Battle Lines

Jesus lived in a world of intense legalism. We live in a world where the battle lines are around values – BLM, Me Too, No Platforming, Pride, …

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.

Psalm 2:2

Whenever people face off against one another, Jesus ends up being the casualty! Two sides lift up their standards and demonise anyone who does not join them.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  

Psalm 2:4

We get all concerned. Do we join the fray, taking a side with the self-righteous, or do we allow ourselves to be condemned for not joining, or even worse commending someone who has been demonised. As we look at these choices God’s perspective seems shocking, he laughs!

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Psalm 2:6

Our Father brings us back to the perspective of heaven. Jesus is Lord! Each side bullies those who don’t join them. I need to hold to Jesus and the way he leads, where –

love and faithfulness meet together

Psalm 85:10

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What Value?

Would we accept being smaller if more precious?

O storm-battered city, troubled and desolate!

Isaiah 54:11

Jesus’ church seems to be consistently battered. We are battered by the pressures of a culture intent on replacing the Lord with mankind as its centre. Now, even Covid is having its impact.

I will rebuild you with precious jewels and make your foundations from lapis lazuli.  I will make your towers of sparkling rubies, your gates of shining gems, and your walls of precious stones.

Isaiah 54:11-12

We feel such losers. Our theology demands growth, while we shrink. Yet, the Lord speaks of doing something else. He speaks of rebuilding with a people whom he is making precious, transformed to reflect him.

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace.

Isaiah 54:13

Will we allow ourselves and our children to be rebuilt as precious and at peace with God?

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Whom do we receive?

To whom can we show Jesus’ kindness?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees … complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Luke 15:1-2

Our society seems caught in a trap of polarised views. Each side has its legalistic lines that define acceptability. The outcome is the same as in Jesus’ day – dividing lines and fear over whom we can be associated with. Jesus countered with parables that speak of value-

“suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Luke 15:8-10

I used to think, was one coin worth the effort? Then my wife lost her engagement ring. She went through a whole year’s compost to find it! Her motivation was not financial value but heart value.

Jesus seeks racists and misogynists on one side and progressives on the other because they are his dear lost children. Are we willing to accept the slander that comes from sitting with people Jesus would love to welcome?

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Experiencing the cross

We live in an age that idolises enjoyment and rejects passages like,

“I want to know Christ … and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.”

Philippians 3:10-11

Yes, Jesus did it for us, but he is the forerunner of our faith.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief … When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. … I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier.

Isaiah 53:10-12

Jesus’ suffering was far above ours and for a far higher purpose. As the forerunner of our faith, he takes us down similar paths and with heavenly honours.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that … his life was cut short in midstream … He had … never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal.

Isaiah 53:8-9

Just as Jesus’ suffering appeared a pointless travesty, so our suffering can appear meaningless. The meaning is found only in Jesus and only understood in heaven.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word.

Isaiah 53:7

The knowledge that our Lord will use this meaningless suffering that we share with him frees us from needing to complain about it. And so,

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that [we] may become blameless and pure children of God.

Philippians 2:14-15

I have a lot to learn!

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Feeling useless?

These Covid months ask much of us, it is tough interacting online and being held from our loved ones. How does Jesus look at those who ask for strength?

Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me.

Isaiah 42:1

Jesus looks with pleasure on us who feel so weak we are just surviving through that strengthening. He calls us his chosen ones! What undeserved privilege.

I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations.

When we humble ourselves to call for help, he puts his Spirit in us. Somehow, though we are kept from people he uses us to contribute to his kingdom!

He will not shout or raise his voice in public.

Isaiah 42:2

We imagine this requires us clamouring for attention. The Lord does not need our noise, just his strength to enable us to overcome in the little things of our shut down lives.

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Overcome shame

We think of shame as something bad that Jesus would never have experienced, yet,

… For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

You don’t scorn something you don’t experience. Jesus was nailed naked to a cross as a criminal. This was the ultimate shaming, but knowing it was the will of his father, he went through it.

Shame is developed in us so we can fit in with culture, but it can keep us from God because it has to do with politeness rather than love.

Fear of shame can keep me from following Jesus. I need to overcome that fear, and even its reality if I am to be free to walk with Jesus.

Jesus went through shame knowing that there was a reward beyond: To sit at the right hand of his Father. Many claim friendship with Jesus because he died for them. A more intimate place comes to those willing to join him in breaking through the shame barrier.

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Where do your desires lead?

Contentment frees us for Jesus, yet our culture drives us from it.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 6:20

The poor, aware of need have opportunity to depend on the Lord, whereas those focused on their desires turn to them – money, relationships, gifting, … for support. They are captive to what they have.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. 

Luke 6:21

Tragically, we have been trained by our consumer culture to always strive for more. The Bible says,

godliness with contentment is great gain.  

1 Timothy 6:6

Contentment bring freedom. when we are content, we can let go of the desires that drive us and are free to follow Jesus into love and faith.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.   But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  

1 Timothy 6:7-8

Food and clothing is a pretty low bar for contentment, the focus of it is the great equation: We come with nothing and we leave everything.

People argue that riches now make life more comfortable, but that accumulation comes at an eternal price.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

1 Timothy 6:9

Where are your desires leading you?

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Empowered?

Why does Luke emphasis that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit’s power? Surely as the Son of God that’s obvious. Yet,

Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.  

Luke 4:14

After being in the wilderness fasting forty days and been tempted by the devil Jesus should be weary. So, anything he did demonstrated the power of the Spirit.

Jesus said, blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The temptations demonstrated Jesus’ attitude. Consider his response to each,

“No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Luke 4:4

The passage Jesus quotes continues,

“But on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:2

The source of his life is God and his word.

When offered the world if he worships the devil, Jesus responds,

“The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

Luke 4:8

Jesus affirms the Father is the only one to be worshipped.

When encouraged to manipulate the Father into saving him and so gain honour for himself, Jesus responds,

“The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

At each temptation, Jesus affirms he is not sufficient in himself, he needs the Father and so the whole Kingdom of Heaven is available to him.

For the year ahead when we are weary of the issolation where is our hope and strength?

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Son of God born in a stable?!

The birth place of Jesus, a stable, almost escapes mention in the gospels.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, … She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke2:6-7

Luke is the only gospel writer who mentions it, and one suspects his purpose was to give context to the message to the Shepherds.

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Luke2:12

There is a humility about Jesus’ birth which we can miss through familiarity. It highlights a question many have wrestled with: Why does God allow challenging circumstances to those he loves? Both Jesus’ birth and death are extreme examples. Jesus himself speaks into these situations with statements many would prefer to avoid –

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Luke 6:20-21

The very events we avoid relating out of embarrassment, the Lord calls gateways to blessing. Are we willing to testify to what the Lord has done without embarrassment?

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Will Jesus find a place?

How do we respond to the Lord’s message to us? Sometimes it is so different from what we expect we are left reeling. Consider Mary,

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  

Luke 1:29

Mary’s reaction was not, “Wow! an angel”, but confusion, the message was not what she believed about herself, It was harder to believe than being visited by an angel. The words were-

 “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Luke 1:28

Maybe Mary saw herself as despised and far from the Lord. Her song reinforces this,

“For he took notice of his lowly servant girl.”

Luke 1:48

I sense a Cinderella story. It seems there are times when the Lord puts us in challenging situations that beat us down; yet with purpose. Jesus was later to say,

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”

Matthew 5:3

When the Lord comes to us with the gift of his presence, what does he find? Is he received by insecurity that puffs itself up so there is no space for him? Or will he find the humility of Mary? One who had embraced her lowly place so she was able to receive Jesus into her poverty.

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