Both pressures have historically caused the church to compromise their faithfulness to Jesus and push and pull at our faith: The pull to conform to the standards and social norms of today and the push against our faith, at least to keep it to ourselves.
Jesus starts by calling his disciples to be on guard, not against the unruly crowd, but the unruly tendencies of their own heart; to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. Yeast was added to dough to make it rise but in Jewish thinking it was also a metaphor for sin that once it is entertained can infect the whole mixture or dough.  In the passage we looked at last week Jesus had used a play on words to challenge the Pharisees, he had said they had missed the love of God and others but loved the good seats in the synagogue and the respectful greetings in the market place. It all had to do with external appearance not what was at the heart. Here Jesus sums that up with the word hypocrisy. It was a mask an act they put on. Jesus calls us to be wholeheartedly committed to him, that we are to be people of integrity, our outward actions and reactions, how we live and how we love should be a reflection of what is at our heart, our external life should be a reflection of our internal life, regardless of who is watching.

Jesus finishes his warning about this with a series of three sayings about what happens in secret will be made known. It has a present real life application: eventually the mask will crack or we will drop the act and people will see what is really at our core, what we believe will become known, in times of great pressure to conform or persecution is definitely one of those times. It also has an eternal application as well. As we move through this passage there is a time when we will stand before God and what is in the heart will be made known. King David is an example of that in scripture. He is known as a man after God’s own heart, he has integrity, now sadly he blows it big time, he is not perfect, but even in that case when confronted with his sin he repents and turns back to God. We have his powerful prayer of confession in psalm 51. 
Jesus moves from the pull of popularism to the push of persecution. He tells his disciples, they are not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather fear him who can throw you in to hell. Ok relax Jesus isn’t getting into the old hellfire and brimstone preaching here and neither am I. firstly Jesus is a realist, he knows what is going to happen to his followers that they like he will face persecution and death. He tells him in verse 11 they will be bought before synagogues rulers and authorities, there is going to be pressure to deny Jesus. Church history is full of persecution and martyrs and Jesus is saying don’t fear that, even though they can and will kill you, rather fear God.
Of course fear can be understood in two ways, the first is the crippling fear of being afraid, scared, petrified, it’s the sort of fear that can cause us to turn away from trusting Jesus Christ can cause us to deny him.  The other fear is the idea of respect and honour. Jesus here is NOT saying we should be afraid of God because God’s got the bigger stick, rather our respect for and honour of God should enables us to be faithful to him, cause in the end he is the one who cares.
This is where our understanding of God’s character comes into play. Firstly in this passage it is the only place in Luke’s gospel where he addresses his disciples as my friends, I tell you my friends do not be afraid… He’s speaking out of love and compassion. But also telling them that God cares for them. God is not angry or vindictive, God cares. God cares for the sparrows, that in the market place are a dime a dozen, they are still sold to be eaten but he cares for them. When I worked at the chapel at Auckland University I used to sit outside and have my lunch, and sometime just sit out under the trees and pray, and the sparrows would come round for food or because they wanted to join in the prayers. At a glance they all looked the same but if you looked at them they were all unique and different, you had to look for it. God invests such creative energy into these sparrows uniqueness. He cares for us so much more. He knows our most intimate detail and need, he even knows how many hairs are on our head. Ok there is room for a joke here, but I’m not going to make it… and maybe some of us are just trying to make God’s job a bit easier…  we respect God because God cares for us.
There is a correlation between what we do in this life and what happens in eternity. Jesus goes on in typical Jewish though patterns to repeat what he has said in a negative way in a positive one. He says that if we acknowledge him before humanity, he will acknowledge us before the angels of God. There is reward for those who are faithful. If we reject Jesus in front of people, Jesus will do that before the heavens. 
Then we have this really tough saying of Jesus that those who speak words against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. I think it’s there to be reassuring, but I know many young people who have in youth group asked about this unforgiveable sin, worried they might inadvertently commit it.  The first thing I always tell them is if you are even worried about then that’s good proof you haven’t committed it.
Scripture and history show that those who have rejected and spoken against Jesus have been welcomed back and forgiven. Peter who denied Jesus three times is reconciled with Jesus after the resurrection. ‘Peter do you love me, peter do you love me, peter do you love me… He is commissioned to be an apostle and a shepherd of God’s people. Saul stood at the stoning of Stephen and held peoples coats, so they could throw stones, he persecuted the church and yet on the road to Damascus meets the risen Jesus and his life is transformed he becomes Paul the apostle to the gentiles and writer of much of our New Testament. I could go on, many of Jesus greatest advocates started out anti-Jesus. Blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is an ongoing rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. Pharaoh in the Old Testament is a biblical example, when God shows him his power it says that pharaoh hardened his heart again and again, till finally it says that God hardened pharaoh’s heart and he would not let the people go. It is encouraging for us because even if we buckle under pressure we know that the God who cares about us will and does forgive and restore. One of the big pastoral issues for the early church when it faced persecution was how they treated those who had buckled under and when demanded of them sacrificed to the roman emperor as God. Richard wurmbrand was a Christian leader who was imprisoned for many years and tortured in communist Romania and he talks of having to deal with meeting fellow prisoners who had denied the faith or even informed on him and his colleges and then later fallen foul of the communist regime. Some continued to deny Christ, others repented and returned.  
Finally in the face of persecution, Jesus gives his disciples great hope, that the God who cares for them and who would pour out his holy spirit would be there with them and in situations of conflict and confrontation would give them the words to say. Now one commentator said quite rightly this is not a passage for teachers and preachers who don’t prepare well , rather it is when we find ourselves in situation where we are called on to defend our faith in Jesus Christ. I think the great example in scripture is Stephen in the book of acts whose response to the Sanhedrin, the religious court in Jerusalem is a wonder exposition of Israel’s history and how it all points to Jesus. It says that they could contend against him.  The God who cares is the God who gives us his Spirit to be with us and enable us especially in times when we need that help.

