Out of abundance

Luke 21.1-4

‘As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”’ Luke 21:1-4

During the 1980s I was treasurer of a Baptist Church of about 50 members. The church had a desire to be a gospel people to what was a large village in Northamptonshire and find ways to serve the community. They wanted to improve their midweek outreach to youth, provide better facilities for the playgroup that met there each weekday and serve lunches for the retired in the village as a means of improving their social contact. The church had plenty of rooms but they were outdated, a new kitchen and toilet facilities were needed as well as a general smarten up with a few walls removed. It was my responsibility to find a way to raise the funds to serve the Lord and village. The main source of income was to come from the giving of the church. My problem was how to present it to God’s people so those who were already giving sacrificially did not feel they had to give beyond their means, while some who were more than able rose to the challenge.

I already knew that some loved the Lord so much they gave to the point where they would risk their health if they gave more. These were people who lived on very small incomes. The money was raised very quickly, the work done, and people gave their skills and time as well as money. The Lord answered our prayers through the generosity of God’s people. It was a form of worship. I have been repeatedly struck by how many of the Lord’s people give out of their poverty with great joy. Not because of a sense of duty but because their whole heart is given to the Lord. They return the sacrificial love of Jesus with their own sacrificial love. They do not do it to earn salvation, they do it because salvation has been freely given. Their loving giving rises to heaven like a sweet perfume.

Praise God there are many “poor widows” in the church today because they bring great spiritual wealth to the church and provide an outstanding example of what it means to walk as Jesus walked.

How have we responded to Jesus’ sacrificial love for us?

Brother – Seth & Nirva Feat (Kenny’s second choice)

Be on guard, keep awake.

Mark 13

On the Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus took the time to prepare the disciples and from then on successive generations of Christians for the period following his ascension to the time of his second coming. It has become known as the Olivet Discourse on the return to Bethany. It has been the source of great debates as successive generations have tried to interpret Jesus’ sayings in the light of events in their own time. It was sparked by Jesus’ reply to Peter, James, John and Andrew’s request as to when the destruction of the temple would take place. We now know that it happened in AD 70. The disciples were making the assumption that the temple destruction would coincide with the last judgement. Jesus response was, God alone knows. v32

Jesus was concerned that his followers did not become over concerned about whether it was the time for the final judgement because there will be many occasions when the most horrendous events take place. v7 This is not the same as not being concerned about the events themselves. Where there is suffering it should always be a matter of concern for Christians. Jesus uses the symbolic language of birth pains v8 to indicate that an increase in frequency and duration of such events which points to a time where elsewhere in scripture it is prophesied there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (e.g. Isaiah 65:17)

However, Jesus was concerned that during this turbulent period, in which we continue to live, the gospel is preached. Here I using preach as an all-encompassing term for all forms of communicating the good news of Jesus. Jesus warned the disciples that this would be at personal cost to them but it is the church’s responsibility to take the gospel to all peoples in the world. At the times of greatest stress they were not to be anxious and trust the Holy Spirit to equip them to do so. v11

Gospel work will be accompanied by times of great opposition even up to members of one’s own family conspiring to have one killed. v12 As I write this I think of an asylum seeking friend who was betrayed by his brother in law to Iranian authorities for having a bible in his car. He escaped from arrest and probable execution by a couple of days because his sister warned him.

Jesus used the forthcoming desolation of the temple and Jerusalem by Titus’ army as an example of a further universal tribulation. vv 14-20 Jesus said to them in such times pray. Pray for mercy and pray that God would cut short the suffering. Pray that God will cut it short for the sake of the people who have turned to him. v20 Jesus also warned about the rise of people he termed, “false Christs” who would try to deceive Christians and lead them away from faith in him. Do not be deceived even by miracles, Jesus has warned both the original disciples and ourselves. Our protection is the things he has told us beforehand. v22 A balanced understanding of the whole of scripture is our safeguard. We are not to be deceived by the over dramatic.

We are also to use the knowledge of his return as a great encouragement to keep going with the gospel life and work. We are to be watchful to ensure we remain faithful looking forward to his return. Three times Jesus repeats the phrase, ‘Stay awake’ in verses 32 to 37. Surely to do this we need to be constantly prayerful, regular in the reading of his word, using it to encourage, teach and correct each other as we seek to live a life sharing the gospel. There are many temptations to lead us away from Christ and we need to be in fellowship to remain strong in our faith.

Do we sufficiently value the fellowship of fellow Christians for encouragement and guidance in the Christian faith?

