TOUGH LOVE?

By Jonathan Adams

God is immediately speaking to Hope Church as we enter 2022.  His words are motivating and encouraging,  but surprisingly one of His key focus areas for us may feel like tough love.

 

What is God saying?  As a church we have had several words which are aligned. Early in January I preached from Jeremiah 29,  that Gods’ great statements of strength and love (‘I have plans to give you a hope and a future’) are words written to a people in exile.  God is literally telling his people that even though they are cut-off, removed, hurting and isolated,  He is still there, still working and blessing, still planning to bring them back in His timing.  Likewise when our guest speaker Simon spoke to us recently.  Focussing on the life of Joseph as a mirror for our own lives,  he showed us how dreams and destiny are often followed by devastation,  and that God sometimes chooses to lead us through times of difficulty and disappointment until his timing is right.  Adding to all this, Donal recently shared with the Leadership team about God bringing a time of shaking for different people.   So if we put these different words together,  it seems clear that God is openly and intentionally leading many of us through difficult times.  This won’t be relevant for every single person,  but enough for God to put this onto our family radar!!

 

How do we respond to all this?  Tough love from God can be difficult to take.  It is much easier to be led into green pastures and quiet waters,  but these darker valleys can be unsettling, upsetting, and emotionally exhausting. We’ve all experienced that.  Over the past few days as I’ve reflected on this,  several great pieces of wisdom have been shared with me:

  1. Accept what is happening around you. God is still at work!  Just because things are challenging does not mean you are out of his plans and purposes!  This is Joseph’s experience, and the experience of many many Christians through history.  There is a sweetness and lightness when we can accept that God’s presence is with us, and that His active love and grace are fully there, despite our situation.  Oh what reassurance!
  2. There is a choice.  One option is to become disillusioned and cut God off because He doesn’t ‘get’ what we’re going through.  Another option is to try and strive our way out of difficulty. Both of these choices are negative in the end.  But the positive choice is to try and grow in dependence on God. Using this time to pray, read and worship simply because you trust Him,  and because He is worth it.  This might feel unusual, particularly at the start, because your worship is separate from how you might be feeling,  but He is there.
  3. Accept God’s timing.  Hebrews 6:12 and James 5:7-11 encourage us to be strong in patience, as well as strong in faith.

 

Join me in prayer at this time.  God has been gracious enough to reveal the work He is doing in us. Let us gratefully and joyfully take time to meet Him in prayer.   Pray that as a body we will grow in humility and dependence on God,  and that this would be a time of deep, profound, faith-building in all of us.  ‘Faith so grounded and solid that nothing can shake it.’   Please oh Jesus, do that in us we pray.  Amen.

Further thoughts about Jesus’ mission and therefore ours.

posted in: Bible 0

In previous blogs and sermons, I have talked about the emphasis this Luke places on the mission and Jesus and therefore our mission. This blog flows on from the blog on Luke 10 v1-24 on how Satan was seeking to thwart that mission.

http://www.hopechurch.co.uk/reflections-on-the-battle-with-satan-as-revealed-in-lukes-gospel/

In the rest of the chapter Luke reminds us again what the mission was that Satan was trying to stop.

It starts with a parable in answer to the question, who is my neighbour? The hero of the parable, which I am sure doesn’t need to be repeated, is a Samaritan, who is the last person the Jewish reader expected, a Samaritan. Someone not considered to be part of the people of God. The Samaritan, who makes great sacrifices to help the man who is beaten up, represents Jesus in the parable. Jesus reaches out to all who are in need, which is everyone, we should do the same. Everyone is our neighbour.

This is followed up by the incident where Martha is doing the cultural appropriate role for a woman or serving in the kitchen, Mary is with the men listening to the teaching of Jesus which was not appropriate. Martha calls Mary out on this but Jesus supports Mary. Not only is everyone our neighbour, but everyone can sit at Jesus feet and learn from him.

As Paul later picks up in some of his letters, we are all united in Christ, whatever ethnicity, social class, or gender. The mission of Jesus is to make disciples of all, to be found by him and then taught by him. That is the mission we have too.

Modern Day Pharisees.

posted in: Bible 5

The pharisees and teachers of the law appear in opposition to Jesus in all of the four gospels. It is not just that they oppose Jesus, Jesus himself says some harsh words to them. E.g., the woes he declares in Luke 11v42 to 54. It begs the question, who are the modern day equivalent to pharisees?