friends don’t be afraid…Don’t be afraid… Jesus calls us to walk the cross road with courage and trust… Yup it’s not an easy road, as Jesus says in john 16:33  ‘in this life there will be trouble…yes we will face pressure to assimilate to compromise the gospel.. yes we will face the pressure of opposition and persecution … 'But take heart… Jesus has overcome the world'… do not fear, God cares, Jesus Christ came and lived and died that you may be forgiven and have new and abundant life… the Holy Spirit dwells with and within you… to empower and to guide, to teach and to lead. He will guide you home and welcome you, ‘well done good and faithful servant.


Prayer for a cold day in Auckland... our toes and our nose may be cold but our hearts are warm


It was a cold winters morning on Sunday and when I got to Church there was frost on the roof, ice on the gaurd rail and the bird bath outside my window was frozen over. When I walkd inside it wasn't much warmer but the worship center was full of wonderful early morning light (you can see the sun shining on our stepple on the above image). I though yes... our toes and nose will be cold today our feet and hands chilled but our hearts will be warm... Warmed because of the goodness and grace of God... his care... his saving grace in Jesus Christ and 'strangely warmed', as John Wesley said, by the presence and filling of the Holy Spirit... Thus this little prayer.

Our toes and our nose may be cold this morning

Our feet and hands chilled, but our hearts are warm

They are warmed by the fact that you O God care

Your love is as constant as the rise 0f the sun

Your faithfulness as sure as the day following night 

Our lives are full of seasons, different and diverse

Times of new growth and hope

Times of sunshine and warmth

Times of harvest and plenty

And dying back and darkness

Times of calm and times of storm

Through them all you O God remain the same.

Steadfast in all your ways

In this season, in this time, this morning

We acknowledge your  grace in Jesus Christ

That in Christ’s life death and resurrection

You have enabled us to be forgiven

You have called us back into relationship with you

That we may know healing and wholeness, your peace

A peace that the world cannot take away

A peace that comes because of your presence with us

That you have sent you Holy Spirit to be with and within us,

May we may know that reality today

Forgive us our sins, the wrong we have done and the good we have left undone

Fill us afresh with your spirit

Set our hearts ablaze with the love of Jesus

Our lives full of your compassion and concern

Empower  us to radiate your goodness and grace in all we do

To the Glory of God; Father son and holy Spirit Amen

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Woefilled Potholes and pitfalls on the crossroad (Luke 11:33-53)...On the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusaelm in Luke's Gospel (ch 11-19) and what it means for us as we follow Jesus (Part 7)


When Kris and I got married I owned a 1973 Renault 4L. It’s a rearity in New Zealand but it was the first ever mass produced hatch back. Renault made it with little changes from 1954 right through to 1992. It was there equivalent to the volkswagon, the people’s car.  Mine had a real rust problem, it had been in England and r driven on roads that were salted during winter. AS a wedding present my best man actually welded in a floor pan into the car so it would get a warrant.   

