Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Noisy Beggar

Exeter Temple Bible notes

Sunday 10th March 2013
Bible Reading: Luke 18:35-43

Don’t you sometimes find that you miss the significance of the moment you are in? Looking back on the different decades that we have lived through, historians tell us they will be remembered for particular trends, crucial turning points that bring important political and social change, the emergence of new art forms and cultural experiences.
The crowd told him the blind man, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Here was a moment that needed to be recognised for what it was. Jesus was passing by and this was important. This should not be missed, misunderstood or minimized. By his Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to “pass by” It is crucial that we do not miss, misunderstand or minimize what that means for us.

1. The Blind man didn’t let Jesus pass by because he realised who he was
The blind man whom we know from Mark’s version of the story is called Bartimaeus, was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. However in v 38 Bartimeaus used the title “Jesus! Son of David,” The term “Son of David” was one reserved for the coming Messiah’ a title of Divine power. This blind man understood that Jesus wasn’t to be someone who was meant to be recognised as a minor celebrity. He wasn’t someone to queue up for as you might as a film premier or vaguely offer support to, by wearing a wrist band that supports His cause.
When Bartimaues called out for the Son of David to have mercy on him, he was expressing his belief that Jesus was the Messiah, and that He could heal his blindness. He knew who Jesus was and he knew what Jesus could do for him.
This blind man was a beggar and for most beggars the most they can expect is that some days there might be a bigger donation in the pot than usual but in calling Jesus the Son of David, Bartimaeus was expecting more than money.
Sometimes Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, the creator of the universe, the image of the invisible God, is passing by and we nod our head at Him as we would a stranger. The same Jesus who cleansed the leper, restored the sight of the blind, banished demons back to hell and even raised the dead passes by us and we ask him for a sticking plaster. If He can restore sight to the blind, He can grant you the deepest longing of your heart.
We don’t all want to admit that we are in need of Christ’s mercy and our need for a work of grace might not be so obvious as that of a blind beggar but in our hearts we know. We need to stop Jesus as He passes by. We need to recognise who He is and ask Him to meet with us.

2. The blind man didn’t let Jesus pass by because he realised that this was a moment that might not come again.
Bartimaeus responded immediately to the information that it was Jesus passing by. This is a powerful example of how great opportunities pass in front of us. Bartimaeus was faced with a split-second decision. If he remained still and silent, his opportunity for healing would be gone.
He could have thought, “There’s a crowd here today, maybe I’ll catch Jesus the next time He comes through Jericho.” Bartimaeus understood the significance of the word now. What Bartimaeua didn’t know was that Jesus never did pass through Jericho again. He went straight from Jericho to the cross.
Jesus is passing by right now, what are you going to do? “I’ll catch Him next time I come to church.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 states that, "Now is the time of the Lord’s favour, now is the day of salvation”. Jesus is passing by. You may not have another opportunity just like this one to hear Jesus ask you, “What do you want me to do for you?”
3. He didn’t let Him pass by because he realised that a changed life was more important than the obstacles in his way.
And there were a few even for him. Bartimeus was a beggar, he may not have had a lot of dignity left but even so loudly pleading for mercy showed his desperation and the hope that he placed in Jesus. To cry out to Jesus who might not respond and upset the crowd that were usually good for a few sheckels was to take a risk, to take a leap of faith.
Surely we will not let embarrassment stop us crying out for mercy? And if this is Jesus passing by, we know that we can trust Him.
Jesus has been running from one event to another. He knows His mission. He has set His face toward Jerusalem, knowing full well what He will find there. There will be a cross. Yet despite the pressure of the moment and the seriousness of the mission, this Jesus stops, faces Bartimaeus, calls him to Himself.
Faith is the first step you must take to receive mercy from God. Faith is not just believing God exists, it is acting on that belief. It is staking your entire eternity on the offer God has extended for you to have a personal relationship with Him.
The crowd sought to shut Bartimaeus up of course. There will always be those who criticise your desire to get near to Jesus or who underestimate the urgency of your desire. Bartimaeus would not be put off.
Luke’s version doesn’t include this obstacle but Mark does. He tells us that before being taken to Jesus Bartimeaus took his cloak off. That cloak was perhaps the only security he had ever known. It had kept the heat off by day and the chill off by night. And there really wasn’t anything wrong with him having that cloak but the text gives the indication that it was getting in the way. It was somehow keeping him from getting to Jesus. And Bartimaeus realizes that, “I’m not going to let anything keep me from getting to Jesus.” So he cast away that old cloak and he rose and came to Jesus.
What is there in your life that you need to cast aside so that you can get to where Jesus is?
Passing by
There are many times in the Bible, when the Lord does wonderful things when He is passing by. In the Old Testament the phrase “passing by” is charged with meaning.
It is found where God makes himself known in an awesome appearance to His people. He has brought revelation of his nature. At Mount Sinai the Lord in his glory passed by Moses. We are told, "He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin'" (Exodus. 6&7).
There was an occasion at Mount Horeb when the Lord "passed by" the prophet Elijah in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, and then in a still small voice that spoke to him. This lifted Elijah out of negativity to carry on his ministry.
In the New Testament, we find Jesus passing by Lake Galilee, and calling Peter and Andrew to follow Him. It was as He was passing through Samaria that He met a woman by a well and offered her living water. One day when the disciples were out on the lake, Jesus walked out on the water towards them. We are told, "He was about to pass by them". We might think of it in terms of Jesus continuing his journey without noticing them but Jesus walking on the water was showing His nature and His glory just as God had shown His nature and His glory to Moses and Elijah.
After the resurrection as Jesus walked unrecognized with two of His disciples we are told He walked ahead of them as if He were going on. But it is clear that what He would do to help depended on their response. He had no intention of forcing himself upon them. If they had not wanted Him, He would have passed by if they had not urged him to come and stay with them. (Luke 24:28-30).
Jesus is passing by, let’s cry out to him for his mercy, let’s listen to him ask “What is it that you want me to do for you?

