The shock of grace

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 5:27-32
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
The problem in this passage is that tax collectors were bad people.
They were Jews who collected taxes from their own people for the Romans.
So long as they paid Rome, they could collect as much as they wanted.
They were traitors and as thieves, taking advantage of their own people.
To feel the problem, think of someone that has robbed or hurt you.
Or how about drug dealers whoe live off the suffering of the addicted.
Con artists who take advantage of seniors and rob them of their savings.
Jesus chooses one of these to be His followers.
In addition, He attends a party with a whole gang of them.
To feel the shock of grace, we need to feel the shock of sin.
Jesus is not affirming their sin, but He is trying to change them.
They are sick, and they need help; they need a heart-change.
As a Jesus follower, is this how I look at ‘sinners’ – in need of help?
Do I judge or look down on them… or do I seek them out to help them?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I will admit that I would have a hard time loving those who hurt me. Which only makes Your love amazing, because we have all hurt You, and yet You love us.

Authority on earth for God?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 5:21-26
“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Luke 5:24)
God authorized Adam and Eve to represent Him on earth (Genesis 1:26-28).
This is God’s kingdom: God-like humans ruling for God on earth.
But they forfeited that authority, surrendered it to Satan.
As a result, this world has become a dominion of darkness.
Without God-like humans in charge, God’s kingdom was lost.
God promises a messiah, “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13-14)
He would be given all authority on earth, just like Adam and Eve.
Only now Jesus has resisted Satan, and reclaimed the throne for humanity.
As a faithful God-like son, Jesus has Adam’s authority to represent God.
He can heal for God, and He can forgive for God.
In this story, we see the good news of God’s kingdom restored.
We see Adam back in charge, and Satan and darkness defeated.
We see ourselves forgiven, receiving again the crown of Adam and Eve.
With Jesus, even we can represent God through healing and forgiveness!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, through You I am restored as Adam. I can share in Your authority on earth for God. Make me both humble and bold, that I may represent God well on earth.

When all else fails, I still got Jesus!

“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure.” (Psalm 73:13)
How do we feel when non-believers or bad people seem to do OK.
Or even worse, they seem to prosper and be happy?!?
In this psalm Asaph shares his honest struggle with following God.
He still struggles, so is following God a waste of time and effort?
As he thinks about this, he realizes what ‘the wicked’ do not have.
They do not know the comfort of God’s presence, guidance and promise.
They go through life ultimately alone, and will die alone.
“But as for me, it is good to be near God.” (Psalm 73:28)
Do I experience this blessing, the nearness of God with me?
When life is hard, am I seeking the comfort of His presence?
Am I renewed inwardly when I’m dying outwardly (2 Corinthians 4:6)?
As a Jesus follower, we can draw upon His strength, guidance and promise.
But if we don’t, why else bother with following Him?
Given a choice between earthly or heavenly comfort, which would I choose?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, if I don’t enjoy Your presence, Your guidance and Your promise, why would I bother to follow You? Thank You that I am growing in enjoying these wonderful blessings.

Abandoned and ignored?

“I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer.” (Job 30:20)
This is one of the hardest parts of life in this sin-messed world.
When we turned from God, we lost our connection to God.
We cannot see God, or walk with God in the garden (Genesis 3:8)
And when our misery and suffering become unbearable, we cry out for God.
Job expresses the feeling of utter abandonment: by people and by God.
Jesus experienced this as well, on the cross.
But through His resurrection, He has restored us to God.
We are waiting for the day when He will finally straighten all things out.
Until then, like Jesus, we join with those who suffer and feel abandoned.
If for a time God seems absent, we can be present on His behalf.
We can show people they are not alone… and that God does care!
Job’s community turned away from him when his life crashed.
And his friends put the blame on him, and made him feel worse.
May we bring hope, not more grief, to those who suffer or feel abandoned.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, open my eyes to see the despair and hear the cry of those who suffer, or feel abandoned. May I be Jesus to them!

God’s Grandeur

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

So tell me, what do you think these words mean?