We took it on our honeymoon up north.  Just before Whangarei we hit a pothole in the road. Bang and It just about ruined our honeymoon. It hit so hard that the top hinge on the driver’s door broke. The only thing that stopped the door from falling off was the bottom hinge was less rusty than the top one and the mechanism that stopped the door from opening beyond about 90 degrees didn’t break. Now when I say mechanism I mean a leather strap that was riveted to the door and the chassis of the car.  Renault 4’s were designed to be very basic. Anyway we found a panel beater welder out in some small back country place who welded it up for us at a price we could afford, and the car survived the honeymoon and the few first year of our marriage as we got enough money together to replace it. 

In the passage we had read out to us today Jesus continues his conflict with the Pharisees and the scribes of the law. At a dinner party he confronts them about some of their religious practises and thinking that were counter to Jesus revolution of grace. There is a series of very formal woe sayings… pronouncements of judgement. It’s important for us as we follow Jesus on the Cross road to hear those woes because they challenge us about possible potholes and pitfalls that the church has managed to fall into down through history that can stop us experiencing the gracious love of God and set us off course ending  up in empty religious observance and slavish legalism: a whole list of do’s and don’t s not a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem, a journey that ultimately lead to the cross, and our forgiveness,  a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative in Luke, and contains large amounts of teaching on what it means to follow Jesus. AS we saw last week a journey that lead more and more into conflict with the religious and political leaders of the day. A conflict that acts as a warning for us about those pitfalls and potholes we need to avoid. In fact straight after the passage we had read today, Jesus turns to his disciples and says they/we are to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…the same pitfalls of the Pharisees.’

The passage we had read today started with Jesus concluding comments in his conflict with the people who were writing him off as doing miracles in the power of evil, not God. It’s a parable about light being on a stand filling the whole room. He uses that to talk about our inner life, that we need to let the light of Christ illuminate and fill our whole lives. If that happens it will shine in us and dispel the darkness and shine out of us to the world around. If our eyes are healthy we will clearly see the light of Christ and it will fill us up. But if our eyes are not healthy then we cannot see the light clearly and we have darkness inside. It dovetails in with Jesus other teaching about the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders who do not see God at work in Jesus. Then to illustrate what Jesus means we have an encounter with Pharisees at a dinner party, where Jesus eats without taking part in their hand washing rituals. Jesus uses that to point out the unhealthy eyes that the Pharisees and scribes of the law have that stops them and those around them from seeing the truth of who Jesus is and God’s love and grace.

Hand washing for the Pharisees wasn’t about hygiene. On Wednesday morning down here at the church we have a wonderful regular handwashing ceremony, at mainly music in between the programme and the morning tea the kids all head down to the bath rooms and wash their hands, it is a hygiene thing. We had the plumber in on Wednesday and I think he was a bit surprised to be suddenly surrounded by all these excited pre-schoolers happily washing their hands. That’s good handwashing, the Pharisees however were a group within Jewish society that focused on rigorously keeping the law, hoping that as they did this God would respond and send his messiah and liberate them from roman rule.  They had devised this hand washing ritual, it wasn’t an Old Testament law, as a way of showing that they were ritually clean; it was sort of a thing that set them apart from other less strict people. It makes them suspicious about Jesus when he does not join in this ritual.

Jesus challenges them. He says they are concerned with the outside, outward appearances not with what is on the inside. Didn’t God make both? NT Wright says it’s like a journalist who sets themselves up as societies moral watch dog and points out the moral failings in others but whose own life is full of the same moral issues and failings. The Pharisees had a thing for ritual cleanliness but as Jesus points out what about a heart that loved God and showed that love in care for the poor and justice. one of the most challenging emphases in Luke’s gospel is that the condition of our heart will be reflected in the use of our resources and our care and concern for the poor. That is the gauge of how our heart has been changed by encountering Christ.

