Central Event in History

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I was teaching a class today and one of the learning points on the significance of the resurrection is that without it there would be no Christianity.  Well, yes and no, there may well  have been some branch of Judaism that followed the “School of Yeshua,” but it is the fact that He rose in accordance with the scriptures that proved His identity, and made His teachings indisputably greater than any teacher before (or after) Him.  He was who He said He was, He came to give life, and He proved it by conquering death.  His rising is the central event in history, as it changed the world.  Not a cultural change (though that is true too), but a change in humans’ relationship with the Creator.  We were bought with a price, and became His children in a new sense.  Not only were we made by Him, but we were made brothers and sisters of His only begotten Son.  Now there is a change worth noting.

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In A Time of Plenty

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Many in the Christian world are entering into the season of Lent.  On the surface this 40 day (plus Sundays) remembers Jesus’ fasting and temptations in the wilderness.  It is meant to be a time of self sacrifice and denial.  It is a time to give up luxury and focus on the spiritual.

In the UK it has become more frivolous with some people claiming to have given up broccoli for Lent.  Even the giving up of chocolate or cream cakes seems to miss the point. Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent) is called “Pancake Day.” It was meant to be a day when sugar, fine flour, cream and the like, were removed (by using up) from the house for Lent.  Now people rush out to buy (bring in) the ingredients for the day.

Fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is not a springtime “New Year’s Resolution,” of chocolate withdrawal.  It is a time to reflect on the millions less fortunate than yourself, to understand by going without, what they face daily.  Many Christians use the money saved by fasting to donate to those in need.  It is a practice of faith, reliance on God, and of physical hardship (and spiritual gain) “in a time of plenty.”

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Eternal Father Strong to Save

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In 1861 the lyrics: “Eternal Father, strong to save,Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,For those in peril on the sea!” appeared. They were based on William Whiting’s experiences and themed on Psalm 107.

For those of us who have lived at sea, it is easy to understand the comfort of knowing even this vast power (the sea) is under the control of God.  Many people have never seen the ocean’s raw savageness, but it is beyond awe inspiring (and frightening).

Yet, in Mark 4:35-41 Jesus calms a storm at sea. “35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him! (NIV)”

God in His compassion can see our storms, literal and figurative.  He has the power and the will to calm the waves, and still the fury of what buffets us.

Lord, today please protect those at sea, but also still our storms as well.

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Picking Winners

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When it comes to picking friends and influencing people, Jesus on the face of it was a little unconventional.  When He chose His disciples He picked 4 (perhaps 6) fishermen, known for their outspoken, not always politically correct or sensitive utterances. He also picked a tax-collector, Matthew (always appreciated by the public), and a political activist, Simon.  He chose no rabbis, rich men or celebrities.   He spent time with other tax collectors (Zacchaeus), and reputed prostitutes (Mary Madeline).  Yet, this group of unlikely spokes people changed the world.  James, the fisherman was martyred, and Peter imprisoned. They were loyal and though not well educated or influential, proved that Jesus saw with the eyes of God what potential people held, not just what the world sees.

Do we do the same?  We who are chosen, have been called not because “who we are,” but because “what we can become.”

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David and Bathsheba

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David is said to be a man after god’s own heart, this said he was a human and imperfect like the rest of us.  One of the outstanding examples of this is his encounter with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. David lusts after the wife of one of his officers, and plots to arrange what is essentially his murder.  This brave servant goes to his death, and David seizes the opportunity of Bathsheba’s widowhood, to take her for his own.

While a man after God’s heart, chapter 11:27 clearly says “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord (NIV).”  The result is that the child the couple has dies and David is reprimanded by the prophet, Nathan.  

This story was a pet peeve of an elder’s wife at a church I preached at.  To her David “got to have his cake and eat it too.”  She saw the issue that David sinned, yet was allowed to claim Uriah’s wife.  Where is the justice in that?  Of course she didn’t recognise that the sin led to the death of a child, and for the prophet of God to scold the king.  But more importantly, the story in the end shows God is merciful.  Our sins are redeemable, and even as people of God or “after God’s own heart,” we can and do make mistakes, but that is not the end of our relationship.

I am thankful that God forgives sins.  Aren’t you?

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Ruth

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The Book of Ruth is a wonderful story of conversion.  The Moabitess Ruth married a refugee Israelite but was left a young widow.  Her mother-in-law, Naomi encourages her to return to her parental home and start a new life.  Her response is one of love and devotion: “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God Ruth 1:16 NIV).”

This young woman follows Naomi to Bethlehem where she is now the refugee.  She is dedicated to her mother-in-law and works hard gleaning in the fields to have enough for them to eat.  Her devotion is noticed, and a relative Boaz arranges for her to keep her dignity by gleaning and not begging, and yet has his men make sure enough is left for her to collect.

