Category Archives: Christianity

The Poor in the Gospel of Luke – an addendum

A few years ago I did a blog series going through the gospel of Luke, discussing what it said to us about the poor (which can be found here). Having recently re-read this series as part of some sermon prep on the same theme, I found (with the help of a commentary) some important additions from chapter 7 of Luke.

John the Baptist is in prison, shortly to be beheaded, and he is having doubts. He knows he is the one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the way for him, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one, or it there is another to come, presumably for his peace of mind. This is Jesus’ response.

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21-23

“Good news is proclaimed to the poor.” A question here would be to ask, who is the poor? Another would be, why is this incident placed here in the gospel? Just before we have two accounts of miracles by Jesus. The first is the centurion who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his servant (7:1-10). He exhibits his faith by saying to Jesus “Just say the word and by servant will be healed.” Following that is the account of jesus raising the dead son of a widow, brought back to life off his funeral bier (7:11-16). After the incident with John the Baptist’s disciples, we have the description of the Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house when a woman who “had lived a sinful life” came in, began crying over Jesus feet and then poured expensive perfume over them – during the meal! (7:36-50)

It is well known that Jesus called to him those who were on the edge of society. In this chapter, Michael Wilcock (from the BST commentary) argues that all the recipients of Jesus grace in these accounts were poor in some way. The centurion was a Roman, and whilst probably materially well-off, he wouldn’t normally have had access to the synagogue, the temple, or Israel’s God. In this sense he was socially poor as he was from the wrong ‘tribe’. The widow was facing material hardship. Her husband had already died at some point in the past, leaving only her son to be a wage earner. In the days before social welfare, families would have been the last line of support before financial hardship, and now her son has died too. Jesus not only reaches into her grief but alleviates her poverty at the same time.

In the final passage, the ‘sinful woman’ was spiritually poor. By being labeled “sinful”, she would have been on the edge of society, and most respectable people would have avoided her. She cries over Jesus’ feet and Jesus proclaims her sins forgiven, and declares “Your faith has saved you”.

So we have the socially poor, materially poor, and spiritually poor all encountering the Kingdom of God in Jesus, with the latter being declared ‘saved’. This reminds me of one of the Lukan Beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20). Jesus’ understanding of the word ‘poor’ goes beyond the material sense that we often associate it with.

Here and elsewhere, Jesus talks about “preaching” or “or claiming” good news to the poor. Yet it is evident from his actions that this also involved practical help. The Kingdom of God comes where gospel words are supported by actions, and actions by words.

Cobblers Column: Who are they?

For today’s match day programme for the game against Accrington Stanley
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I can’t be the only one who, on hearing the words “Accrington Stanley”, immediately associates it with a Scouse accent and an advert for milk. Milk, as the advert informs us, is what Ian Rush drinks, and, according to one little boy in the advert, without drinking milk he wouldn’t have been good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. “Who are they?” exclaims the other little boy. “Exactly!” comes the reply.

At the time the advertisement came out, in 1989, the club were in the Northern Premier League, and there is no reason to assume that I, as a young boy growing up in the North East, would have heard of Accrington at all but for that campaign from the Milk Marketing board. The club finally gained promotion to League Two after becoming Conference Champions in 2006, 44 years after a previously dissolved club with the same name (the predecessor to the current club) was forced to resign from The Football League due to bad debts.

“Who are they?” is not a question you would ask of Accrington Stanley today, having maintained a solid position in the division for each of the last seven seasons. In fact, you will not find many in football who will write off the chances of their opponents, whoever they are playing. Just as you should not judge a book by it’s cover, we cannot look at the history of a club and infer anything about the result on a given day, especially given two clubs in the same league. I’m sure Chris Wilder and the squad are approaching this game as any other, with the greatest of respect for the opponents.

Most of us remember the moment when an unemployed 50-year-old amateur singer from West Lothian, shy, bullied as a child, and diagnosed with Asperges Syndrome, took to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent and blew the judges away. What was so powerful about her performance, apart from her excellent singing voice, was that it overcame the misconceptions and initial judgements of people watching. Susan Boyle didn’t look like she should be able to sing, so most of us had written her off before she opened her mouth. Many of us didn’t respect her as a person until she had proven what she could do. Boy, were we wrong about that!

