Heart matters

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

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See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

A new Era! (Acts 2:14-41)

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The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…

Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.

He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).

Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;

  • Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
  • Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
  • Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)

And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.

Questions for application

  • Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
  • Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
  • Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
  • Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member?  What’s stopping you?

 

Look up! (Colossians 3:1-4)

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The letter to these believers in Colossae (and now to you and I) is about to take a turn towards exhortations on how we should live out our response to the risen LORD Jesus. In these verses 3:1-4 the apostle is changing gear as it were, setting up what he is about to exhort us to do, the godly practical life instruction he is about to give…

But before any life instructions are given, Paul calls us to look upwards again, to consider our great and glorious Jesus again.

May Jesus fill my vision, fill your vision. May who He is and what He has done for us captivate us and motivate us to live our lives in a life response that is fully pleasing to Him and is worship to Him (Colossians 1:10).

What is happening or has happened in your life that is filling your vision, your thoughts?
What can you do practically today to fix your eyes again on Jesus, to look up and not down, to worship not worry?

In all the imperatives to godly living that are about to follow in the letter, need something IF they are avoid just becoming like the rule-keeping rituals & regulations of the false teachers that Paul has warned us of in Chapter 2.

You see it is not just what we do, but why we do what we do that matters!

The motivation behind all the instructions for godly living needs to be our love for Jesus. Otherwise these things will become just another religious list like that of the false teachers.

But when we continually contemplate, meditate on Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, then we are filled with the desire to please Him and when we are filled with the desire to please Him with all of our lives then moral instruction like we have in this letter will not shut down the life of God in us but will stimulate & instruct us on how to live in a manner that is fully pleasing to God – the very thing we want to do.

So, set your mind on Jesus, worship Jesus, love Him more and more and you will want to live the life He wants you to live.

Satisfy (John 4:31-34)

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All through the gospel of John, Jesus uses physical everyday items people knew about to describe spiritual realities.  Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has used the following everyday items;

  • Light (to communicate the spiritual reality of Jesus’ purity in John 1:4-5)
  • Temple (where God & humankind meet, which is now Jesus Himself in John 2:19-22)
  • Physical Birth (the need to be born again, born spiritually in John 3:3-8)
  • Wind (relating to the move of the Spirit in John 3:8)
  • Water (the Holy Spirit within believers in John 4:7-15)
  • Food (that which truly satisfies John 4:31-34)

In this encounter with the woman at the well, there is a moment when the disciples return from their mission to find some food in the village.  They are astounded that Jesus is speaking with a woman, especially to a Samaritan woman (vs27) but don’t say anything to Jesus.

Maybe they were changing the subject onto something less controversial, maybe they did not wanting to risk delaying lunch with a new teaching from Jesus…?  Whatever it was they urge Jesus to eat something (vs31).

Jesus’ reply must have surprised them further.  “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (vs32).  I can imagine the disciples maybe even feeling agitated that Jesus had some secret stash of food that they hadn’t shared in or didn’t know about.  ‘Had someone in this foreign town brought food to Jesus they wonder?’

But Jesus was once again doing what he often did, using an everyday item to explain a spiritual reality.  Jesus goes on to say;

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (vs34)

Jesus had told the woman that He had water that would sate her thirst forever (vs13-14), here Jesus explains to the disciples that there is something more satisfying to Him than even food!  They went into town, hungry, eager to find satisfaction for their hunger.  They urge Jesus to eat, in order that He can be satisfied too.  Jesus replies; I have something that satisfies me more than food!

Jesus lived with a longing, a desire, a motivation pulsing inside Him to do the will of His Father.  Jesus’ passion to fulfill the will of the Father, to please the Father, is a theme that will develop all through this gospel (see John 6:38 for example).

Jesus’ passion to do the will of God was so real, so tangible Jesus likened it to what the disciples were feeling, their hunger for food.  Jesus compares the satisfaction they felt after eating with the satisfaction He felt when He had done the will of the Father.

