Friday, March 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-16 [Lent2018] Life's biggest question

Life's biggest question

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."      (Matthew16:13-16)
I'd be fascinated to put out a survey to get people's opinion on what "Life's most important question" is.

I think we'd get some of these...

  • What is my purpose?
  • How do I find happiness/fulfilment/peace/hope/success/etc ?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Who should I marry?
  • etc...
Jesus asks a life-changing question of the disciples:
"Who do you say I am?"

And there are many answers: A prophet, a guru, a wise man, a preacher, a teacher, an example, a guide, a significant influence, and a good man.

There could be negative answers too, like deranged, deluded, manipulative, dishonest, etc but strangely enough none of these negatives stick under a close scrutiny of the narratives about Jesus - critics criticise Christianity, but very few who have looked at the evidence criticise Jesus - most speak with grudging admiration of his ethics and example.

But Peter articulates the core truth:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Here are thoughts that could keep us busy until Easter:

  • Christ - the long awaited Messiah who will rescue us
  • The Son - part of the God family, obedient to the Father, all of His Divine Majesty squeezed into a human existence, frail, fragile and killable.
  • of the Living God - the Father sends and gives Him to us.

Lent culminates in Easter - the death and resurrection of the One who asks "Who do you say I am?"

Our Lent journey needs to include your own wrestling with this:

  • Is He a historical religious figure at the centre of stories you have heard since childhood?
  • Is He part of a religious outlook you have on life, the custodian of some life-rules that you have?
  • Or... is He the One who shows you what God and love are about
    The One who is powerful enough to save you completely
    The One who conquers death by His own death
    The One who calls you "my daughter" / "my son"
    The One who deserves all your love and allegiance

This is Lent's big question!
I imagine Peter answered this while looking into Jesus' eyes.
So should we...

I'll be taking some time-out next week.
The eDevs will continue in Holy Week...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-15 [Lent2018] Saltiness


"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.      (Matthew5:13 )
There is a problem with regard to Jesus' metaphor of salt. Salt, or NaCl - Sodium Chloride as we learnt in high school chemistry, is actually very stable as a chemical. It isn't easily broken down - It doesn't lose its saltiness. So what did Jesus mean?

Salt in Palestine came from the area of the Dead Sea - there were a lot of other mineral impurities that made their way into salt - notably gypsum, which in crystalline form looked like salt but was tasteless hence flavourless salt!

So truth remains truth and grace remains grace, but it can be diluted by substitutes and look-alikes. The Gospel - our faith and relationship with Christ as our Saviour and Lord is the saltiness of our lives. But when too many other tasteless elements enter our lives, we lose saltiness.

The Greek word for losing saltiness (moorainen) also means become foolish.

Makes you think, doesn't it ????

Lent is all about sifting out the "gypsum" in our lives and retaining the "salt". Salt preserves, brings out flavour, creates thirst and purifies.

We easily fill our lives up with lots of things. Lots of them are like gyspum - looks ok but bring no flavour, preservation, purity or thirst. To be the opposite of foolish (losing saltiness) we have to filter out the gypsum.

Lent thought for today: What gypsum can you filter out today so that your life can be a little saltier?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-14 [Lent2018] Unexpectedly Blessed

Unexpectedly Blessed

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you
because of me.       (Matthew5:3-11)
Jesus is talking to the gathered crowd which is made up of a broad spectrum of society who have started following Him because of the healings He has been doing.

And He starts with the word: "Makarioi -- Blessed, fortunate, happy."
What do you think of when you think of the word "Blessed"?
If someone says: "Well! I'm blessed" ?

  • That it's going well.
  • That my family is well.
  • My business is well.
  • My health is good....
So basically... to be blessed is prosperity....

The people of the day would have agreed with you...
They thought that blessedness had to do with financial and material and physical security.
And, put the other way round: If you were healthy, wealthy and secure -- you were blessed by God -- God was with you...
And, if not, then God wasn't with you...