If I want to be wise…

“The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)
Job is trying to figure out how God and suffering (evil) relate.
For many people, the fact of suffering and evil prove there is no God.
But Job knows that without God, there is no meaning, purpose, or hope.
For better or worse, Job chooses to respect God, and reject evil.
We live in a world that rejects God and denies evil.
Despite all our knowledge, we remain fools trapped in a desperate dream.
We can’t break our way out of suffering, and evil still shows itself daily.
God in mercy steps into our world to reveal Himself and expose evil.
Through Jesus, we learn the wisdom of loving God and hating evil.
Not just in our heads, but with our lives, as we live in reality.
We can’t be wise without recognizing the place of God and evil in the world.
We will remain trapped and miserable, as long we deny this reality.
Knowing God through Jesus may not fix all our problems, or remove suffering.
But at least with God and Jesus, we can cling to meaning, purpose and hope.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, life and reality are hard to figure out. In the meantime, I choose to cling to You and what You say about God and evil. God is good, and evil is… well, evil. I choose God!

Praying in faith for others!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 5:17-20
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)
Did you notice whose faith Jesus responded to – “their faith”?
We find no mention of the paralyzed man’s faith.
Here the Lord responds to the faith of others on someone else’s behalf.
What an encoruagement to me for those who may struggle with faith.
But also for those who struggle in faith for a loved one.
Imagine the friends tearing and ripping at the roof tiles.
See their determination, their love, their desperate faith for their friend.
Compare this to the aggressive prayers of a a believer for someone else.
God uses our prayers for others to help them too!
Jesus loves this paralyzed man more than these friends do.
He sees his needy soul condition, and assures him of God’s forgiveness.
The friends wanted body healing, Jesus gave whole life healing.
The Lord hears our prayers for others, and goes beyond what we ask.
May this inspire and encourage us to pray with fervor for others!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, there are people I have prayed for, that I am still waiting to see the results. But I trust that You are doing more than I ask and imagine. I can’t wait to see how You heal/help them!

A divine rhythm of activity!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 5:12-16
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
There is a quote by Martin Luther that reminds me of Jesus here.
“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
The busier He was, the more He prayed – He knew He needed it.
He did have lots to do, but He didn’t let those things control His life.
This has been something I’ve needed to grow in.
When I get busy, I get so immersed in the tasks that need doing.
I also find that afterwards, I did not do my best work.
This reminds me of another quote, from Alice in Wonderland.
‘The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!’
As a Jesus follower, I want to learn from Jesus how to take time to pray.
Not just formal prayer, but resting in and relying on God’s help.
Seeking His guidance, discerning His wisdom, drawing on His strength.
What might it look like for me to “often withdraw to pray” in my life?
I want the Lord in my everyday work life, resting and working WITH him.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, it is not my busyness or activity that makes gives me success, but my working with You, at a pace that is divine.

Heart-softening grace!

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
Did you notice that Jesus blesses Peter BEFORE Peter repents?
In my experience, Christian practice has been the opposite.
Before they’re allowed in the boat with Jesus, they must repent.
But by this practice, are we not reinforcing the judgment of the law?
This is not Jesus’ way; He graced people right up front, no action needed.
The only exceptions seem to be religious people, who were already graced.
Grace is the key to repentance, to seeing our need for God’s mercy and love.
I believe that we need to grace people before they repent or believe.
Treat them in a way they do not deserve, the way God treated us!
By this grace, the Spirit softens the heart to produce repentance.
Think of a neighour, or co-worker, someone who does not live a godly life.
Do we avoid them, talk bad about them, or even criticize them?
Or do we grace them beyond their deserving, beyond their expectation?
Do we trust the Spirit to do His work of conviction… through grace?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, Your undeserved mercy is what softened and changed my heart. Help me to spread this result, by sharing Your undeserved mercy with others!

Time to keep moving?

THE STORY OF JESUS: Luke 4:42-44
“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns.” (Luke 4:43)
Jesus has a sense of urgency to spread the message far and wide.
Once He has success, He is not content to settle in and stay.
To settle in and stay… this is not why He was sent.
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Many Christians and churches seem to have a ‘settle and stay’ mindset.
Their focus is on their own church, how to keep it going, keep it strong.
But I wonder, could it be our inward focus that is making us weak?
What if the church were passionate about reaching new communities?
What if our church were looking towards Ayr, or Preston, or St George?
Would we change how we do ministry, how we hire staff, how we spend our money?
We’ve been conditioned to think inward, to focus on our church.
But maybe we should pray about Jesus kingdom mission, and ours.
Maybe Jesus is standing amongst us, waiting to move on.
Not to settle in and stay, but to advance into the next community.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, shape my heart to reflect Yours. May your mission be our mission, anf may we as Your followers feel Your urgency for the next town.