Jesus then gives a series of ‘woe’ statements, they are the opposite to beatitudes, the blessed are statements, they act as warnings about behaviour that leads to Gods judgement. He says they are so caught up in the trivial like making sure that every single piece of food is tithed and a tenth given over to God, that they neglect justice and the love of God. They’ve majored on the minors and missed the main thing. They should look to both. I couldn’t help but think of the way in which some churches will focus on tithing as a big issue, they will call their people to make sure they tithe so God will bless them, and not curse them and  in the worst cases it goes with lavish lifestyles for those in leadership. They forget that yes the tithes were given in part to care for the Levites, the priests who didn’t own land and were devoted to working in the temple and the Lord’s work, but also where given for  community storehouses to care for the poor, the fatherless, the stranger, the widows… it was the Jewish social welfare system. It wasn’t to be seen as a religious duty but as giving thanks for God’s provision, God’s goodness, his faithful love for Israel.

He goes onto say that they seemed more concerned about social acceptance than God’s. In verse 42 he had said they neglected the love of God and in the very next verse we see they love the important seats in the synagogue, and the acknowledgement of the people in the market place. Later Jesus will encapsulates the religious pride of the Pharisees in the parable of the two men who went up to the temple to pray in Luke 18, where the Pharisees prayer revolves around how righteous he is, and the tax collector is sharply and simply aware of his need for God’s grace, and the punch line is the question who went home that day justified and put right with God?

Jesus finishes with a woe that they are like an unmarked grave. In Jewish culture graves were always marked because people were aware of the ritual uncleanliness associated with dead bodies, it’s part of why in the parable of the good Samaritan the priest and Levi pass by on the other side of the road, just in case the man set upon by robbers is dead. But just like an unmarked grave there dead religion takes people away from God.

Then a scribe of the law, a person whose role it was to interpret the law says that Jesus insulting them as well and Jesus agrees and gives another series of three woes. Instead of making it easier for people to understand and keep the law which is what the scribes were supposed to do, by applying it to everyday life they made it harder for people, more complex, more and more clauses and does and don’t without giving them relief and help. The focus was on the many ways you could fail not on the grace and forgiveness of God and guidance of the Holy Spirit. He says they had built tombs for the prophets, that their ancestors had killed in their laws and religious structures they had built a monument to the prophets of old, but hadn’t listened to their message and were going to be like those ancestors and kill the prophet in their own day, one who encapsulated and fulfilled all that teaching and truth.  He finishes by saying that they think they have the key to knowledge but in actual fact they do not they are outside and hinder those who want to go inside. The key to knowledge is that it is in personally knowing God, knowledge and wisdom come from personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

That is a very hard series of woes to look at and I would have liked to just skip this passage, but I believe it’s important systematically work through the scriptures and let them all speak to us so how does it apply to us?

They act as a warning about the tendency in Christianity to fall into legalism. Darryl Bock says that the legalistic person feels he or she has the right to be everybody’s spiritual keeper, using a list of requirements that are not scriptural. Legalism block knowledge of God , so that people are damaged not edified. He gives four surprising symptoms that we might have hit the pot hole or pitfall of legalism.

Frequently legalists refuse to speak directly to those whose behaviour offends them. The Pharisees  didn’t like Jesus non hand washing and spoke about it only in private. Jesus spoke about things openly in the hope for truth and grace to have it way.

Legalists major in the minor and ignores the major relational requirements God asks of his followers. In doing that we can lose sight of the condition of our heart and fail to notice the needs of those who are really hurting… My mum always tells the story of a woman who sat down next to her at Church one day and started to complain about that group of scruffy young men who came to church with their longhair and bare feet, dressed in t-shirts and dungarees. My Mum, God bless her, replied well that one is my son and I’m so pleased he knows Jesus and wants to come to church. And that the dungarees were the uniform of our church drama team.

The third is that the close association of pride to this condition is no accident; pride tends to make us into non-listeners. If we lose that ability to be teachable, and open to change we cut ourselves off from the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We become like unmarked graves.  

Lastly, a legalist is quick to criticise but slow to help. I wonder if our social media age hasn’t exacerbated that as well, people are quick to troll or flame someone feeling safe  because of distance of anonymity to cut each other down. I think in New Zealand this tendency we simply call tall poppy syndrome.

