Shocked

Jesus has an odd way of doing things. Here we see Him sending more people to preach, but how must they have come across? “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. … And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:3-4). This may have been for their own safety, but can you picture them – heads down, so intent on their purpose that they’re ignoring everybody; not so much as a good-morning? That doesn’t seem likely to get them anywhere, but Jesus encourages them before they go. I’ve been encouraged too by these words: “Anyone who rejects you is rejecting Me” (Luke 10:16). If I’m talking about Jesus and someone isn’t responding well, it’s comforting to know He shares my pain.

Amazingly, this group He’s sent out get results! They come back astonished that evil spirits obey them and leave people when they use Jesus’ name, but He tells them instead to be happy their names are written in heaven, and Jesus is ‘Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit’. I’d like to have seen that. He says a prayer that’s also found in Matthew 11: God’s hidden things from people who are wise in their own eyes, and revealed them instead to those who are childlike (Luke 10:21).

As if on cue, an expert in Jewish Law (who’s probably wise in his own estimation) puts Jesus to the test. “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks the man for his opinion, and he quotes Moses: Love God and love your neighbour, but Jesus’ definition of who a neighbour is stuns him. He tells a famous story about a man left for dead. A priest and temple-worker pass him by, but a Samaritan stops to help him. His nationality is significant and needs explanation.

You can read in 1 Kings 12 about Israel and how King David’s grandson’s poor choice caused it to split in two. The southern kingdom of Judah remained loyal to the family of David, while the north took to themselves a king named Jeroboam. God made this happen to keep a promise to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39). God vowed to give him ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Jeroboam couldn’t quite believe it. “The kingdom will probably go back to David’s family. If the people continue going to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they will want to be ruled again by Rehoboam” (1 Kings 12:26-27), so he made two golden calves to put in the towns of Samaria – the northern kingdom. He told the people it was too far to Jerusalem and to worship those instead – a great sin that displeased God, so perhaps it’s no surprise that much later the king of Assyria attacked Samaria and took the Israelites captive, bringing foreigners in to replace them (2 Kings 17:24). However, the foreigners weren’t honouring God; they didn’t know how, so God sent lions in and some of them died. The king of Assyria solved this by sending an exiled priest back, to teach them Jewish customs and how to worship God.

That’s why Samaritans are despised by Jews: Their race is a mix of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) people. Jews believe associating with Gentiles makes them unclean, so saying a Samaritan stopped to help him is like … well, … think of your worst enemy! The expert can’t even admit it was the Samaritan who was a neighbour to the injured man; he just says, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37).

The chapter ends with Martha opening her home to Jesus and friends on their way to Jerusalem. As it was her home, she was probably the eldest daughter. She had a sister (Mary), and a brother (Lazarus). Mary’s at Jesus’ feet listening while Martha’s busy serving, but she’s a bit uppity. “Don’t You care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40), but Jesus doesn’t tell her to share the load with Martha; He says instead that Mary’s made the better choice.

Aren’t you glad Jesus shocks us sometimes? Life could be dull if He didn’t.

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Three Things Faith Can Do

The main characters in this chapter are two men and a woman. One man had great faith, while the other’s faltered.

Character one: He’s an officer with a servant who’s ill. He’s not even Jewish, but he knows Jesus is, so he sends some respected members of the Jewish community to ask Him for help. “If anyone deserves Your help, he does, … for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us,” they say (Luke 7:4-5). I love how Jesus could have given them a lecture, but doesn’t. Jesus’ help is never tied to performance or how much we deserve. He goes with them to the man’s house, but before they arrive, the officer sends some friends out with a message: Jesus doesn’t need to come in; the officer feels unworthy of this. He can just say the word, and the servant will be well. Wow! Jesus has never seen this – someone acknowledging that even without Him being present, a miracle can occur, and it does. The servant is healed.

Character two: He’s someone we’ve met before – John the Baptist, but as we saw in chapter 3, he’s been put in prison. He sends two of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?” (Luke 7:18-19). John knew Jesus was the Messiah. God had given him a sign of that. He said so himself (John 1:32-33), and yet he doubted. Jesus let John’s followers witness the miracles that were taking place, and instructed them to report back to John with the message: “God blesses those who do not fall away because of Me” (Luke 7:23). John had all the evidence from reliable witnesses, which left him with a choice: Fall away from Jesus, or have faith and stay the course?