In the end, her devotion to Naomi, and to the God of Israel leads to her marriage to Boaz and her place in the genealogy of King David, and to Jesus!

True devotion, love, faith, and conversion doesn’t rely on one’s background, but on their heart.

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Paul in Malta

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Acts 18 records:

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

On Malta superstition and God’s witness are in contrast.  The Maltese seem to appreciate the plight of the castaways, and Paul and his companions are shown great kindness.  This is very understandable of an island people whose livelihood was derived from the sea, and who knew too well its hazards.

The event which seems to momentarily sour this kindness is Paul’s snakebite. Their superstition immediately goes into play – “The man must be a criminal.” They seem to see Paul as fated for destruction (shipwreck and snakebite), the just rewards of a “murderer.” Are we any better in our modern world?  Do we not hear people say that individual misfortunes are, if not deserved, at least brought about by some failing in the victim?  “They are lazy,” “Their lifestyle is bad,” They take too many unsafe risks.”

Yet, Paul’s misfortune is not because of unrighteousness.  In fact it plays out as a blessing for Publius’ family.  The Maltese see the reversal of their assumptions about Paul, as the snake has no effect on him.  Here again, their superstition jumps in.  It isn’t enough to merely assume he is an innocent man, or even a righteous man. No, he must be a god. Paul while not (at least in the text) refuting this, goes on to heal Publius’ father.  But clearly not as a god, but as a servant of God.  Paul prays! He asks God to do the healing, the miracle is God’s not Paul’s.  There is a lot to learn in that humility.

What lessons do we have then?  Let us avoid being judgmental of others’ misfortune, and let us humbly give assistance to those suffering as servants of God.  Let the glory be His.

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Teresa of Calcutta

She was know to the world as Mother Teresa.  She was a Roman Catholic nun who while born in Yugoslavia made her name in India.  At an early age the then Agnes, set her goals on serving God.  She subsequently joined a religious order and was sent to Ireland to train. The order in turn sent her to be a teacher in India.

It was as a teacher that she say the squalor and hopelessness on the streets.  In an important event, her life was changed.  She say an old man on the street, dying and too weak even to move his feet away from the rats gnawing them. She took him to a hospital, but he was refused treatment.  She stayed with him until he died, and made it her life’s mission, that no one she could help would ever die alone or unloved.

She say this as a “second calling” or a mission within a mission.  She said that God had made it clear to her, that she was to serve the “poorest of the poor.”  In fact she took literally the parable of the sheep and goats of  Matthew 25:31-46: “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” She said that these super poor were in fact -“Jesus in disguise.”

She set about starting her own order, The Missionaries of Charity, and arranged to aid a half million families, open clinics for lepers, and centres for the dying.  Her mission to take care of “the least of my brethren,” is an example to all who are followers of Jesus.

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For The Sake of 10 Righteous

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One of the most interesting exchanges of the Bible is found in Genesis 18:22-33.  God has revealed His plan to destroy the cities of the valley, and Abraham intercedes and begs mercy for any righteous found there. It reads:

“22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare[c] the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” 33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home (NIV).”

For the sake of 10 God would spare the cities.  And if we look at the account of the Flood, the requisite 10 were not found then either, as only 8 were spared on the ark.  This number 10 being a special number in regards to the righteous has found its way into the Jewish worship as well.  Ten men who have had their bar Mitvahs  are required for the full worship and prayers to be said.  Why 10?  I don’t know, but Abraham stops at that number in his pleadings.

Christianity offers a slightly different tally.  Jesus said whenever two or more are gathered in His name, he will be there with them (Matthew 18:20).  We need not have 10 to worship publicly – two will do, and even then one can worship privately (Mathew 6:6).  Better still, Jesus so loved the world, that He died for it.  And even if there had been only one sinner, He would have still have done it (2 Peter 3:9).  He desires none to perish. For the sake of one, He came.

For the sake of 10 righteous God showed mercy in the Old Testament, but His mercy is shown now even for you and me.

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Jesus, The Compassionate Gardener

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Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)

“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down (Luke 13:6-9 NIV).’”

The landowner’s concern over his fig tree seems to be profitability.  His investment has failed (literally) to bear fruit.  He wants to cut his losses.  But his gardener suggests that with some nurturing, this tree may well be fruitful.  Second chances are part and parcel of what God provides for us.  Even more significant is His willingness, and in fact, provision for our nurture through His Word and in fellowship.  He doesn’t want any of us to be unprofitable, but even more He doesn’t want us to be lost.

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