Are we active in supporting the church’s role in sharing the gospel world wide?

How do we actively support the suffering church?

We Are One – City Harmonic (suggested by my friend Kenny, I am not this funky!)

Christ for all nations

Mark 11:15-19

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Mark 11:17

It is the second day of what is now called Holy Week. The previous day Mark records Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in a way prophesied in several places in the Old Testament. He arrived as a king of peace on a donkey, hailed by the crowd who were very aware of the many miraculous signs he had performed including the feeding of the five and four thousand and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The greeting of Jesus arose spontaneously from the crowd of pilgrims, quoting Old Testament scriptures. He was hailed by people with anticipation and excitement but they had not grasped his full identity and the nature of his mission to restore people of all nations to an eternal relationship with God. Mathew records the words of the crowd, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’ Mathew 21.11 The crowd had not understood he was the Son of God.

Jesus had now returned to Jerusalem after a night in Bethany and gone into the temple’s outer courtyard where people of all nations were allowed. It had been turned into a money-making market place with the temple authorities exploiting people from around the known world who had come to seek and worship God at the most holy of Jewish festivals, the celebration of the Passover. A celebration of God freeing his people from slavery. There are several important lessons from this short record of what is called, Jesus’ clearing of the temple.

Jesus opens up equal access to salvation and God. The temple was a place where access to different areas was limited to the privileged few. It was in the area where anybody could come from anywhere in the world to worship. There was virtually no respect for worshippers, no place of quiet to pray. The people who came were treated as people to exploit and make the temple authorities money. There was a total contempt for humble God fearers. Jesus was enraged. In a few days he was to die to open the way for all to freely come to God, have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life. His love for the people of the world and the sanctity of enabling people to pray whatever their origin or status enraged him to forcibly drive out the traders. Sadly and terribly, the organized Christian church has repeated this sin throughout the centuries and continues to do so in a host of ways. The church often creates its own elites valuing one group over another. Various forms of prejudice have not been eradicated from the church. Neither has the use of Christian mission to make prominent figures personally wealthy at great cost to humble, poor church members. Where Christian leaders follow exploitative, self-promoting practices putting obstacles in the way of God seekers, Jesus has shown in the clearing of the temple that it will attract the wrath of God. Salvation is for all nations and all people on a completely equitable basis. It is the sinful human heart that repeatedly tries to raise one group or individual above another.

The authority of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus driving out the money changers and pigeon sellers has often been portrayed as Jesus in an out of control rage. This is not the picture that Mark communicates. Rather this is Jesus acting with great authority. A single man losing his temper and turning over tables would have been quickly physically overpowered by stall holders. Jesus had an authority about him that could not be resisted. He did not drive away the crowd of worshippers from many nations. He cleared out what was wrong and then taught the people. His teaching went to the core of the purpose of the temple it was to be a place of prayer for all nations. He taught with authority and the crowd were astonished by his teaching. Mathew informs us that Jesus called the temple, ‘My house’ a claim to be Divine. Jesus then showed his divine power over sickness by healing all the blind and lame who were brought to him in the temple courtyard. Mathew 21.13-14 The chief priests and scribes heard him and were frightened. v18 What did they have to fear? They feared their own positions were being publicly undermined. They had been humiliated by Jesus clearing the temple. They were afraid that Jesus’ authoritative teaching challenged the huge array of additional demands they had placed upon the people and exposed their own lack of understanding of what we know as the Old Testament. They were frightened by his capacity to miraculously heal when they could not.

The chief priests and scribes behaved as most leaders who have their sins exposed do. They plotted against the truth speaker. v18 As the week progresses we read how they cheated, lied, planned, physically abused and eventually succeeded in killing the righteous one. This last year has seen a number of prominent Christian leaders publicly exposed for their sin. The ones they sinned against were often people who came to them seeking God. All too often they have denied, plotted and schemed against the ones who spoke the truth. The church has a responsibility to protect people, to be vigilant and demonstrate authority in the face of sinful leadership. In contemporary society this means fully and openly collaborating with civil law and authorities as well as internal church governance.

Are we prepared to have the Holy Spirit expose where sin has entered the church?

Have we asked God to eradicate prejudice from our own heart?

What obstacles do we place in others’ way to seek and find salvation through Jesus?

Hosanna (Praise Is Rising) – Paul Baloche

Who wants to save their life?