Character three: She’s gone to the home of a Pharisee, having heard that Jesus is eating there. She’s brought with her a beautiful jar of costly perfume. In Jesus is the tangible presence of God. I think the woman must have been overwhelmed as she knelt behind Him and started to weep. Her tears washed His feet and she dried them with her hair, kissing them to show her affection and pouring out the perfume. The Pharisee is only concerned with her immorality, whereas Jesus sees how she’s surpassed His host. “When I entered your home, you didn’t offer Me water to wash the dust from My feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair” and so on. Perhaps the woman saw in Jesus the forgiveness she craved and that’s why she showed such love. He assures her of sins forgiven and then tells her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

When we place our faith in Jesus, He can bring healing, as He did for the officer’s servant. He can give us the strength to persevere, and ultimately He has salvation for us: Faith to heal, faith to stay, and faith to save. Do we have that kind of faith?

November News

I like Emily Freeman’s idea of highlighting things we’ve discovered during the month, so these are some of mine for November.

Song: I’ve always loved “Joseph’s Song” by Michael Card, but haven’t found a similar one from Mary’s point-of-view that grabbed me emotionally … until this year. On a Christmas radio-station, I heard Francesca Battistelli’s “You’re Here”, and the words are lovely. If I took part in a musical nativity, I’d love to sing that.

Books: I’ve been getting into Song of Solomon lately – a book in the Bible about King Solomon’s marriage to a peasant woman, which makes me think of the church – the bride of King Jesus. Two books about the song have really helped my understanding of it. I heard about Dee Brestin’s “He Calls you Beautiful” in a Bible Gateway Email and knew straightaway I wanted to read it. It looks at the bride and takes her love in stages: The euphoric first-love; the wedding; the honeymoon … It’s excellent and well worth the money. In the book, Dee talks about James Hudson-Taylor – a man I had heard of at church, who founded a missionary organisation in China in the 1800s. She said Hudson-Taylor had only written one book – and yes, it’s a book on the Song of Solomon. “Intimacy with Jesus” is only short, with six sections and a study guide at the back, but it’s very good. I’ve read a section per day.

Podcast: This month one of my favourite authors, Annie Downs, interviewed Mark Lee – the guitarist from Third Day. You might remember I reviewed his book here awhile back. From reading the book I was impressed with his personality, and he came across just as well talking to Annie. This could also come under ‘Books’ because they discussed several. I’ve never read anything by Madeleine L’Engle, but their conversation made me want to read some of her memoirs, particularly the Genesis Trilogy, where she intersperses her own life-experiences with stories from the book of Genesis.

Films: You get Internet radio-stations now that play Christmas music all year round. I wish there was a TV-channel that did the same with Christmas movies, because I love them. I know; they’re very predictable. As someone said on Facebook, you get a love twist, some sort of misunderstanding and a happy ending, but they make me smile. My favourite of the modern films is still “The Twelve Trees of Christmas”, which from the title doesn’t sound at all like the kind of film I would enjoy, but it’s amazing. “Christmas in the City” is another sweet one I like to watch.

Quote: In my previous post, I mentioned a friend’s dad. Sadly, he had another setback with his health and is no longer on this earth. Jeff’s special and will be very much-missed. I’m glad for him that he’s with Jesus. I don’t understand why he had to go so soon, but a tweet from Lysa TerKeurst this last week has stuck with me. It said this: “We don’t have to have all the answers; we just have to stay connected to the One who does.”

As Advent and Christmas approach, let’s keep making that connection with Jesus, whose birth we’re remembering; who came into the world to show us what love looked like, and to give us hope of a future with Him.