What a challenge!  What satisfies you?  What do you wake up longing for?

May I, may we be more and more like Jesus who was motivated to constantly do the will of the Father in all circumstances and was in turn satisfied, felt that happy full feeling when He knew He had done the will of the Father.

Why trumps what! (Mark 7:1-23)

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Why trumps what!  Why you do what you do, matters more to Jesus than just what you do.

The Pharisees and scribes are indignant! Jesus and his disciples are not adhering to the strict codes and traditions that had built up around God’s law that regulated every aspect of life in the attempt to keep ‘pure’.

These regulations legislated behaviour in everything, here Mark mentions the scenario of coming home from the market where one could have been defiled by contact with Gentiles and the need to wash hands, pots, plates & even couches!

Jesus’ disciples were being accused of not walking ‘according to the tradition of the elders’ (Mark 7:6). Jesus rebuffs their accusations, accusing them of caring more about their human traditions than about the original commands of God that the traditions were meant to encourage obedience to (Mark 7:8-13).

So what really matters? Jesus quotes the Old Testament to them (vs6-7) which reveals what God wants from every one of us. God wants our hearts not some external compliance that’s not rooted in love for God.

You see, why trumps what! Worship/godliness that’s only skin deep or behaviour that’s not emanating from a heart of worship is not worship at all.

God is after our hearts. What we do does matter, how we live does matter but its the motivation behind the external actions that God really cares about. It’s why we do what we do that matters to God.

This is the difference between religious legalism and the gospel! Tim Keller sums it up when he says;

‘“I obey therefore I am accepted by God” = Religion
“I am accepted by God because of Jesus, therefore I obey” = The Gospel

God freely accepts those who believe in Jesus and accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for their sins. God then delights as those saved sons and daughters begin to obey His will for their lives, not because they must, not because they’re trying to be accepted but because they already are accepted by Him, because their hearts have been melted by His love and His mercy and His grace and transformed so that they beat now with a new desire – to please their Father who is in heaven! What results, is the motivation for all true godly behaviour. Why trumps what!

So, gaze again at Jesus!  Consider who He is and what He has done for you.  Be freshly impacted, amazed at Him and live your whole life as a response to His incredible love for you.  What will result is observable godliness rooted in worship, and that pleases God.

Frustratingly wonderful

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“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – CS Lewis

I find solace in these words by CS Lewis in that as a Christ follower and as a church leader I desire to hear God, I want to know I am in His will.

Sometimes this means I carve out solitude time, time with no list, no agenda, no pressure and no distractions.

But over many years of climbing up mountains, getting onto quiet stretches of beach or finding a secluded spot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu Natal I have discovered that God doesn’t speak when I want Him to and I can’t change God.

This used to get me all wound up, I’ve come here full of passion, I need to hear You God and then in those solitude moments there is just myself and…………………………….silence.

God’s not on my timeframe, doesn’t always pick up the ‘phone’ when I’ve decided to call.

Just yesterday I had set time aside for solitude, I had my venue planned, had my camping chair, had some snacks (I’ve found solitude with food way more effective than solitude with fasting) and as I was packing to go found myself saying this to God…

“I know You probably won’t speak to me while I am there and I just want you to know that’s totally cool.  I’m going anyway because I know You love it when I do seek you and I love it too!”

What seems to matter most to Him is that I came, that I sought Him, that I want to hear Him.  He wants relationship – we often want results, an outcome, a decision or direction.
And slowly I’ve learnt that I can’t change God, so I better change and I’m so much the better for it. My Father will speak to me, what matters is that I seek Him.  He will speak in unexpected ways that surprise and thrill me, sometimes He keeps me waiting till the final hour but He will speak to those who seek Him.

Resolving this has helped me grow in my love for God and my understanding of Him.  It’s also helped me enjoy times of solitude more and more knowing that what really matters is that I came, that I sought Him out.

By Gareth Bowley