Wisdom

My Jesus? (Mark 8:22-9:29)

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Jesus is characterised by the unexpected. The Jesus of Scripture doesn’t fit into the box of neatly arranged human expectations. Some people walk around with “WWJD” rubber bracelets with the intention of suggesting we should live like Jesus, but what would Jesus really do in many situations?

For example: if you come across a deaf guy with a speech impediment like Jesus did in Mark 7:31-37. WHAT WOULD JESUS DO & WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Well Jesus stuck His fingers in the mans ears, spat and then touched the mans tongue and he was healed!

Or again, if you come across a blind man like Jesus did in Mark 8:22-26. WHAT WOULD JESUS DO & WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Well again, Jesus spat, this time on the man’s eyes, laid hands on him and he was healed after praying initially and then praying again.

I would hazard a guess that these are not suggested methods in many; ‘How to heal manuals’. You can’t put Jesus in a box you’ve made for Him.

Seeing all that Jesus was doing, people began to have growing opinions regarding who Jesus was and what He had come to do. Was Jesus, John the Baptist raised from the dead or Elijah or one of the other prophets raised from the dead? Why was Jesus here, what had he come to do?

In that moment, Peter has a revelation and exclaims; “You are the Christ (Messiah)” (Mark 8:29). In that moment, God the Father reveals to Peter WHO Jesus really is (Matthew 15:17), the long-anticipated Messiah.

But still Jesus will not be boxed by our limited expectations regarding what Jesus had come to do. The Jewish people had been anticipating the Messiah for hundreds of years, they had hoped that the Messiah would deliver them from human oppression and the national disgrace they’d endured under foreign ruling powers. Peter and others expect that the Messiah will deliver them from Roman rule and oppression…

And so when Jesus starts to teach about how he is going to suffer and be rejected and be killed…Peter can’t handle it! You can imagine him crying out; “No, Jesus”, ”This is not how it is supposed to be”. He wants Jesus to fit into his box, but Jesus won’t.

Jesus rebukes Peter, calls him out as doing Satan’s work in resisting what Jesus is saying is his ultimate mission. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33)

We do this at times don’t we? We want Jesus to fit into the box we have made for Him? I sometimes encounter people who will use the phrase, “Well my Jesus wouldn’t do that/say that/expect that…”

But if He is YOUR JESUS then He is not the Jesus revealed in Scripture. Reading the Gospels it is apparent to me that the disciples were on a journey of discovery, learning more and more (often in unexpected ways) about WHO Jesus was and WHAT Jesus had come to do on planet earth.

May I, may we remain humble, open to the real Jesus revealed in Scripture.
May we always be in awe & wonder at WHO Jesus is & WHAT Jesus did for us.
And then may we worship Jesus with our whole lives.

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Paradoxical (Mark 2:1-28)

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I want to be more and more like Jesus.  Don’t you?

One of the things about Jesus that has always amazed me is that as the Holy, spotless, sinless One in whom there was not even a fibre of sinful compromise, was a total sinner magnet!

Sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts were drawn to Jesus, they wanted proximity with Him.  You’d have thought that they would have felt estranged by him, uncomfortable around Jesus because of His spotlessness.  But they weren’t…

Now we know that Jesus didn’t lower His standards or dabble a little with compromise to fit in with them.  He was sinless and spotless and yet somehow, paradoxically, messed up people who’s lives didn’t match up to God’s holy standard – were drawn to Him.

John’s gospel records vividly that Jesus came ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).  I love that description of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t come either with grace or truth.  Jesus didn’t come sometimes with grace and sometimes with truth to varying degrees oscillating between them.  No,  Jesus came full of both grace and truth.

And yet I think, there is an order there that matters.  I believe if we encounter people with truth first, then sometimes we will never get the grace as they will have run away already as they weren’t ready for what we showed them or told them.  If people encounter gracious acceptance, humility and gentleness then they are way more likely to listen to the truth.

Is this how ‘sinners’ were drawn to Jesus?  He was so gracious with everyone and yet never compromised on the truth about what needed to change in their lives?

May we as Christ Followers and as His church be like Jesus!  May sinners find our churches safe places, places where they are included because of their infinite value as image bearers of the most High God, may they feel drawn into close proximity quickly,  and yet may that be loved enough to have truth shared lovingly with them too.

May we as Christ Followers and as His church grasp this paradox that to be holy is not to be removed from sinful people, but to be more and more like Jesus, to have His heartbeat in us.  May we grasp that God’s will for us is that we be in close proximity with lost people so that we can be used by God to share the good news about Jesus with them.  May we grow more and more in our love for those whom Jesus came to call (vs17) to repentance, knowing always that they are like us and we are like them, but for the grace of God.