Thorn Thursday

A few years ago, a friend sent me a very good talk by Hal Lindsey called “The Week that Changed the World”. What Hal basically says is that rather than Jesus dying on Friday, He actually died on Thursday because there were two Sabbaths in a row that week – the Passover Sabbath and the regular, weekly Sabbath. I’ve been reading Mark’s gospel recently where we have an account of Palm Sunday, Monday, and up to Tuesday night, then it jumps to the Passover meal Jesus eats with His friends. Why shouldn’t that have taken place on Wednesday, followed the next day by His crucifixion?

There’s another reason I believe this – because Jesus Himself said: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Three days and three nights? Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and on Sunday He rose again. It all makes sense, but we can witness to His death any time we like. The important thing is that we remember it. I have no problem doing that with other Christians on the Friday, even though I think it’s a day too late.

Because He wore that crown of thorns for us, maybe instead of Good Friday, we could have ‘Thorn Thursday’.

Ideas for Easter Reading

As Easter approaches, I wanted to point you in the direction of a couple of good books I read last month.

The first is Liz Curtis Higgs’ “The Women of Easter”. Before reading this, I thought Martha’s sister and Mary Magdalene were probably the same person. I didn’t realise there was a place called Magdala, and that’s why Mary was called Magdalene – because of where she was from. You might learn other things from this too, but what I liked most about it was its freshness. Some parts would bring a laugh and others had me shedding tears. If you’ve been a Christian a number of years, think how many times you must have heard the Easter story, yet Liz tells it as it is – a living reality. That’s special.

Another recommendation would be Michael Card’s “A Fragile Stone”. This isn’t 100% Easter. It’s actually about Peter from his first meeting with Jesus onwards, but chapters 9-11 cover those last hours before Jesus’ crucifixion. I had never thought so deeply about how that night must have impacted Peter. Michael did a fantastic job with this book and if I knew of any others he’d written about Biblical characters, I would want to read them.

Are there any Lent/Easter books or Email devotionals you’ve enjoyed?

Poor Zacchaeus

I feel a bit sorry for Zacchaeus. He was from Jericho and a tax collector in Jesus’ time. It’s a bit like being a banker in our time. We might think of bankers as these people who don’t do much and yet still receive huge bonuses, but I’m sure there are some honourable bankers.

Many in Zacchaeus’ profession would have collected taxes for the Romans and taken some extra for themselves. Maybe if people struggled to pay, they made the fines really steep, increasing them on a daily basis. That’s what most people seem to think of Zacchaeus – that he was a liar and a cheat, but …

What if Zacchaeus was an honourable tax collector?

Have you heard his story? When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus was too short to see over the crowd’s heads, so he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped at the bottom of the tree and beckoned him to come down, inviting Himself to his house. Zacchaeus gladly welcomes Him and hearing the crowd’s complaints, he stands there and says: “I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times more” (Luke 19:8).

If I have cheated anyone.

Poor Zacchaeus. All these people, even thousands of years later, thinking he lived his pre-Jesus life as a liar and a cheat, but we don’t know for sure. We know he was wealthy (Luke 19:2), but perhaps he was wealthy simply because of the salary the Romans gave him. Either way, his encounter with Jesus filled him with generosity. How many of us would give half our possessions to the poor?

The Temple and the Spider’s Web: Part 2

Having written about the temple, I’ll now move on to the web. I’ve never taken much interest in a spider’s web, but apparently, the spider is always moving along the edge of it. Then, as soon as a fly goes into the web, the web vibrates and the spider can zoom in and attack.

“Be alert and of sober mind” (1 Peter 5:8). With the Holy Spirit in us, we can be like that spider whose feet are on the edge of the web. As soon as something comes in, it’s captured. We capture the good things from God. It’s the Holy Spirit who (as Berni Dymet puts it) lifts a verse right off the page and plonks it into our hearts, but we can also apply this to any unwelcome intrusions. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As soon as we’re tempted, we can say, ‘No! I’m not doing that, because God says …’ like Jesus when He was being tempted by the devil. Turn these stones into bread? No! It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:2-4).

Have you ever pictured yourself standing guard at the door to your heart, like a spider on the edge of her web?

The Temple and the Spider’s Web: Part 1

There were two interesting pictures that people in my house group had of the Holy Spirit. I wanted to write them down to remember them, so I thought I’d share them with you at the same time.