God bless

Alan and Carol

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Two Brothers and a Pushy Mother

Sunday 3rd March 2013

Bible Reading: Matthew 20:20-28

During January and February we have been looking at our Corps Core Values. We can find each of these values in this story. There is nothing wrong with a mother wanting the best for their children - but we all know that there is a difference between that and expecting favouritism for them and being competitive.

Experience God through worship
This first value is all about putting our relationship with God first, about knowing Him, making Him and His priorities central to our lives. The priorities of James and John’s mother were somewhat different.
As came to Jesus she seemed sincere, but she worshipped Him not for love of the Saviour or gratitude for His blessings, but because of what she thought she could get from Him for her boys. It wasn’t enough to her that they were following Jesus or serving Jesus. They had to have people under them.
It is easy to criticise this pushy mother and her sons but we also have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.
Have I neglected to seek God’s will and purpose for my life or for my church by being too occupied with my own dreams and ambitions?
Am I more concerned about the name of Christ than my own reputation?
Am I more concerned about the spread of God’s word than I am about the spread of my opinions?

Embrace a discipleship lifestyle
James and John left everything to go with Jesus. They were not just interested in Jesus; He was not just a hobby or a pastime. They had embraced being with Jesus and they were trying to obey His teaching and do the things He did. But the definition of a disciple is also someone who is not only committed to a person but who constantly learning. The two brothers and even their mother had grasped something of the teaching of Jesus and had gone out in His name and done those things themselves.
But perhaps they had become a little above themselves in their assessment of their ability.
When Jesus received the request from James and John and their mother He quickly responded, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
They replied yes, without them having any idea of what was in the cup.
How often we have acted on the presumption that our knowledge of the purposes of God and our own abilities is all sewn up in a neat package. Sometimes like James and John we think we are ready for more than we are capable but perhaps for many of us the opposite is true and we think we are ready for nothing. The key is to keep a teachable spirit, a readiness to receive the word of the Lord and act upon it.

Extend God’s kingdom through mission
Jesus explains that He has come not to be served but to serve and; “to give his life as a ransom for many.”
A ransom is the price paid to purchase back a person or a group of people who are in captivity or who are facing punishment.
Jesus came into a world that is under the dominion of a rebel enemy of God and where men and women, boys and girls who are bound by sin. If the Kingdom of God is going to come, then rescue and salvation are needed.
Colossians 1:13: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Whilst dealing with internal squabbles in his team he maintained an outward focus. He wasn’t just a kindly rabbi he had come to be a Saviour. It is easy to concentrate on the internal politics of our church or denomination. It is easy to be diverted from mission by secondary issues. Jesus never was. And if we are to be His followers we must not be either.