Prayer:  Who are you praying for, who does not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?  Pray for them now to come to know and love Jesus and do anything the Holy Spirit leads you to do to reach out to them.

How to handle persistent sin (2 Thessalonians 3:6-18)

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How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?

These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life.  This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).

So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour?  2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:

(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)

  1. The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture.  The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
  1. The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s).  Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14).  The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
  1. The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church.  Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
  1. The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2).  In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
  1. The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent.  John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.”  We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!

The wisdom of humility

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The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom and whatever you get, get insight. (Proverbs 4:7)

Wisdom starts with a conviction that you need it.  Foolishness is to think the opposite, to think your knowledge or perspective is enough.  Wisdom therefore requires not just knowledge applied correctly but a heart orientated correctly, for wisdom requires humility.

The context of this particular proverb is vs1-6 of the same chapter where a son is being exhorted by his father to “hear…a father’s instruction”, to “be attentive…that you may gain insight”, to “not forsake my teaching”, to “hold fast my words” & “keep my commandments and live”

Wisdom starts with a humility that opens the ears, opens the heart to others in this life, who are further down the journey of following and serving God or who might have a perspective you don’t have but need.

Wisdom starts by getting it, from others.  “Get wisdom” is not a command you can heed without the help of others, it’s not like a command like “be self-controlled/patient” where we can work harder at obeying.

So the question surely is twofold;

  1. How is your heart?  Are you humble, teachable, willing to learn from others?
  2. Who are you learning from?

By Gareth Bowley

 

 

 

Understanding Proverbs

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These guidelines below are based on chapter 12 from the book; “How to Read the Bible for all its worth” by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart.

  1. The Proverbs are often short pithy memorable statements of truth that do not state/teach everything there is to know about an issue but point towards the fuller truth regarding that thing. An example in English is the saying; “Look before you leap”.  That is easier to remember than “Before you commit yourself to a course of action you should always consider all the circumstances, consequences and options.  The second statement says it much more completely, the first points to the general idea/truth/teaching.
  2. Proverbs are not specific legal guarantees from God of cause and effect so avoid extreme literalistic interpretations but look for the meaning that applies in your life situation.  For example Proverbs 15:25 says; “The Lord tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries”.  We would have no neighbourhoods left if this was a cause and effect specific statement, no the idea is that God is opposed to pride and the protector of the vulnerable. So, don’t be proud!
  3. Proverbs must be read as a collection that balance each other and in the context of the whole bible.
  4. Some Proverbs need to be “translated” to be appreciated.  Many of the proverbs express their truths according to practices of everyday life that no longer exist.  Therefore, unless you think of these proverbs in terms of their modern day equivalents they may seem irrelevant to your life.
  5. Proverbs are often figurative and or even exaggerated to make their point, they are also intensely practical statements that are not meant to be technically or theologically precise or complete.
  6. Used right, Proverbs will provide practical life-advise for how to live in such a way that pleases God and results in a life that is blessed.

By Gareth Bowley

Have you seen it?

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The magnitude of our response reveals the extent of our comprehension.

Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that both have something of great worth which is hidden. The treasure was hidden in the field, the pearl is hidden within an oyster’s shell in the ocean.

In both parables the object of great worth is found, is discovered, is uncovered and it’s true revealed value then dictates what happens next…

The value of the discovery of the treasure/pearl is so great that it is worth selling everything in both instances!  More than this it is worthy of great joy even in the sale of everything in the case of the treasure in the field.

So, the two individuals who sell everything when they discover the item of great value are not being sacrificial they are being prudent and wise because they have truly comprehended the value of the item in question.

Imagine you somehow knew with absolute certainty that if you bought a certain numbered ticket in a very very prestigious competition in which the tickets cost R500 000 each but the prize was 5 Billion rands, you would not be unwise to sell your house to afford the ticket, you’d be unwise to not act on the certain information you had at your disposal.

Similarly, the magnitude of our response reveals the true extent of our comprehension regarding God and His kingdom.

Those who have not seen the infinite value of following Jesus wholeheartedly will not lay down all other things, will not prioritise the church and God’s mission, will not relinquish their own agendas in this present and temporary life so as to lay hold of God’s greater and eternal plan for their lives!

The degree to which we wholeheartedly unreservedly give our lives for the cause of Christ through His church reveals the degree to which we have truly seen or not seen the infinite value and treasure of Jesus and living for His kingdom and His will in and through our lives.

May I, may we, keep seeing with greater and greater clarity the inexpressible value of our relationship with Jesus Christ and may we therefore live lives that are worthy of what we have seen! Amen.

By Gareth Bowley

Life is hard!

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As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security.  Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.

Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart.  Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.

In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.

How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God.  This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”

David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role.  There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

by Lise Oosthuizen