The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8v48-51)Years ago, I was invited to take part in a recruitment drive to encourage more teachers into the profession. The evening involved me being part of a working party, commenting on advertising ideas and slogans. One of them was a photographic still from The Dead Poets Society in which Robin Williams stands on the desk in front of his pupils. The comment beneath it read something like ‘ To be a great teacher is to become the greatest disturbance in the classroom!’
In many ways, Jesus fits this model of teaching perfectly in that he seldom pandered to what people thought he should be doing. This is the reason he made so many people angry because he presented a challenge to those who were orthodox, who cared little for others and viewed obedience to God in purely legalistic terms. Indeed, Jesus’ challenge to the rich man in the gospel of Mark shows that his expectations went far beyond what the enquirer was hoping.
Recently, a church minister has been labelled by some as a heretic because he dares to be different – interestingly, the same was also said of Jesus and even worse as we see in the passage above where he is referred to as being demon possessed: How hard it is to be a teacher?! Out of curiosity, I looked up the word ‘heretic’ online for its meaning and was surprised to discover that one definition of it is ‘a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.’ This sums up Jesus perfectly but unlike the ignorant, his motivation was always to love, cherish and educate.
‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’ (Luke 23v39-43)
Actually, I’m not at all sure what this is? At first glance it looks like a graveyard and yet the ornate crosses that tower over it like skyscrapers -each vying to be tallest- seem strangely incongruous as markers for a place from which the christian soul has already departed?
Of course, in parts of the world, many Christians believe that the souls of the dead are gathered by God once a year during the celebration of All Saints Day. As a result, All Hallow’s Eve – the day and evening before – are often used by families to tidy up and paint graves to make them more presentable to God so that their deceased relative or friend has a better chance of being taken up to heaven this time round.
To my mind, the only problem with this type of thinking is that it suggests Christ’s atonement is somehow lacking as it requires the relatives of the deceased person to perform acts on their behalf to ensure that they do not remain in a state of purgotary forever- quite at odds with that which Jesus tells the dying criminal about the Kingdom of God: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’
(It really couldn’t be any clearer).
‘The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ‘ (Genesis 3v2b-5)
Not sure what you think of the picture? For me, one thing is for sure – If every temptation in life was presented as a dubious looking apple held in such spindily and unattractive hands, we would have no problem in resisting the temptation before us. Unfortunately, the issue of temptation is not quite that simple.
Oscar Wilde’s observation that he can ‘resist everything but temptation’ speaks something of the magnetic draw this force has upon us. An object or decision that has no affect on us until the prohibtion is made: Foe example, the request ‘Please don’t look under the bowl on the table’ may immediately fill the person with a desire to see that which is being kept hidden.
The Apostle Paul apparently wrestled with aspects of temptation for most of his life and despite his active life for God it was a problem that never entirely left him. Sp. is there an answer? Well, yes and no in that people will have both successes and failures in resisting temptation. However, the provision and grace of God is that forgiveness is readily available. Not that we use this to live a licentious lifestyle but rather acknowldge that we are a work in progress for God and dust ourselves down on the occasions we fall.
‘The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”’ (Matthew 28v5-7)
When I look at this picture I am reminded of the two choices people face in regard to crucifixes – yes, there are thousands of crosses out there but there are basically two types:
- a cross on which the beaten, bloody body of Jesus is nailed – a reminder of the punishment he takes to pay the price of sin (however you understand that) OR
- a cross that is empty of the body, also saying the price is paid and Christ has resurrected into heaven as the first of many that will follow.
Personally, my preference is for an empty cross. Important as the reminder is of what Christ went through to secure our salvation, I am not sure that the Divine wants us to left feeling guilty or weighed down by the burden.
For me, the empty cross speaks of the provision of God who proves himself true through the destruction and rebuilding of the temple in three days – not the physical construct that took 46 years to build BUT Jesus’s body rising to new life as evidence of God acting in the situation as death is surpassed by eternal life.
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. (Luke 5 v5-8)
I’m not sure what cultural mileau this photograph heralds from but it appealed to me immediately because of the contorted face of the central character. At first glance it looks like he is in a worshipful pose with hands raised high. However, it could also be that he is also in agony or anguish – a person bemaning his lot, pleading for realease rather than praising.
The scripture (above) is the next thing that came to mind with the words ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ Peter speaks them because whenever in Jesus’ presence he finds himself battling a range of emotion where he:
In short, Peter is a maverick – he’s unpredictable. He speaks rashly and acts in ways that no one expects – but there can be no douting his heart despite everything else that happens and for which he has to repent and learn from it in regard to the needs of the community. I think we would all do well to be a bit more like Peter- despairing and delirious, encouraged and exacerbated, full on and falling off. Peter doesn’t live by half-measures. Moreover, God who sees the heart knows this ‘wild card’ is the rock on which He will build the Church.
‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8v28)
A while back I heard the story about a church leader who gave a challenging sermon. The church and co-leaders loved it and said as much. To their surprise, the following Sunday the leader stood up and preached the exact same sermon again. The church shuffled uneasily and looked at their watches. Less congratulations this time and even less the next week when the leader preached the same sermon again. Confused, the co-leaders enquired as to why the same sermon was being preached. The leader thought about it then replied:’ I won’t be preparing another sermon until we respond to this one and all the things that God is telling you and me to do.’
This story reminds me of the dilemma that New Year’s Resolutions place on us each year. Resolutions made with the best of intentions but which all too soon fall flat as we stop helf way through our study of the bible in a year or a keep fit regime or some other discipline that fell foul to tiredness, apathy, event or holiday. Not that I can boast at being so disciplined as to not fail at this impossible task – that said, this year I have managed to complete one in particular – that of writing this blog. Click here to see 2017 New Year’s post
Now, admittedly it’s been a long hard slog to discipline myself to doing these blogs and several times the post was late in being sent out, or typo strewn, or slipped under the net altogether. But I have learnt one amazing thing from it!!!!
Your resolution is null, void and broken when you refuse to go back and continue doing it.
With this in mind – and you’re probably realised this already – can I encourage you to set out your resolution for this year – possibly prayer or reading the bible or serving in a ministry – and should you stop for whatever reason – resume it as quickly as you can. After all, why can’t a New Years Resolution run from Feb 9th 2018 to Feb 8th 2019?
Have a blessed 2019!
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.’ John 1v5
Interestingly, another way this verse can be read is:
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.’
Actually, I don’t think it’s a case of either/or for this scripture as it seems to me that both renderings make sense:
- The first because although Jesus was assailed by dark forces, the resurrection and spread of Christianity since that time has proved that God’s light in the world can never be extinguished.
- The second because Jesus came into the world – explained what God was like and his plans for humanity – but people preferred darkness, either because they didn’t get it or refused to believe.
I love the image of tea light candles. It reminds me of how ‘we’ who are within the church are often at different stages of life. Indeed, right across the world – in your church, in my church – some people will be full of flame, others nearly extinguished, a few bent over by the wind of change, while a fair proportion will just struggle to keep alight. Whatever way we’re feeling, the promise of God is that because Christ has overcome , we will also overcome as we press onwards towards realising life in its fullest terms.
“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8v12
As I write this post we are full square in the season of Advent. In fact, there’s just one more Sunday to go then Christmas Day when the final candle will be lit as Christ’s anticipated coming is realised in the birth of the God child Jesus.
Like many light festivals, Advent is full of hope as it remembers and anticipates God entry into our world. An environment fashioned by human darkness which God chooses to embrace as the Divine becomes incarnate and engages with us and our broken humanity. A dark world in which Jesus is the promise that change is just around the corner.
Of course, it took another 33 years for the full dynamics of God’s gift to be realised – but not long in terms of Millennium. The infant Jesus had to grow into the adult who would teach, argue and challenge the darkness before dying and resurrecting to eternal life to prove his words were true and his credentials and authority was from God.
This Christmas, consider the light- an infant flame whom angels bowed down to and Kings journeyed to see- not because he was a baby but rather the promised Messiah who had arrived to begin his mission of saving the world.
‘…and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’
I know four things about pearls – that they are:
- incredibly valuable
- formed through attrition and abrasion
- often found in the most unlikely and least promising of shells
- a precious commodity bourne from a grain of sand in the mollusk.
Interestingly, pearls are no longer an accidental rarity as farmers today will off-set the odds in their favour by inserting the single grain of sand in each shell to allow Nature to do its thing. Of course, in Jesus time, it was totally different – to find a pearl within a shell was a remarkable achievement.
What strikes me about the way a pearl is formed within the shell is the parallel it has with the process of person’s spiritual maturation and the fulfilment of potential. It happens like this:
- take what seems like a less than promising human and breathe God’s Holy Spirit in
- next, subject that person to challenges to refine their character and determination
- keep up this process over the years until….
- what emerges is a precious jewel made useful to God by the change that occurred within the person.
Whichever way you understand this scripture –
- by likening the pearl to the response made to Christ to follow after him?
- Or that the pearl represents an openness and receptivity to the work of the Holy Spirit within?
The bottom line is this: God is at work. And the good news is that the Divine can take the least promising person and make us into something spectacular. Be blessed.