Tom Wright in his commentary on Luke, which I have been reading recently, makes some very interesting suggestions. Pages 144-145.

He starts by saying that as a young man he was taught that modern pharisees were religious teachers who insist on all kinds of religious observances. E.g., those who said you had to fast on Fridays, or kneel and stand at certain points in church services or cross yourself. He was taught it applied to those who said you couldn’t play cards; go the theatre or wear make-up. The modern equivalent of the pharisees is therefore anyone who teaches that we should focus on other things rather than calling us simply to believe and trust God for our salvation.

He suggests this cannot be right for two reasons. Firstly, the real Pharisees we meet in the Bible are nothing like that. They were people who held strong political opinions, and this is what lay behind the religious sanctions; their rules were designed to make people keep the Jewish law as best they could, so that Israel would be made holy, and then God would bring in his kingdom. Secondly, the Pharisees were a pressure group working in both the social and political sphere, not just religious teachers.

He then makes his interesting suggestions of what modern Pharisees might look like. He suggests they are groups in society that urge people to take on particular codes; like those, for instance, who insist on “green” policies for the disposal of garbage, people insisting on certain duties and not simply religious duties in the old sense. He goes on to say that there are also western newspapers, as well as individual journalists, who take it upon themselves to be the guardians of public morality. They will shriek in mock horror at all kinds of offenses and take delight in pointing the finger at the rich and respectable. But at the same time many of the journalists who make a living by doing all this are by no means shining examples of moral virtue. In some cases, they are the ones who load heavy burdens on people’s backs but don’t themselves lift a finger to move them.

As I say, worth pondering on. Pharisees are still alive and kicking and Jesus had harsh things to say to them!

Reflections on the battle with Satan as revealed in Luke’s gospel.

posted in: Bible 0

I remember in my early days of leading a church having an ultimately pointless discussion about if he entered a 100m race would Jesus always win. The other person had a view of Jesus as being something like superman and would obviously win any race he entered. That is not the Jesus I find in the gospels, he isn’t like the modern comic book superman, we shouldn’t reflect back from our culture onto Jesus. Jesus faced many challenges and battles, not least with Satan. However, the victory is with Jesus.

In this blog I conder the battle with Satan starting with the declaration found in Luke 10.

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 

Luke starts describing the long journey Jesus makes towards Jerusalem, where he will eventually be crucified, very early in the gospel. In chapter 10 the journey is already underway. We see an urgency in sending 72 ahead of him to prepare the way, giving them detailed instructions about their role and mission. The verses above describe their return from ministry.

Jesus had begun his ministry with a private battle with Satan, the real enemy, about the nature of his ministry, this is recorded in Luke 4. The battle continues until the last great showdown, when the powers of darkness gather for their final assault. Luke 22v53. The victory won over Satan in the wilderness is here being implemented in the work of 72 of his followers prior to the final victory at the last battle.

Satan literally means accuser. He is found in the heavenly council in the book of Job. He is known for bringing unfounded accusations, even inciting people to do things for which he can then accuse them of later! His final act of rebellion is to turn Jesus away from his calling as Israel’s true Messiah. He has great power and is able to trick the Jewish leaders and others to work on his behalf. Luke makes it clear; the battle isn’t between Jesus and the Jewish leaders; it was really with Satan.

As Tom Wright says,

Jesus’ task is therefore not simply to teach people a new way of life; not simply to offer a new depth of spirituality; not simply to enable them to go to heaven after death. Jesus’ task is to defeat Satan, to break his power, to win the decisive victory which will open the way to God’s new creation in which evil, and even death itself, will be banished.”

So, whilst the 72 were on their urgent mission, Jesus had a vision where he saw that what they were doing was part of the great victory over Satan that started with Jesus overcoming Satan’s temptations and would be completed on the cross. What they were doing was fulfilling Jesus’ mission, which Satan was trying to stop.

However, we need to recognise that even though they were powerfully used, and Satan’s attempt to thwart the mission of Jesus was failing, the battle continued. Even Peter will be sifted like wheat by Satan, 22v31-32, before the final victory can be accomplished.

This is all relevant for us, Satan is defeated but he is still trying to halt Jesus’ mission. Like Peter we can be sifted. However most significantly, like the 72, when we participate in Jesus’ mission Satan falls like lightening from heaven.