I’ve been guilty of this too, as a student teacher during my PCGE course when I was struggling to teach my subject to disinterested secondary school children (I never did get the hang of teaching). I remember being surprised as I saw someone I had graduated ahead of the previous year doing much better than me. He was someone who looked about 16 and whom, I’d judged, lacked confidence, yet there he was controlling a class and inspiring the pupils. I didn’t expect it. I had written him off and at the time, I’m ashamed to say, showed a lack of respect for him.

Respecting others in football begins with respect for people – for each person we come across day by day. Each person is an amazing creation of God, and when we take the time to look, we can discover that too.

Go on, watch it. You know you want to:

Hope of the World

bill hybelsI recently came across these notes I made of Bill Hybels’ talk at the 2013 HTB leadership conference. Some useful thoughts on vision and team.

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The local church is the hope of the world. There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. The local church will only work well if it is fed well and led well. Can’t talk about leadership without vision

Vision casting – often we start by describing the place we want to go. This may not be the most useful way to bring people with you, however well you cast the vision of that place. People like it ‘here’. They know ‘here’. It’s comfortable ‘here’. You might need to start showing them exactly what is wrong with the place you are currently. People need to see the problems. And they need to realise that we cannot stay in the place we are.  Then a solution can be received. Start by building an airtight case of all the reasons why you can’t stay here.

Vision is most under threat in the middle of the project. Initial enthusiasm has died down and the end is not yet in sight. Need to remind people how far you have come in order to keep going. This also might be the point at which leaders are most vulnerable.
Team
How do we attract, develop and maintain a great team. Leaders need people to share the vision with, and to include others in. Looking for people with the five Cs: Character, Competence, Chemistry (someone you get on with), someone who fits in the Culture of the church, and someone with Calling from God. You will regret it if you compromise on these.
Need to take the time to define the culture of the church. What’s unique about it? At Willow Creek (Bill’s Church), they want people who are incessant tinkerers, who will tweak and tinker in order to improve things.
Figure out who are the most important people in the team. If calamity struck, who would you not want to lose. Who could you cope with losing. Why are they the people you’d not mind losing?  What needs to change? What has changed to bring them to that place (assuming they were important to you when they were hired)? Sometimes you realise though this that you are under using people. Make sure people are not under challenged.
We lead people but the toughest person to lead is yourself. It is our own job to keep ourselves refreshed and healthy in our leadership.  We need to find ways to replenish ourselves. Need to find the rhythms to help ourselves remain full. If we’re a pastor the best thing we bring is ourselves filled with the Holy Spirit, where we have life, patience, and humour.

Be filled with the Spirit.

John Stott from his Commentary on Ephesians.

When Paul says to us, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’, he uses a present imperative implying that we are to go on being filled. For the fulness of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by continuous believing and obedient appropriation….

To the defeated Paul would say, ‘Be filled with the Spirit, and he will give you a new love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control.’ To the complacent Paul would say ‘go on being filled with the Spirit. Thank God for what he has given you thus far. But do not say you have arrived. For there is more, much more, yet to come.’

 

Don’t say a word.

20.8.04 Blythburgh Free Range Pork Free Range growers.I came across two stories from Jesus’ life in my reading this morning (in Mark 5). The first is the restoration of the demon possessed man, the one known as Legion, and the second is the raising of a little girl back to life –  the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler. We recently thought about the second passage in one of our family services at our church.

Jesus is on the Gentile side of Lake Galilee when he encounters the man with the demons. They recognise Jesus as once and beg him for mercy. After the demons are expelled (into a local herd of pigs), the man who is restored is given the commission to “go home and tell them about how much the Lord has done for you, how he has had mercy on you” (5:18)

After a quick boat ride back across the lake, Jesus is teaching a crowd when Jairus comes and begs him for help. Jesus is now on the Jewish side of the lake and Jairus holds a respected position in the faith community. By the time Jesus gets to Jairus’ house the little girl has died, but Jesus encourages them to have faith and he goes into the house and raises her back to life. Then comes the instruction “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (5:43).