Mark 8.34-38

That must seem like a ridiculous question but Jesus by implication asked it. Surely if someone is thrown overboard into the ocean virtually everyone will want to be saved. Only those who are overwhelmed by depression would lift their arms and let themselves sink. Even the majority of those, if they were rescued and appropriately supported, would not persist in their desire to die. Life is hardwired to try to survive. The antelope struggles to try to get on it’s feet after the lion has taken it down. What then did Jesus mean when he said, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ v35 Don’t we all want to save our lives? How can choosing to lose one’s life make any sense?

Jesus had just finished saying he must be killed and after three days rise again following the plotting of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. There is therefore a connection between the path he was to follow and the path of those who were to be his disciples. His statement about saving one’s life was part of the declaration to the crowd who had come to hear him that if they were to be his disciples it involved a denying or death of themselves. v34

What life then was to die? It was the life of, ‘an adulterous and sinful generation.’ v38 Adultery in the bible is a frequent image of a rejection of God and Godly ways to pursue idolatrous or sinful life. In the first century idolatry took the form of worshiping a pantheon of gods as well as living a life where selfish pleasures were put above love for God and one’s neighbour. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment of the law? He replied, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mathew 22.37-39 Today in western society the adulterous gods are frequently life style choices that are not only placed ahead of a love of God but are directly offensive to him. For many to lose such a life style would be considered catastrophic because it is those things that they value most. Paul makes the diagnosis crystal clear in quoting Psalm 14, ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Romans 3.10-12 Does that sound too hard, too extreme? Surely there are many good people? It is true that much good is done but no one person is as pure and holy as God. We all have much to repent of.

Jesus is saying if you want to be a disciple of mine you must repent of that lifestyle. For many that is too high a cost. Much of society not only values a life that is offensive to God it asserts those things are not bad but good.

Jesus is not calling people to a boring, fruitless life but to a life full of good things. Filled with love and kindness. A life devoted to God and others, filled with joy and hope. A life that does not rely on things that fade and are destined for destruction but a life that has eternal prospects.

Jesus was clear. There will be judgement and we will all have to live with that judgement. His death will take the sentence of that judgement for those who believe in him and ask for his resurrection life. For those who trust in Jesus, God will credit Jesus’ righteousness to them. Not earned but given. The choices we make now have eternal consequences. Jesus asked the question, ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

What is your soul worth to you?

My soul is in Christ (Worth 10000 worlds) – Mamelodi Worshippers

Feeling a little lost?

Mark 6.34

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he began teaching them many things.’ Mark 6.34

There are times when a crowd has a common purpose and sense of direction. There is a rallying around a cause frequently when they believe a protest must be made. The last week has seen two such demonstrations even during lockdown. Across the world in Myanmar large crowds are risking their lives in the desire to claim democracy for their country even though the only democracy they have known has been one only partially seceded by the military. When times are felt to be more stable crowds dissipate and there is a tendency for people to go in a multitude of directions.

When Jesus stepped off the boat a huge crowd was waiting for him having raced ahead to beat the boat to shore. Jesus had wanted to give his disciples a rest after their missionary adventures and feedback to Jesus. People had not let them settle even to a meal. However, when Jesus saw the crowd he was filled with compassion. The phrase, like sheep without a shepherd Mark 6.34 refers back to a prophecy in Ezekiel 34 where God promises a shepherd for his sheep, the people of Israel. ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.’ Ezekiel 34.23-24

The people of Israel had been let down by their spiritual leaders in the times of Ezekiel and Jesus. Without proper teaching they went their own ways and were exploited by their leaders. Ezekiel condemns them in the harshest terms and the same judgements applied to the religious leaders in 1st century A.D. ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.’ Ezekiel 34’2-6

Jesus looked at the crowd who had been let down by self-serving leaders who had not taught the truth of God’s law and the prophets. He then demonstrated that he was the shepherd promised by God. He spent the day teaching them and at the end of the day miraculously met their physical needs by feeding the whole crowd with just a few loaves and fish with an abundance left over. Mark 6.30-44, 8.1-10 He was God’s true shepherd of his people. The resonance with God miraculously meeting the needs of Israel in the wilderness through the gift of manna, water from the rock and the gift of the law was clear for all to see.

In any crowd today, there will be sheep without a shepherd. People who have never heard or understood the good news of Jesus. Some may have a broadly Christian history but have never heard the gospel message clearly explained.

Has the church today let the people down in the same way as the religious leaders who opposed Jesus?

Are you a person who has never before had the gospel explained to you?

The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not want – Stuart Townend