As I said it’s hard to speak about this stuff, because it can sound like its judgemental or without grace. Maybe we don’t see Jesus redemptive and gracious side in this because the Pharisees and scribes, opposed Jesus fiercely and tried to catch him out… But Jesus hope is always redemptive to invite people back to knowing God, God’s love, God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and finding their lives overflowing with the presence and joy of Knowing Jesus Christ: That we will allow the light of Jesus to shine into our lives and bring repentance and change. Don’t get stuck in these potholes and pitfalls…

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Coping with Conflict on the Cross Road (luke 11:14-32)- On The Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel (CH 10-19) and what it means for us as his followers (Part 5)


I have to admit that I don’t like dealing with conflict. I don’t really know anyone who does …

My default conflict management style: The one I instinctively use is avoidance. If I can avoid having to deal with an issue or conflict  I will. You know I’ll try and sweep it under the carpet and act like its gone away. With some small things it can work. The problem with that of course is that, you can then find yourself tripping up and falling over the big lump that’s builds up of all the things you’ve put under the carpet. Right! Things tend to become a big problem.

My other default conflict management style is if I can’t avoid something I’m competing. If I can’t avoid it then I’m going to win. right! ’If I can’t dodge it on lifes highway then It’s my way or the Highway’. When you get your own way, you might be able to have that Rocky moment.  You know standing on the top of the steps with your hands in the air ruler over all you survey. But maybe the underlying conflict isn’t totally resolved. Like the rocky movies, it will keep coming back sequel after sequel… after tired sequel.

 
I don’t think our political leaders are a good example of conflict resolution for us. I’ll  often watch the parliamentary question time on TV. And yes I get wound up more than wind down. Often there you’ll see that nothing really gets resolved, because important issues will be avoided by politicians making snide remarks against each other, or blaming the other party when they were in office, or using semantics to side step the question…  In the US presidential race at the moment we are seeing the way in which even what is supposed to be the showcase of democracy is descending into personal taunts and insults rather than dealing with issues and truth and looking for a way forward.

It might not be very profound but it’s true that conflict is part of our everyday lives, and it’s something that we actually need help in knowing how to handle.  It can destroy relationships, families, churches,  communities and on a world stage we need peace makers, people who can help resolve conflicts between people groups and nations and prevent conflicts becoming wars.

We are working our way through Jesus Journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel.  A journey that will lead Jesus to the Cross, a journey narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel (ch 10-19) and a journey narrative that is full of Jesus teaching on what it means to be a follower of his. But it’s also a journey that takes Jesus into deeper and deeper into conflict with the religious and political powers of his day. The passage that we had read to us today is one of those passages.  While it may seem easy to follow Jesus during times of plain sailing and ease, it is a real challenge to keep on following Jesus when we find ourselves challenged and in conflict situations. Maybe that is also when People need to see the difference that being a follower of Jesus makes in our lives.

Jesus conflict here starts with him preforming a miracle. He heals a man who had been mute, an affliction that we are told had a demonic cause. The focus of the passage is on how People are reacting to Jesus. We have two reaction recorded, the first is that there is a group of people who think they know what is really going on behind the scenes and they accuse Jesus of being able to deal with such situations by the power of the prince of demons. They are calling Jesus acts of kindness evil in origin. He is being misrepresented and misunderstood, a common cause of conflict. The other reaction is that people haven’t made their mind up about Jesus and they are looking for another sign, something spectacular. Jesus we want some good special effects. They want Jesus to conform to their expectations of what the Messiah is going to be like. And trying to live up to others people expectations is another common cause of conflict in life.

How does Jesus deal with this situation? The first thing that Jesus does is that he addresses the Issue not the people involved. It does not become personal. He deals with the untruth, he deals with it on a logical level. He tells the people that any kingdom divided against itself will fall. It just does not make sense for people to be set free and healed by the same power that wants to hold them captive and destroy them . In Jewish religion exorcism was not unique to Jesus. The Jews had people who would deal with spiritual issues, and Jesus asks if he is doing it by evil powers what about these guys? He goes on to say that if he is doing these things by God’s power then they need to be careful  and think about what they are saying. 