Engage in authentic Christian fellowship
The two sons were prepared to use their mother and sacrifice their loyalty to their friends to fulfil their ambition.
When the ten heard about the actions of James and John they were indignant. They were really mad that these two were trying to get special treatment and they weren’t going to give up the top spots without a fight. They weren’t appalled by the brothers’ lack of understanding of true servant-hood; they were mad that these two got to Jesus first.
What we see here is that selfishness always results in dissension. When we think only of ourselves, community breaks down and unity is replaced with division and backbiting.
In the context of a row among His disciples, Jesus pointed out the way to engage in authentic Christian fellowship which is our fourth value.
In Matthew 20v 25-27 Jesus said; "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

Encourage everyone in their ministry
The mother of James and John saw leadership roles as positions of importance and anything else as something less. She was looking for significance for herself and her sons. She had to learn that one of the values of the kingdom is that everyone whatever they do is significant and important. The real key to success is not the job you have but whether you are obedient to God’s call upon your life however much that might cost you. When Jesus asks James and John if they can drink the cup He is going to drink our immediate thoughts go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays. “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will”
So Jesus’ challenge to us about the role we play in God’s kingdom is not what it is but whether we are doing what God wants. There would have been nothing noble about Jesus being crucified if it hadn’t been an act of obedience.
When done in response to the call of God on our life even the most ordinary things count.
1 Corinthians 15:58 says; “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (The Message)

Express Christian love through service to others
In the family of God there is only one category of people: servants. Matthew 20v 26Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
It was counter-cultural and radical for Jesus to define greatness in terms of servant-hood because slaves were considered to be socially inferior.
In saying what He did, Jesus offers a complete rejection of the world’s way of doing business.
The Greek word used here refers to a maid or a house servant. Jesus deliberately chose a very lowly word to impress upon His disciples that being a servant was a very humbling occupation.
What is a servant? It’s someone whose heart is intent upon, and whose will is bound to, the will and wishes of another.
This last value deliberately links service with love.
There is such a thing as self-centred serving, which isn’t really serving at all, because it’s motivated by pride, and has self at the centre, rather than being motivated by humility and love.
Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline.
"Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause -- with proper religious modesty of course. Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. It eagerly waits to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind.
The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honour and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered."

No doubt Jesus’ words about servant–hood caused the disciples to reflect upon their own hearts as He brought them back once again to look at their motivation and their attitudes.

Do these values reflect my own values?

What needs to change in us for us to be the people of God - He calls us to be?

Whilst He corrected the mother He did not berate or criticize her. Neither did He condemn James and John for their naivety or the other disciples for their grumbling. He uses the whole incident to help them and the other disciples grow in their understanding of kingdom values.

  God bless Alan and Carol

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Expressing Christian Love Through Service