So  – two miraculous events, but differing instructions on whether they are supposed to talk about it. Why would he say one thing to one person and another to the other group?

In a way, I can understand Jesus telling Jairus’ family not to say anything. Jesus was already having trouble moving around the area due to the large crowds that wanted him to heal. Gods new kingdom has come. Jesus is demonstrating how the world should, and will eventually, be. There are a number of things, including death, that are not as they were. The world is turned upside down as will be demonstrated ultimately through Jesus death and resurrection. His whole life (and death and resurrection) is a testament to that, not just the miracles. Jesus knows that  a yearning for great and flashy miracles does not result in a secure faith.  The result is people always wanting to be amazed instead of a more secure step-by-step everyday faith.

But I also wonder (and I’m just thinking aloud here) whether part of the difference had to do with the audience being Gentile on the one hand, and Jewish on the other. Religious on the one hand, and non-religious on the other. God often uses miracles to get people’s attention. Many people have had divine intervention to get them started turning their lives around. After that, once on the right path and walking securely with God, the miraculous become more infrequent. Perhaps Jesus expects the Jews to recognise signs of the new kingdom coming in, not just in the miracles he does, whereas the gentiles perhaps needed an added reason to start looking towards Jesus. (Interestingly, their first reaction to Jesus was “Please go home, we’re scared” – 5:17 ). Maybe I’m wrong here, but I wonder if new converts to the faith experience more miraculous signs in their early faith than those who have grown up in the church. (I have no evidence for this, it’s just a hunch based on hearing testimonies and anecdotes). Is this for the same reasons perhaps?

I remember hearing John Piper speak  on suffering, and he noted that in the book of Acts the disciples and followers were given a command to spread the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” There were many miraculous signs given to the early church too. Yet by the beginning of chapter 8, pretty much all believers were still in Jerusalem. It took persecution and suffering to get them out into Judea, Samaria and further afield. Miraculous signs are great, and we are encouraged to pray for them, but a walk of faith through suffering is often a more powerful testimony than a miracle.

Neighbouring

photoWhen asked by one of the teachers of the day which of God’s commandments was the greatest, Jesus gave this answer which silenced them.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)

Few today would argue that there are any better commandments than this. It emphasises a love for God with every fibre of our being, heart, mind and will, and a love for all those around us, even those we may disagree with, as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates. Implicit in the two commandments is a love for oneself.

The question, “but who is my neighbour?” is a good one. If we are supposed to love our neighbours, who are they? In one sense everyone is our neighbour – people of different nationalities, creeds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and ages. This is true, but sometimes an answer like this is not practically useful to those wanting to live out a life of “loving their neighbours”. If we are to love everyone, where specifically do we start?

This is where Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon’s book, The Art of Neighbouring, can come in useful. Looking at American suburban society in particular (the book is not limited to this setting but is primarily written from this point of view), they saw that, in fact, people often don’t know those who live immediately around them. I think this is true in the UK too, especially in new-build developments which don’t have a lot of history or long-term residents. Their answer to “where do you start?” is to look at other residents of your area.

They begin by asking you to think of the people who live immediately around you. Can you picture them? Beyond that, what kind of relationship do you have with them? Do you know their names? What sort of person are they? What do they like doing or talking about? Do you know what their desires or concerns are? With this in mind, Runyon and Pathak saw the great potential for impacting community cohesion, security, and general welfare of society for the better, simply if Christians took this command seriously with their literal neighbours. The idea is not to set out with a mission to convert them, but simply to share something of God’s kingdom-goodness with the world by creating loving and peaceful communities. Think about it, how much of your town would be impacted if every member of your church made a commitment to get to know, befriend, and be involved in the lives of those who live around them? I also have no doubt that a side-effect of this will be to open up opportunities for people to find out about and discover faith. When people are confronted with God’s goodness, some will respond.

It is an easy read, with that one central point running through it, and full of suggestions of how to out the greatest commandments into practice, but as always, it will need some adjustment to the individual context. It is a simple premise which, if a number of churches in one city commit to, could have a big impact.