Job's Comforters had the same circumstance-based theology... In their minds, Job's diminishing circumstances proved that he had fallen out of favour with God.

If you looked at the crowds that were there that day -- there would have been many there who felt that that they were not prosperous. When Jesus starts with the word "blessed are"... they would have expected words like "the holy, the perfect, the successful, the prosperous." And they would expect to be shut out, once again by the divides of class, wealth and structure.

But let's look at Jesus unexpected list of the blessed:
- the poor in spirit, - those who are dependent
- the mourning, - who have suffered loss
- the meek, - who have resisted the temptation to go the route of power
- the hungry, - who long for something better
- the merciful, - give kindness where it is not deserved
- the pure, - untainted
- the peacemaking, - there is always a cost
- the persecuted and insulted ones.

This is incredibly subversive! Jesus is calling the poor, the sick, the downtrodden and the struggling blessed!

What's even more interesting is what He promises them:

  • To the poor - God's Kingdom is Yours;
  • the mourning - God will comfort you;
  • the meek - You will inherit the earth (you will fulfill God's purposes);
  • those who hunger and thirst - your hunger will be filled;
  • those who are merciful - you will receive mercy;
  • the pure in heart - you'll see God;
  • the persecuted ones - you'll be called God's Children: certain of your heavenly citizenship.
So the kingdom of God is inaugurated with these powerful words:
The people who least expect it discover that they are blessed!
At the very start of His teaching Jesus makes it clear: He has not come for those who have it all together, but for those who struggle and strain. Blessing has nothing to do with circumstances and everything to do with God's care for those in these tough circumstances.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-13 [Lent2018] Goalposts


Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

On face value, this passage shocks our sensibilities. How could Jesus demand that a son not even attend his father's funeral? What about the commandment to "honour your father and mother"? At another point Jesus even confronts the Pharisees for their neglect of this command...

The critical thing to understand here is that the father is not dead yet. It was Jewish custom to bury the dead as quickly as possible and so, if the father was dead, the son would be very busy making funeral arrangements and wouldn't be in the crowd listening to Jesus.

So, the young man was talking about staying with and working with his father until he eventually died.

This kind of procrastination or goal-post shifting is something we are familiar with:

  • "Lord I'll serve you more fully when I'm out of school and have a car."
  • "Lord I'll follow you more wholeheartedly when I have my degree..."
  • "Lord I'll do more for you when I've settled into the job."
  • "Lord, as soon as I've settled into married life, I'll be more available"
  • "Lord, when the kids are older...."
  • "Lord, when I've got this promotion..."
  • and so on...

Jesus answers: "Let the dead bury their own dead." Most commentators have interpreted this as "let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead."

We're being challenged to prioritise God's work in our lives. It's very easy to get sucked into the "imperatives" of this world. We're often waiting for something "over the horizon" instead of putting God first in our lives.

We also must be sure that those who followed Jesus also spent time eating, sleeping and looking after family - earlier in this same chapter we read that Simon Peter was looking after his mother-in-law at home and Jesus healed her there. Jesus attended the funeral of Lazarus and I'm sure He attended others too.

The call here is not to neglect others, but to make sure we are prioritising Christ. We easily get stuck on our "over-the-horizon-procrastinations." Jesus would shake us to get our attention...

Friday, March 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-09 [Lent2018] Follow Me

Follow Me

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of people." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.      (Matthew4:18-19)
These pictures of the calling of the first disciples are well-known and well-loved. They are evocative. We picture the boats, the labourers, the call and the response.

But there is a basic disconnect that happens for many people when they read this verse because, unlike Simon-Peter and Andrew, most of us don't leave our nets. We don't leave our jobs and go into full-time ministry living by faith like Jesus and the disciples did for three years.

But actually.... even those who go into "full-time ministry" in a church structure or missionary organisation have a position, income and security. It may be a "spiritualised" net, but it is a net...