Exeter Temple Bible Notes 24th February 2013
Living a life of sacrificial loving service is inherent in the DNA of the Salvation Army. Every soldier declares that they are “saved to serve”. That is what the two “S” on the uniform stand for. The Salvation Army hasn’t just made this idea up. It is a call that comes straight from the word of God. Philippians 2:5-8
“You attitude should be the same of that of Christ Jesus who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross!”
Many of us have been taught to be a bit wary of ambition. We have perhaps had experience of people with ambition and they have been rather selfish and ruthless.
Jeremiah 45:5 asks the question, “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.”
Yet these verses don’t tell us not to have ambition. In other parts of the Bible Jesus us to engage in asking, seeking and knocking. Paul talks about pressing on towards a goal. Peter talks about making every effort to gain possession of certain things. The important thing is to make sure we are ambitious for the right things. Jeremiah, Jesus, Peter and Paul show us that we are should be seeking to do God’s will, to be the best God can make us both individually and corporately. We are to seek the rule and reign of God in our own lives and in the world around us.
But how do we do this? Normally when we want something badly enough the method is to be first, push, shove, use and exploit every avenue to get it.
But this is not the way of Christ. He calls us to fulfil our ambition to build His kingdom through our mission by demonstrating sacrificial love.
It runs counter to conventional wisdom.
In society greatness is measure by how many people serve you and cater to your wants and needs. Servant-hood is not what the world would suggest as the best method to make gains, win friends and influence people but it is the way of Christ.
1. To Serve Christ we must serve other people
This does not mean we put ourselves completely under the influence of another person that we need to be someone’s puppet or a people pleaser. When we do things for other people so that they will be grateful to us and reward us accordingly that is not service but manipulation.
It is Christ who should be our master and our Lord. Nevertheless we will find very quickly as we read God’s word and we are led by the Spirit of Christ that we will be challenged to give service to others. There may be some who want to separate their service for God from serving mankind but Jesus never did.
Warren Johnson who was part of the Salvation Army’s Spiritual Life Commission said, “Service is a practical ministry. It is not only a reaching out into the body of believers with the heart of a servant it is also reaching out to a desperate and dying world with love in action.”

2. We are called to simple service.
Most of the time, we will be called to do very ordinary things usually for one person at a time.
DL Moody:I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything but I can do something and that which I can do by the grace of God I will do.”
John Wesley:Do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can as long as ever you can.”
Our service doesn’t have to be complicated, but to the level to which we are capable. This means it will cost us something. It will go beyond our convenience. We are called to sacrificial service. In Matthew 25:35-36 feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned are all areas that we can get involved in on lots of levels. Feeding the hungry can mean helping out a neighbour with a food parcel or it could mean organising a petition to governments to reduce third world debt.
Being a servant isn’t about a list of things we do. It is an attitude of mind and a daily lifestyle.
AW Tozer: “Before the judgment seat of Christ my service will be judged not by how much I have done but by how much I could have done. In God’s sight my giving is measured not by how much I have given but by how much I have left after I made my gift.”
If we are to be true servants of Christ then personal sacrifice will be involved. The Good Samaritan took risks; the risk that he would be viewed as the assailant, that the man was a decoy and he would be robbed; that the robbers were still there. There was the cost of time, the oil and wine, the cost of the inn. The compassionate person may also pay an emotional price as well. It is hard to go through times sharing the burdens of others. It is difficult because it affects you emotionally.

3. Service opens the door to people’s hearts.
There isn’t anybody who really cares how much you know. There isn’t anybody who really cares how much you have and where you been but when you care for them it opens a door to their hearts. In our modern world where all ideologies are suspect, where family and community is often broken down, it is loving, caring open Christian communities that will be profoundly attractive. Sacrificial loving serves opens hearts.
People are not just minds who need to receive the information of the gospel. Before they can hear its truth they often have to see it work and feel it it’s affect through us in ways that touch them materially, physically and emotionally.

Sometimes being a servant stinks. Superstar’s demands entertainment. Servants risk getting frustrated, bored and disappointed. Sometimes you can invest hours of time in a person they seem to respond to you. Sometimes you will be the ones who do all the running around, listen to someone’s problems over and over again, help them out time and time again and then they might join another Church. Servants can feel used and unappreciated.
Being a servant is tough and means facing the challenge that sometimes you don’t want people to move forward because your need to be needed.
At times it is making the choice of forsaking appearances for the sake of the ones you are trying to help. Sometimes it’s risking displeasure because to give people what they ask for is not what we should do. We also need to finish what we start. Jesus the servant king was able to say on the cross “IT IS FINISHED. We haven’t really served if we haven’t finished.” We need perseverance and loyalty.
We need to be very sure of our relationship with Jesus.
I read in my preparation that there are three kinds of servants. Slaves who are driven by fear, hirelings who are driven by wages and Sons who are driven by the love for the Father.
We belong to an organisation that is known for compassionate service, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are not driven by love of service or of busyness or by guilt or by the reward of a good reputation but by love for Christ.
Staying in love with Him is absolutely crucial to being a servant. The command to serve is impossible when we rely only upon our own love.
The promise of the Bible is that we don’t have to.
Romans 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.”

God bless