Further reflections on faith in Luke’s gospel.

I pondered the relationship between faith and healing in the gospel in a previous blog.  In this blog I look deeper into how faith is used in Luke’s gospel. I will be looking at an incident recorded at the end of chapter 8 where Jesus heals the daughter of Jairus whilst also healing a woman with chronic bleeding. I will also look at the feeding of 5,000 which immediately follows.

Jesus tells the woman that her faith has healed her, which occurred by her touching his garment and then presenting herself to him. Immediately afterwards he encourages Jairus to have faith, to believe.

48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

The women showed faith in daring to touch Jesus, trusting that doing so would result in healing.

Clearly Jairus’s faith was helped by seeing that Jesus declared power had gone out from him before he even knew that the woman was healed. If someone touching him could have that effect, what would happen if Jesus himself came to touch a dead little girl?

Seeing Jesus at work helps us to have faith. When we see the impact of faith our faith strengthens.

It is also worth noting the role touching plays in both episodes. In a world before modern hygiene, before soap, before running water and drains there were numbers of different things in place to maintain public health. The Jewish law contained many such rules designed to keep people from disease. Two of them prohibited Jews from touching corpses or women with internal bleeding. Both these taboos, these laws, were being broken by Jesus.

By doing so Jesus was incurring double pollution. This helps us understand what we really have faith in, what Jesus has come to do. Jesus shares the pollution of sickness and death, but the power of his own love turns that pollution into wholeness and hope.

This is followed by the feeding of 5,000 from five loaves and a couple of fish, the lunch of a small boy. Over the years this has been explained away as one boy’s generosity leads others to also donate their lunches so that everyone gets fed, an ancient bring and share meal. Explaining things in this way means our faith is focused on the generosity of people when encouraged by the example of others. That is not how Jesus or Luke intends us to understand this incident. That is not the faith found here.

If the disciples knew that many in the crowd had food, there wouldn’t have been a crisis in the first place. We are meant to not look for simple explanations, to have faith in the inherent goodness of mankind is easy! The disciples were called to move into the unknown and once there, trust God completely, when they were sent out in pairs into the community faith as well as when faced with a hungry crowd. Faith means the same for us, moving into the unknown and looking to God not man, however scary it maybe.

We are not to exercise “blind faith”, to believe that Jesus is a showman or magician willing to do tricks to order. Jesus dismissed this temptation of the Devil out of hand. However, we are called to believe that Jesus could on occasion allow God’s creative power to flow through him to perform miracles, as we have seen in healing and now in this feeding miracle. We are to live lives of faith, trusting in the creative power of God flowing through us.

The relationship between faith and healing

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have been prayerfully working my way through Luke’s gospel in preparation for a new preaching series in 2022.

In considering chapter 7 I was drawn to consider the role of faith in healing. Often Jesus would comment “your faith has healed you.” E.g., Luke 8v48 and 18v42.

In Luke 7 we have a Roman Centurion who had a good relationship with the Jewish leaders. His servant was sick and he asked the elders to plead with Jesus to heal the servant. The heart of the episode is when the Centurion told Jesus he didn’t deserve for him to even enter his house. As a soldier he knew about authority and recognised it in Jesus, he therefore knew Jesus could just say the word and healing would take place.

Jesus commented that he had not found such faith even in Israel and healed the servant.

An extraordinary healing which demonstrated the relationship between healing and faith. As in other episodes faith led to healing.

However, just in case the readers of the gospel came to a simplistic equation relating faith to healing Luke follows this up with an even more amazing healing miracle, Jesus raises the widow of Nairn’s son from the dead during a funeral procession! Jesus seeing the distress of the widow losing her only son, his heart went out to her. He then gives life to the young man. The crowd are reminded of a similar miracle performed many years ago by Elijah. They recognised Jesus as a great prophet similar to Elijah.

In this case the healing was not linked to anyone’s faith, it was motivated solely by the compassion of Jesus. I am sure that Luke purposely placed these two miracles next to one another to help us realise that healing is a mystery, we cannot simplistically say faith leads to healing or healing requires faith. God is not constrained by our faith; he will do what he will do.

Whilst as we have seen at times healing is linked to someone’s faith, this is not always the case. Not just here but in other places, e.g., the healing of Peter’s mother in law. Luke 4v38.

As a mathematician I link simple equations. Things of God are rarely like that, we have to embrace mystery.

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