First, the temple. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We were created in three parts: Body, soul and spirit. Similarly, the Jewish temple was in three parts: The outer court (where the whole assembly could gather), the inner court (for the priests), and the Most Holy Place (which the high priest could enter once a year).

Our makeup is like the temple. Our physical bodies (the outside of us) can be seen by anyone. When it comes to the inside – our soul (our feelings, our emotions), we’re more selective about what we share and with whom. It’s a more intimate relationship. Beyond that is our Most Holy Place – our spirit communing with God’s Spirit.

Before someone’s a Christian, they’re living by their own thoughts/feelings/emotions, or in the words of my friend: “The spirit has been suffocated by the soul.” When we become Christians, God makes us alive in Christ. Our spirit can connect freely with God’s Spirit and isn’t suffocated/dead anymore.

When Jesus died on the cross, we’re told in three of the gospels (I’m really surprised John doesn’t mention this) that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The barrier between the inner court and the Most Holy Place was obliterated – a picture of what Jesus has done for us. He’s made a way for our souls to come into the presence of God to find nourishment and strength. Perhaps in his own way, John does point to it because he recorded Jesus’ famous words: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

What’s the Formula?

I’ve been thinking tonight about some of the healings that took place in the Bible, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sometimes, they require action. In one of my favourite healing miracles, Jesus told a blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – a word that means ‘Sent’. The man washed, and came home seeing (John 9:7). An action on his part resulted in the healing on Jesus’ part.

Sometimes, they follow an answer. In Luke 18:35-43, again before healing a blind man, Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” is the response.

Sometimes, Jesus takes the person aside and works quietly. Another of my favourite healings is in Mark 7:31-37. Some people bring a deaf man to Jesus, wanting to have him cured. Jesus starts by leading the man away from the crowd, by himself – what a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. If you were deaf and you got your hearing back, wouldn’t it overwhelm you to be in a crowd of people and suddenly assaulted by all their voices? Jesus tells us He’s gentle and He really shows it here, taking the man to a quiet place to heal him.

If you’re wondering what the formula is that ties these healings together, well … that’s the whole point: They’re all very different. Interestingly, in Luke 18, Jesus doesn’t say: “I made you well because you answered the question I asked you”; He says: “You are healed because you believed.” In Mark 7, Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing, but the more He commanded them, the more they told about it! In John 9, the blind man confessed his faith after he was healed and not before.

Can we learn anything from this? Are we, perhaps, too quick to try to find a formula when Jesus might just want to treat each person differently?

Going Back

I wrote last time that “Peter left his old life behind in favour of all that Jesus had for him” and yes, he did, until after Jesus was crucified. This Jesus he followed was arrested, beaten, stripped, nailed to a cross, and left to die. Peter was there at the time of His arrest and even tried to defend Him, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. Clearly, Peter thought if he couldn’t escape, he would also be condemned. In that context, standing in the high priest’s courtyard, he denied several times that he knew Jesus. Some time later, he told his friends: “I am going out to fish” (John 21:3) – the ultimate rebuff. It was like saying: This new life, this being sent out to bring people close to God, it had nothing to offer me after all; I’m going back to what I knew, but as the rest of the chapter tells us, that’s the exact time Jesus spoke with him and sent him out all over again.

Harking back to your old life – the days before you were a Christian; the things and people you left behind – is generally a sign of discontent with the new one. In fact, Jesus says: “Anyone who begins to plough a field but looks back is not prepared for God’s kingdom” (Luke 9:62). I’ve had times where I’ve wanted to get away from my problems and felt God hasn’t done it for me, so I’ll escape onto YouTube to take my mind off it, but the safest place to go back to is His love. On 2 October 1999, God said in my heart: “Come because I love you.” That’s what I need to remember.

Jesus talked about this coming back to love in His letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:2-5): “I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. You have patience and have suffered troubles for My name and have not given up.

“But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place.”

The first question in the Bible was “Where are you?” and it’s always one worth considering. Do I really believe God will come through for me? Am I just going through the motions? Have I forsaken my first love – stopped loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength? If I have, I need to go back: Back up the beach like Peter, to that time with Jesus.