He then gets to the important issue.  He puts his ministry and life in the context of the very spiritual battle they are talking about, and says he comes with a power stronger than Satan,  the power of God, able to overpower him and set what he has made captive free.  We often think that Jesus teaching here about a demon being evicted from its home and then coming back and seeing it all put in order and bringing seven worse demons back is about an individual’s life but it’s not in Matthews account of this passage Jesus finishes his words by saying ‘it will be like this for this wicked generation’. Jesus is talking about the nation of Israel, that in their history they have had times of great reform and times when they have been bought back to know God, and yet unless that relationship with God was made strong and took central place, worse things would happen. If you read through the history books of the Old Testament you’ll see that cycle, revival, moving away from God, slipping into worse and worse evil until the exile happens.  This is a warning from Jesus that the people don’t want to miss this opportunity to know God’s grace and salvation.  He gets to the heart of the situation; in Jesus God has come near and they have a chance to be reconciled with God…If they will respond.  

 It’s interesting in the passage that Jesus deals with praise in the same way he deals with conflict. A woman in the crowd cries out ‘blessed is the mother who gave birth to you!’ and while Luke’s gospel starts out with Elizabeth telling Mary she is most blessed amongst women, and Mary says that all generations will call her blessed, here Jesus seems aware that this praise and compliment is also off target and draws people back to the central issue once again ‘rather blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’.

That leads Jesus to respond to those who want Jesus to fulfil their expectations of what the messiah will be like, who want signs in the heavens. He is sure of his own call and mission so he tells those people that the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah. You remember Jonah in the Old Testament was the prophet who was in the stomach of a fish for three days and then was spewed up on dry land. But Jonah was also one who preached for people to repent and turn to God and if you read the story about him that is what people did. So Jesus is saying the only sign he will offer them is that offering of reconciliation with God. He also challenges them about their attitude, by saying pointing to the queen of Sheba who had come to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and the people of Niniva who had heard Jonah’s message, but one greater was in their midst. In this case their expectations were stopping them from seeing the truth about Jesus Christ. Jesus focus is on th important issue peoples relationship with God. Instead of other people’s expectations it is on the common good.

So what does all this have to say to us about dealing with conflict?

I think the first thing is that truth matters. It’s interesting in this passage the people who accused Jesus of doing things in the name of Beealzebub, kind of a Knick name for the devil, didn’t know what was going on, they hadn’t looked deeply enough into it. Maybe their own preconceived ideas were blinding them. But the passage says that “Jesus knew their thoughts” it’s easy to jump to conclusions and we need to be willing to seek and find the truth of a situation, as that is the way through conflict.

Secondly as I said before we need to able to differentiate between the person and the issue. We are called to love one another even to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and bless those who curse us. But it does not mean we always agree with each other and we get it wrong and hurt each other and we need to deal with that. Jesus here was able to deal with some real slights on his ministry and personhood, and in his replies we see the offer of grace and the opening of reconciliation, without compromise of the truth. It involves being willing to listen and to understand the other persons position.  Jesus is the ultimate example, as t says in the romans 8:5 while we were still rebelling against God Jesus died for us.”:  For our salvation and healing.

How do we deal with all the emotions that are caught up in that conflict in people misunderstanding or misrepresenting us?  I think that is a good question. I wonder if part of the solution to that isn’t why the Psalms ae not full of People being angry about such things in their prayers to God. Is that that is a good place to bring those emotions and hurts and pain, bring them to the one who can heal and restore who understands us and knows the real truth about us. lets not use them as an excuse to hurl hurt on others.  It does not help when those things are a barrier to dealing with the problem or cause of the conflict either. In the marriage course Nicky and Sila Lee talk about in a marriage that the way to deal with problems and conflicts is to sit on the couch together with the problem on the table in front of you, rather than between you on the couch. Forgiveness and healing may come as the truth and the way forward is looked for.

One of the things I’ve found most helpful in learning to deal with conflict  was knowing my instinctive default setting when facing conflict, what people call your conflict management style.  I mentioned mine before and part of wanting to act in conflict situations in a way that glorifies Jesus and shows his love to other people, I’ve had to realise that I do that… I’ll try and duck it avoidance… or I’ll try and win the fight… and I have had to stop and ask myself if that is the right style, the right way forward in this situation.. The Mennonite church has a useful resource to help look at conflict management styles and your default style. I use as part of my premarraige counselling and there are copies of it in the foyer for you to take home and do.

The final thing is in all this the hope is the same as Jesus hope in his response in this conflict situation that we might allow God’s truth and grace and freedom to come into the conflict situations we are in.  It’s in knowing Christ and allowing him to minister his peace and wholeness into our lives that we are able to grow into maturity and deal with conflict in a Christ-like manner.