And so, for most of us, there's a disconnect when we read this verse... We read it and say: "Ah that's for the full-time-live-by-faith folks... And we file it away as one of those beautiful verses that are quoted by missionaries and such like as their "calling".

But I can't help but wonder if we are missing the point...

The point is not that Jesus is calling us away from the nets, but calling us to follow Him. I think this verse is about priority and not about vocation. (We'll look at Jesus and the young man who wanted to bury his father next week)

I think that Jesus calls us to prioritise Him over our nets and then He leads many of us back to our nets, but now we're not just catching fish, we're reaching souls.

This verse does not apply only to those who have left their nets (i.e. gone into some kind of "full-time" ministry) This verse is about following Jesus and placing Him first. I believe He will lead many of us back to nets with new hearts.

For way too long we have highlighted church work as "sacred" and denigrated "secular work". The longer I work in the church, the more I realise that the real life changing happens where the people are. If we're going to be fishers of people, we will find them at work, in the neighbourhood, across the street and in our social circles.

This beautiful passage is for EVERY Christian - including you. He's calling you to FOLLOW HIM. He may lead you away from your net and something new, or He may just give you a new heart and lead you back to the net because that's where the people are....

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-06 [Lent2018] Kingdoms...


From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."      (Matthew4:17)
Matthew is a typical Hebrew. For him the name of God was so holy and so sacred, that he avoided using it unnecessarily. To talk of the "Kingdom of Heaven" is Matthew's respectful way to refer to the Kingdom of God. (Mark and Luke speak of the "Kingdom of God")

But Matthew's euphemistic language makes a good point. How does heaven have a Kingdom? It can only be that way if someONE is on the throne. A kingdom is about who is on the throne.

Jesus begins His public ministry with the core-decision or question that every one of us must answer:

Who is on the throne?

Heaven's kingdom has God on the throne. Matthew's reverent language makes it clear that this God is to be respected and honoured.

But Jesus' opening sermon recognises that God is not respected and honoured in our own hearts. When we talk about ourselves the truth has to be that most of the time it is the "Kingdom of me" and not the "Kingdom of Heaven."

And so we must repent.

We have to take ourselves off the throne.
Our pride, our ambition, our opinions, our agendas, our cravings and even the brokenness that causes us to behave defensively or aggressively must come off the throne.

Who or what is usurping the throne of your heart? There is a better kingdom that is just one repentant decision away...

Maybe for the rest of Lent we need to start each day by listening sincerely to Jesus' eight word opening sermon: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

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Friday, March 2, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-02 [Lent2018] Galilee

(Apologies for the missed devs yesterday and Tuesday!!)


Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali-- 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles--
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."      (Matthew4:13-16)
I have never visited Israel, but those that have tell me that visiting the Sea of Galilee is a highlight. While Jerusalem and the possible sites of Golgotha and the Garden Tomb are awe-inspiring, they tell me that there is something special and peaceful about Galilee.

Where Jesus started His public ministry.
Where the disciples were called.
Where the 5000 and 4000 were fed.
Where the Sermon on the Mount was preached.
Where He went to the "other side" to reach a demon possessed man
Where Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm.
Where the disciples discovered abundance in big catches of fish.
Where Jesus walked on the beach with Peter and restored Him.

But why is Matthew so excited about this?
The history is significant here. The names Zebulon and Naphtali haven't been heard for a long time... These were two of the northern most tribes of Israel and were the first to be invaded and colonised by the Assyrians around 721BC.

In Isaiah 9 the prophet Isaiah, who'd been witness of the destruction at the hand of the Assyrians spoke longingly about restoration for this part of Israel. Now Matthew is now able to quote these verses because of the fulfilment that Jesus brought:
the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

So too today Jesus restores and renews, even when pain has been there for a long time.

Lent Challenge: Are there old brokenesses you need to hand over to the Lord and ask Him to teach, feed, heal, walk on the water or calm the storm? Maybe today is the day for that healing to begin.